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Monday, December 21, 2009

"I didn't have the heart to tell them."

"I didn't have the heart to tell them."

I heard someone say this the other day and for some reason it just lingered inside my head the whole night. I made a mental note of it and went on with my life. But over the course of the last several days I feel like I've heard it a couple more times in different contexts of humanity.

It takes heart to share certain things with certain people. I think it's easy to just glide through life taking the path of least resistance with the convoluted motto: "The safest place to be is in the center of God's will". A motto I've found to be so misleading it makes me want to vomit. I think the most dangerous place to be is in the center of God's will. Climb into God's will and you'll experience butterflies and battlefields like never before. You'll be called upon to do the unthinkable. You'll undergo a gauntlet of misunderstandings. And above all, you'll be asked by God to muster the pluck (heart) to tell people things that are unnatural to say out loud.

It reminds me of what Jesus told Peter just before he took off and went to sit at the right hand of his Daddy, "You used to be able to dress yourself and go where you wanted to go, but now someone else will dress you and you will go where you don't want to go." A very interesting bit of enlightenment from the Messiah as to the rigors of discipleship. Namely, "you are in for a counter-intuitive" Jesus-journey. You will be asked to do things that any thinking human being would intelligently decline. You will be taken to places that will crucify you upside down. You will be invited to join Jesus in proclaiming his upside-down, inside-out Kingdom message...a message that, frankly, people will feel uncomfortable with. They will kick against the goads. Heck, we will kick against the same goads on days wondering if their is any other way -- "let this cup pass from me"?

Sometimes I struggle to have the heart to tell people what they desperately need to hear. I'm scared of their reaction. I'm wondering if it will sound maudlin and sappy. I'm scared to tell my wife what's bothering me. I'm fearful that my dad wouldn't understand. I don't want to go first risking no reciprocation. I'm nervous of being misunderstood by my colleagues. I'm anxious that it will come out wrong or that I'm in no moral position to point out the glaringly obvious. I feel my insides contracting and constricting with self-doubt and self-paralysis.

Even in ministry, I can sense when it's time to go there. God is telling me to address something that can't be delayed another day. To broach the issue. To ask the question. To share the dream. To wonder out loud in the presence of the staff. To ask my wife the fearful question, "What's wrong?" Oh my, having the heart to go there not knowing where there might take you is often a daunting notion. In some ways, I'd rather go anywhere but there. Is there another way? Can't someone else do it? I'm not equal to the task! I'm out of my league!

And then the voice of God whispers in the stillness and the smallness I've become accustomed to: "Now is the time, this is place, you are the person. I will be with you." And with painful trepidation, I muster the man inside me to take heart and speak truth as I see it. I may not always be right, but at least I'm not living in silent misery. I'm making my mark on the sands of time. I'm staking my claim. I'm numbering my days instead of numbing them.

Lord, give me the heart to tell people whatever you lay on my heart to share. "I love you." "You make me proud." "I disagree with you." "I have an idea." "I'm scared, are you?" "Thank you." "I miss your friendship." "That is sin." "I'm depressed and borderline suicidal." "I'm lonely, can we meet up sometime?" "You hurt my feelings." "You make me very, very happy." "Are you ok?" "Why do you keep doing that?" "I'm going down...I need help." "I'm sorry. Will you forgive me?" "You know what I love about you...?" Yeah...give me the heart to tell people what could easily just rot inside my soul.

I want to number my days instead of numbing them.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Straining gnats and swallowing camels...

"You strain a gnat and swallow a camel." - Jesus

This is hands down my favorite sarcastic quote of Jesus.  

I think I can easily picture Jesus as this meek man who turns the other cheek, sleeps on a rock as a homeless man, and lets little kids climb up on his knee for a tender Bible story.  But it's tough for me to imagine Jesus as tough.  It's even harder for me to picture Jesus as sarcastic--saying something that slices through diplomacy to the core corruption of the moment.  He's been given such a pleasant face-lift throughout the years, that the general populace couldn't fathom Jesus getting mad, joking around, or picking a fight (I'm not necessarily implying a physical fight, though there are times his aggression definitely manifested itself in the physical. aka - the temple tirade)

The aforementioned quote is one of my favorites because I feel that humans, by nature, tend to make mountains out of molehills, and conversely, molehills out of mountains.  They overreact and overcompensate.  I say they, but I'm part of "they".  I'm a sucker for turning big things into small things and small things into big things.  Someone said it well..."We make majors out of minors and minors out of majors."  This is an evil unspeakable.  I believe it is these subtle evils that put Jesus in a straightjacket more than beer, sex, and swearing.  But so many people get off the hook because these latent evils aren't as pronounced and announced as the blatant evils.  They are malignant just the same.  I hate how we treat them as benign nuisances.

When people make a big deal out of small things, Jesus gets torked off!  Here we are straining gnats with our self-made soul-sifter thinking ourselves cunningly intelligent and uniquely positioned to point out others' shortcomings and overgoings, when we are beautifully blind to the camel hanging out of our own soul.  We are gnat-pickers, nit-pickers.  We love to grind axes and split hairs, but are woefully unaware of our own glaring idiosyncrasies.  

Gnat focused people...
1. Are in a constant state of evaluation.
2. Try to justify themselves by tearing others down.
3. Look for ways to catch someone else in a lie.
4. Can't relax in their own skin.
5. Think everyone is just like them.
6. See the 10% bad and disregard the 90% good.
7. Are paranoid of people's opinions of them.
8. Make a big deal out of minutia, mincing and mulling over scenarios.
9. Are hard on themselves and, thus, other people.
10. Position themselves are morality cops.
11. Guard the "letter of the law" while disregarding the "spirit of the law".
12. Obsess over policies, procedures, and protocols.
13. Are master trouble shooters and horrible beauty shooters.
14. Make everyone else around them nervous with performance-anxiety.
15. Are wound up tighter than a snare drum with controlling demands.
16. Are impossible to love because they don't love themselves even though they're narcissists.
17. Are ready to crucify anyone who disagrees with them. 
18. Stubbornly refuse to be teachable because they know everything.
19. Have intelligent arguments to defend their gnatty behavior in the court of law.
20. Are largely unaware of how much people dislike them and avoid them.

The camels that are hanging out of their mouths are:
1. A gross lack of self-awareness.
2. A refusal to see themselves through the mirror of people's reactions to them.
3. A condition I call "diarrhea of the mouth".  (talking without saying anything)
4. An inability to ask questions or inquire of someone's else's story/reality.
5. A clueless conscience; very little conviction over blatant sin.
6. An obnoxious, noxious attitude that acts as a people-repellant.
7. An addiction to the approval, affirmation and attention.
8. An angry spirit that drives their every dealing.
9. An unstoppable urge to talk about other people behind their backs.
10. A perfection disorder...they can't relax in their own skin for the life of them.
11. A desire to impress others with one-upmanship.
12. (and worst of all) A stonewalling of anyone who tries to confront them on their camel.

And Jesus got sick of it.  He called it out.  In another passage he put it another way, "You point out the speck in someone else's eye when you have a big-honkin'-dog log in your own eye."  You're accusing a room of stinking when you're the one with dog poop on the bottom of your shoe.  You're making fun of someone for sneezing when you have a green burger hanging out of your nose.  You're evaluating the performance of someone else's singing ability as a tone-deaf critic.  It is this discernment-discrepancy that drove the heart of Jesus nuts.

I love how he picked this fight.  I love how he didn't back down on this issue.  I love how he stepped into the ring, put on his boxing gloves, and came out swinging.  He was tired of this tomfoolery.  This immature horseplay.  This ridiculous rats nest of religious blindness.  Jesus knew that only sarcasm would cut to the quick.  The rabbi turned rabid.  The prophet protested.  Jesus snapped.

When will the church quit its gnat-sifting ways?  When will we clean our own house instead of cleaning everyone else's clock?  How long will we live under the enchanting spell that the problem lies with "everyone else"?  Here's how you will know when the Holy Spirit has come to town...people will start asking this question, "Could it be me?"  If everyone would just concentrate on their own crap, they wouldn't have time to stir up the stink in everyone else.  I think the reason so many people have so much time on their hands is because they aren't--as a step in Alcoholic Anonymous says to do--"taking a searching and fearless moral inventory of their own soul."  When you start doing that for real, you'll be amazed at how little time is left to butcher everyone else around you.  

Lord, keep me from "Straining gnats and swallowing camels." 

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

the HRT and broken expressions of affection...

Taylor wrote me a note the other day in the broken, untrained English of a kindergardener: "I luv you dad.  I luv owr hows.  I luv owr famle.  yor datr, Taylor."

The translation in case you need it: "I love you dad.  I love our house.  I love our family.  Your daughter, Taylor."

I can't tell you the nourishment her writing has become to me.  Sometimes I'll get out a piece of paper and tell her to write a note, a story, a letter, a song...anything...just to hear her convey her heart brings me great joy.  I love how she takes words and sounds them out phonetically into her own little broken language.  It is the lack of training that brings such a freshness.  It is the purity of her heart that makes such rudimentary sentiments so life-stoppingly brilliant.  

We had steak last night.  One night I was playing with Taylor and we decided to make up our own game called, "Questions".  Our games are quite simple in case you haven't gathered that along the way.  This game of Questions is nothing more than me asking her a question and her writing down the answer.  I will say, "Question number one." and she will write the number "1" and proceed to jot down her one word answer.  The first question I asked her: "What is your favorite food?"  Her answer: "Sdak".  So now whenever we are having steak we are careful to dictate it as Taylor wrote it out.  Our whole family does this.  It's not longer steak; it's "sDaK".

Here's how she spells Holloween:  HLYN  (our family now calls it ha-leen).
-or how 'bout Rainbow: RABO 
-check out Sisters: SISBERS
-I love this one, Pumpkin:  PUKIN

I have to believe that this is how God interacts with our beautifully broken speech.  He loves to hear us talk in our cracked-up, shattered logic and ana-logic.  He feels the affection of our misspelled language of love and life.  He loves hearing our child-like responses to his Quest, his Questions.  He feels our hearts behind our unedited expressions...and his heart is moved.  

We beat ourselves up trying to "get it right" as he smiles with delight, moved by our attempts.  Our attempts, in themselves, are enjoyed.  Do you get that?  It's like he's says: "I see where you were trying to go with that."  We see them as failed attempts, he sees them as valiant attempts, affectionate attempts.  In this case: "It is the thought that counts, and counts most."  Our thoughts will never be His thoughts, our ways His ways, our words His words...at best it will be slurred speech, stuttering lips forming a clumsy "I LUV U".  And in his Father-love, he translates them with great joy into "Grammatical Correctness".   

Or maybe he doesn't.  Maybe he doesn't care about grammar as much as we might think.  Maybe he just looks at the heart to begin with.  Maybe he just leaves our "love note" just as it is, reveling in the attempt, glorying in seeing his child fighting for expression, laughing at the signature of that unique soul and feeling the warmth pulsating in his heart through his veins, crying at the customized affections of his cherished child.  At least this is what I feel as a father with Tay.

I don't want her to learn to write like me.  I wish she could stay in this uninformed altruism.  I hate thinking more about my grammar than my guts.  I wish I could just pour out my guts without thinking about how it's dressed and how that dressing compares to the refined outfits of others.  If I could just pour out my heart unedited, unrefined, un"adult"erated.  It is that adult thing that seems to kill genuine feelings, thoughts, and actions.  I hate my adulterated affections.  Sullied by years of editing.  I'm so conscious of MLA formatting that I lose the man in the "man"ufacturing.  

"Man"ufactured, "Man"icured, "Man"ipulated, "Man"euvered, "Man"aged...and in the end I feel like my heart is "Man"gled.

And then you're reminded of what it's all about when you watch your daughter "put it out there".

It's all about--as Taylor writes it--the HRT.

Gd,  hlp mi hrt to b truw.