Search This Blog

7.31.2013

Unknown

When I was in 5th grade I remember my sister dating a guy named Joe. I didn’t bother to change his name here, because I’m assuming he keeps tabs on where I live. My parents didn’t want them dating and in an effort to gin up familial opposition, they told us Joe was a criminal. Not just petty theft though; he was stealing kids. My parents warned me never to be alone with Joe because he was a convicted kidnapper. For the next three years, until we moved away to Mississippi, I’d hold my breath as I checked behind the shower curtain and around my bedroom door, inside my closet and underneath my bed for one particular monster: Joe, the kidnapper my sister thought was marriage-material. Middle schoolers are supposed to have outgrown their fear of the dark, moving on to adolescent anxieties like flirting and puberty and making the JV squad. But something about Joe, or the version of him my parents sold to me, left me terrified of the dark.

When I think about the future, about a decision I have to make or a new life-stage or whatever, it reminds me a lot of those days in middle school. Only now, my fear of the dark isn’t manifested in a need for night-lights or bodyguards, it’s apparent in my crippling fear of the Unknown. Quite often, I give it the most authority in my life. Fear isn’t just found in the Unknown, it thrives there. It makes its home, it grows and becomes the monster in my dark, there in the Unknown. We don’t ever see the Unknown as a place of hope, of dreams or possibilities; the only possibilities we give light to are the negative potentials that lead to deeper hurts, darker pains, harder breaks.

And sometimes it isn’t fear that comes with the Unknown. Sometimes it’s anger. It’s not that I’m scared something might happen, it’s that I’m pretty sure something else won’t, and I’m mad about it. A brat about it. I don’t want to go there, so I pitch a fit, throw down my teddy bear and tantrum my way into avoiding my next steps toward the Unknown. If I get mad enough at God or life or “the way it goes” maybe then I can stay put a little longer, in neutral, in a holding pattern that keeps me from doing something I don’t want or think I don’t need, and in the process, I get nothing out of my decision but more of the same. A life devoid of adventure and risk and the rewards that come with the gamble.

Remember when we used to play Hide & Seek?  Inherent in the game is an element of the Unknown. Someone hides and we eventually take off after them, having added some mystery with our counting to 100 by tens.  We have to hunt in order to discover. Half the fun is in the quest to find each other. In Looking for Alaska, John Green writes about “the Great Perhaps,”—a reference to what could be. I don't think we can realize our future--our Great Perhaps--until we chase down our fears.

So, find adventure. Take risks. Discover the reward of life. Seek life in the authenticity of your fear and anger and disappointment. Realize life in the movement deeper into those places. Press in. Lean in. When your emotions are raw and you’re at your worst, when all you can see in the Dark are your fears and all you can hear in the Dark are your failures, when all you’re confident of in the Unknown is that you’ll hurt worse than you do right now, that you’ll do worse than you’ve done in the past, that you’ll no longer get to have what you wanted for so long—when the Unknown lurks and beckons and taunts you, give it your soul.

Because who decided the Unknown has to be an evil place, even if it is dark? What if the Unknown isn’t just where fear resides? What if it’s where hope is born? What if the Unknown gives feathers and wings to hope and peace and life on the other side of the threshold? What if the Unknown is borne of God, his adventurous way of drawing us into himself more deeply? What if the Unknown isn’t anything to be scared of or mad at or disappointed in? What if shame and fear and anger and sadness are perversions of what really lies in the Unknown: hope.

Isn’t that the point of the story of the exodus? The Israelites are being delivered by Yahweh through Moses and Aaron. They witness plagues and pillars of cloud and fire. Yet when they slam into a sea of hopelessness, with an army of oppression at their backs, they’re faced with the uncertainty of their Unknown. They choose oppression, a return to slavery, to what they’d always known, instead of believing that somehow, beyond all reason, the God of these plagues and pillars of fire and cloud could somehow muster up one more shenanigan. Well, He does. And isn’t that the point of the story? It’s not to prove the historicity of the Bible by searching for Egyptian chariots at the bottom of the Red Sea. It's about Hope vs. Fear. It's about our humanity vs. the supernatural. It's about trusting and hoping that something, anything, even the Unknown, is better than the oppression of our known Present. Hope lies in that dark, scary sea, waiting and ready to part the Unknown into walls of deliverance and adventure.

I have this thing where I fear rejection. I used to think it was a fear of failure, that if I asked people in a better way, then they’d say yes to hanging out or whatever. But I’ve realized it’s not a fear of failing or not asking correctly. It’s a fear of not meeting my expectations. The Unknown trades on expectations.  It’s why fear is so powerful and hope seems so unrealistic. Leaning in to the Unknown feels like we’re playing Russian Roulette with our hopes. Why believe when we have no proof? Why get our hopes up if they’ll most likely get dashed? Why believe in something when no one else believes you or in you or for you? GK Chesterton said that hope is “the power to be cheerful in circumstances we know to be desperate.” Maybe we don’t have to be cheerful. Maybe it looks like pursuing our Great Perhaps, or maybe it looks like nothing more than a prayer of resignation. But hope lives in the Unknown. It has to. And it beckons us, it lures us, it begs us to believe, to have the courage to jump, to trust, to hope in our dreams and ourselves and our God.

God is love. I think maybe God is hope, too. And maybe things don’t turn out like we want. Maybe it hurts like Hell, or disappoints us till we can’t cry anymore, or angers us and we pout outside of Nineveh. But our fears don’t limit God or temper his hopes in us. God is for us. Even when we can’t see. Even in the Dark. Even when we are surrounded by Fear. God is there. In the midst of it all. Take heart. Take hope. God is the God of the Unknown.

7.06.2013

Dwight and I

I think I'm the next Dwight Howard. And although our basketball skills are fairly even these days, surprisingly, I'm actually comparing myself to Dwight in a non-athletic way. 

I can't make a decision. 

And I feel bad for us, sometimes. We're as indecisive as can be, Dwight and I. It drives my friends nuts who want to hang out with me, if they're lucky enough to be the ones I decided to hang out with.
What do you want to do? 
I don't know. 
Want to grab food? 
Sure. 
Where? 
I don't care. 
Well what time? 
Whenever. 
What team are you going to sign your next max contract with? 
 ... 

There's this part of me that feels flexible and easy going; whenever, wherever, whatever, I'm down. I'm easy. But most of the time, it's because I can't make a decision. 

It's evident in my sermons. I can't decide what direction to go, so I end up going several different directions in the same sermon. I can't figure out what classes to take, so I sign up for more than I planned so I can drop the one I like the least. When I'm shopping, I like so many different options that I sometimes turn into a temporary Calvinist--I decide that if Gap has it in my size, then I'll get it. If not, then it wasn't meant to be. And let's not even get into dating, careers, houses, cars, cell phones, computers, vacations, cities to live in, teams to sign with...

We have so much to figure out. To decide. To choose from. Dwight and I. It's no wonder we're always looking for something better. 

Because there probably is. 

And there probably always will be. 

And it seems so obvious to those of us not named Dwight Howard that if he'd just pick a team and sign a contract, if he'd just plug in and make the most of where he is, he'd be on the road to happiness. It's a road far more rewarding than the road to the Finals. 

It's easy to mock Dwight Howard, isn't it? To criticize him for not making up his mind, or scandalously, changing it. Yet I'm just like him. We all are. It's the nature of a culture that has more options at its disposal than any other civilization that's ever existed. 

We can't decide on anything because we fear missing out on everything. Somehow we've managed to avoid or escape or belittle the present, beguiled by the illusions of More and Better. We feel as though we're settling for something good, when an elusive Great is still out there. 

So I wonder, then, how are we making our decisions? What is guiding us? What do we really want? 

Do we want more stuff because we actually need it or because we're burying pain? Do we need an expensive apartment in Uptown because it's the best fit or because we want to impress our new friends? 

What is guiding us and what should be guiding us are often different answers. Is it our quest for fame and fortune and the fountain of youth, or our endless pursuit of self-gratification? 

What if we were led by a desire to embrace the beauty that already exists in our lives? Instead of looking for shiny new toys, what if we discovered the luster of familiarity exclusively found in our current ones? Instead of craving another expensive addition, what if we saw the worth of simplicity and the value of the ordinary? 

Sometimes God speaks in loud pulpits and louder music. Sometimes God moves in hot flashes of fire and bolder walls of sea.  Often times though, God is present in the simple, ordinary moments of life. A smile from a stranger when we need it, encouragement from friends that spur us to new heights of achievement, a gentle breeze, a homeless woman asking for money, the annoying driver that stole our parking spot. 

A friend recently told me about her boyfriend's apartment search. He saw a place he liked and put down a deposit right then. It was such a foreign concept for someone who's driven to Dallas five times in the past month looking for the perfect place to live. We need to practice contentment. And for most of us, that means we need to find it first. To learn to identify that feeling of satiation. 

Because what if the Best or the More or the Great that we're searching for is never going to be found by constantly searching for it in new or other places? What if Best and More and Great exist in the same place or the same things or the same friends or the same career, only it's deeper? Instead of searching outward for other options, better options, shiny new options, what if those better experiences exist right where we are, deeper down? With more investment? With more presence? With more attention?

I fear that our culture has taught us to look beyond, to crave more in order to arrive at happiness and excitement, and in so doing, we don't find it. We're never satisfied. Because everything is surface level. What we really want, what we really need is not the excitement and flash of newer things, but the richness of depth and familiarity and ordinary and consistency and simplicity.

I wonder if that isn't why our church experiences are so unsatisfying. And our friendships. And our careers... Contentment means we aren't searching outward but further inward. And as we move deeper into the beauty of the ordinary, common, everyday moments of our every day, we'll find richer glimpses of the God who satisfies.  

Beauty is Fleeting


It dawned on me the other day: I'm getting old. I'm 32. It's not actually that old. But I'm closer to 40 than I am to 20. I saw a collage of pictures of a man who wore the same outfit every year for 30 years or so for his school photo as a teacher. It was fascinating and sad to watch him age. I can't fathom what I'll look like in 32 more years, but I can tell you this: I won't look as good. Not as young. Not as tan. Not as dark-haired and debonair (just joking, I will). 

It's funny how much energy, emotional and otherwise, I put into looking a certain way. I want to be in shape, I want to be attractive, I want to be well liked and remembered. Physical, emotional, sometimes lapping over into my spiritual concerns, I want to develop and maintain my image. Almost every decision I make is about myself and how it will best serve me. When I am indecisive, it's not because I think about someone else all that often, it's because I don't know which decision is best for me. 

Our looks are fleeting. We are getting older. We are getting slower and fatter and grayer. Our popularity wanes with each new place we land. We want to be famous and liked, but to most people we're only remembered until the next person's flashy Instagram photo pops up in our feed. 

We can concentrate on our looks and likability, our success and popularity, but it won't last. And we'll have wasted our time and decisions on things that didn't matter and aren't remembered. 

What if we decided to make choices that helped people? That were more influential? That made a difference and were remembered because they mattered? And what if it only mattered to a few people consistently? (I'm sure it's another post for another time, but in our obsession to be parts of  "movements" we have lost sight of the impact of deep relationship. We want to effect mass change instead of transformation that can only happen through time and consistency and patience and love. It's easy to retweet something against human trafficking; it's harder to keep giving and investing in the person who keeps asking and taking without a thank you.)  What if we took other people into account when we made decisions? What if more money didn't mean we get to buy more stuff but instead, we get to help someone in need buy something at all? 

Looks, fame, money, us. We're all fleeting. What is worthwhile? What will define us? 

7.04.2013

Introverted Jesus.

I was thinking about Jesus this morning, and I know, I'm in seminary, so that seems like a no-brainer after spending four years in school studying theology, but I mean I was thinking about Jesus. His humanity. And not in the two natures/one person kind of way or in the three persons/one God kind of way either. I was thinking about how Jesus may or may not have been an introvert. How he needed "alone time" and that after long days at church or school, sometimes I want to bury myself under the back seats of the church van while the disciples fight off the crowds, double-slap the door, and speed off in our 15 passenger getaway van.

I was thinking about how Jesus retreated to gardens and hillsides and mountaintops and boat hulls and deserts. Some think it was just his "quiet time," that we have biblical proof that a daily Quiet Time is a spiritual requirement. Some view these retreats as rare occurrences, that Jesus didn't really need that much time to recharge--he was God, after all. 

This morning I decided they probably happened more than we know. I think the particular references we have in the Bible are important to the story, maybe to emphasize God's revelation on a mountaintop or to set out the hopelessness in a storm when Jesus is sleeping down below. But honestly, I don't care if Jesus was an introvert or extrovert, an Enneagram 1 with a 2 wing or a 2 with a 1 wing. If I'm being really honest (as if I haven't to this point) I hope Jesus wasn't my personality type because then I'd feel an even stronger responsibility to look like Jesus looked and to act like he acted--to live like he lived. 

But that's what got me. We're all called to be ministers of the Good News. We're all called to be Christ-like. We're all called to make disciples and speak hope to the ravaged and value the discarded. Extroverts. Introverts. ESFP. INTJ. Popular. Unpopular. Rich. Poor. Republican. Democrat. Legal. Illegal. Educated. Non. Seminary. Or not. 

As followers of Christ, we're all called to lean into him, to follow him, to be made into his image. To be different. To look different than the world around us. I used to think that meant that we wouldn't cuss or drink or listen to secular music. I used to think that meant taking positions that were controversial in the eyes of the world. Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson were good examples of what I thought it meant to look different than the world. We stand against homosexuality or abortion or divorce because the Bible says so.

Except I don't think that's what it means. I don't think we go around picketing our disapproval with specific lifestyles or choices or sins. We don't post statuses about a fallen world's reckless disregard for Christian morals.

They will know we are Christ followers by our love. We don't stand out, we aren't different, because we are judging others; we are different because we love others. I don't want coworkers to think I'm a Christian because I don't smoke or cuss. That's great if they do. But even better, I want them to know I'm a Christ-follower because I help the impoverished, because I help give voice to those who are marginalized, because I try to find those who are excluded by our world. 

That's radically different.

In a world that creates technology to find newer, more effective ways to self-aggrandize, caring about someone else is radically different. Disregarding a need to be popular or well-liked in an effort to make someone feel liked at all is radically different. Giving time and presence--even when we're exhausted--is radically counter-cultural.

I suppose I got thinking about all of this because students at my seminary don't necessarily look different. Some do. Some don't. I don't too often. We exclude and judge and gossip and criticize and evaluate as if we're judges on So You Think You Can Dance. We pick our friends and find ways to justify keeping those groups closed; after all, Jesus only had a few close friends. We read the Bible and find ways to neutralize the parts that give us heartburn; after all, Jesus didn't really mean to give away all our possessions to find eternal life. 

And I'm sure it's just my seminary. We're probably the only ones struggling to look different, not by words or opposition, but in our active love of others. But at least this morning, I am keenly aware that whether I like big groups or closed groups or staying away from groups altogether, Jesus did it all. Whether Jesus was introverted or extroverted or miraculously both in the same person, he had huge crowds and close friends and time alone on the hillside. He had moments of self-care, and I'm 100% convinced he had moments of best-friend-antics, practical jokes, and burnt food, as well. Yet he also made it his purpose in life to find those who were left out, to bring them in, to give them hope and show them they're valued.

Today is the 4th of July, a day that American culture celebrates with hot dogs and fireworks and parties with friends. Try inviting someone you normally wouldn't. Try getting to know someone you don't know too well. Try serving a little today. Take a risk. And be different than the world around you.