Embodiment Part One: Getting out of our heads and off of our phones.

Image 6AM – The alarm goes off and it needs to, even for morning people at this time of year.  Autumn in northern latitudes means every day the sun sleeps in a little longer, the morning air’s a little colder, and the bed’s a little more inviting.  “Why get up and suffer in the dark?” I ask myself, when I can stay wrapped in a cocoon of safety and comfort.

Embodiment is the answer.  I’m old enough to know that if I don’t get up and do something with my body before the day gets on, I won’t do anything physical.  I have a desk job, which means that I live most of my best hours sitting in a chair, often communicating in a virtual world with pixels, bytes, and other relatively recent inventions.  An e-mail here – a facebook post there – a text message.  A step up from this is reading a real book, and I’ll do some of that too, if it’s a good day.  O so much of my life, though, is lived necessarily inside my head and the affect for me, and probably you too, is not good.  Like fluorescent lights, the disembodied life in the realm of ideas and virtual relationships has a subtle but damaging long term affect on our lives.  Wendell Berry, who still writes on a typewriter, has been declaring this for decades, like a prophet before his time.  Some of us are beginning to believe he’s onto something, including Phillip Zimbardo from Stanford, and Bill Plotkin, who is spending his life helping people get out of their heads.

What helps me get out of my head is exercising, outside, in whatever weather happens to be there.  It’s only by showing up consistently, darkness and light, rain and shine, that I’ll be able to learn from all the revelation God is offering me through creation.  Afternoons don’t work for me.  I’m spent.  So I force myself out, and after coffee with God, I’m soon running the stairs at the Greenlake Aqua Theater, which is the remnant of a place where everyone from Led Zeppelin to Bob Hope performed back in the day.  Now it’s just stairs, for sitting, or mostly, for crazy people who like to run up them early in the morning.

There’s nobody on the stairs this morning, but that’s unusual, because this is a great place to get your heart pumping.  I always regret getting out of bed to come here and I’m always excited to run them once I arrive.  My goal is to dash up them 14 times and I usually enjoy the first four of five sets.  After that, suffering joins the party and I’m faced with the constant realization that I don’t need to do this.  I’m alone so there’s no reputation to preserve.  There’s enough suffering in the world already, so why I am inflict more by doing this?  I always ponder quitting before 14.  I usually make my goal.  Today though, I’m flooded with inspiration, right in the midst of my suffering.

The value of the stairs, I realize, is that it’s a school of sorts, preparing me for the rest of my day and the rest of my life.  “How so?” you ask.  Here’s how:

1. It builds endurance.  There’s little in life worth doing that doesn’t require consistent showing up, even when you don’t feel like it.  Marriage is that way.  So is the priceless work of developing intimacy with Jesus.  So is developing whatever craft or calling belongs to you, or starting a business, or learning to ski better, or improving your communication skills, or leadership skills, or pottery skills…or any skills.  If you can’t break through and keep going when you feel like quitting, you’ll get stuck halfway up the mountain or halfway in your marriage.  It won’t be pretty.  Every time I run stairs I want to quit.  That’s a good thing because I’m not just exercising my legs and lungs, I’m exercising my will.

2. It builds capacity.  God spoke to the prophet Jeremiah once when he was discouraged, and God’s word seemed harsh on the surface of things.  Jeremiah was complaining about how hard life had become for he and his people, but instead of sympathy, God offers this word:  “If you’ve run with the footmen, and they’ve tired you out, how will you run with the horses?”  From this, I learn that I need to have not just “enough in my tank” for what I think life will throw at me, but hopefully, extra capacity, so that I’m able to serve, or give, or go the extra mile, or do what needs to be done – precisely by developing habits that create capacity.  We’d all do well to ask ourselves how we’re building extra capacity – body, soul, spirit – and if we’ve no answers, we’d do well to take a step towards building some.

3. It teaches you to look for joy in the midst of pain.   When the heart’s up to 170 and every breath feel inadequate, and I’m only on round 10 of 14, the best way for to me avoid the thought of quitting is to look for some beauty and soak it in.  It’s always there somehow – the silhouette of a runner, a flock of geese, a heron, a falling yellow leaf, eventually the sunrise itself.  I don’t know why this happens, but the beauty helps me continue because I think that at some primal level beauty is the continual reminder that life is still worth living.  Our disembodied virtual worlds can only offer imitations or at best representations of real beauty.  We need to get out and touch, taste, see if the transforming power of beauty is to bath our souls in life giving ways.

4. Bacon.  You think I’m kidding.  Consider Hebrews 11, which is the reminder that Moses endured all the suffering of his calling because he was looking “to his reward”.  After the stairs, four slices, with eggs covered in sun dried tomatoes and sprinkled with Romano cheese, an orange on the side.  After the hard marriage talk, or a few of them; genuine intimacy and revealing.  After the hard thing, the reward.  The principle extends all the way to grave, as Paul declares that the greatest reward of all is Christ himself.  My friend Hans Peter, who died this summer in an accident, said once that dying will be like “a kid running home to papa after his first day of school”.  Our willingness to do the right thing, even though the right thing often means delayed gratification or suffering, is the price of our transformation.  The reward?  Our transformation.

Why wouldn’t we?

Practical Advice for Maximizing Your University Experience

ImageSchool’s in, and for those of you who read this and are in college, I’d like to offer a word of welcome.  As the pastor of a church with lots of university students in it, one of my favorite Sundays of the year is the one when you arrive, back from your summer experiences, to jump into another formative year of education.  As a pastor, I feel incredibly privileged to share, in a small way, in that formation.  I know that these are some of the most significant years of your life, know that the decisions you make and the values you form during these years will shape you for the rest of your lives, and even beyond that!

The NY Times had a great little read recently called, “Ditch Your Laptop – Dump your Boyfriend” filled with good, practical advice on how to make the most of your college years.  If you’re in college, or know someone who is, I’d recommend reading it.  The article started me thinking about what I’d want to offer students and I came up with a short list.

Since my list is incomplete, I hope some of you will add your own contributions by adding comments to this post. Thanks!  So what you can students do to maximize their college experience:

1. Be curious. This, I’ve discovered, is of huge value in the ‘real world’ after college.  Reading widely and developing your capacity to build bridges between different subjects is one of the things I look for when assessing someone’s leadership potential.  Sure, you’ll need some specialization; but you’ll need more.  You’ll need to capacity to think creatively, solve problems, and build bridges – skills which don’t happen accidentally.

2. Get intimate with God. That’s a tall order, I realize, but I think I’m simply talking about developing some habits that will help you and God become friends, like David and God were friends, or Moses and God.  Jeremiah 9:23-27 is a reminder that “knowing God” is the only thing worth boasting about in this life.  Of course, “knowing” isn’t offered here in some absolute sense because the truth is that we can’t know anyone perfectly and completely – not even God.  But we can establish a trajectory of intimacy, whereby God becomes someone to whom we pour out our heart, in both gratitude and complaint, frustration and longing, rejoicing and praise.

This will require some time apart from others, and maybe a journal.  If this is one of your greatest areas of weakness, I’d recommend this book as great place to start.

3. Do something to serve others. I just finished writing a new book, the thesis of which is that each person is uniquely gifted by God to paint the colors of hope on the canvass of our world.  To find your brush, and learn your strokes, you need to say yes to serving in some way.  You can do this on campus, or in your church.  This will help you swim upstream against the consumerism that is so prevalent in our culture.

Some of you love to serve, but have a hard time sitting still long enough to develop intimacy with God.  For others, you have the opposite problem.  If you’re in search of balance, I’d recommend my book, available through Amazon, or the church I lead.

4. Leave campus.  Get to know your city and people who don’t attend your school.  This broadening of your world has great value.  When I attended college in Seattle, I worked at an I-Hop, and the Seattle Sonics basketball team came in every game day.  I became a huge fan, started going to games, and felt deeply connected to the city because of it, so much so that, sixteen years after graduation, I moved back to pastor a church there.  There’s nothing better than falling in love with your city, and Christ, right in the midst of all that is college life.

What are some other thoughts you’d add, in order to help students maximize their college experience?

When Everything’s Collapsing? The Ancient Paths

IMG_0229It’s been a week.  In the normally limp and newsless lazy days of late August, our senses have been assaulted by horrific images, at home and abroad.  We’ve learned that the Syrian government is exterminating their own people, and that options of intervention run the risk of a full scale attack of Israel, an event which puts the middle east, and hence the world, in a heightened state of vulnerability – more ready to burst into flames than a California forest.

Meanwhile, our pop culture offers one of it’s stars at a music awards show and we’re struck with the realization that nobility, inspiration, edification, and real beauty are all lying on the ash heap of a previous era.  In their place, we’re offered objectified and sexualized bodies, bawdy lyrics, and the stark realization that our cultural “elite” have played their hand, declaring that this is, and will be, the new lower norm.  CNN’s elevation of the event to front and center news is newsworthy in its own right because the huge spike in readership for this “news” over any real news reveals the depths of depravity  (yes, it’s an Onion article, because truth is sometimes best told through satire) to which our collective culture is rapidly sinking.

It’s tempting to respond to all of it by turning off all media and withdrawing to a cave, or a fundamentalist church that’s working on personal purity and self-fulfillment while waiting for Jesus to come fix it all.  Nope: that’s a false hope leading to disengagement and private faith.   It’s tempting too, to mobilize, aligning ourselves with campaigns to reign in the crass media, and make sure our military, and Israel’s are both strong enough, not only to win the impending wars, which could be massive, but also the wars that will happen AFTER the wars are won, because God only knows who will fill the power vacuum in a new Syria.  It will become Egypt 2.0, only worse.  Nope: that’s false anger, leading to public rage, and more fear based responses.

How about this instead?

Thus says the LORD, “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the anciengt paths, Where the good way is, and walk in it; And you will find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ – Jeremiah 6:16

What are these ancient paths that will enabling us to know peace, beauty, hope, in the midst of the meltdown?

1. They are paths that take intimacy with God seriously.  Jeremiah lived in similar days, when people couldn’t look outside or inside without getting depressed or overwhelmed.  When all hell breaks loose, whether personally, culturally, or globally, it will be good to already have habits that take intimacy with God seriously.  This was Jeremiah’s point in my favorite Bible verse, found here.  He said that no other pursuit is worthy of “boasting”, which is a way of saying that nobody really cares about the car you drive, or the mountains you’ve climbed (corporate or literal), and neither, in the end, should you.  Your real joy, real meaning, ultimately should have intimacy with God at its foundation.  He’s the one who, as Jeremiah says, “practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth…”  Make knowing God a priority, and God’s priorities become yours.  You’re called, in the midst of all this insanity, to look like Jesus, and you will, as a by product of making intimacy with God your main priority.  We won’t always have economic prosperity, national greatness, physical strength – but we’ll always have our relationship with God – right up to our dying breath, and beyond.

Knowing God means looking for revelation from God everywhere, as I’ll write about later next week.  But to begin with, everyone needs a lens through which to look at everything differently.  Acquiring this lens comes by making a habit of listening for God’s voice in a daily encounter.  If you need help with that, let me suggest this resource, or this one, or this one.

I rise early, make my coffee, open my bible, sit in the forest, receive God’s revelation, pray a bit – and get on with my day.  Over time, I’m gaining a perspective on reality that’s different, more hopeful, less fearful.  I wish the same for you!

2. It’s a path that looks around and does something.  It’s easy, when the bottom drops out, to allow our concerns to shrink until our concerns become nothing more than our personal peace and safety.  Jeremiah, though, writing to people in the midst of a world (and culture) gone mad, writes:  “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” 

This is Jeremiah’s way of saying that hand wringing, and moaning, whining and withdrawing into our Christian ghettos to talk about how the world’s all “gone to hell”, or spinning conspiracy theories about birth certificates or NSA wire tappings or whatever it is that Limbaugh’s saying today isn’t, in any way, the Christian life.  Rather, the Christian life means being the presence of Jesus, right where you are, which means:

Giving stuff away, throwing a party for the neighbors, visiting someone in the hospital, spending time with children, mentoring a young mom, or young teen, serving in a homeless shelter, planting a garden, making beautiful music or art or great coffee, visiting someone who’s lonely, spending quality time with your grown children, or o so much more.

The days ahead don’t look very bright from my chair.  Years ago, though, I read this about that:

Light a candle instead of cursing the darkness.   

Good idea… I think I will.