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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Faking confidence...

I don't know if this will let the cat out of someone else's bag, or my own for that matter, but someone's gotta say it.


Most people have no idea what they're doing but live looking like they do.


It's true. Leaders make decisions and everyone else thinks they came to the conclusion they did because of some "insider info" that important people have a "backstage" pass to. Special access. While the leader's guts are rotting like a bruised apple at the bottom of a bushel basket, other people are largely living as if that person is decisively certain about every aspect of their decisions. It's just not true.


Most people are making stuff up on the fly. Even while they are in meetings with furrowed brows playing "make believe" with themselves about the future and its certainty, they are scared spitless of making a mistake or misstep. But here’s the thing, you can't let on like that's what you're feeling inside or everyone else will feel insecure, so you feign uber-security to keep the natives from getting restless.


I talk to lots and lots of people. Rich people and Poor people. Good looking people and average looking folk. I don't care who I'm with or how they are labeled within society, at the core, they are largely making, at best, an educated guess about the details of life. I've learned that we all feel "so in control" right up to the moment we're not. Once the bottom falls out due to unforeseen variables, we scramble around like beheaded chickens groping for a buoy. I will say it again; we are confidently assured right up to the very moment we're not. Period.

This must be known. It must be known by those who don’t think they know anything and those who think they know everything. I’m guessing even the most astute and poised leader knows less than 10% of any given thing at any given moment. (Even in that last sentence I’m guessing about guessing, I don’t know, maybe it’s less than 5%...hahaha.) The point is that life is largely about risk and trust.

What I’m learning separates people from other people in the leadership realm has less to do with knowing more or being smarter, it has to do with what we choose to fear. I’ve noticed that good leaders don’t fear failure or people. They don’t know everything, but they already know that. They’ve given up on that greyhound chase of the little mechanical rabbit. They, instead, choose to live with calculated risk. To get comfortable with discomfort. In the middle of the “unknown”, they “know” one thing, it’s not what you know in the first place, it’s who you know. And they know who holds everything together. They know him well, and that’s all they need to know.

So when you look around you today, don’t make the mistake I often make. Don’t think that the humans shuffling about you any less scared about the sketchy details of their own decision-making. Everyone is nursing a fear of not having enough facts and way too many feelings.

But this is just my best guess based on my own inconclusive data. See what I’m saying?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Silence of Friends kills...

"It's not the attacks of your critics but the silence of your friends that hurts the most."

I'm not sure where I read this, but when I did, it seared into my soul like a firebrand.

David called critics "blood-thirsty" men. A pretty graphic adjective if I do say so myself. Critics are licking their chops looking to sink their teeth into anything that's alive. And the most painful strength of critics in their verbal boldness.

I've been on both sides of silence. I've been in conversations where I've left someone stranded in order to protect myself. I've also stuck my neck out on occasion hoping for backup only to be disappointed with stone silence. This kills the soul.

I want to make sure I'm speaking up for my friends instead of assuming they know I'm with them. I'm sure that I have tons of people that silently affirm me, just as I have people that I silently affirm. This makes about as much sense an "unspoken request" in a Baptist Wednesday Night prayer meeting. What's the point?

The Word says, "Better is open rebuke than hidden love."

I'm concerned with hidden love these days. I think we underestimate how many people are getting railed by critics out there. We assume that they know they're loved and appreciated, but do they? I tend to think that the scoreboard is really lopsided in favor of the critics.

Bloodthirsty - 9
Friends - 1

We have to put some points on the board. If we lose at this level, we lose at every level.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

What Jason thinks of Rob Bell & Love Wins…

Let me begin by saying that I have learned a great deal from Rob Bell over the years. His speaking and writing have stirred me to deeper places of discipleship, especially his emphasis on the Jewish culture and the Rabbinical traditions of Hebraic history. I get very defensive of someone like Rob Bell when people rabidly malign him and question him at the level of personal character making “low blows” that seem more personal than biblical in substance.

Though your belief and your behavior are intertwined, I find it appalling to read the reactive commentary of so many “so-called” Christians that seem to error toward personal attacks instead of theological higher criticism. I think Rob Bell is a good man. I don’t think his heart is malicious and cunning and deceptive at the core. I don’t know Rob personally, but I don’t sense that he’s “Judas Iscariot”, “The Snake in the Garden” or a “false brother”.

I guess I struggle with the vitriolic verbiage of the vocal minority as the respectable representation of Evangelical Christianity. I always have. I don’t feel good about aligning myself with the right or left wings of religion or politics, and as such, letting their voices characterize my conclusions. It seems so many feel forced to argue towards over-statements in order to make a point that draws it back to the middle. Blogs tend to over-generalize or over-polarize in order to capture what is perceived as a drifting population or market-share. This causes me to shy away from these deifying and demonizing extremes. I know it sounds like I’m straddling the fence, which can be quite painful if you happen to be a male, but I’m not. I’m simply trying to disassociate myself with certain sects of Christianity that throw the “baby out with the bathwater” in order to make their point. I’m not amused.

With that being said, I want to move onto some of my thoughts, which are anything but scholarly and exhaustive. Here are some of my personal observations.

I have read the book and am in the middle of reading it a second time. The first time I read it I decided to approach it as a learner instead of a critic simply letting it speak for itself instead of posturing myself with a presupposition and then looking for ammo to counter-attack the content. I’m glad that I did. It allowed me to enjoy the artistic side of the writing and to see the baby playing in the bathwater. And I mean it when I say that I learned some valuable things that I didn’t know before that have always been wonderments of mine along the way as I’ve read the Bible.

I learned a lot of stuff in the chapter on the Prodigal Son and the interactions of the older and younger brother. I know that he received a good bit of that material from Timothy Keller, but it was fresh stuff for me to chew on. I don’t agree with every conclusion, but I do see the merit in a great deal of what he shared.

I was deeply moved by the first chapter that talked about the variety of descriptions used to explain the ways that people came to forgiveness, salvation, and faith. These have been problem passages to me that I’ve noticed along the way and found myself nursing questions about, but never knew how to talk through. I found myself enjoying his questions, but pining for something more that just exploration. It’s like someone taking you on an expedition and then not planning on what to do when you get to where you’re going. I’ve been on that kind of trip before and it tries my patience. “You mean you didn’t have a plan beyond the joy of the journey?” This is what I hate about this “it’s-not-about-the-destination-it’s-about-the-journey” crap. It sounds so delightful until you run out of gas because you weren’t actually headed anywhere, you were just enjoying the scenery on the way to nowhere.

I also was moved by the Matt. 7 juxtaposition with Matt. 25 where in the one passage the people who did things “in Jesus name” weren’t known by God and the one’s who did things for the “least of these” where informed that they were doing it “to Jesus” without actually knowing they were. This is worthy of our thoughtful consideration. We tend toward little formulaic paradigms and I think God clearly wrote the Bible to avoid an overly “dangerous clarity” that leads to “self-righteous certitude”. This is why Jesus seems to be the most frustrated and angry with people that “think they know or see and hear” when in fact they don’t, and is most gracious to the ones who don’t think they “deserve or know and see” who do, much to their surprise. I want to honor God’s intentional writing style of suspense and contradiction in order to keep people from the “pride” that comes with “certainty”.

There are other things that I appreciated about the book along the way, but for the sake of this article, let me highlight some of my concerns:

“Questioning Answers without Answering Questions” – This tends to be the popular motif of the Neo-Evangelical mind. I understand its origins and find myself gravitating to this mindset based on my frustration with the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” fundamentalism of my past. But there are some subjects that I feel need explanation and conclusions. If Rob Bell felt compelled to write about some of the most deep and dear doctrines of Orthodoxy, I would hope that he would approach it with a bit more theological and historical research that allowed him to bring the topics he uncovered to a grounded place of truth. He must know that tons of people from all walks of life and all different places in their walks are counting on him to take them somewhere. I feel like he took people toward love, but didn’t care about taking people toward truth.

“Raising Doubt without providing Doctrine” – There is a great deal of good that can come from raising “reasonable” doubt in the “sacred cows” of ungrounded logic and theo-logic. But it must be “reasonable” doubt. If you’re going to raise doubt by asking a ton of “leading questions”, then as a teacher it is important to underpin those doubts and suspicions with counter-arguments stemming from reason. I think it emerges from a mindset that says good teaching is question-based, not answer-based. And though there is a time for questions in teaching and parenting and leading, there is also a time for clear and decisive answers. I don’t put my girls to bed asking the question: “I wonder if a robber will break into the house and take you while you’re sleeping?” while kissing them goodnight. It may not be an unfair question or an untrue question, it’s just important that if I’m going to bring up that question, I am taking into consideration their age, the timing of the question and ultimately whether I have an answer to how I’m going to go about preventing that from happening with logical steps as the protector of my house. I don’t stand in front of church and start the service by saying, “I sometimes wonder how many child molesters of attending our church, don’t you?” and then move on to taking up the collection without offering any context or conclusion to the leading question. This isn’t a perfect example of what Rob did throughout this book, but if he decided to crack open doctrine of this depth and breadth, I think he owed it to his readers to offer “reasonable thoughts”, not just “reasonable doubts”. This is not good teaching methodology.

“Gospels and Epistles” – I’ve noticed that pastors and authors that pitch this sort of “gospel of love and grace and compassion and justice” tend to use the gospels as their theological basis. I love the gospels. I think in my background they were neglected in comparison to the epistles. So I appreciate using Jesus’ life to show us what it isn’t Christ-like about our Christianity. But the epistles where included in the canon for a reason. Paul was called as an apostle “out of due time”/ “as one abnormally born” (I Cor. 15) for a reason. I think the epistles fill out the narrative of the gospels and mustn’t be divorced from them in our effort to take Jesus’ life and use it exclusively to create our theology. Theology must be synchronized with the whole of Scripture, not just the epistles (dry data) or just the gospels (lively drama) leading to our theology (incomplete dogma). I’ve witnessed both sides leading to an incomplete gospel.

“Incomplete is Incorrect” – One criticism you won’t be able to make about Rob’s book is that he didn’t have any Scriptural backing for his thoughts. It was chuck-full of verses supporting his arguments for or against cultural and biblical notions and interpretations. The issue I have isn’t that what he was saying was incorrect through and through, but rather incomplete. When you use John 3:17 to affirm your argument of ultimate and universal salvation where it says that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him”, and then fail to mention the context in the next verse that states, “whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son”, you do an injustice to the text. This is a prime example of something being incomplete, not so much incorrect in and of itself. He didn’t change the text; he just didn’t include the context. It’s like your child telling you their version of a story and conveniently leaving out the pieces of content in the context that doesn’t align with their side of the argument. You can’t treat the Scriptures like this or you can make it say whatever you want it to. The reason I know this is because I’ve done it before as a pastor to my shame. It is an egregious approach to interpreting Scripture. To me, then, when Scripture is shared incompletely it is often shared incorrectly. A partial story is an errant story. This is not just a Rob Bell problem; this is a pervasive problem in Christianity today. You can “chapter and verse” your way toward any desired conclusion. The Prayer of Jabez is a great example.

“God is love, so love must be God” – I think it’s important to recognize that God is love. But I don’t think it’s wise to elevate this virtue of God’s character to the diminishment of attributes like Justice, Wrath, Holiness, Sovereignty, etc. It’s like taking the metaphor of “spiritual warfare” and making Christianity about battle and attack and fighting and forgetting that it is only one of many illustrations used to communicate the fullness of how God relates to humans. He is a father, potter, shepherd, lover, brother, warrior, creator, etc. The only thing more important than each of these is all of these. The same is true for his attributes. Love isn’t the only description of God character in the Bible, nor can love be defined only as compassion, mercy, forgiveness and affection. Love is also jealousy, anger, and discipline. Love leads us toward all sorts of emotions, not just a “warm embrace”. Love isn’t God, God is love; and when you use the lens of love alone as the hermeneutic to answer the doctrines of Hell, Heaven and the fate every person on the planet, I think you’re going to come to some incomplete conclusions at best, some fatal errors at worst. He very clearly was beginning his argument from the position of “I want to find a better alternate story than the one Christianity is telling” and began to look through the Scriptures to find what he believed that “better story” was. In this sense, he accomplished his mission. The only problem is all the stuff he had to cleverly avoid in the text along the way to arrive at his desired outcome.

“Leaps of Logic” – I think as I read the book again, I’m finding that Rob isn’t so much a theologian as he is an artist. His book is written with an artistry that is undeniable. Sometimes it felt like he wasn’t even trying to achieve an accurate “treatment of truth”, he was just weaving an aesthetically pleasing conversation in a writing style that was attractive and aesthetically gripping. As I reevaluate his thoughts, it was definitely style over substance if you are reading with the lens of higher criticism. He made mention of the verse that says God is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. He then makes the argument that “God always gets what he wants.” It think this is a clever deduction, but throughout the Bible God’s will isn’t always followed and he allows people to make decisions that don’t ultimately comply with “what He wants”. It is clever in that it makes you feel like you’re saying God is not all-powerful if he, in fact, doesn’t get what he wants. So in this pressure-pinch it’s easy to then take this verse and twist it to say, “God wants everyone and so God will get everyone”. His desires will prevail. Why, he’s God. He can do what He wants. But just because God can “do what he wants” doesn’t mean He will always “get what He wants”. That is where our Free will meets the conflicting current of God’s will. And though it isn’t God’s will that someone murders someone else, he allows that to happen, thus letting us chose to do something He doesn’t ultimately want. These sorts of logical leaps fill the pages of this book. But I don’t think logic was Rob’s ultimate reason for writing the book. He very clearly was leaning into artistry more than theology in several sections of this book. This makes sense, because he’s an artist first, a pastor second and scholar somewhere down the line after that. Scholarship wasn’t nearly as important as Craftsmanship. This is quite all right if you’re building furniture, but not if you’re constructing theology.

“I’m not a scholar; I’m a pastor” – In several his interviews, I heard Rob make this disclaimer at the end of uncomfortable debates. On the one hand, it relieves some pressure from him and some pressure from the listener. “Oh, he is humbly admitting that he isn’t a credible voice in the dialogue of doctrine, I guess I can relax my judgment.” It sounds like he’s raising the white flag of surrender admitting defeat, but he’s not. When I first heard him say this and then heard him say it again, I thought to myself, “Then why did he tackle this sort of subject matter if he knew this to begin with?” It’s like sitting under a surgeon’s knife and him saying, “I’m not really a surgeon, I was just going to give this a shot for the fun of it and the love of people.” I don’t care if you love people! If you’re not a surgeon, don’t write on the subject of surgery or perform one. And if you’re not a theologian, don’t write on the subject of theology or perform any antics that pose as authoritative dialogue. He calls it a conversation almost glibly, but this is more than a conversation, it is a talk about matters of life and death for people. Another flaw in this argument is the idea that just because you’re a “pastor who is concerned for people” it somehow means that you don’t have to be a scholar or theologian. I think he is unknowingly sharing something that deeply concerns me with the modern notion of pastoring. It isn’t seen as important to be biblical as much as conversational. In this sense, a pastor isn’t to be help accountable for biblical scholarship and interpretation, he is simply to be appreciated as a lover of humanity sticking up for their cultural interests and felt needs. That’s a poser, not a pastor. A pastor must be a truth-seeker and a truth-speaker. A pastor must be “workman who doesn’t need to be ashamed, rightfully dividing the word of truth”. He must labor over interpretation, admitting wrong conclusions when he’s shown to be out of line. Anyone who steps in front of people as an oracle of God must care deeply about research, history, and fact checking. Being a pastor doesn’t abdicate this responsibility, it never has and it shouldn’t start to now. If anything, being a pastor and caring about people should make us fearfully responsible in our tasks on behalf of truth.

__________________________

More could be said, but in general I feel saddened that so many are flocking to Rob for truth and they’re instead getting a mix of art and wonderments. He is far too intelligent to be writing such material. If he wasn’t intending for this body of work to be a thorough treatment of the text and context of scripture and history, he shouldn’t have taken people on this expedition in the first place. I felt like he forgot to go to the drawing board before running with many of his ideas.

It is quite possible that many of his arguments have sufficient data to back them up; I just failed to see them in this document. I hope people will read “Love Wins” for what it is, the questions of a man looking for a better story. Because that is, for the most par, all it is.

(It must be said that I have looked back upon my own life with sadness at my interpretation of Scripture along the way wishing I could go back and change my positions. I must afford Rob and anyone else the same forgiveness I hope people will grant me as I limp along in my representation of the gospel. I write all of these observations with a heart of humility. I know what it is like to speak as a mouthpiece of God and receive criticism from “stone-throwers”. I hope my thoughts don’t seem like the harsh rantings of a ‘know-it-all’ for that is not my motive even if it seemed like my mode. Like Bell, I am a pastor who is concerned for people, and I feel like his thoughts may actually create more harm than help for humanity. I can only hope I am wrong.)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Song of Solomon rendering - Chapter 8 - last one!!!

Chapter 8

1 If only you were to me like a brother, who was nursed at my mother’s breasts! 
Then, if I found you outside, I would kiss you, and no one would despise me.

I feel like I have left everything for you, and though I’ve lost friends over my decision to offer myself to you completely, I don’t regret it. I can see that others sometimes despise my joy with you. They are jealous, and in some ways it makes me feel good, like other women are jealous of my life. The way you treat me, pursue me, kiss me. It feels good to be despised sometimes.

2 I would lead you and bring you to my mother’s house—she who has taught me. 
I would give you spiced wine to drink, the nectar of my pomegranates.

I love going to my family’s house with you. I love putting you on display for all to see. “This is my husband. This is my champion. This is my lover. Check him out…He’s all mine!” Sometimes I miss parts of my old life, but not often. You have eclipsed all of my other desires; they pale in comparison to your presence.

3 His left arm is under my head and his right arm embraces me.

I love sitting next to you when your arm is around me, your hand clasped around my shoulder while you rub my arm with your other hand. I feel so secure, so protected. So surrounded.

4 Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.

I feel like I have to be careful around other single ladies because I know they want what I have. I find myself in conversations saying to them: “Just you wait. Your man is out there and he is looking for you. Don’t just throw yourself into the first man’s arms that shows you some attention; make sure he’s a man of honor that will love you more than he loves himself.” I can see myself when I look at them; I remember feeling giddy about guys and wondering if I would find my true love.

Friends

5 Who is this coming up from the desert leaning on her lover?

Friends

“There she is, little-miss-I’m-leaning-on-my-man-every-second-of-the-day. The love birds are back in town!”

Beloved

Under the apple tree I roused you; there your mother conceived you, there she who was in labor gave you birth.

Woman

I remember that one time out in the orchard under that one apple tree arousing you with my sexy eyes; do you remember that? I will never forget that evening we shared. It wasn’t until later than I found out it was the same place that your parents conceived you. I thought that was gross at first, but now I think it’s kinda sentimental.

6 Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; 
for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame.

I want you to ensconce me upon your very heart, like a tattoo on one’s arm; I want to be permanently etched into your very soul. My love for you is all-consuming, unyielding as one’s predestined fate. My passions burn like a wildfire; there is no stopping the intensity of my desire for you.

7 Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned.

No matter how much water is splashed on my love, nothing could quench the fury of its flame, nothing. And all the wealth in the world could not tempt me to trade what I have with you for a life of fortune and fame. I would rather be a pauper in your arms than a princess in someone else’s. You are my choice above all others.

Friends

8 We have a young sister, and her breasts are not yet grown. 
What shall we do for our sister for the day she is spoken for? 
9 If she is a wall, we will build towers of silver on her. 
If she is a door, we will enclose her with panels of cedar.

Friends

We have several younger sisters that look up to your relationship. What advice do you have for them in their youth about marriage? We know that they are all different and that each will make their own choice in their future mate, but do you have words of wisdom to share? We see something in your relationship that we want to pass on to them.

Beloved

10 I am a wall, and my breasts are like towers. 
Thus I have become in his eyes like one bringing contentment.

Woman

I know it might seem like I’m a pushover, but I’m not. I haven’t fallen for my husband mindlessly; he has won my love with great effort and purposed passion. It’s not automatic or accidental. It’s intentional. I don’t just throw around my breasts at anything with a pulse; I have guarded my purity. And it is now that very purity that leads to unfettered passion. Pure Passion. Most have passion, but it is not pure.

And because he has guarded himself with a similar resolve, my body, and mine alone brings him unending fulfillment. I love to bring him to pleasure and then watch his eyes close in rapturous satisfaction. He need look no further than me for his recreation or procreation; I will meet his every need, for he works hard to meet mine.

11 Solomon had a vineyard in Baal Hamon; he let out his vineyard to tenants. Each was to bring for its fruit a thousand shekels of silver.

Make no mistake; we are two individuals with two separate lives. We have personal choices to make, separate personalities to monitor, and different desires to pursue, so I don’t like it when we are accused of being inseparably and hopelessly codependent. That’s just not true. We are one flesh, but we are two people.

12 But my own vineyard is mine to give; the thousand shekels are for you, O Solomon, and two hundred are for those who tend its fruit.

And yet, I’m not embarrassed to say that I lean upon my husband with my life. His advice is most important to me, his perspective most respected, his decisions most trusted. Compared to the weight I give others, there isn’t even a close second place to him and I sense the same from him. We are lost without each other.

Lover

13 You who dwell in the gardens with friends in attendance, let me hear your voice!

Man

When I hear you laughing with your friends sometimes I get jealous and want to share that same laughter with you. I want to talk with you and hear your day’s thoughts and disappointments. I want to catch up on how you’re doing and what you’re thinking about. I don’t want your friends to get the best of you; I want to be the first to hear your voice. I love your voice.

Beloved

14 Come away, my lover, and be like a gazelle 
or like a young stag on the spice-laden mountains.

Woman

Well then, let’s go out on a hot date, my gorgeous stag! Let’s get away from all other distractions and head out on an adventure together. I don’t care where we go as long as we’re together, forever.

Friday, March 18, 2011

...the help of my daughters...

Nehemiah 3:12 - Shallum son of Hallohesh, ruler of a half-district of Jerusalem, repaired the next section with the help of his daughters.

A little explanation. I'm reading Nehemiah right now for the fun of it. I'm learning about leadership, conflict, resilience, vision, planning, team dynamic, delegation, criticism, prayer, listening to God, and failure.

In the aforementioned verse, Shallum was a ruler of what is described as the half-district of Jerusalem and he was in charge of rebuilding a section of the wall of Jerusalem. It is described as "the next section" meaning that there were several sections butting up against each other around the city that others were in charge of rebuilding simultaneously. You can read about all the different gates tucked in between these broken down walls (the Fountain Gate, the Horse Gate, and my favorite, the Dung Gate) and the people groups designated to each. It's a pretty fascinating coordination of reparation.

But those details aren't why I'm writing exactly.


The detail that struck me yesterday was the part that said...

"[he] repaired the next section with the help of his daughters."


I have three beautiful daughters. They are each special to me in their own way. I don't have a son, and quite frankly, that doesn't bother me a bit these days because I've learned that little women are powerful in their own right. They possess more strength and passion and grit than I initially anticipated when I started the journey of fathering daughters.

Last night we spent about 45 minutes watching old video footage of their childhood. We laughed at little lisps, broken English, peed pants, smeared lipstick, temper tantrums, sibling quarrels and shotgun giggles. The remembrance of those years stabbed me with joy. It caused me to reflect upon my days with fond satisfaction, particularly the delight of fathering girls. I found myself thanking God (inside my head) that I was given the privilege of leading a family of women, something felt hallowed last night as I sat there with Aly tucked under my arm on the couch.

I guess that's why this little phrase in Nehemiah 3:12 gripped me so. I was transported to this epic project of rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem and this father Shallum's brood of beauties standing in solidarity with him along the wall. I imagine them sweating together and pushing each other to finish before nightfall. I picture him toiling side by side with them, stirring mortar...fitting stone...cleaning up debris. In my mind's eye they are laughing at each other, fighting with each other, building up each other.

"the help of his daughters."

I don't think my daughters know how much I need their help. It's easy to act all adult-like tackling tasks like a linebacker. I can get it in my head that "they need me" and I have to "come through" for them. But here's the reality: "My daughters have saved my life." If I'm being honest they have saved me way more times than I have saved them. But they don't know this. How could they?

My daughters help me stay motivated. They help me stay focused on the right things. They help me to see the joy in the journey. They make me laugh along the wall when I'm prone to obsess over "the all-important project". They play in the mud and mortar while I'm trying to stir it to keep it moist. They build sandcastles while building the wall. They put their shoulder to the task without making it the end-all of life. They help me more than they know.

I wouldn't be able to "rebuild the wall" without them. I don't so much need their help to carry the bricks; I need their help to carry my heart. I need to see the levity of their faces in the gravity of the moment. I need their hug at the end of the day. I need to tell them stories to remind myself of the point of my story.

It must be said that I'm building the wall with the help of my daughters.

If I had more time, I would go on and on about the "help of my wife". That's a whole other subplot in the story. But time today doesn't allow me to innumerate the stories of her saving grace. She is a savior and my need for her is greater than ever.

I am blessed.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Song of Solomon rendering - Chapter 7

Chapter 7

1 How beautiful your sandaled feet, O prince’s daughter!

Your body is a wonderland. Whenever you take off your clothes my eyes scan you up and down wrestling to embrace the idea that you are all mine, forever. I love you from toe to head. Let me explain.

Your feet are beautiful as you walk about elegantly gracing the ground with every step. I love starting with your feet as I kiss up your body making my way to your lips.

O prince’s daughter! 
Your graceful legs are like jewels, the work of a craftsman’s hands.

From your feet I kiss my way to your legs--slender, soft and smooth. It is as if they were carved with a sculptors chisel and brought to life with the breath of God, as Eve was in the world of Eden.

2 Your navel is a rounded goblet that never lacks blended wine.

I’m almost bashful to admit my love for the next thing my eyes caress, for to talk of it feels wicked, but I can’t help but speak my mind. Your folds of flesh that beckon my touch are pillows of pleasure on which I rest my passion-spent head. It is like a mixed drink, a goblet of something rare and exciting to the mouth. I faint at my own folly, though it is right for me to feel this way.

Your waist is a mound of wheat encircled by lilies.

My lips continue upward as I kiss your waist with the kisses of pure contentment. There is almost too much body for me to handle, to fondle.

3 Your breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle.

I’ve spoken of your breasts before, but this was before I had seen them unveiled, unclothed. Like seeing the mountains for the first time and pulling over to take it all in, I feel as though I am seized in my senses, unable to just move on. I tremble to touch them. Even my kisses are coupled with reverent fear. It feels like holy ground.

Your neck is like an ivory tower. Your eyes are the pools of Heshbon by the gate of Bath Rabbim. Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon looking toward Damascus.

Slow in getting there, I can’t help but move toward your face, the most beautiful part of your being. I love kissing your neck slowly, panting with passion. My heavy breathing is brought on by your shocking beauty. It doesn’t seem reasonable that I could know you as long as I have and still be caught off guard by your body.

5 Your head crowns you like Mount Carmel. Your hair is like royal tapestry; the king is held captive by its tresses.

You never stop surprising me, my love. Even as I’m lost in your body, your eyes have caught mine and I’m brought face to face with the very image of God. Your nose, your head, your hair, they hold me captive as my heart is transfixed on yours. You are crowned with the glory of heaven bearing the likeness of God’s matchless beauty.

6 How beautiful you are and how pleasing, O love, with your delights!

You bring me more pleasure than anything this world has to offer. You are a wellspring of delights, my love!

7 Your stature is like that of the palm, and your breasts like clusters of fruit.

As I pull myself away from you to have another look at your naked form, your stature is like a palm tree and your breasts like clusters of fruit to be harvested.

I said, “I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of its fruit.”

I look into your eyes and I can’t hold back any longer: “I want to climb onto you and take a hold of your breasts pleasuring myself with your whole body and pleasuring you with mine.”

May your breasts be like the clusters of the vine, the fragrance of your breath like apples, 
9 and your mouth like the best wine.

May your breasts be like clusters of grapes hanging on the vine ripe for the husbandman’s picking, and may your mouth—tongue and lips—satisfy my sexual thirst like a glass of wine calms the stress of one’s soul. You are my addiction.

Beloved

May the wine go straight to my lover, flowing gently over lips and teeth.

Woman

I have no problem fulfilling your primal urges, so let the wine of my body satisfy you through and through, flowing over your lips like a gentle downpour.

10 I belong to my lover, and his desire is for me.

I belong to you now, body, soul and spirit, and I have no problem being the center of your attention, the fulfillment of your sexual fantasies.

11 Come, my lover, let us go to the countryside, let us spend the night in the villages.

But let’s not stay in the same place for too long at the risk of getting complacent; I want to visit all kinds of places with you, spending the night in a variety of locations, be it outdoors or indoors. The only thing that’s important to me is that no matter where we find ourselves, you are by my side through the watches of the night.

12 Let us go early to the vineyards to see if the vines have budded, 
if their blossoms have opened, and if the pomegranates are in bloom— there I will give you my love.

I want to keep things fresh with you; I want to be fresh with you. I want to open up like a flower when you touch me, and I want you to pursue me even after years and years have passed. I promise that if you never stop pursuing my heart, I will give myself to you, no questions asked. I will throw myself upon you and give you the first-fruits of my love.

13 The mandrakes send out their fragrance, and at our door is every delicacy, both new and old, that I have stored up for you, my lover.

I’m even open to aphrodisiacs. I want to always stay creative and spontaneous sexually. I don’t want to get in a rut, a routine that leads to a cold familiarity. I’m open to new things as well as tried and true things because my heart has stored up all kinds of ideas that I want to try out with you. I want to seduce you all the days of my life.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Song of Solomon rendering - Chapter 6

Chapter 6

Friends

1 Where has your lover gone, most beautiful of women? 
Which way did your lover turn, that we may look for him with you?

Friends

Well it’s clear that you’re quite taken with this gentleman, so let us help you find him. Where do you think he’s gone? Is there a spot that he goes to when he needs to get some space and collect himself? Just tell us where you think he may be and we’ll give you a hand in looking for him; we can’t bear to see you in this dreadful state any longer.

Beloved

2 My lover has gone down to his garden, to the beds of spices, to browse in the gardens and to gather lilies.

Woman

Chances are he’s gone down to his favorite place in the whole world. It’s a luscious garden filled with flowers and scenery that is to die for. There are certain flowers there that he always picks for me. I wonder if he’s gathering them for me even now?

3 I am my lover’s and my lover is mine; he browses among the lilies.

Come to think of it, why don’t I go to his favorite place and you look for him elsewhere. I’m almost sure I’ll find him there if I know him at all. For I am my lover’s and my lover is mine.

As I rounded the bend on the north side of the garden, my eyes caught his and I stopped to see if his face spoke of any ill will. I was delighted to see that his smile was welcoming and warm. I ran into his arms and he swung me in circles as he held me tight in his embrace.

Lover

4 You are beautiful, my darling, as Tirzah, lovely as Jerusalem, majestic as troops with banners.

Man

Let me look at you, my darling. Stunning as ever. I wondered if you would engage in my chivalrous game of hide and seek. I knew it wouldn’t be long before you discovered my whereabouts. This is, as you know, our romantic getaway.

5 Turn your eyes from me; they overwhelm me. 


Look away from me, my love, for your eyes overwhelm me. Every time you gaze upon me as you do, I feel as though you are peering into my very soul.

Your hair is like a flock of goats descending from Gilead.

Your hair looks especially dashing tonight, disheveled though it is from the impassioned search. I love to comb my fingers through your locks of loveliness, grazing your shoulders as I move down your back with my hand.

6 Your teeth are like a flock of sheep coming up from the washing. 
Each has its twin, not one of them is alone.

The tilt of your head as you smirk in delight pleases me to no end. I cannot tell you the pleasure I feel in giving you pleasure. When I touch you and you close your eyes and smile, I melt with satisfaction.

7 Your temples behind your veil are like the halves of a pomegranate.

Your forehead glistens, your temples pulsate with passion coursing through your veins, and I can hardly contain my lust for your affections.

8 Sixty queens there may be, and eighty concubines, and virgins beyond number;

You could line up queen after queen, concubine upon concubine, virgins as far as the eye could see and I wouldn’t, more than that, I couldn’t be distracted from your loveliness, my baby.

9 but my dove, my perfect one, is unique, the only daughter of her mother, the favorite of the one who bore her. 
The maidens saw her and called her blessed; the queens and concubines praised her.

You stand alone among them all, fairer than the fairest in the land. I know that you say you see nothing special in yourself, but I don’t agree at all. You are uniquely formed in body, fashioned in spirit, and I am utterly wonderstruck that you have chosen me among men to court your heart. Even other women can see that you are a cut above in form and features, so I’m not simply spouting off biased nonsense. You must believe me.

Friends

10 Who is this that appears like the dawn, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, majestic as the stars in procession?

Friends

The universe itself cowers and bows as you move toward your man. The moon pales in its resplendence. The sun even acknowledges your countenance. The stars in all their majesty don’t sparkle like your eyes in the twilight. You are radiant, indeed.

Lover

11 I went down to the grove of nut trees to look at the new growth in the valley, 
to see if the vines had budded or the pomegranates were in bloom.

Man

There are days that I can’t hold myself together. I double take and pinch myself to see if this dream could be true. I question whether I am man enough for someone as precious as yourself. Am I capable? Do I have what it takes? These questions burn inside my chest.

12 Before I realized it, my desire set me among the royal chariots of my people.

Sometimes I catch myself in a daze of sorts lost in my own self-doubt. I have to snap myself out of these paralyzing feelings and recognize that I have chosen you and you have chosen me and nothing can destroy our love for each other.

Friends

13 Come back, come back, O Shulammite; come back, come back, that we may gaze on you!

Friends

Maiden, fair maiden, come back so that we can catch one more look of you before your lover steals you away from us and envelops you with his love. It’s hard for us to believe that the little girl who we grew up with is the same woman we are blown away with today. You have exceeded all our expectations. It’s a Cinderella story!

Lover

Why would you gaze on the Shulammite as on the dance of Mahanaim?

Man

Cinderella story to you maybe, but it’s a love story to me. You may think that she doesn’t deserve me, but I’m here to tell you the exact opposite. I am the one who is humbled and honored to be her choice. She is beyond my worth and I am a lucky man to be seen by her side in public places.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Reading and Writing...

Paul loved to "lead and fight", but what I love about him was that he also liked to "read and write". In an age when it's easiest to just live hard until you eventually expire and retire to your eternal dirt nap, I have great respect for the spirits that draw away from the fray and take the time to scrawl, scribble and script a record that bears witness to their existence, their experiences. Making a mark in the sands of time, so to speak.

A verse struck me several years back that I haven't been able to shake in 2 Timothy 4:13 ...

"When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments."

This is the last chapter of the last book Paul ever wrote in the New Testament. We see in his final will and testament the things that meant the most to him. And one of those things that he couldn't do without coming down the home stretch of his life was his books and notepads. The scrolls represented his reading, the parchments represented his writing. His patterns of poring over books and penning out his percolating thoughts strike me as noble. I have often thought of his passion for these disciplines and found great strength in his resolve.

If you were in the final days of your life, what would you want people to bring you? What would it be difficult to live without? What withdrawals would be gnawing at your soul giving you the shakes? For Paul there was a few people he needed by his side, his favorite coat, some books, a pen and some paper. It seems strange, when you could ask for anything, to be concerned with such seemingly insignificant trifles. But I would submit to you that reading and writing are no such thing. These activities are quintessential to living.

They sharpen your senses. They nurse your wounds. They quicken your creativity. They stir up the gift within you. They refine your thoughts. They bring expression to emotion. They resuscitate dead dreams. They enliven logic. They tutor you through times of neutrality. They breath life into your lungs. They pass along passion to the next generation. They virally spread your DNA. They keep you from narcissism. They bust up hardening arteries of tunnel vision. They lift your eyes to hills and away from your own navel. They stab you with Eden and seduce you with Heaven. They arrest your affections. They demand movement. They comfort your afflictions and afflict your comfort zones.

Scrolls and parchment are still very important. They are important to your children. They are important to your future and your present. They are important to your legacy. They are important to your next breath and the moments that will follow it. These simple items used to record life give you the ability to live on after your death. Your body dies, but your spirit carries on. Paul knew this. He knew this all too well.

And this is why I write. Because it is fearfully important. It says to the rushing river of time, "You can keep moving downstream, but I will trap you in a jar along the way and put you on the shelf in my home. I will not float with you wherever you want to go, but I will bottle you up occasionally and take you where I want you to go. I will carry your rushing current to other places where the rivers do not flow and pour you out on that dry land. I will trap time in a capsule and revisit that place whenever I wish to relive those moments over and over again."

I'm glad Paul took the time to scoop up life along the way trapping it on a parchment and in a scroll so that I could rub the jeanie in that bottle allowing his spirit then to meet my longings now letting them timelessly interact with each other.

For all that is corruptible in the art of living, this craft seems incorruptible. For all that is mortal in this life, something about this discipline seems beautifully immortal.

Friday, March 04, 2011

A leader talks to himself...

Leadership - the ability to talk yourself through self-doubt.

I remember a kid named Joel Palmer who constantly talked to himself. He would mutter under his breath at his desk as he worked through mathematical equations. He would mouth words soundlessly as he was waiting in line to play four square talking through the last play that sent him to the back of the line or working through the next play that would advance him to the next square. But there was one thing he did that was, by far, my favorite thing to secretly witness.

As he made his way to the bathroom, I would sometimes follow him in and listen to him carry on a full-on conversations with himself as he went "#2". Everywhere else you would be forced to read his lips or bend in close to distinguish his muttered whispers, but he came to life in the bathroom, especially if he didn't think anyone was there to hear him. I would let him get settled in and then soundlessly open the door and tip toe in to voyeuristically listen in on his dramatic monologue. It was nothing short of fascinating!

He would talk through situations with friends, muse about an upcoming test, wrestle through doubts about himself, talk about what he wanted to do over the weekend, work through anger with how he was treated by someone, etc. He would go on and on and on. Going to the bathroom was 10% unloading human waste and 90% unloading social and emotional waste. Both are essential for healthy survival.

I used to think he was a freak, until I realized something. We all do this to some degree. In Joel Palmer's case, he simply lacked the social apparatus to shroud the private internal dialogue in public settings. His social deficiency led many to believe this behavior was an anomaly, when in reality, self-talk is quite normal.

It's not whether you talk to yourself, it's how you talk to yourself.

David often talked to himself...
"Why so downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed with me? Put your hope in God!"
"Bless the Lord, O my soul, and let all that is within me bless His holy name."

The Psalms are largely poems of self-talk. A man writing out journal entries to keep himself sane and get him through another day of isolation. David was either clinically insane or onto something. I'm beginning to lean toward the later.

I said earlier that I believe a leader is someone who can talk themselves through self-doubt.

I can't believe how much of my time in between meetings and other chance encounters with other human beings that I'm mulling over and muttering through conversations, if only in my own head. The other day I caught myself talking out loud in the car by myself while waiting for the light to change. I consciously picked up on my conversation when I was asking God why I felt something. By the time I realized I was talking to myself, my soul and my mind had worked through a couple of important question marks. These question marks never go away if you don't learn how to talk to yourself.

You can go to counseling, but if you don't learn to counsel yourself while you're sitting in a cave, you're in deep doo doo. If the Psalms teach us anything, they show us that this is the place where God does the best counseling of our souls. He joins us in our own personal counseling session and speaks into our self-talk with Spirit-talk. He chimes in on the conversation along the way.

Self-doubt has got to be the greatest limiting factor to leadership. Hours spent spinning your wheels in the meantime. Days lost in indecision simply because you can't "make up your mind". Energy expended in secret due to "mind games" twisting your insides into pretzel-like formations on the wrestling mat of the underworld. Mock situations and relational role-playing gutting you like a fish creating a fantasy second-life that swallows up time like the vicarious world "online gaming". Learning how to talk yourself through these seasons is a matter of life and death in leadership.

And I'm not simply talking about "Self-help" techniques alone, it is positioning yourself in a conversation with yourself to really hear from the third party of the third person of the Trinity. As you bend the ear of your soul, the Holy Spirit adds a track in the recording. He adds harmony, changes keys, and sings a new song as you wrestle through your psalm of response to life.

I can't believe how many days I feel like I can't do what I'm doing.
I can't believe how little it takes to discourage me.
I can't believe how easy I can go from high to low.
I can't believe how little criticism from so few people it takes to disable me.
I can't believe how paralyzed I feel when I'm all alone.
I can't believe how easy it would be to give up on any given Monday morning.
I can't believe how much I don't believe in myself.
I can't believe how quickly I rush to negative conclusions about life.
I can't believe how mean I am to myself in secret.

And while I'm struggling through this internal feedback, I have to lead with passion, vision and mission. I don't know how to do that aside from figuring out how to "talk myself through" doubt and despondency. To interact with my soul honestly and healthily. To mutter and mumble and muse appropriately.

I'm not good at this right now, but I'm getting better the more I normalize "talking to myself" and embrace the internal conversation. I've learned that I don't mind talking to myself, I just hate listening to myself.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Song of Solomon rendering - Chapter 5

Chapter 5

Lover

1 I have come into my garden, my sister, my bride; I have gathered my myrrh with my spice. 
I have eaten my honeycomb and my honey; I have drunk my wine and my milk.

Man

Your body is every bit as beautiful as I dreamed. Every touch, every taste takes me to new places of ecstasy. There is nothing left to my imagination, for I feel your welcoming warmth inviting me to explore every mysterious place on your body. I have had my fill thanks to your freedom, your inhibition to let me in.

Friends

Eat, O friends, and drink; drink your fill, O lovers.

Friends

After years of holding yourselves back from each other, you are free to eat, drink and be merry! Doesn’t it still feel like you’re doing something wrong, something naughty? But you’re not. It’s not longer a guilty pleasure.

Beloved

2 I slept but my heart was awake. Listen! My lover is knocking: “Open to me, my sister, my darling, my dove, my flawless one. My head is drenched with dew, my hair with the dampness of the night.”

Woman

When I went to bed that night, my heart couldn’t stop fluttering with excitement! It kept me up even though my eyes were closed. But then I heard someone knocking on the bedroom door and I was startled. The voice was that of my lover. He must have locked himself out of the bedroom. “Please open the door, my darling, my dove, my perfection and completion. I couldn’t sleep so I went outside to get a breath of fresh air and I must have locked the door in my haste.”

3 I have taken off my robe—must I put it on again? 
I have washed my feet—must I soil them again?

“But I am lying naked under these blankets, nice and cozy and warm, and my robe is way across the room! The floor is cold to the feet and the air chilly to the skin! Are you sure you can’t find another way in?” Of course I was saying this in jest.

4 My lover thrust his hand through the latch-opening; my heart began to pound for him.

Just as I finished teasing him, he thrust his hand through the latch-opening and I could see his fingers trying to unlock the door that was fastened on the inside—to no avail. My heart started to beat fast for him. I love to see the strength of his unbridled desire for me; it turns me on.

5 I arose to open for my lover, and my hands dripped with myrrh, 
my fingers with flowing myrrh, on the handles of the lock.

Eventually he gave up and I could hear his footsteps walking away from the door. I quickly jumped out of bed—naked and warm—and opened the door with my trembling hand, but it was too late; he was gone.

6 I opened for my lover, but my lover had left; he was gone. 
My heart sank at his departure. 
I looked for him but did not find him. I called him but he did not answer.

My heart sank inside of me. I regretted not getting up when he was asking me to, for I was looking forward to feeling his warm body against my own. I called out for him and even wrapped a sheet around my body and went looking for him, but he was nowhere to be found.

7 The watchmen found me as they made their rounds in the city. They beat me, they bruised me; they took away my cloak, those watchmen of the walls!

I lost all dignity and walked the streets in search of him in my undergarments. Love makes you do some pretty silly things as you look back upon them, but in the moment, all you can think about is the love of your life. It wasn’t long before people started noticing my desperation and started making fun of me for being so needy and immature. It made me feel so stupid!

8 O daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you—if you find my lover, 
what will you tell him? Tell him I am faint with love.

I found my friends and asked them to help me look for him. I was starting to get worried that I had done something to offend him and that he was going to do something foolish as a reaction to my inaction. “What do you want us to tell him if we find him?” my friends asked sheepishly. “Tell him that I am faint with love for him.” I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

Friends

9 How is your beloved better than others, most beautiful of women? 
How is your beloved better than others, that you charge us so?

Friends

What is it about this guy that is so great? Why would you risk your reputation like this in search for him? And why would he leave you longing so if he was the kind of man you say he is? Isn’t it possible that you love him more than he loves you?

Beloved

10 My lover is radiant and ruddy, outstanding among ten thousand.

Woman

Listen here, everybody! I know who he is. He is a good man valiant inside and out. He stands above his peers in everyway, outstanding among ten thousand to be exact.

11 His head is purest gold; his hair is wavy and black as a raven.

He has a great head on his shoulders; I’ve seen it time and time again in pressure situations. He doesn’t flinch in the face of conflict, no matter the odds.

12 His eyes are like doves by the water streams, washed in milk, mounted like jewels.

His eyes can look through you, he doesn’t have an ounce of self-doubt and yet he isn’t self-confident to a fault. You can see the humility in his gaze.

13 His cheeks are like beds of spice yielding perfume. His lips are like lilies dripping with myrrh.

When I look upon his face, I see gentle strength. His cheek and jaw bones look as if they’ve been carved out of marble, but his lips are soft like the surface of a grassy meadow. Sometimes I catch myself staring at his mouth just wanting to kiss it.

14 His arms are rods of gold set with chrysolite. His body is like polished ivory decorated with sapphires

His arms are like chiseled pillars of power, casting small shadows that show off his muscle’s definition. His body is tone from head to toe, every thing is perfectly in its place. I love staring at his backside when he’s walking in front of me and I can tell other girls do as well.

15 His legs are pillars of marble set on bases of pure gold. 
His appearance is like Lebanon, choice as its cedars.

His legs are gorgeously in shape. He takes care of himself and it shows. It makes me feel like he loves me when he doesn’t let himself go. I am hopelessly attracted to every part of his body; I can’t keep my hands off him!

16 His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether lovely. This is my lover, this my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: his mouth is delicious, I tell you! When my lips touch his I get goose bumps up and down my whole body. Kissing him is altogether lovely.

He’s not just my lover; he’s my best friend. And I want every girl around to know one thing: You may not be able to keep your eyes off of him, but you had better keep your hands off of him, cause he’s all mine.