Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A great lyric...

I was driving last night and threw in this album that I'd had for some time but hadn't really listened to. It's called: This is Americana. Great stuff.

What caught my mind was this introductory lyric in this song, "I'm So Ashamed", by Willie Nelson and Ray Price.

"I'm so ashamed of my eyes
Because they still cry for you
After they both
Watched my hand
Wave goodbye to you
I've told them time and time again
That this will never do
And I've told them how you
Always laugh at teardrops"

Wow. Simple and great.

A Tale of Everyman (or me and you and them and us and everyone)

The wind blew softly against his cheeks, rustling through his hair and cooling his skin. His eyes looked out and the view from where he stood, high, so high. His feet were planted firmly and his chest was full with a sense of pride. He had made it. He had arrived to his destination. It had been such a tough, tough climb. Certainly, he'd slipped a few times, fallen even, but he had perservered. He had done it. The view was glorious. He'd thought about climbing higher, farther up the slope to the next plateau but just didn't feel ready for it. This view was plenty enough. The sun's rays warmed his face and the vision was glorious.

It took him by complete surprise really. One moment he was planted firm, strong, confident, the next his limbs were flailing, grabbing, gripping, searching for a handhold to save him from the fall. He's not even sure what pushed him, if anything even pushed him. Groping as he fell, his hand caught hold of the edge and he halted abruptly. His body swung, precariously, and he exhaled in slight relief. Then his hand began to slip. He pressed his fingers into the rock, willing himself to stop but the dusty grit that rested upon the plateau would not allow it. Slowly, then more quickly, he began to slip. He fell.

The tumble was strange, so quiet, so, so quiet. His lungs couldn't seem to even gather the breath to scream, to cry out for help. He worked his arms frantically, yet he could not fly. His vision became blurred as the world sped past him. Then, all faded to black.

Those who watched the event happen from afar, and some from nearer than the young man realized, told the story. They told of how the young man, tall and proud, had approached the ledge and tilted his head, almost as if listening to a voice. A shadow fell over his face and they watched him jump.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Thanksgiving and community...

Yesterday, obviously, was Thanksgiving and it was a good day. I was reminded, even more so now, of how precious friends and community are. Both Erin and I's parents went different ways this year and we were blessed to have some dear friends in from Georgia over, as well as some other friends who we go way back with. As we sat and ate, and ate, and ate, and then watched some obligatory football, I simply allowed my mind to wander for a moment and just bask in the love that resided in the fellowship we were in. It was a beautiful thing. It was a fun thing. It was an irreverent thing. It was a sacred thing. To me, it was Church.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

My struggle...

Thomas Merton writes in The Silent Life regarding the true pursuit of the monastic life:

"They must be interested in one another, and at the same time they must respect the inmost needs of their brothers' souls. They must learn how to show compassion for one another without being obtrusive, to help one another without being nuisances, and to sustain the weak without being officious or patronizing. The true Cistercian is one who not only knows when to keep silent, and how to keep silent, but when to speak and how to speak, when to show sympathy and how to show it."

May God grant me this grace today.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Community and relationships...

Last night, I found myself engaged in a traditional activity for me during this time of year. I was at the computer, the light of the monitor glowing out at me, as I typed out my Christmas list. Now, let me preface, I'm not a ridiculously material person, although Christ keeps showing me a few areas wherein I could and should let go. I'm just a huge Christmas person and, if you'll allow me to drop a Christian buzzword here, find that one of my key love languages is that of gifts. I love to give gifts, and, because I realize all that goes into giving them, love to receive them as well. I catalogued music I'd like, DVD's, books, and, as is my tradition, a few wish gifts just for kicks. It's a tradition that I've engaged in for years, ever since I was young and could read. I'd sit for hours with the JC Penney and Sears Christmas catalogs writing out an extensive list for my folks. I'd even include page numbers and a preference listing as well. It's kind of sad but, well, what's a kid to do?

Last night though, as I lay in bed awaiting sleep, my mind wandered and I pondered this idea of simplicity and such. The list is not in and of itself a bad thing. I don't expect to get all of those things nor will I be despondent if I receive none of them. But, there's something that reminded me of how much we pursue in this life that doesn't matter. Yes, that'd be great to get the Sufjan Stevens album that I asked for, or that Johnny Cash DVD. But, do I really need it? What do I need more? The answer came to me in the words of a Waylon Jennings song I'd listened to this morning as I drove to work along some quiet country roads. In the song, Luckenbach, Texas, Waylon sings:

There only two things in life that make it worth livin'
That's guitars that tune good and firm feelin' women
I don't need my name in the marquis lights
I got my song and I got you with me tonight
Maybe it's time we got back to the basics of love
Chorus:Let's go to Luckenbach Texas with Waylon and Willie and the boys
This successful life we're livin' got us fueding like the Hatfield and McCoys
Between Hank Williams pain songs, Newberry's train songsand blue eyes cryin' in the rain out in Luckenbach Texas ain't nobody feelin' no pain
So baby let's sell your diamond ring
Buy some boots and faded jeans and go away
This coat and tie is choking me
In your high society you cry all day
We've been so busy keepin' up with the Jones
Four car garage and we're still building on
Maybe it's time we got back to the basics of love
-Luckenbach, Texas by Waylon Jennings
I guess what it really comes down to is relationships. We need to realize, much like the monastic brothers have, that God and community with others is really all that matter. It's great to have things but we can't hold too tight to them. We need to realize that the simple things in life, a deep breath on a cold morning, the tautness in your muscles as you wrestle for a rebound, and the sincere embrace of a sleepy-eyed child are what it's all about. These are truly the blessings of God. These are riches that we can't find at the mall.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Discussions and thanksgivings...

Yesterday I found myself uttering those most stupid of statements, especially when one works in an environment when one knows it will generally illicit a certain response. I was chatting with a co-worker, a pleasant thirtysomething mom of two, about some local churches. She remarked that she and her family had recently switched churches, to which I asked where they were now currently attending. She stated the name of her new congregation and then posed the question,
"Where do you go?".

Now, a wiser man would have backed off, said something insignificant and busied himself with his work in an attempt to not have the same conversation again.

I am apparently not yet a wise man.

"Um," I paused, "I don't really go to church right now".

The conversation that played out was one I've had and have witnessed time and time again. The issues of biblical instructions regarding coming together with other believers as well as the simple "need" that I have, even for the institution. The "discussion" ended okay, I guess, but I walked out of it with some thoughts.

First, I need to stop talking about this with people. It's not an issue that most people are wrestling with and those who aren't really don't get it. This is not to say that I'm on another plain or plateau above others but is just to acknowledge that there are certainly many who do not have this dissonance within them.

Second, I need to find some more people with this dissonance within them and work our discussions out to the place of seeking positive movements rather than simply criticisms of the current workings of the church. We need to become more proactive in seeking out what community really looks like, what vulnerability and being broken, blessed, and bitchy all in one really look like. We need to begin practicing our faith, living it out loud, and really looking to endure the criticisms that will come against us with love.

Lastly, I think we need to pray. We need to pray for one another. We need to pray for the Body of Christ. Within that, we need to pray for the megachurches and the little "hole in the wall" churches down the road. We need to seek God's guidance for the small house church gathered in a suburban neighborhood as well as for the avant garde gathering inside of a way-cool coffee house. Like it or not, we're called to live and function together and He glories in it all.

One final thing I've realized in the past couple of days is that I'm very thankful for the thoughts and influences God has brought into my life as of late and has used them to open me to some very new things. Even the parting of my ways with my previous ministry are things I thank Him for now. They haved shaped me, developed me, and ultimately brought me closer to Him.

I thank Him for my mentor and friend, Richard, who is walking with me, searching the path of the monastic way for truth and helping me to appropriate it to an everyday life. I'm thankful for the writings of men like Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen who have encouraged this very same action, both having lived out profound existences in pursuit of the heart of Christ. I'm thankful for the new friendship developing between my online pal, Ryan, and his wife, Holly. His ideas have challenged me and made me reevaluate a lot of what I once held firm. I'm thankful for the work of Brian McLaren, whose books have made me think, evaluate, reconsider, and pause. I'm thankful for Doug Pagitt who has made me laugh, think, and rethink the idea of community. I'm thankful for Richard Foster and his work dealing with simplicity and it's biblical emphasis. I'm thankful for the writing of Don Miller who has made me laugh and ponder and dream. I'm so thankful for the writing of Renee Altson and her impassioned honesty. I'm thankful for the irreverent work of Anne Lamott, and for her depth. I'm thankful for the friendship of our on again, off again, Enigma group and the friendship of ESandra, Billy, Jessica, and Tim. I'm thankful for my friend, Joey, who I don't see enough but am looking forward to catching up with.

To close an insanely long post that initially started so simply, I'm thankful to God for my wife and son, who ground me, remind me of who I am, and where I've come from. I know, in good faith, that at the end of the day, win or lose the battle, agree or disagree, I can find solace in their loving arms and receive the grace, strength, and courage to go on another day.

Friday, November 18, 2005

A prideful man..

This morning, as I arrived home from playing some very early morning basketball, I was reminded of what a selfish man I am and of how far God has still got to bring me to Him. As I walked through the door, my wife, sitting upon the couch, made a request of me and I just responded in such selfish frustration. Reflecting upon it, I'm just floored. It's somewhat interesting, yet I suppose not very surprising, how God brings forth these things in order to teach us and to purge us of them.

Yesterday, as I read through the Shorter Christian Prayer, I came across a passage from Isaiah that I just can't seem to shake. Isaiah 66:1-2 read: (NIV) "This is what the LORD says: "Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?" declares the LORD. "This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word." The latter part of the passage just screams to me. He who is humble and contrite. I so desire to be a person of humility and selflessness yet consistently find myself indulging just that, myself. It's a powerful pain that we all bear. May God grant us the grace to leave it in His hands.

Just as an aside to a previous post, regarding Paul Proctor's article about the death of Kyle Lake, I recently read a beautiful post from David Crowder, worship pastor at UBC where Kyle was pastor. Perhaps you'd like to read it: David Crowder.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Now to happier thoughts...

Yesterday I felt a serious urge to post what I did, and I was angry, but today is another day and a happier moment.

I just want to share briefly some of my thoughts regarding where I feel God leading me. It's been a most interesting journey as of late as He's drawn me to Him and has exposed me to some new disciplines that have truly been powerful. I've also taken to immersing myself, as much as is remotely possible with a "real" life anyway, in the study of the monastic life and way. My mentor and friend, Richard, is on this journey with me and our biggest question is this: How do we live the monastic life in the world? Many of the monastic writers and thinkers make this a critical element as they discuss. It is our job to take the "great silence" and carry it with us.

As I've journeyed this path, I've found some scary things within me. One such issue is that I'm deathly afraid of silence. Silence is a hallmark of monastic spiritual disciplines and stands looming before me as something to walk through. The bizarre thing is that I desperately am compelled toward this walk but also frightened in the same respect. I think that perhaps the fear stems from the thought that I'm not sure what I will find underneath the noise, behind the curtain of boisterous life I use as a shield. Yet, I still feel a strong compulsion to enter in, to simply be in the presence of Christ.

The other issue that I've wrestled with even more so as this leg of the journey has intensified is the aspect of my pride and ego. God is working His divine surgery upon these areas of my life and it hurts necessarily. Whether it be in relationship with my wife or in simply dealing with people in traffic, I feel Christ exposing my hidden layers of pride and raking at them with His knife, working at cleansing my soul of all that is not Him.

As uncomfortable as this journey is, and as frightful as the uncertainty of the future looms, I'm excited to see the next chapter. I'm fascinated by what these concepts and these developments will truly look like encased in flesh. I'm challenged to now wonder at what this knowledge and experience now require of me, what responsibility they will now leave me with.


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Just angry now...

I had some things I'd intended on posting, things that I feel God moving and doing in me right now but then, as I perused some of the other blogs I read first, I ran across this article and have to echo the thoughts of Renee Altson who wrote: I feel physically sick. Read this and let me know if you you're sick too: God Send Shocking Message to Emerging Church

what pisses me off the most is that this guy will see protests against his thoughts a victory, persecution for the "truth". What bullshit. Forgive my harsh language but it just disturbs me.

Monday, November 14, 2005

I went to church yesterday...

So I went to a church yesterday with my wife, at her behest. I'm trying to do what I feel is right on both levels, one of simply being a servant to my wife's needs and two, trying to be honest with myself regarding my aversion to the institution. So, we went. It wasn't someplace new but was a congregation that we'd attended for some time before we moved on to another. We'd left because we just didn't feel a connection at the time and really didn't have the time to invest in some of the activities they did have going on. I don't know. It just didn't work. But, here we found ourselves again in this setting. We had to meet at the church because I didn't get through with my work early enough to go home first.

It was ironic, really, that as I walked up the walk to the door that I met, coming out of the first service, a friend of mine who's on a similar journey with similar issues. I don't know. God's funny like that sometimes. Anyway, I chatted with him briefly and then headed in. I had prepared myself, at least tried my best, spiritually as I just prayed and prayed and asked God to see my attendence there as a sacrifice to Him. I wanted to come with an attitude of worship and servanthood, casting all at His feet and just resting in His presence. I suppose that's what all of us would say regarding any given Sunday but this time it was very true for me. I sought God and asked Him to remove any barriers that I might be putting up in order to reject what He may be doing. So, in I went.

I'd forgotten how good the worship band was. They're just a really talented group of people who can sing, play, and motivate a crowd. It was nice. And then came the message and all of that. I wanted to like it. I wanted to be challenged and see Christ in it. And I really do like the pastor at this church. I don't think that his preaching is truly an indication of who he really is, if that makes any sense. But he chose this day to preach on finances, and on financial principles. He even went so far as to say that his message was going to be kind of a financial seminar with biblical principles. Inwardly, I groaned.

I don't know. It's still a wrestling match with me. Part of me wants more than anything to be part of that community again. There's comfort in the familiar, like a tall glass of iced tea or a warm cinnamon bun on a cool morning. But the other part of me, the part that continues to rise up and ask questions, compels me to seek something different, to pursue something more intimate and honest. Its not to say that what occured on Sunday was bad or something along those lines. But, I guess, it's to share my confusion and my struggle with seeking something more, something more real and tangible and intimate and holy and messy and ultimately more Christ-centered. That's what I miss. I miss the focus on Him alone.

I don't know. Maybe I'm crazy and wayward. Or, maybe, just maybe, I'm onto something. Time will tell.

Friday, November 11, 2005