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Friday, December 24, 2010

the gut-wrenching musings of a loving father...

"I wish I had a normal smile."

Kami looked down at her Kiddy Menu as she uttered this 7-word sentence that made her dad shutter to his core. These are statements that I knew would come when I first held her in my arms upon her beautiful birth. Her life flashed before my eyes when I first laid eyes on her newly born body, even with her physical anomalies. But her life didn't just flash before my eyes, it flashed before my ears.

I heard her sigh out this 7-word frustration and thousands more like it in the first five minutes I held her in swaddling blankets in my trembling arms. One picture after another filled my mind as I imagined each stage of her life and the joys and sorrows that would accompany them. I heard the whispers of people in the halls of Junior High. I saw staring eyes, and I could read the lips of curious bystanders..."Mommy, what's wrong with her hands?" Reading lips is second nature these days.

So when 7-word phrases like this one come pouring out of my daughters mouth like water that cannot be cupped and contained within ones hand, leaking through clenched fingers, spilling over the fatty flesh of palms desperately squeezed together...these are the moments my life stops dead in its own tracks. Like my worst nightmare coming true, I sit in the moment stunned as with a tranquilizer dart. Frozen in time I fake like I'm not affected. I react with confident answers and stabilizing consolation, but inside I'm melting into a puddle of fear.

"Why are you saying that, Kami?" I already know, but I take the evasive route of the politician, "Let me answer that by asking you this." I don't want to overreact so as to scare her from sharing her inner thoughts with me in the future. I don't want to under-react so as to make her feel that I'm unsympathetic to her feelings. It's a tightrope I'm sure many a parent walks, but when you walk it, you can't help but feel all alone.

"I just don't like having pictures taken of myself." Oh, yeah, Gramma just took a picture of the kids sitting on the end of the table at the restaurant. This, for whatever reason, stirred up the feeling. All day long there had been pictures taken, but this moment was the straw that broke the camels back. No different than the last picture, just one picture too many. It is the difference between 211 degrees and 212 degrees...the degree between non-boiling and the infamous boiling point. That is what this picture was...the one degree.

And what boiled through the lid and over the sides of the pan, "I wish I had a normal smile." This little boiling bubble surfaced and popped in this 7-word form. And I heard it loud and clear.

I hugged her from the side and spoke something funny into her ear. I believe it was a reference from a cartoon that we had watched at one point that went something like: 'But we will have monkey children, Mom!' To which the Mom replies, 'And we'll love them anyway'. I know, stupid, right? But in the moment, it was all I had in my tool belt. All I had in my holster. It's no silver bullet, I know, but it was something. And Kami smirked with her precious little smile and we laughed together.

I don't think I will be able to stave off the bitter taste of these feelings much longer. Certainly not with Phineas and Ferb references. The wisdom will have to be much deeper than that. The dam of innocence that has held back the harsh reality is starting to leak and give way. That reservoir of reality is going to break through...it's only a matter of time, and when it does I want to grab her and float down the flooded ford with her, going under water to hold her head above it, dragging her safely to shore (or just catching a quick breather in a circling eddy). But ultimately, the Lord must be her Savior.

These are the gut-wrenching musings of a loving father.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The search for meaningful presence...

Sitting square in a moment.


This is the test of greatness. The spoil goes to the man who learns this lost art of presence. The man who climbs into his skin at the brink of a new day and dwells there entirely, moment to moment, transforming from glory to glory. Living with unveiled face reflecting God's glory. Opening wide the eyes of the heart letting each experience burn into the soul retina like the branding of a young bull. Picking up on subtleties that pass most by. Brushing up against life's textures and feeling each silky thread with the nerve endings of each fingertip. Parsing verbs and detecting nuances, not with the spirit of a cloddish critic, but a curious child hungry for joy. Panning for gold in every conversation, looking for the best. Redeeming time like a Franciscan monk. Perched high and peering for signs of life with the patience of a Red-tailed hawk. Staying on task, assignment, like a Coho salmon following his internal homing device to the place of his birth. This is what holiness tastes like to me.


To dwell in the shadow of the Almighty. To consume him as your portion. To taste and see His goodness. To pant and faint for Him like an excited dog, drooling and licking, frantic with worship. To embrace the hope of glory, Christ in me. Where dying is gain and living is Christ, where the consideration of my life as worth nothing compared to the joy of testifying to the gospel of God's grace. A life so caught up and swept away that angels look on with jealousy. A centeredness and soundness that speaks of another citizenship, another world altogether. I think this is possible. Call it "entire sanctification or pure/disinterested love" with Wesley, or entering into "Rest" with the author of Hebrews, or being "Holy as God is Holy" with the apostle Paul...whatever it is called, this "strange warmth" is nothing if it is not available to the common man, who is anything but common.


To listen with the poise of golden retriever. To speak with the intentionality of a sunrise and the vibrancy of a sun-ray. To breath in deeply like the guy just did sitting next to me in Panera, inhaling life and exhaling all that is not life. Peace-making and Love-making everywhere you go with the sacrifice and surrender of Mother Teresa. Adorning life with infectious joy like Dick Vitale. Positioning yourself each and every day to "find your life in the losing of it". Considering everything dung in comparison to the excellency of knowing Christ and him alone. Living in the power of the His resurrection, fellowshipping with His suffering in ways that align oneself to deeper reality, "deeper magic" as C.S. Lewis described it.


To exist with this stream of consciousness is my deepest and most abiding desire. To consider all else a loss compared to being present with God's presence. The quintessential Presence. Holiness himself. Wholeness Himself. Wholly. Holy. This is life with God.


To have each and every physical faculty awakened and optimized. Each sense taken to its zenith, smelling a flower as if for the first time, seeing a sunset with virgin eyes. Once blind but now seeing. verily seeing. To shake hands differently, touching with quickened nerve endings, embracing with a holy hug, a heavenly hug. Hearing music with un-muted ears, the wax of hurried life removed from each congested canal, opening a sonic path of purity to the eardrum. To live with this sense of urgency, almost emergency, has got to be what it means to be human.


Could we have been designed for any lesser love affair with life? Would God have sculpted us with a limiting lid on life snuffing out the beautiful fringes of fullness found just on the outskirts of the well worn paths of familiarity? My experience answers, "No." The body of my life work up to this moment screams, "No!", even as it loses its voice in the screaming. My fear is that the "eternity in my heart" will one day lose its voice in its desperate attempts at getting my attention. Today I'm still enough to hear its wheezing sound. Today I'm quiet enough to take in its raspy refrain.


Today is the day the Lord has made, I've attempted to rejoice and be glad "in it".


I am sitting squarely "in it" today, embodying every bit of my spirit. It feels good.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The myth of knowing more...

I'm transfixed on this quote of Kierkegaard:

“The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand it, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world?

Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.”

I could not agree more. I say this to my own shame. Most of the Bible, honestly, is very simple to understand. The rub is in the doing of what is known.

I'm actually becoming quite furious with the amount of conversation I'm having with "Christians" about "more Christian things" and "more Christian thoughts". The church is not dying because it doesn't know what's right, it's dying because it doesn't know what's wrong.

And what's wrong is the "not doing what we already know". The more accumulation of knowledge without practice the more godless our religion becomes.

Someone sent me this just this morning. It's quoting James 1 from the Message:

Anyone who sets himself up as "religious" by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.

It is the hot air instead of the fresh air that is crippling our Christianity. It is "talking the good game" without being a good person that crushes all possibility of the "kingdom coming to earth as it is in Heaven".

Real religion isn't knowing more stuff, it's doing what is already known. From where I'm sitting, Christians (myself included) are waterlogged with knowledge, drowning in their own opinions and positions uninterested in the truly "life altering" gospel of Jesus.

When you approach the Bible asking it to help you without altering you, plan on never meeting Jesus, now or in the ever-after.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Pinocchio, Crying, and Incarnation.

Yesterday I felt a lump in my throat.

I was watching a video with the church that led into my message and out of nowhere I felt my throat tighten as I choked back tears. I don't know why I was choking them back, but maybe it was because I was bracing to take the preverbal pulpit and I didn't want to begin by bawling. I don't know, all I know is I was fighting tears with psychological mind games. It worked...I gained my composure as I stood to speak to the church.

Tears are an amazing gift.

When was the last time you let yourself cry? When was the last time you fought off fighting back tears and let yourself have a good cry? I amazed to hear of several people who can't cry. They want to cry, but their tear ducts almost rebel. I can't imagine how painful it must be to feel deeply about something without the capability of translating that emotion into something physical. I think God gave us tears so that our hearts could be seen dripping out of the corners of our eyes. Tears are the incarnation of the human heart. They give flesh to feelings. Goose bumps and tears have always struck me as proof of a master designer. Those two unnecessary instincts have no survival value, as C.S. Lewis puts it, they merely add value to survival.

There are actually three physical experiences that are unnecessary that speak of divine design. Tears, goosebumps, and orgasms. Any time I experience any one of these unneeded, yet precious outlets, I feel my heart instinctively lunge toward God. I throw myself toward God with Pinocchio-like intuition, lurching with wooden movements toward my Sculpture. Feeling in my flesh something that speaks of my meaning, my beginning, my encoded design.

But I digress. Back to tears.

The feeling starts somewhere in my stomach (the Bible refers to it as the bowels), it travels about 6 inches upward where it tightens inside my chest contracting as it forces the feelings further reaching my throat in the form of a latent lump constricting like a Boa snake pushing the emotions into my head and toward the inside corner of each eye seeking release. It is here that the feeling almost magically becomes fluid. This incarnation is nothing short of miraculous.

Yesterday as I was fighting back the "feelings into fluid" incarnation, it struck me what a gift crying really is. I think God knew what he was doing when he dreamt up man. I think he placed these little expressions and experiences and ecstasies within us so that we would, every once in a while, stop dead in our tracks and think, "Where did that come from?"..."Where did I come from?" Without being told to or taught to our hearts instinctively bend toward our beginning. The creation looks for its creator. Pinocchio looks for Geppetto.

And as we draw nearer to him, our wooden movements become more fluid.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Laying next to my daughter...

I woke up hours earlier than my alarm. What does it say about you when you consistently don't need your alarm in order to wake up on time? Probably that I'm old.

I usually head down to the couch and lay there waiting for the world to wake up. I keep peeking out the window to see if daybreak is filling up the easter sky. If I'm lucky, I eek out a couple more Z's before the day's activities ambush me like a thief in the night.

But this morning, instead of heading to the right out my bedroom door and down to the living room couch, I waddled to the left and made my way to my daughter's room and up the ladder into Aly's bunk bed. She was still fast asleep, looking lifeless apart from this almost serious look on her face like she was figuring out a math problem in her dreamworld. I crawled along the wall trying not to disturb her and slowly lifted her blankets making room for myself under her messing comforter. She cracked open her eyes and squinted at me as if to say, "What is the meaning of this intrusion?" It didn't take long for her to process what was happening. I could tell she wordlessly was welcoming me into her world. I knew this because of the little grin that showed up on her face.

I pressed my face against hers and began to rub her forehead with the back of my hand like my grandma used to do with me. The only difference between my touch and grandmas is that I don't have long fingernails. With the tips of my fingers I gently raked my fingers through her thin dirty blonde hair following through to the back of her neck, then under her ear grazing her jaw bone and then circling up to her nose and around her eye socket only to find myself back where I started somewhere on her forehead hairline. I repeated that cycle again and again religiously. I remember how it used to put me into a trance.

As I circled her head with my hand feeling her soft skin under the nerve endings of my fingertips, I stared at her 9 year old face. Every several seconds she would twitch and squeeze her eyelids involuntarily. Every time she would twitch and I would feel the irresistible urge to peck her cheek with the kiss of a doting father. I don't know as I'll ever get credit for those kisses offered in Aly's unconsciousness, but I'm conscious of them, every last one. They may be the purest of kisses of all because their motives aren't self-seeking. They aren't given with the expectation of a response. They are unconditional offerings of love.

My left arm was falling asleep as I laid sideways stroking Aly's face with my right hand. I didn't care. Those moments are momentous.

I don't know what drew me to my daughter's side this morning. I rarely know for sure why God seems to almost pull me around on a leash some days, like an owner taking his dog to the park. I will be fighting the leash in the initial moments wanting to follow my instinctive patterns, but whenever I quit fighting the jerk of tension and the leash slacks as I move toward the tension, I find that I'm always led to a proverbial park of pleasure. Just like a dog, I am normally content with the fenced in backyard, but if I can let the leash of God's will pull me along, I am never disappointed with where he takes me in my walk with Him.

Today, like Mary, I chose the "better thing", I took "the road less travelled and it made all the difference." Sometimes you have to do something different in order to make a difference.

Boy, do I want to make a difference...especially with my girls.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Missional Leadership???

Buzz words. They pop up in the church like zits in our forehead T-zone on an unsuspecting Monday morning. I’m not sure why our culture is so “catchword” oriented, but we undoubtedly are.

One of the catchwords in the church the last several years is the term “missional”. Depending on who you talk to, you’ll get a different take on its definition, but most would agree it has something to do with “living on mission”, “life as mission”. It is rooted in the “Missio Dei” which means “sent by God”.

“As the Father sent me, so send I you.” - Jesus

It is this mindset that drives the belief system that we are missionaries in whatever context we find ourselves. We don’t “do” missions, we “are” mission. It is this theological framework that deconstructs the modern versions of Christianity and reconstructs something that aligns with the unavoidable “goings on” of Jesus in the gospels. He was obviously “up to something” with his life. He wasn’t “shooting from the hip” or “hoping for the best”; he was deliberately living out a mission assigned to him.

At times Jesus’ disciples would be trying to talk him out of things and he would respond with “missional” declarations. When tested by the crowds or the religious leaders, he would react to their criticisms with a clear sense of mission.

It is this particular and peculiar “mission” mindset that is spawning the buzzword “missional” in the church these days. There are times when I’d just as soon dismiss the whole idea along with its ideologues, but there is something to this “missional” thing that isn’t “newfound” at all. It seems anchored, rooted and ancient…like it was meant to be, like it always was.

As I’ve sought to restructure my life to fit a more missional mindset, I’ve found that it affects my leadership immensely. If you’re going to lead missionaly, it requires a revised tactical strategy. I’m not a master tactician, but I’ve come to realize that God has wired me to think more tactically that I’ve given myself credit for in the past. I always thought of myself as an “off the cuff, tornado-chasing, impulsive maverick”, but I’m realizing that I live with not only a sense of “passion”, but also a sense of “mission” as I lead. I have ideas that become ideals just like the next guy. I have thoughts that become theories, too.

So, I thought I’d throw something out there for scrutiny. It is fairly new, but it hit me last week and I thought there was something to it. Please don’t let the “word games” distract you from the “food for thought”.

I’m obviously using the word “mission” and the play on words to communicate what I believe to be “leadership qualities” that bring about “missional” change. Here they are in no specific order (and yet ordered with some specificity…hehehe):

Submission – bowing

*I believe that leadership starts with surrendering yourself to another. Mutual respect and submission gives someone credibility in my book. When you bow down and wash someone’s feet, you lead from your knees in a posture of servanthood and submission. When someone doesn’t lead with this posture, it smacks of an agenda, a power play.

Admission – opening

*I believe that leadership must embody vulnerability and honesty. Unless and until you admit your humanity you will never humanize another, you will only serve to dehumanize them with your ploys and projects. When a leader openly admits weakness and failure and sin, he paves the way for others to come out of hiding. Leadership must be open or it is nothing.

Permission – normalizing

*I believe a leader is always listening for and looking for where people are hearing “NO!” inside their heads and is speaking “YES!” into their spirits. Most people know what they are to do or be, they just haven’t been given permission to do or be it by another. When a leader normalizes someone’s question or answer, they release them to be free in the expression of those things. Most people live reserved and restricted all the while knowing what is right. Leaders don’t teach people what is right as much as they release them to do what they already know is right. Jesus was notorious for saying, “Go and do likewise”. This is giving someone permission to act on their God-given impulse.

Commission – initiating

*I believe a leader is continually looking for “rights of passage”. Humans seem to be wired to need these “checkpoints” in order to move to the next mission. A lot of leaders “insinuate” but don’t “initiate”. They “sort of” let them know they have what it takes, but they don’t empower them to “test themselves” through actually leading themselves. Discipling isn’t teaching someone information, it’s showing them how to do something and then stepping back and watching them do it. Leaders should move from people watching them to them watching people. Jesus did this with the 70 he sent out before him to the towns where he was “about to go”.

Intermission – stopping

*I believe a leader has a horse-sense for when it is time to pause in the mission in order to preserve its longevity. If you keep driving people with your drivenness, they become pent up with nervous energy, tighter than a snare drum. If life is going to be missional, it has to look and feel natural and normal. It can’t look harried and hurried, forced and fabricated. It must flow out of the healthy rhythms of one’s heart. Leaders are patient with the “process” instead of uptight with “progress”. Taking breaks isn’t the same as resignation. Giving people a “breather” lets them know that you care more about them than the product “they crank out”. Jesus was always stopping in the middle of success in order to fill his tank and the tanks of those along side of him.

Omission – removing

*I believe a leader knows what to cut out of his life at just the right time in order to stay the course. Most good leaders are taken out because of an “overabundance good things” not a “single sin”. Saying yes to ten “good things” is just as deadly as saying yes to one “bad thing”. Missional leaders protect mission from the “good ideas” that dilute the “best ideas”. But they don’t’ just protect themselves from subtle parasitical distractions; they protect their teams. If they sense a project, program, or event is siphoning fuel from the mission, they amputate it from the “to do” list. Missional leaders kill anything that leaches lifeblood from the Mission. In so doing, they keep the purpose potent and the mission meaty.

Transmission – spreading

*I believe a leader knows that wherever he is he is transmitting a signal. The passion of a person’s heart is felt, not dealt. Caught, not taught. Leaders don’t turn something on and off depending on where they are, they see themselves as leaders everywhere with everyone. When leadership is “put on”, people are “put off”. It has to spill from a person’s soul almost accidently, like someone caught you being “good” without you knowing it. People are always playing “follow the leader” even when they don’t know it. They are taking their “cues” from the leader the most when he isn’t “officially” leading. What is transmitted in the “off time” when the leader is “off duty” or “off the clock” is what drives missional leadership because it substantiates the message that we are never “not” on. We don’t go to the Lord’s house; we are the Lord’s house. We don’t worship for one hour; we worship for 24 hours. We’re always on the clock. We’re never offline. A leader transmits mission like a cell phone tower transmits frequency. The question is, “How strong is the signal?”

________________________________________

Well, this is a work in progress. I’m sure there are others, but these readily come to mind. Feel free to contribute to the “mission” words if prompted. I’m all ears.

All I know is that “missional leadership” is a different beast altogether. And I’m glad it is because I have an aversion to “traditional leadership” for some reason. Missional leadership feels more like elastic than plastic.

I like elastic.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Christmas Simplicity...

Simplicity.

It’s the best “city” to live in.

Unfortunately, the days are few and far between that I feel this sacred sense of simplicity hovering about me like a low-lying fog on a crisp spring morning. I typically feel rushed and scatterbrained. Hurried, harried, and harassed by an impending sense of doom or disappointment.

But this morning I’m sitting in the local coffee house with a hot Cup of Joe thinking about how much I love my life. I’m not caught up in the lingering residue of yesterday, nor am I eclipsed by the prospect of tomorrow’s deadlines. I’m sitting squarely in the moment, present and accounted for. This is rare, indeed.

The ambient music filling the room is some sort of orchestra piece, a symphonic mixture of the most rich and enriching sounds a heart could possibly know. I’m not a fan of all classical music, but whatever is playing right now is intoxicating.

The snow is lightly falling like cotton from the sky. It hasn’t yet turned brown with age, so everywhere you look all you see is purity and innocence. Even the ugly eyesores of the rural landscape are blanketed with the wintery garment of God. It speaks of the salvaging salvation of God covering the blight of our sick, sad and sorry lives with his only begotten Son. I feel covered today. Completely and Beautifully.

Last night our family decorated our Christmas tree and Heidi beautified our house with the trappings of Christmas. She is amazing. Boughs of holly and evergreen. Strings of lights and plastic diamond beads reflecting prism-like colors against the witnessing walls. Embroidered blankets intricately cross-stitched with snowflakes and candy canes and carolers. Christmas d├ęcor laced around the staircase banister, tenderly placed above the bay window, woven serpentine-like through the family pictures on the coffee table. The placement of candles throughout the house feels like you’re living in the 1700’s before the days of electricity.

Electricity.

This is the city we now live in…and for all its perks, it stinks.

Simplicity and Electricity don’t get along real well.

Electricity has brought us television and computers and phones and video games. Things that connect us for sure, but more often than not, they serve to disconnect us. You’ll be sitting with your family in the living room and 2 of them will be checking facebook on their smart phones, 3 of them will be on laptops wirelessly connected to the world, 1 will be on the phone texting someone (I just noticed texting still isn’t a word in my computer because it put a fat red line under it…thank you, Jesus), while others are watching television to pass the time. If you just sit there and look around you for a second, you will feel first-hand what the city of “Electri-city” inevitably produces.

But the city of “Simpli-city” offers less while giving you more. It forces you to create and conversate (not a word, I know. I care not…neither is the word “texting”). It forces you to eat together at a table and plant a garden in your backyard. In a world of simplicity you work in the day, play in the evening, and sleep in the night. You follow the seasonal rhythms of life and surrender yourselves to the created order of a day, a week, a month or a year. Electricity seems to allow you to stay awake when you should be asleep and sleep when you should be awake. This is why we live in a world of sleepwalking and daydreaming; we are far from home.

Simplicity is sitting by a fire with your kin. It is stringing popcorn together for a decoration all the while eating it and throwing it at each other. It is laughing at worn-out jokes you’ve all heard before, but graciously and gratefully relive in the retelling. It is listening to your offspring goofing around with each other on the couch making up silly voices that you would never utter in the presence of anyone other than your family. It is snuggling on the couch and tickling each other and kissing each other’s rosy cheeks. It is eating some of mom’s famous cheese soup that her mother fed her when they were decking the halls with boughs of holly themselves. Simplicity is needing nothing and having everything.

So as I sit smack dab in the middle of “Electricity”, I’m musing about and pining for the world of “Simplicity”.

I don’t think I’m alone.