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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Showing up in life...

This is from a friend's blog that I read frequently...

"Whenever I feel tired or intimidated at the thought of "feeding the blog," it's usually because I'm laboring under some unspoken, barely conscious expectation of what my entries "should" be. If I get rid of the "shoulds," though, blogging isn't a weighty chore; it's simply a matter of showing up."

I really like this idea as a way of being in the world -- whenever we try to organize our lives around our perceptions of others' expectations -- it will lead us to acting in some deeply artificial ways.

"Simply Showing Up" feels like a more genuine and good way to be. A dialectical tacking between authenticity/presence and improvisational/other-orientation. That's where I want to be...

Monday, January 29, 2007

the edge...

Most people are living on the edge of meltdown. They have learned brilliant coping mechanisms to help them mask this reality, but if you cut through the mustard...you'll find a soul hanging by a couple threads, denial and wishful thinking.

They don't want to live this way, they really want to feel strength surging through their veins, hope bolstering them against the torrents of a typical day at the office, and love covering the multitude of sins they are swimming in or around. But for the most part, humanity is dwelling on the brink, on the cusp of depression or resignation.

Mind you, they don't look like it. They smile and look every bit like victors in this battle of life. But I'm blown away with what's going on under the hood of most of these fast movers. The dash board is blinking with all kinds of check engine lights and low fuel indicators...but it's like they've become immune to these soul reminders. What am I talking about..."they"...like I'm mister "got-it-together-guy-over-here-on-the-sane-side-of-life"? I truly feel that most human beings are about three consecutive hard things away from complete emotional burnout and breakdown. They are propped up by a couple feeble twigs hoping that life doesn't deal them too much, too fast. I can tell you that when I'm blown over by three issues working concurrently to bring me to my knees, I have a hard time standing. And I'm reading my Bible, praying and meeting with Brothers-in-arms all the time to stay the course. What happens to the ones who are in the trenches without so much as a hint of backup?

When you enounter someone today, don't be decieved by the "Oil of Olay" countenance, and the "Botox" youthfulness, and the "Gilette" smoothness...under the hood, they are just the same as everyone else...fearful, stressed, overwhelmed, doubting, restless, insecure, troubled, addictive, vulnerable, fragile, nervous, angry, broken and lonely. And they need to encounter something real...something of substance...someone altrustic, without pretense. They need someone to look into their eyes staring them down until they break. They need someone asking one more question, staying just one minute longer than everyone else to hear the real answer to..."How are you doing?" They need someone who will shed the shell first and be the relational scapegoat. And really, honestly all they need is someone to care...to give a rip.

People are on the edge...who's going to get out on the edge with them?

Saturday, January 27, 2007

My bride...

Today I have this intoxicating affection for my wife. 2007 hasn't been the smoothest of transitions for us in our marriage. I'm sure there are several things to blame, but to name the source of our disconnection would be difficult. Sometimes things just drift. Despite preventive pillow talk and fierce conversations we were still frigid in our dealings with each other...you know, business-like and transactional. Not anything close to what we're used to.

These nomadic seasons of a marriage aren't without fruit. I sometimes feel that they cause you to step out of the thoughtless love and knee-jerk responses that can all too often characterize a dormant marriage on the porch of paralysis. They make me think before I act...and feel before I speak. I find myself taken back to the early days of our relationship when I wondered what she felt about me and if she really liked me like I liked her. I'm walking on the thin ice of someone else's soul, treading softly and tenderly again. I'm wanting to rush toward intimacy, but not wanting to scare her off with my passion. I'm more child-like in seasons like this...simple, altruistic, even innocent in my intentions.

I send out signals to see if they are met with a stiff or soft heart. I wait for reciprocation...a movement, a glace and piece of body language that speaks a thousand words. It feels like we're dating again...playful and surprising. A peck on the cheek sends the heart to racing. Little advances are gathered and stored in the heart by the bushel. This is just like it used to be, before everything starts getting familiar and programmatic, scripted and scheduled. This is how I want it to be...how it was meant to be.

I can't think of any other words to describe this feeling. All I know is that it's what makes life worth waking up for...it's what I want more days to feel like. I remember one time that Heidi said to me the words that my heart was dying to hear...

"I love what you're made of."

When I think of her this afternoon, here's the phrase that keeps coming to my mind...

"You are more than enough for me."

Heidi, I love you.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Barack Obama...

So I'm reading this book, "The Audacity of Hope" by Barak Obama. I bought it a few weeks ago in the airport. I have to admit that any time I've heard this guy speak on television, I've been drawn to his spirit. I don't even know his believe system, but the sheer hope of his spirit gives me a leg-up no matter where I've been whenever I've happened upon an interview between he and whoever had him cornered at the moment.

I have to say that this book has been an intriguing read so far. He's a brilliant writer and I love the way his mind crafts lines of logic and strings of emotion. He seems centered and aware. He seems caring and creative. I like that in people.

I know that I don't agree with every conviction he has, but there are many things that I do espouse. The older I get, the more I realize that I've spent too much time in my life defining my relationship with people based on my disagreements with them, not the commonalities.

It's not breaking news that Democrats are more humanitarian and environmental in their slants on politics, but they aren't all morally bankrupt and valueless like they are often characterized. In general, they are a bit more liberal in their stances on stem cell research, gay rights and abortion, but this doesn't mean they are cruel and utterly useless. Republicans aren't this flawless flock of Jesus followers either. I've witnessed a huge void of values in many who rule and reign in the red states as well. There is an arrogance among them...in some ways more hypocritical because it's under the guise of faith and spiritual platitudes.

I'm somewhat suspended between the parties at this point. I don't trust either of them. I'm more of an environmentalist and a humanitarian than I've ever been. I'm more of a pro-lifer than I've ever been, but I don't think life stops after nine months in the womb. You have to stay pro-life after the baby is born, and I sometimes think the Republicans lose the pro-life surge when the baby in born...after that, they are on their own. I wish Democrats where more moral, and I wish Republicans were more holistic in their approach.

Barack Obama isn't perfect, but neither is George Bush. And just because George Bush works so hard to please his special interest groups by throwing some God jargon in the mix, doesn't mean we all the sudden are a godly nation under God. There's more going on than these little snapshots given to us by Fox News or the New York Times. Both sides are pitting us against ourselves for ratings. Fox News isn't balanced, The New York Times isn't balanced. In our screwed up nation, there is no such thing as balance. So we would do well to fight through the smog of the media to what lies beneath the bantor. And what lies beneath is flawed people leading a flawed nation. No one is who they seem...and when we believe the Democrats are the answer or the Republicans have the corner on the truth, we are the stupidest and most naive of humans.

This book is good, not because it's got all the right answers, but because it's addressing alot of the right questions. You may not agree with it, but I hope it's not because you're a unflinching Republican...that's not a good enough reason. Our reasons for not seeing the value of the other side aren't good enough anymore...we must be deeper than that.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

In this place again...

Once again, life deals out justice like a drunk couselor giving advice. On Thursday night I received a call that a good friend was in a diving accident in Mexico. His name is Josh Buck and he is part of our church planting cluster (Impact, Greenhouse, Epic, Cession). He is a co-pastor at Greenhouse and has been coming over to lead worship at Impact once a month to give me a breather and to partner with our ministry. He is a man of great joy, optimism and strength. And right now he's laying in a bed paralyzed, comatose and far, far from home in Miami, Fl.

I feel powerless to do anything...a feeling that accompanied me for some time during the death of my good friend this last spring after a year of battling cancer. I realize Josh is far from dead, but he has brushed up against death. My stomach is tight with doubt. My mind struggling to tie up loose ends of confusion and compassion. My heart aching with sympathy and love. I have seen too much heartache this past year...I've carried some myself...and at times I feel stunned, immobilized.

My heart does funny things inside me during these times. I'll be trying to carry on, and it will pester me. I felt it yesterday as I prepared for the Worship Night here at Impact...I was trying to care for the logistics of the evening, but something inside of me was nagging me with thoughts of depression and indifference. I sat on a bar stool just staring off into the back corner of the building like I was waiting for someone to speak out of the wall. I would start with a logical thought and drift to a place beyond words...the world in between reality and dreams.

I don't know whether to get angry at God, myself or life...but I want to take my vengeance out on something or someone. I find it hard to let the blame for these sort of things stay suspended in the realm of standby. I want to find a place to direct the angst...to pin it to the source of this horrible circumstance. When my heart has run itself into exhaustion (mind you, it's the marathon in the marrow), I callapse into a place of sadness, forlorn and fed up.

All I know is that I've frequented this place before, my heart reminds me of this often. It triggers emotions that have been covered over with life and surfaces forgotten feelings and frustrations. I want God to heal Josh, worse than bad. I want for this to have a happy ending. In some ways, I need for this to have a happy ending. But I've prayed prayers before that didn't find an answer...worse yet, the answer was, "No...I'm going to do the opposite." I'm not sure which is worse.

I get scared to pray in these times...I want to believe that my prayers could alter this situation for the better, but I'm so nervous that I'll cry out only to be disregarded and left to feel powerless and godless. So what do I do? Pray like there is no tomorrow knowing that when tomorrow comes, my soul will demand an answer for what did or did not happen? I guess so. I just wish I had more faith in God during times like this.

I prayed for God to heal my daughter's body...it didn't happen.
I prayed for God to heal Jen Palmer's cancer...it didn't happen.
I prayed for God to heal Mark Palmer's cancer...it didn't happen.

I'm not sure how much more unanswered prayer I can take. I know, he answered, just not the way I asked. Somehow, that little Evengelical mantra just doesn't seem to bring much solace to this heart in need of a miracle.

When the man came to Jesus with leprosy, I'm sure it would have left him jaded if Jesus saw fit to simply clip his finger nails. When I pray for Josh to regain mobility and the capacity to run and play with his family...somehow settling for slight movement in his fingers just doesn't seem to bring me that much joy. I'm being thrown a bone when I prayed for a steak...I'm just being honest.

I'm in this place again...a place of mixed emotions and tender scare tissue. And yet, all I can do is pray. Isn't that funny.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

This is unusual...

A couple weeks ago, I woke to the sound of my alarm clock. This is not unusual. I then stumbled to the bathroom and sat upon the pot (mind you, this has nothing to do with going #2...it's just easier to pee that way when when you're coming to your senses at 6:00am). This is not unusual. I turned the water on, got it to just the right temperature, and then pulled the pin that dams the spout to redirect the water to the showerhead. This is not unusual. I disrobe, hurdle the side of the bathtub, and slowly back into the stream of water coming from above. This is not unusual. I stay there as long as it takes to feel human again letting the water run over me like a cathartic agent of cleansing. This is not unusual. I abruptly, almost angrily, turn the water off and grab a towel to dry my drenched carcass. This is not unusual. I step back out on dry land and look in the mirror for any sort of encouragement, I typically find my bearings as I stare at my lifeless frame. This is not unusual. I put on my tighty whiteys, then my deoderant, then my t-shirt. This is not unusual. I put gel in my hair and comb it straight back to let it harden ever so slightly while I brush my teeth. This is not unusual. I put on the rest of my clothes and make sure everything is in its place before I head off into the nightmorning) to meet my unsuspecting breakfast appointment. This is not unusual.

When I arrived at the coffee shop, I met with a good friend for a good long time talking life, God and random goings on. This is not unusual. After we were done, I had another appointment at the same place with the Leadership Team from Impact. Before we met I had to relieve myself of the affects of early morning caffine, so I waddled to the bathroom in the back of this quaint little cove in the heart of Lowell. This is definitely not unusual. I made my way to the toilet and did my business in a promp and cleanly manner. This is not unusual.

As I made my way to the sink to wash my hands (aren't I a good boy), I glanced up at the mirror and saw a shocking sight. I had forgotten to recomb my hair after dressing myself leaving it spiked up like Vanilla Ice from the late 80's. This is highly unusual. I couldn't believe that the guy (Jim Nora) I was meeting with let me sit there and talk to him for nearly two hours in serious conversation looking the way I did. He failed the test of honesty in friendship and was willing to let me carry on without so much as a hint that I looked like a peacock.

When I came out of the bathroom (laughing mind you), I asked the leadership team why they didn't say anything to me when they arrived. By this time, they were all laughing themselves to tears looking at the spectacle that was me. After about a half an hour into the meeting, I excused myself, went to the bathroom, and tried hard to reshape my hair into something that could be looked at without laughter. I emerged from the bathroom as a man that could once again be taken seriously.

The only thing funnier than this is that I did it once again this morning at Keiser's. I'm telling you, despite my record these last two weeks, this is highly unsual. I'm not joking...no seriously, it is...don't look at my like that, I'm not joshing you...come on...why won't you believe me? Oh, whatever you pompous punks, like you never do things like this on a regular basis. I'm telling you this was unusual and that's that.

For real.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Inklings of God...

Here are some things that have happened recently…

- I have been thinking a lot about the difference between life happening to you and you happening to life. I don’t know what it is about that simple distinction that makes sense to me, but it really triggers some good inner dialogue between my spirit, my mind and my body. Waking up and hoping for the best doesn’t seem to cut it now, does it? Letting go and letting God isn’t the answer either. Saying things like, “Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.” Or “You win some, you lose some.” Or “Don’t worry about it.” Or “Live and let live.” Or “Let’s see what happens.” are in my humble opinion mantras that have been passed down to normalize mediocrity. They are simplistic refrains that have echoed through the ages for too long, and their effects are far reaching and cataclysmic to be sure. I wonder what it would look like if people happened to life, if they woke with a missional mindset and a purposed heart. If they approached life intentionally, initiated the change they hope for instead of just wishing upon a star. What if I surprised life for a change and broke the mold of the margins? What if I asked one more question or listened for 4 more minutes? What if I turned right instead of left and took the long way to work, what would I see, what difference would it make? What if I read between the lines of people’s communication and dug deeper into what they were trying to say but lacked words to express? What if the day was never made to happen to me, what if it’s been waiting for me to take the lead all my life? What if growth was to be less serendipitous than we make it, less accidental and happenstantial (not a word, I know.)? What if I really do have a choice right now and it’s not scripted like I think it is? What if much of life depends on my engagement, my involvement and that some things won’t happen if I don’t act? What if it’s not so much, “Life goes on with or without you.” and more “Much is at stake, don’t waste this next decision whatever you do.”? You see it’s really weird to think about life in those terms, because it quickens parts of us that have fallen asleep, taken a sabbatical from active participation in the “Circle of Life”. We simply have a hard time believing that “if you don’t act, something will not happen.” I don’t hear people saying “I won’t let that happen” much any more, and if I do, it’s usually over something that doesn’t matter like chewing gum in the sanctuary or something silly like that. It’s quite compelling to think of life in these terms, terms that place boundless value on free will and the potential of the human spirit when it’s alive and well. Will I happen today? Will I live or be preyed upon? Will I make something happen or continue hoping against all odds that my ship will come in. I want to happen to life today…I want to, but will I will to?…that is the question.

- I wonder sometimes at our motivation in teaching values and principles, doctrines and duties. Am I teaching people how to think or what to think? A simple word picture came to me today that illustrates my question. Sometimes I feel that Christians especially are so paranoid over being right and doing things right that they don’t trust the truth. They function more often than not as individuals who are teaching us to sail by giving us masterful lessons on the dock. The wood used to make the dock, the length and breadth of the dock, the physical integrity of the dock, the footers and foundations of the dock, the depth of the dock, the surety of the docks position, the thickness of the ropes to dock your vessel, the trustworthiness of those ropes in times past, and the options of even dry-docking your vessel during the dicey seasons. If there is talk about actually sailing abroad, there seems to be an inordinate concentration on the anchor when I think what deserves the most dialogue is the COMPASS. Talk that centers on the compass excites me, because it allows for sailing in deep and shallow waters, in the tempest and the stillness, in the lake or the ocean. The assumption is that you will sail freeing and push off the shore into uncharted waters. How silly it would be to always be wondering where to anchor next and miss to wonders of the whisking through the water. It seems to me that it behooves us to focus more on the compass and how to stay the course as we’re sailing. Boats aren’t made for docks. Just like lives weren’t made for the classroom. They were made to sail.

I sometimes wonder if our teaching is overly preventive. We are trying to keep the recipients of our message from exercising the ability to take risks and to come to personal conclusions, which also keeps them from coming to personal convictions. We are telling them what to think and believe and do, without training them to think through what they are believing and doing. We expend so much time on the dock when we were meant to be on the sea. We drop anchor too often out of fear of capsizing that we miss out on the rush of risk. What we need to be teaching people is how to read the compass while sailing. To know the direction even if we aren’t so sure about destination. To enjoy the quest and the questions. To navigate through tumultuous times with an eye on the compass and an eye on the sea. You don’t need a compass if you’re landlocked. Compasses assume that you’re moving, going somewhere unfamiliar, and pushing off the shore into the dicey deep. This is the difference between teaching someone what to think and how to think. The one kills, the others thrills.

- Something almost miraculous happened within the last 24 hours. I say almost miraculous, because that which occurred, though improbable is not impossible. Either way, to me it was a move of God found in an unlikely place. I was talking to a young gentleman who was in somewhat of a place of confusion. He has been tossed about like any young man who is caught up in the middle of a divorce, stretched between parents waging war over violated rights and responsibilities. It’s just torn him to pieces on the inside, though his exterior remains quite clean and disinfected by the whole ordeal. We were in the middle of a deep conversation about the goings on of his heart when I told him that his life reminded me of the movie, “Good Will Hunting”, especially the scene where Robin Williams was telling Matt Damon that it was not his fault. He looked at me and said, “I just went out and rented that movie last night.” I thought that was kinda cool and chalked it up as a God moment. We talked about the movie and the truth hidden in Hollywood of all places.

This morning, I was out with a buddy for coffee and we were talking about the potential of the human spirit and the importance of living life for that which matters most. I told him that where he was at in his life reminded me of the line in the movie Gladiator where Maximus encourages his army with the famous line, “what we doing today echoes into eternity.” He looked at me and said, “I just watched that movie, I love that story.” Two movies, two people, two bulls eye’s…that is something of a divine occurrence if you ask me. Of all the movies and all the people, how is it possible that this sort of unlikely conversation could have been so “spot on” without human manipulation or spiritual adulteration? I think what befuddles me most is the idea that God can use movies to get to the human heart and that he was guiding me in conversation to bring up the Big Screen to lead them to His heart. I came away from each of those encounters with a fresh commitment to keep my eyes open for the voice and move of God, even if it’s in places that you wouldn’t typically think of looking to find Him. God is in movies and bars as much as he is in churches and Bibles. We really miss out when we leash God to the pulpit or a pew, he roams about in the most dubious places. Don’t rule out anything when asking where God might be hiding...it’s usually unorthodox.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

eavesdropping...

I was asked a question yesterday to which my response was "eavesdropping". It reminds me of the matchless first book of the Lord of the Rings trilogy where Samwise says to Gandolph when asked if he was eavesdropping, "Honestly Sir, I ain't been droppin' no eaves."

Eavesdropping is the art of listening in to a conversation happening next to you without looking like you are. It's the gift of making everyone elses business your own and everyone elses private thoughts your playland. It's the stealth ability to capture something going on around you and picking up hints of humanity, inklings of human psychology.

It's honestly quite fascinating to listen to someones dialogue with someone else on the airplane, on the telephone, or in the waiting room of a restaurant. People are dropping valuable clues as to what it is that makes them tick or ticked. Hearts are throbbing with pain and angst, chills and thrills. The logos, pathos and ethos of humanity are an ear shot away...can you hear it?

Peeping Tom gets a bad rap on most counts, as he should. His curiosity leads him to peer into places that he has no business seeing. He wants to catch a glimpse of someones private world, their inner life, their hidden routines and rituals in hopes of taking in a picture that will give him what he's looking for...intimacy. He wants to know what lies behind the curtain, the drawn shade. What is happening on the interior, that glow in the windowpane, that shadow that moves about the house pacing to and fro. He can't stand being on the outside looking in, but that is all he is afforded. But you gotta admire his curiosity even if it is mislead.

In some senses, the best speakers of truth are eavesdroppers...peeping Toms of culture. Listening in to conversations going on around them. Keeping their eyes open curiously drawn to the inner life of humanity. Instead of minding their own business...they see God in everything, drawing truth from obvioius and ordinary things that most people miss. Their antenas are always up trying to pick up frequencies that evade those caught up in themselves. They watch T.V. looking for God to show up in a word, a phrase, an image or a story. They see him in the creativity of a commercial, they hear the cry of humanity in a Kohl's commercial..."Expect great things" is their slogan. They listen to the pulse of people expressing their desires and disappointments...they pick up on trends and threads of thoughts...universal pangs and pinings pointing them to the world's voids and vacuums, dreams and delights.

To me the best preacher is the one who lets himself be bothered by other people's business...a person who never tires of eavesdropping in on the conversations of society and taking notes for future reference. A person whose curiosity leads him to peer through the windows of another's life and pick up on the secret story of the soul of mankind....what's really happing behind the large curtains draped between us, the veil that seperates the real and the percieved. Someone who can stand up front and peal away the veneer of ordinary occurences and speak about the everyday toils and terrors of man with poise and personality will never want for an audience. A person who can draw on the profound insights of the obvious (like Sienfeld), will encounter an audience waiting with bated breath to hear what he delivers.

Staying awake to your surroundings is the best research you could do for your message. Keeping your eyes and ears open to the dealings and dialogue of those around you is your best resource for preaching. Your can't crack open the inconsolable secrets of the soul with an disconnected illustration of little interest to the human spirit.

These are just a few thoughts this morning...

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

chillin in Florida...

that's right...Heidi and I are hanging out together in Florida for 5 days...our church sent us to a conference...it's been fun so far and we've been here less than a day. We took a walk last night and the boulevard that our hotel is on is packed with lights and life...all kinds of things to do...all kinds of places to go...all kinds of food to consume. Not a very good time to start my vegetarian diet.

That's right...I'm going to try to stay away from meats for a while...I really want to eat just fruits and vegies for the next month and see what that will do for my energy level. I've been eating like a sow for too long and my body doesn't seem to shed the caleries like it used to. I remember eating two medium pizza's in high school without so much as a burp afterward. My stomach was flat, now it's flabby. My love handles were taut and sleek, now they are pert-near back-boobs! My chest was defined and cut, now it is hanging there like moss on these trees down here. I used to only have one chin. I remember seeing my triceps bulging ever so discreetly from under my shirt...I know they're still there, but I haven't seen them in quite some time. I remember being able to tighten my abs and see a mogel-field of muscle...now I have a large bagel looking pot surrounding my navel. I played basketball a couple weeks ago and literally felt like gout attacked my feet for three days...my thighs were burning and my calves were crying for mercy. I can see some pudge in my face-cheeks as well as my butt-cheeks that wasn't there just years ago. My body feels old and slothful. It's time to get back into shape.

I have had salads the last two days...I'm trying to cut back on the dressing as much as I can without dry heaving. (no...seriously, I love vegatables and fruit...so it's not that bad!) But honestly I'm a meat machine. I can consume large portions of cow, pig, or chicken without chewing. I love New York Strip especially. So removing meat from my personal menu is like trying not to go to the bathroom for days at a time. We were walking past restaurants last night and just the smell of grilled meat was starting to make my mouth salivate more fluid than I could swallow. I was literally licking my lips like a dog. The smell was making it hard for me to concentrate on anything else but steak...thick, long slabs of juicy mouth-watering animal flesh! I can feel that reflex kicking in even as I write this.

Along with the diet I'm attempting, I'm going to start excercizing several times a week as well. It's hard to imagine that I once was chosen as a college soccer All-American. The vestiges of those years are hard to see. I used to run like a gazelle and jump like a antelope. I remember feeling invinsible, undaunted, and undefeatable. But these days, I slouch back in this chair I'm sitting in and dream of those periods of my life when I walked without strain and ran without pain. I want to get back to those days, if my body will let me. My knees are paying me back for all the athletic stress of my past...so I'm going to see if I can plea-bargain with them for 8 more years of energy and body-bliss. My knees will ultimately have the final say.

Well, the Church Planters conferenced is starting in a few minutes. I'm looking forward to meeting some kindred spirits who want to thinking freshly about the church...