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Monday, January 31, 2011

My daughter closed her door this morning...

This morning something interesting happened.

My daughter shut the door to her room while getting dressed.

I was standing in the bathroom grooming myself in front of the mirror and as I looked into my daughter's bedroom, I caught her eye as she was getting ready and watched her move toward the door closing it nonchalantly behind her.

I've seen her close her door before, but I thought it was to keep her sisters out of her space. At least this is what I've been telling myself. Usually in the morning when it's just her and I getting ready before middle school, she doesn't concern herself with such details. She is open and free. Doors are open, lights are on and things are unrestricted.

There was just something in the transaction this morning that felt like we were symbolically "closing a door" on an innocent season of life. These closed doors crush me. I want to preserve her innocence for as long as possible, yet despite my best efforts to buffer her from reality, something on the interior speaks into her habits and patterns pressing her to conform to nameless and irresistible instincts of privacy. I want her to live "open-doored" with me about everything and this morning her body language said loud and clear, "I want my privacy."

There is something about looking at a closed door between you and your kid that is scary.

It is a "right of passage" to some degree where they are testing their legs and their independence. It is perfectly normal for them to not want to be seen naked at some point. (we would be having bigger issues if it were the other way around). But there is something about having children that takes you back to Eden, a place where you lived unaware of lurking evil, in a beautiful state of un-self-consciousness. When the door is closed on those Edenic rooms that you've enjoyed for several years of there childhood, the door is closing on the wardrobe to Narnia.

Your ability to escape into a world that is "naked and unashamed" is stolen away from you whether you like it or not. You are left with "clothed and ashamed" once again and something about the house is seemingly "adulterated with adulthood" all in one moments decision.

I don't mind clothes, but I hate cover up.
I don't mind independence, but I hate isolation.
I don't mind maturity, but I hate pretension.
I don't mind privacy, but I hate secrecy.
I don't mind make-up, but I hate make-believe.

There is something in the sound of that closed door this morning that felt like I was witnessing Genesis 3 in living color. I went from Eden to East of Eden and with the slamming door I saw angels wielding flaming swords wordlessly saying, "You won't ever be able to return to this place". The supple skin that once was enough will be covered by sheep skin.

That door today was a fig leaf.

As I stared at it with hatred, I was reminded again that I am far from Eden and Heaven. I am East of Eden and West of Heaven. I can't wait for Heaven.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Muscle Memory, Muscle Confusion, and Discipleship.

I might as well admit this from the get go…I don’t exercise. If there is some credit dished out for simply wanting to, well, then I would get a lot of credit, because, well, I do really want to. I think about exercising almost incessantly, seriously. I imagine myself sweating on a treadmill losing calories with my iPod strapped to my bulging bicep running with a stride that looks effortlessly Olympic-like.

Sometimes when I’m sitting at home watching U.F.C. on Spike I’ll lunge from the couch throwing myself on the floor to spastically perform pushups. I punish myself until I couldn’t possibly do one more. Shaking and spent, I crawl back to the couch, reclining into the cushions trembling a bit from the muscle spasms. It’s funny, really. If you were to see it voyeuristically through the window, it would look as if I was having a seizure while being chased by bandits. Frantic.

So when it comes to exercise and fitness, I’m not one to speak.

That being said, I have been intrigued recently with muscles. I’ve heard a couple terms on the news that have piqued my curiosity.

Muscle Memory and Muscle Confusion.

I was watching ESPN a few weeks ago and they were doing a piece on Tim Tebow, former Heisman quarterback for the Florida Gators and current backup quarterback for the Denver Broncos. He has been a talking point for the last couple years in the news because of his unique mixture of physical strength and mental toughness combined with his awkward throwing motion and less than ideal in-the-pocket instincts. Some believed that despite his uber-talent he wouldn’t be drafted because of the bad athletic habits he developed over the years with his throwing technique. Talk radio even said that he would have to abandon the quarterback position and try to learn the line-backer position or something crazy like that.

The brief documentary catalogued the extensive lengths he was going to in order to reverse his muscular instincts (what his muscles do when he isn’t thinking about them). He would throw the football up to 1,500 times a day trying to unlearn certain “muscular memories” and to retrain those muscles to function differently “by default”. It is easy to do the right thing when you’re in a training facility practicing the drill, but it is another thing all together to be in a game-time situation and to execute the drill “by default”. They showed the progress of his arm over the months of grueling throwing exercises. Inch by inch he has been retraining his muscle memory to act according to “correct techniques” instead of “learned habits”.

This was intriguing to me.

Yesterday, I was talking to a buddy and he brought up this whole idea of “muscle confusion” and the belief that in exercise the more you confuse your muscles with a variety of exercises instead of the same routines, the stronger and healthier it is for your body.

Many exercise programs are tapping into this “newfound” technique which, truth-be-told, isn’t all that new. They are finding that muscles respond with increased mass as well as increased strength to the programs that emphasize “muscle confusion” as opposed to “standardized routines” of exercise. When you break down the muscle and take it to the limit and then change the angle of the pressure or the frequency of the pressure, your muscles don’t have the ability to build up a tolerance or immunity to the predictable pressure. It is this confusion that leads to greater strength and faster growth.

I have seen both “muscle memory” and “muscle confusion” at work in my discipleship over the years. There are several learned habits that I’ve been trying to reverse for years to no avail. No matter how much I kick against the goads, I walk the same cow path I’ve always instinctively taken. I’ve enacted cow-tipping techniques. I’ve butchered sacred cows. But at the end of the day, the cow path is my default. Muscle memory dies hard.

And yet, I’ve seen small incremental changes down through the years. Yet in almost every case, the change has been wrought by God taking me through a set of “muscle-confusion” situations. I hate these times because they feel so disturbing and disorienting. Honestly, they are so painfully “uncalled for” that I sometimes wonder if it is Satan or God due to how disruptive these times are in my life. I open the Bible and when I look at my life and then I look at the pages of script in front of me telling me a different story, I’m confused. It is this “confusion” that messes with my “memory” and the categories I’ve become accustomed to and faithfully abided by.

But as I lean into the confusion, I find myself growing stronger. And even though everything inside of me is screaming to return to my “default setting”, I know my muscular instincts are driven by self-preservation more than self-sacrifice. As I reject their routines and lean into the unpredictable call of God, I find a newfound strength fill my life.

This is discipleship…the un-training and re-training of the flesh and spirit. As we move from the memory of the Flesh into the confusion of the Spirit, it is then that we begin the pilgrimage of really following God. Whatever we called it before this radical conversion is probably something closer to a religion of our own making.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

“Sleeping on a pillow in a boat on a stormy day.”

A while back Mark Batterson wrote a book called “In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day”. The title is taken from a story in 2 Samuel 23 about a man named Benaiah. Instead of trying to retell the story in my own words allow me to quote the passage starting with verse 20:

20 Benaiah son of Jehoiada, a valiant fighter from Kabzeel, performed great exploits. He struck down Moab’s two mightiest warriors. He also went down into a pit on a snowy day and killed a lion. 21 And he struck down a huge Egyptian. Although the Egyptian had a spear in his hand, Benaiah went against him with a club. He snatched the spear from the Egyptian’s hand and killed him with his own spear. 22 Such were the exploits of Benaiah son of Jehoiada; he too was as famous as the three mighty warriors. 23 He was held in greater honor than any of the Thirty, but he was not included among the Three. And David put him in charge of his bodyguard.

We love stories like this, don’t we? Chuck full of vim, vigor and valor. Dripping with drama. Movie-worthy exploits. Front-page news. These are the books that sell quite frankly. Books that appeal to the “inner hero” stirring up the romantic ideals and best-case scenarios that latently pulsate in the underworld of our soul day in and day out.

We all want to think we would descend into a pit on a snowy day and kill a lion with our bare hands. Going to a hard place under inclement conditions to perform an impossible feat of strength…who doesn’t want to live that story? So we buy these books hoping to learn some secret that will turn us into “Benaiah” or “Jabez” or “John-Doe-Secret-Bible-Hero”. These books sell, especially with catchy titles that point toward adventure, success and heroism.

But I want to write a book with a different slant:

“Sleeping on a pillow in a boat on a stormy day.”

Somehow it doesn’t have the ring that Mark’s book possesses…the sexy curb appeal. But alas, this would be my contribution to libraries across the land.

By now, your mind has probably already located the passage of Scripture where this title derives its context. It speaks of a time in Jesus ministry that I can’t stop thinking about lately. It is one of Jesus’ highlight ministry moments, in my opinion, though it looks like one of his lowlight moments where he is exposed as a lazy lard of a leader.

The story is found in Mark 4…check this out…
35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

I’m not sure why this story grips me so, but there something here that penetrates to my core. I think it’s the ability of Jesus to rest, to be at peace, to sleep so soundly in the midst of chaos, to pull away from the forefront and head below.

We are taught as leaders to be at the helm, and here Jesus is in the stern. We are taught to lead in the storm, and Jesus sleeps in the storm.

Picturing Jesus sleeping on a cushion calms me.

It doesn’t sell books quite like killing a lion in a pit on a snowy day, but I wonder if there isn’t more to leadership than savage feats of strength under inordinate amounts of stress produced in life or death situations. In my mind, life or death situations don’t always present themselves in the form we are looking for or feeling for. They often are found in the stern, below the deck, out of the panoramic gaze of panning cameras.

The best leaders understand the power of the pillow.

They get rest and relaxation. The can say, “Peace, be still!” to life around them because they know how to live in that place themselves. You can’t have a peaceful effect on life around you when you’re wound up tighter than a snare drum living a life of frenetic and manic energy. All you can speak to the waves is something like, “Hey, I know I have no right to tell you to calm down being that I’m the most non-calm person on the planet, and I know I can’t tell the driven wind to subside from the hyper-driven place I live from, and I sure as heck-fire can’t whisper a storm into submission when my life is nothing but a stormy quall itself, but can you please, pretty please, stop and be still?”

“Sleeping on a pillow in a boat on a stormy day.”

This is the kind of book I would write today ‘cause this is the kind of leader I want to be. I want to know when to be intense, and then I want to know how to out-rest the best of ‘em. I want to know when to live with unbridled passion at the helm and then to live with shameless relaxation in the stern. And even when the boat is about to capsize, I want to sleep like a baby knowing God is in control. I want to lead people in such a way that makes them restful and peaceful.

So, look on the bookshelf for this new release in the coming years. In a world where normal doesn’t really sell anymore, I hope to pitch a different story. And maybe this is what makes the life of Jesus so compelling…how normal he was.

Make me a normal leader, God.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Pastoral Ponderings...

Oh, to be a pastor now a’ days:

1. You have to be organic without being an organization. Oh, but don’t forget to be organized in your ‘organic’ized ministry. (say nothing of the decision to have or not have an ‘organ’)

2. You have to be relevant without forgetting to be reverent. Oh, but you’re also supposed to be different while being relevant. Don’t forget that.

3. You need to be a church without being churchy all the while preaching without being preachy.

4. You need to somehow make newcomers and old-timers feel inspired in the same service offering milk and meat in rations that don’t offend either camp.

5. You need to be missional, not attractional. All the while keeping in mind that while you’re doing mission it should be attractive, not repulsive.

6. You need to raise the bar of leadership while letting people that aren’t perfect assume roles of responsibility. Nobody is perfect, but they need to be above reproach…hugh?

7. You must bring a message of hope and potential and joy while ingesting inordinate amounts of bad news and stories of devastation.

8. You must be real and vulnerable with people without making them feel like you’re susceptible to the same issues that they are. Be human without being too human.

9. You must possess the qualities of a CEO and the innocence of a child with a seamlessness that allows you go back and forth between them without detection.

10. You need to be schooled in business management and biblical scholarship knowing when to switch hats on a moments notice.

11. You must have thick skin and soft heart, which is like asking a ballerina to go to battle.

12. You need to know how to live with unbridled passion for the kingdom/church and on the way home learn how to shut it off so that you can relax into your family.

13. You need to foster deep friendship without making others feel like you’re being exclusive and partial.

14. You need to know what’s going on in the world not just the church becoming a czar of culture and Scripture.

15. You need to love meetings and hate bureaucracy, love the stage and hate the spotlight, love people and hate people-pleasing, love the world and hate the world all at the same time.

16. You need to have a vision for the future while living with a passion in the present.

17. You must learn the art of afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted…welcome to the doorstep of insanity.

18. You must entertain everyone’s ideas and opinions without being a pollster who is continually swayed by the special interest groups slowly and unknowingly losing God’s ideas and opinions.

19. You have to be a mix between a stand-up comedian, philosopher, theatrical performer, counselor, engineer, administrator, artist and theologian.

20. You need to be a place where people feel good without being a “feel-good” church, which is like telling a pretty women to be beautiful without making other women around her feel ugly. “Be beautiful, just not too beautiful.”

21. You must love people with every fiber of your being opening your heart to be beautifully loved or brutally crushed…this is the catnip and kryptonite of ministry.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Reliving and Preliving kill the soul...

I was pressed with a thought yesterday. I think thoughts almost continually, sometimes this is planning which is good, often it is plotting with is very, very bad.

Planning is wise stewardship of the time you’ve been given to ensure you don’t squander even a moment. It does no good to be in an unplanned moment spinning your proverbial wheels and cleaning up unnecessary messes that could have been avoided with just a wee bit of forethought.

Plotting is poor stewardship of time because it centers on trying to relive the past or prelive the future. When you plot it looks a little like role-playing. You get done with a particular frame of your story and instead of moving on to the next frame, you freeze-frame. You stay in a regret or a remembrance mulling it over again and again in your mind. I suppose it would looking something like a heifer in a pasture chewing her cud, swallowing it, regurgitating it, re-chewing it, re-swallowing it, and re-regurgitating it, repeating this cycle for hours on end. When life become full of re-re-re-re’s time is lost, moments forfeited to broken tape-recorders in our head stuck on repeat.

But plotting is not just trying to relive the past; it is trying to prelive the future. This is where role-playing takes on a more evil and sinister face. Let me try to explain. There are times when I catch myself daydreaming about another person or situation or event placing myself in a fictional story of my own making pre-living out the scenario before it happens. I will fantasize about what I’m going to say if they say this, or what I’m going to do if they pull this stunt, and so on and so forth.

The inner dialogue goes something like this: “When I see him I’m going to give him a piece of my mind. Why I’m going tell him what’s what and who’s who. I’m not gonna take any crap. And if he responds by turning our conversation toward that topic I’m going to turn that tactic right back on his own head by telling him this, that or the other thing. Who does he think he is and where does he get off misunderstanding the situation and spreading his misinterpretation to others. Someone needs to put an end to this and dagnabbet that someone is gonna be me. He hasn’t seen the first of my feelings on this issue and the days of playing mister nice guy are over. I’m gonna give him a piece of my mind once and for all and let the chips fall where they may. I’m done. I’m done I tell ya’!” And this is the edited version truth be told.

It can lead into hours of role-playing these “all bark and no bite” conversations and situations that steal from the moment we’re in and fill our lives with “fictional heroism” and “virtual strength”. It’s easy to believe this is bringing more control into our lives, but it is really wasting our lives away in made-up drivel.

Worrying about what people think, what so and so said to so and so, wondering about where you stand and how that stacks up in comparison to other people’s picture of reality…all these things steal, kill and destroy your life. In leadership journals they refer to it as the “meeting after the meeting”. The discussion that people are having after the official meeting adjourns. We can get caught wondering about what people are saying and who they are saying it to and the viral spread of “who knows what” to own demise. But it can also be the “meeting before the meeting” that takes you out. This is where paranoia sets in and with it, relational rigamortis. We are frozen in a state of fear like petrified wood, once living and growing, now hardened and rock-like.

And the killer is the moments we lose in the meantime. Hours are spent in make-believe words of control, producing and directing the drama of our life without living it. We are legends in our own minds or losers in our minds. It matters very little which conclusion you come to, you’re not living, and to Satan that’s all that matters.

Time, real time and people, real people, are forfeited as you give yourself over to “feedback loops” in your own head.

I confess my own difficulty with managing this cancer. Sometimes I feel like I’m in remission, other times I feel like I’m in stage 4 being kept alive by nothing more than the will to live. And life, abundant life, is about as real to me as an imaginary friend. An illusion that is talked about, but never apprehended.

I want to break free from this default. I must find freedom from this “reliving and preliving” of life. This plotting and scheming. This role-playing that seeks to replace playing.

I want to present myself to the present and drink deep of its nectar. For it isn’t long before the nectar of today ferments into the poison of “yesterday or tomorrow”.

The manna rots and starts to stink, for it was meant to be daily bread. If it is not gathered today and eaten today, it spoils.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Judging others based on my last 19 hours of success...

I've learned something today about being human.

I started watching what I was eating yesterday around 9:30pm. I haven't even gone 24 hours with my newfound position as the "watchdog of health and dieting". But guess what? I've been keenly aware of how overweight people are today. Not only have I been eerily aware of how portly "he is" or "she is" but I've concurrently found myself feeling like I'm glad I'm not undisciplined like "they" are in my eating habits. The basis for this condescending spirit? 19 hours of eating healthy. 19 hours and I've turned into a luminary on the subject of overeating and dieting. 19 hours and I find my brain looking at others like slothful slugs. 19 hours of focus gives me the audacity to be the judge, jury and executioner of all things food and fat. 19 lousy stinkin' hours.

And it hit me...whatever I happen to be focusing on in any given moment becomes the most important thing in the world. Not only the most important thing in the world, but what should be most important in everyone else's world since it's the most important thing in my world. Whatever is filling my mind becomes paramount and I'm offended if someone else isn't aware of how powerful and life-changing this particular thought is.

"Look at how much they're eating...wow, they already are 50 pounds overweight at least!" "How could they drink that latte? Don't they know how many calories there are in that baby?" (I just drank two 22 and 24 hours earlier at the airport, but no matter, that was another lifetime in my mind. I'm a new man and I've been a new man for 19 hours.)

It progresses to something darker. "Why don't people care about what they eat? Why don't they see this as a spiritual issue? Why aren't people appalled at themselves for their disturbing consumption." (This being thought by a man who only 22 hours ago had a massive chicken wrap from a fast food deli and 16 hours ago had a huge plate of lasagna at an Italian restaurant with complimentary buttered garlic rolls. I even asked for more rolls to mop up the leftover sauce on my fine china plate.) My evaluation of others' behavior is only based on 19 hours of newfound discipline. My judgement of their attitudes and actions is anchored in 19 hours of transformation. I've become the maven of munchies, the czar of obesity with my 19 hours of professional credibility. I've earned this honored place with blood, sweat and tears...the honest and honorable toil of a superficial superiority.

I've fallen out of a stupid tree and hit every branch on the way down.

But this is what we humans do. Whatever I'm doing good at in the moment I'm standing in becomes my grid to evaluate the world. Never-you-mind my blind spots, I don't use those as standards until they are momentarily strengthened putting me in a favorable light. I switch my standards based on the shifting sands of personal strength in the moment. If I'm doing well at "abiding by the speed limits", I can't believe anyone else could break the law without seeing it as a spiritual issue. If I'm waking up early to pray and read the Bible every day, I don't see how anyone could call themselves a Christian without doing the same. If I'm staying sexual pure, I become the master of masturbation-prevention. If I'm becoming environmentally conscious, I hate people that don't recycle even though I just started last week after x-amount of years of doing as I please. You see how this works?

Anias Nin says, "We don't see the world as it is, we see it as we are."

This is sick, sorry and sad.

It goes a bit further than just temperamental and temporal standards set on the basis of our momentary soapbox or "pet-issue turned pep-talk" or special interest. There is a tendency to be "good at something" or "have abilities that lend themselves to a certain area of gifting" and we gravitate to appreciate and validate only the things that fit those categories. If you're academic, you look down on the aesthetic. If you're an activist, your look down on the artist. You read the Bible finding the verses that support your pre-suppositions and pre-conditions. You value only those things in life that applaud your "sweet spots" and downplay those areas that you "don't care about" or find "superfluous" not thinking for a moment that your lack of enthusiasm for "x" could be directly connected to your weakness, inability and wholesale "bankruptcy" in the area of "x". The best way to feel great about your "wheelhouse" is to treat ever other interest or affinity as an "outhouse".

It's amazing how people's theology is chosen less on what the Bible has to say and more on what aligns best with their strengths. If I'm studied, I see "x". If I'm storied, I espouse "y". If I'm spirited I align myself with "z". And so on and so forth.

I'm sure more could be said, but I'm getting all worked up, so I will end this disturbing line of thinking.

I just hate how I do this. I hate that today people were being led through my slaughterhouse of "dieting discipline" just because I decided to be sensitive to my eating habits. Chances are that I won't be thinking about this next week, it will be something else and everyone around me with have to capitulate to my newfound "stump speech". It might be landscaping, biting my nails, or adoption. Whatever it is, could you do me a favor? Don't listen to a word I'm saying cause more than likely it will pass like the weather.

Let's make a pact, an agreement. Say this along with me: "I, (state your name), will not hold you hostage to whatever my "pet passion" is, judging your value on the basis of my current strength. I will afford you the grace that I hope you'll afford me when I don't measure up to the 19 hour 'perfection streak' you're on in a given area, whatever that may be. I do herby solemnly swear to let God guide and direct your life so long as you let Him do the same for me. I realize that there will be occasional tension since God works with different timing in each of our stories, but I think we will treat each other more humanely under this mutual agreement. Most atrocities start with lapse of judgement in this subtle, yet seismic shift of perspective. Atrocities like the Holy Wars and Crusades of the past, and the holy wars and personal crusades of the present. I will give myself to the discipline of letting Jesus write your story instead of me, so help me, God."

Ok, that feels a lot better. Everyone can go on eating whatever you will, I will probably be joining you after this "health zealotry" dies off, which according to my track record with be sometime later this evening.

Have mercy on me, a sinner.