Divisive Creeds and Lovely Leaves: Autumn’s Instructions for finding our true identity 

“It’s a glorious time of year” is a phrase we hear in some form every autumn, numerous times.  There’s a lot to love, but the centerpiece of it, for many of us, is the colors. Especially where I live, in the Pacific Northwest, the green canvass of a forested hillside is punctuated with spots of color.  Here a flaming orange, there a yellow, over there the deep red of a vine maple. We see, and joy wells up inside us.  

A little research reveals why the colors changebecause of changes in the length of daylight and changes in temperature, the leaves stop their food-making process. The chlorophyll breaks down, the green color disappears, and the yellow to orange colors become visible and give the leaves part of their fall splendor.  

The vibrant colors, it turns out, are a leaf’s truer identity.  It’s covered through spring and summer, but just before dropping away, the veil of chlorophyll drops away and all the vibrancy that was there all the time is finally revealed.  Beauty. Joy. Worship. 

I often think the reason that “nones” are the fastest growing faith demographic in America has to do with the reality that our beautiful and life-giving calling and identity are, like summer leaves, hidden under layers of other things, like creeds for example.

One author explains that “the three famous Christian creeds (Apostle’s, Nicene, and Athanasius) were all written for spiritual offense and defense.  They were meant to faithfully share the identity of God in Christ to the world, but also to defend against false narratives.” Because of this, creeds came with warning labels against ignoring them.  Creeds had introductory admonitions like this:  

“Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the true faith, without which he shall perish everlastingly.  And the true faith is this…” at which point the articulation of the creed began.  

As a result, Christianity has developed a penchant for articulating itself as a set of propositions about God, and salvation about affirming them verbally and intellectually.  I can’t say this next point loudly enough: This practice has done untold harm to the testimony of Christ! Because of it, people would recite creeds before going into battle as they conquered ‘pagan’ lands.  They’d recite it in worship as a means, along with communion, of easing their conscience regarding eternity. They’d defend it by silencing detractors who didn’t subscribe perfectly to its elements.  

Meanwhile, the creed of Jesus got lost, hidden in the noise of doctrinal wars over exactly how Jesus was both God and human, or whether women could teach, or whether salvation was secure or conditional, pre-destined or chosen.   Christianity became divided; doctrinally tribal – and its glorious and beautiful true colors were lost.  

“Jesus had a creed?”  Yes. When a religious expert asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was, he answered:  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets”  

Love God.  Love people.  Those are the true colors of our faith.  Everything that hides these two elements become a tragic cover-up.  Whether malicious or not, the result is that the church is known as the headwaters of racism, colonialism, arrogance, violence, and shooting our own wounded.  

We’ve adapted to this ugliness, but I promise you there’s a growing dissatisfaction with ‘business as usual’.  It’s why people are leaving the church, but not leaving Jesus. People’s hearts are longing for the true colors of hope – hungry to embody service, forgiveness, reconciliation, hospitality, advocacy and solidarity with people on the margins, the pursuit of simplicity as a means of caring for the earth, and so much more.   

These are the colors of hope, and when they’re seen, our hearts leap for joy, just like they do every autumn.  

Our capacity for missing this angers me, and it’s why I stand in solidarity with John, and the ancient church leaders who, before we became wed with power, said over and over:

“Above all else, before all else, love!”

Drain Me Lord 

It’s time

To let the falsehoods drain away 

I’ve clung to them for too long 

As illusions of power and control 

Seduced my heart 

Into pools of religious pride 

 

Ugly colors were born

Veiling your beauty 

Maligning your character 

Begatting violence not peace 

Disease not healing 

Division not reconciling 

 

Drain me Lord 

Of all the false colors 

Hiding your glory 

As I rest into the beauty 

Of your true colors

40 – thoughts on marriage after 40 years of it

I’m just back from an anniversary reunion.  Our three children along with their spouses, three grandchildren and mom-in-law gathered together in a big house on the east side of the Cascades to celebrate Donna’s and my 40 year marriage.  It wasn’t really about the 40 years though – it was about the reality that we’re honestly entering our fifth decade of marriage together still enjoying each other’s company, still a team, still healthy and intimate with each other…in short, still very much “in love”. 

As has been my tradition for a while now, I offer up this list of 40 things I’ve learned about marriage, one for each year.  They’re not prescriptive as much as descriptive – they are what’s worked for us. I hope that some of this may work for you too.  They’re offered in no particular order: 

 

  1. We’ve always tried to spend less than we make.
  2. Eat by candlelight as often as possible (even when you don’t want to.  Sometimes just striking the match can be the trigger toward reconciliation after a disagreement) 
  3. Remember the reasons you married.  In my case, I said to her:  “you make me laugh, you give me the freedom to fail, you’ll live anywhere in the world”
  4. She responded, “Anywhere but Los Angeles…” and after assuring her that that would never happen, we felt God’s call to move there and she did!
  5. The best centerpieces are summer wildflowers in an empty beer bottle
  6. We’ve always tried to keep a sabbath day.  These days its hiking together, mostly in silence, and then sharing an evening meal.
  7. The TV is rarely a friend of intimacy – but we don’t judge ourselves when we watch some.
  8. Being radically different, in that we share no common letters on the Meyers-Briggs or numbers on the Enneagram, isn’t a bad thing….
  9. …IF (and it’s a big if) you can begin to see other’s differences, not as annoying, but as completing you.
  10. For example: Donna loves details and I hate them.  Just this morning she pointed out that I bought the Italian version of Grandpa’s Sausage from Owen’s Meats.  I told her I didn’t even know there was an Italian version.  She said, “That’s because you don’t read labels carefully.”   Instead of being annoyed, though, I think she appreciates my breadth of curiosity that makes me read more widely than deeply…
  11. …and I appreciate her attention to detail because: insurance, taxes, bills, desks to organize, closets and counters to clean of clutter, calendars, airline tickets, parking at the airport, and on and on it goes…  Every detail is a gift to me!
  12. In spite of vast differences, a shared passion is a gift.  Ours is the outdoors.
  13. But I like speed and peaks and she likes paying attention to forest details and mostly level ground.
  14. Rather than dig our heels in – we compromise.  I find scrambles to the tops of peaks she can do, or ridges with views (which she loves), and I leave the meandering snowshoe trips to her and her friends, and the hard skiing where I shoot for 55mph or more, or peak-bagging to me and my friends.
  15. Learning to compromise in the wilderness has been the lab, but the same kind of compromise has bled into lots of other areas of life…
  16. …like food – where I’m increasingly Paleo, but not a zealot about it because of French Toast and cheese sandwiches but because bread doesn’t treat her well, I eat that stuff when I’m alone in the city.
  17. Which reminds me that travel brings reality to the saying “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”  After a time apart, when I’m away teaching, my appreciation of Donna is rekindled, as there are o-so-many things I miss when we’re apart….
  18. …as we are regularly in this season of life due to our dual living locations of Seattle and the mountains.  This is because of our privileged season of life to provide a home for Donna’s mom, which is a reminder that holding plans with an open hand and being flexible is far greater than making autonomous goals and going after them with rigid dogma.
  19. We’ve always given some money away –  giving to our local church and a few other things we support.  Never hoard it all for yourselves.
  20. Our devotional lives are dramatically different and I eventually learned that that’s OK.  There were years though, when I coveted greater spiritual compatibility.  Now I celebrate our different ways of viewing the world, and we’ve learned to listen to each other better as a result.
  21. As we’ve grown older, we’ve had more talks about our sex life than we did early on…
  22. …which have resulted in dramatic changes in our intimacy practices.  This is a testimony to honesty, vulnerable, and serving the other….
  23. …and as a result, our life in this area is better than ever! (our only regret is that we didn’t start this a few decades earlier)
  24. We’re not athletes or obsessive dieters, but we try to exercise most days, and eat decently.  We’ve been fortunate to be healthy and count that as both a privilege and a reason to keep pursuing and expanding healthy habits for spirit, soul, and body.
  25. Our best conversations are ones that nobody else will ever know about
  26. (And now a few from Donna): Laugh often.
  27. Remind myself that I’m not always right and sometimes “winning” is an illusion.  Miss Crankypants can be hard to live with too.
  28. Adapt. Adapt. Adapt. We are changeable people who live in changing times. What worked yesterday may not be working well today and may not work tomorrow so be open to change and adapt.
  29. Make do with what we already have. Mend it. Use it up. Wear it out. Get every ounce out if it whether it’s an older car, an “outdated” article of clothing or furniture, the end of the toothpaste, (and, yes, tea bags are  good for two cups of tea… Sometimes more, but I digress…)
  30. Cultivate the things we both enjoy and keep doing them. For us, it’s been nature and simply being out in God’s cathedrals.  I help him slow down and pay attention.  He helps me push myself a little harder.
  31. Be curious. About everything. Don’t settle for what I already know and stagnate there. Learn new things. Be open to other points of view. Stay nimble.
  32. Love God. Love others. Period.
  33. Cook together. Try new recipes. Tweak old favorites. We enjoy the process of alternating between executive chef and sous-chef. Clean the kitchen. Together.
  34. Learn to fight fair and then let go of past transgressions. Don’t keep a storehouse of bitterness. Let it go and move forward. Forgiveness needs to go both ways.
  35. Encourage Richard’s interests and be willing to enter into them, even if it’s not necessarily my favorite thing.
  36. Richard was very intentional about cultivating our relationship as a couple especially during those parenting years. It’s important to remember what we appreciated about each other in the beginning and keep encouraging that today.
  37. Date nights were not that great if all we did was talk about our kids. (Sorry kids. You were not the center of our universe…) We tried to talk about ourselves. How we’re doing as individuals and as a couple. We’re not afraid of hard conversations any more. Becoming good listeners needs to start with honest sharing.
  38. Conflict is not always a negative thing as long as our children see honest forgiveness, humility and reconciliation as the end result. (We weren’t perfect at this but we tried.)
  39. Embrace each day as a gift to be enjoyed. Life is uncertain. Since we don’t know how much time we have, we need to make each day count for something positive to share with our world.
  40. Don’t go to bed angry for two reasons: 1. You won’t really sleep well anyway. 2. Trying to have a “rational” conversation in the morning while you’re sleep-deprived probably won’t go as well. So skip the bad nights’ sleep and talk it out. We made a perfect divot together in the middle of our ancient futon for a reason. (Sorry if that’s TMI. But it’s true.)

 

 

 

 

The Sacred Art of Unlearning

My granddaughter moved in a few weeks ago.  O yeah – my daughter and son-in-law moved in too, but I’m writing about my granddaughter because I was utterly surprised by her.  I knew she’d be here, but had no idea how much she’d teach me because I’d forgotten about being a child.  We bonded quickly and though I’m aware that I write shielded from the hard 24/7 work of discipline, care, and nurture that is parenting, I’m nonetheless seeing this small child, I believe, through a different lens now than the lens through which I saw my own children decades ago.  Maybe its because I’m at a stage of life where I’m less driven.  Maybe I’m a little softer now.  I don’t know.  I only know that my time with my granddaughter sweeps away some things in me that need sweeping away so that I can once again learn what it means to have ‘faith like a child’.

I hope that by sharing some things I’m learning, you too can enjoy a little refreshment.

Cultivate Curiosity – “What’s that?” is the phrase I’m hearing most these days.  Luci will point at any item in the house and ask.  She knows what she doesn’t know, and strangely, that’s a fundamental precondition for learning and knowing anything.  One of the problems with adulthood in general is that once we’ve developed a capacity to find our way through the maze that is daily living, we’re at risk of functionally becoming “zombies”; not literally of course, but in the sense that we’re falling far short of the kind of humans we’re created to be.  Instead of overflowing with delight, gratitude, and deep engagement in the moment, we’re stuck inside our heads with anxiety, fear, regret, shame, judgements, and obsession with our appetites.

We all need to re-cultivate curiosity, but none need it more than the political and religious fundamentalists of any denomination or party.  Matthew Perry, a journalist and atheist, wrote an article entitled “Africa Needs God” in which he declares that his travels in Africa revealed that, “Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world – a directness in their dealings with others – that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They stood tall.”

I wish this was true among Christ followers in America, but instead we’re predominantly listening for keywords so that we can put people in bins.  I just read that all democrats are “haters”, just as I read that all republicans are “blind,” (a charge also brought against democrats).  Don’t even get me started about the mudslinging generalizations tossed at churches by churches.  If someone doesn’t use the right word to describe the authority of the Bible or have the wrong view of who gets to be a church member, or a different view of baptism, or the meaning of what happened on the cross, or whatever, they get a label and presto!  You don’t need to learn anything from them anymore.

When did we become only turf defenders, judging those who view the world differently?  When we allowed curiosity to dry up?  Listen!  We have nothing to fear by asking questions, nothing to fear by holding our convictions with an open hand.  This is because Jesus is “the truth” and so if we’re seeking truth, then we’ll find it – eventually.  But seekers of truth operate under the presupposition that they don’t have all the answers, and that even some of the answers they hold might just need a bit of adjusting.

We’re in drought season when it comes to the matter of humble curiosity.  Children can help us unlearn our arrogance and start learning again.

Enjoy Helping –  As I was packing for my speaking trip this past week, Luci was with me so I handed her my tech cords and asked her to put them in my backpack.  She was finished in seconds and asked, “What else goes in your backpack?” And thus began a half hour of my granddaughter helping me pack, and talking about airplanes.

When did we grow up and begin viewing help as a burden, or a privilege we dole out while patting ourselves on the back?  It happened, ironically, to the extent that we became insecure in our identity, because the people who give generously to their last breath are people who know they are full.  They know they’ve received much, and so find it both a privilege and delight to give much.  What’s more, like Luci, people who serve do so as a means of bonding with people.  The task isn’t unimportant, but it’s very secondary to the relationship.  Luci wants (to my utter delight) to be with me!

There’s a delight in relationship that trumps task and this becomes the culture in which service can grow.

Laugh – while we were sitting together watching the World Cup final, Luci brought out a quartet of tiny stuffed animals, all from the Winnie the Pooh collection.  I tossed one at her and it hit her on the head.  She burst into laughter so I threw another, and another, and another, until all four were on the floor.  When she stopped laughing for two seconds she picked them up and tossed them at me.  I caught them and threw them back, not ‘to’ her, but ‘at’ her, and soon she was on the floor laughing more, and more and more.

I don’t think I’d laughed that hard in real life for a quite a while because, you know, adulthood.  Plans.  Goals.  Aches and pains.  Fears and regrets. Investments.  Properties.  Retirement.  Health Insurance.  Politics…and a host of other things that steal our capacity to find joy in the moment.   The serious business of living.

Really?  How about we become like children again and live out from a posture of trust? “Faith like a child” is what Jesus called it, and when we live like that, we’re less worried about the future, less shamed over our past, and as a result, more completely in the moment.

Addressing Poverty – one by one by one by one

In the wake of the recent head tax hysteria in Seattle, I’ve been thinking a lot about Mother Teresa’s famous quote about poverty. Answering the question “Which is the poorest nation on earth?” in a very Mother Teresa-like manner, she said, “Yes, yes, yes. I have been to many countries and seen much poverty and suffering. Everywhere I go people tell me of their hardships and struggles, and ask for help, and I give what I can. But of all the countries I have been to, the poorest one I have been to is America.” Somewhat shocked, the reporter informed Mother Teresa that America was one of the richest countries and questioned how it could be the poorest. “Because,”,she replied, “America suffers most from the poverty of loneliness.”

This relates to the head tax, and to the liberal dream that money and programs can eventually solve homelessness.  Money, the increasing divide between the rich and poor, the disappearing middle class, and cost of health care are all, as the left  points out, contributing factors to the present and increasing crisis. I, for one, agree.

But the left often seems blind the fact that a strong social network and strong family ties are even more foundational.  When these are in place, individuals in crisis are offered a web into which they might fall, giving their lives a resiliency, emotional strength, and confidence that they are loved. These things, believe me, go a long way in mitigating a myriad of social problems, including homelessness. To believe that addressing all the real problems in the above paragraph without naming the demise of family networks as a scourge is pure folly. The elephant in the room is that we suffer from a depth of relational poverty that isolates, leaving people without the safety net that first and foremost should is the purvue of healthy family systems.

Normalize divorce, encourage endless consumerism in the name of economic growth, steal childhood from young lives by hiring phones and iPads as babysitters, substitute “staying married” for “intimacy,” allow political divides to make family members enemies, toss in a good dose of hypermobility, stay too busy to visit family, raise your children with manipulation to fulfill your unmet ambitions, and presto – you have the recipe for isolation. Isolation is a factor in addictive behavior, which itself becomes an employment factor, and a factor in domestic violence. Can you see the storm arising? The results are people living on the streets who are cut off from family, victims of domestic violence, or opioids, or foreclosure.

You could buy a house for everyone on the streets, but until you address the all the factors that elevate hyper-individualism to the status of an idol, homelessness will continue to mature into an economic pandemic.

The good news is that there’s plenty each of us can do to shine as light in the midst of this dark problem.

1. Recognize the value of family ties. I just returned from speaking at a camp in the coastal redwoods where my grandma was a cook. Every time I’m there, I need to tell the guests to whom I’m speaking that this place is holy ground for me, because when I was a child it was literally the safest place on earth for my young soul. I still have memories of gramdma’s delight as she picked me up, hugged my little four-year-old body and delightedly cried, “Welcome!  We’re so glad you’re here.” The ensuing days as a child where filled with the scent of redwoods and cinnamon rolls, coastal air and bacon. There was laughter, storytelling, rock skipping at the creek, sand castle building in Santa Cruz, and a San Francisco Giants baseball game. Last week, I went and sat outside her still-standing house and could nearly see the ghosts of my whole family, laughing, reading, resting. Heaven on earth.

Her legacy is why I’m so delighted that my oldest daughter, her husband, and my granddaughter are living with us.  I hope and pray that when little Luci is 60, she’ll look back on her time in the fir forest east of Seattle as a safe place, a little heaven on earth. We’ll watch World Cup together, toss a ball, roast hot dogs on a campfire, wade in Coal Creek across the street, maybe even sleep under the stars a night or two.  Hopefully she’ll learn, not by preaching, that people who love God also love people, laugh a lot, are curious, and love the world God has made.

The notion that any program will ever be able to create that is rubbish. Yes, by all means we need to care for the current generation living on the streets and provide both food and compassion. But if we take the long view, we’d be wise to also elevate the value of healthy marriages, of enough time for hugs and freshly cooked food, of family systems where truth and grace and prevail. These, though, are moral issues, solvable only by saying there are things we can value that increase the odds of making families healthier.

2. Name values – and the greatest of these is love. I’ll forever declare that healthy marriages aren’t made by people “staying together” because “the Bible says so.”. Rather, healthy marriages require love, and love requires vulnerability and truth-telling, confession and forgiveness, mutual servanthood, and time, and energy.  I’ll forever declare that sexual intimacy belongs in covenant relationships, that sex isn’t just a form of recreation, that “serial monogamy” is destroying the possibilities of real intimacy, even as evangelical shaming does the same.

This brings me to the next important observation which is that, when our values differ among family members regarding sexuality, money, politics, or any other divisive thing, love needs to win.  You don’t disown your children because they don’t share your view. You don’t spend your meals together endlessly trying to convince the other party. You have the conversation once, or once in a while; never proportionally more than spice to the omellete. Life’s too short for that kind of hostility, and it’s not the way of Jesus.

3. Practice hospitality. The couple in this picture came up to me at the camp where I spoke and told me that they were the “young kids” on staff when my grandma was the cook in the early 60’s.  “We loved your grandma,” he said. “They were hospitable!”  Another old man at the conference told me he was single when he arrived at Mount Hermon and that my grandma had the only TV in the area in the early 60s.  “She invited all the single people over on New Year’s Day for pancakes, the Rose Parade, and the Rose Bowl.” Yes. Food. Sport. And a welcoming home.

We can and must address acute social problems. But we cannot, and must not, kid ourselves into thinking that money solves the most glaring poverty on the planet – the relational poverty that comes from thinking individualism and more stuff can solve all problems.  One of the best things you and I can do in the wake of our multiple national crises is embody the values that make for strong social networks and strong families.

Leadership Beneath the Surface: Paying attention to the Invisible

There are over 100,000 books in the “leadership” category on Amazon.  If you’re a pastor, there’s an excellent Leadership Network, and a Willow Creek Network, Soma, church planting networks, and potentially a seminar to attend every weekend, not to mention the possibility of filling your twitter stream with inspiration and equipping for the job of leadership.  I’ve been to enough of these events to know two things:

  1. This stuff has value.
  2. This stuff has limited value.

It has value because everyone could use a motivational shot in the arm, a reminder that God has created each of us, whether pastors, stay at home moms & dads, code writers, marketers, health care workers, teachers, artists – we’re all made by God with gifts to contribute to this broken world.  We’re all made for influence.

These leadership tools are valuable too, because influence is never automatic in life.  Influence is the fruit of actions, what leadership people might call tactics.  There’s a change in the voting rights of African Americans because there was a march in Selma, and an uproar, and another march.   Of course, before there are tactics, there needs to be strategy, and strategy is the fruit of vision.  Leadership tools often inspire people to embrace vision, creating what some call BHAG’s (Big Hairy Audacious Goals).  Gaining voting rights for Blacks was, without question, a BHAG.  So was putting a man on the moon.  So was ending slavery.  We’re encouraged, usually, to think big, and we hear from people who do.

And it’s right here that I move into seeing the limited value of much that is our leadership equipping culture in North America.  It’s limited, not because it’s wrong (it often isn’t), but because it’s incomplete.  It’s as if we’re encouraged to think big, see some need, and then follow the blueprint for making it happen:  vision – strategy – tactics – all leading to the promised land of fruit and influence.  Done!

I want to stand up and shout, “Not Done!”  It’s as if our leadership culture teaches framing, siding, electrical, plumbing, roofing, and finish carpentry, as if those things can build a house.  They’ve vital, but unless there’s a solid foundation, these skills are meaningless, and even worse than meaningless.  I say “worse than” because to the extent that we believe they’re the bulk of what we need, we’ll respond to our frustrations by reaching for a more powerful dose of strategy and tactics.  “We need change management”  “We need better metrics”  “We need an alignment strategy”  Yes!  We do!  But not yet….

First we need to know that we’re doing the thing God has wired us to do, in the place God has called us to do it.  Things break down here more often than you’d think.  People have de-facto assumptions that their vision’s the right one, that they’re called to create a certain kind of influence in a certain place.  Maybe.  But not so fast!  When the Bible says “Without a vision the people are scattered” the word vision actually means “declared revelation from God” so we’d be wise to make certain that we’re in the habit of hearing from God on a regular basis.  That word, by the way, isn’t just for pastors.  It’s for all of us who believe that our Designer has made each of us for unique contributions to the world, and our role is to find what that contribution is by hearing from God.

“Yes, but how does one go about hearing from God?”  We hear from God the same way we hear from anyone.  It requires paying attention and listening, and two disciplines that are central to any relationship of intimacy.  I know how my wife wants a box of kindling before I go to work in the city, how she likes wood to be in the house drying before it’s put into the wood stove.  This is her “declared revelation” to me, as I’m in charge of the wood while home.  I only know what she wants by listening.  I only know what God wants, too, by listening.

I write about habits that will help develop intimacy with God here, but let’s dig deeper, because just telling someone to read their Bible and listen for God’s voice isn’t very motivating.  What would inspire a person to open their Bible and read, to journal and pray, to pay attention to what they perceive God is saying to them through creation, and text, and community, and trials?

I’m only motivated to seek God to the extent that I have a good dose of humility coursing through my veins.  We might be tempted to think of humility as a self-bashing exercise, telling ourselves and others just how worthless we are.  In reality, the Bible teaches that humility is simply one’s capacity to have an honest assessment of oneself.  That means you know your strengths, and as I’ll write soon, are learning to play to them.  But it also means that you’re brutally honest about your weaknesses, not just your presenting weaknesses, but the stuff that’s lurking inside you as well, waiting to push you over the proverbial cliff.  I know, for example, that I’m in over my head on the tactics and strategy side of running a giant church.  Some parents know they’re in over their head too, as do some CEO’s.  I also know that, apart from Christ, there are dark places in me that would rise up, leading me down destructive paths rather than life giving ones.

Humility, once embraced, is at risk of being “treated” in one of two ways:

  1. “Yes.  You are a disaster waiting to happen.  Better to get out now before the damage is done.”  As a result, lots of people are sitting on the sidelines, not serving, not risking, not leading, as they’re called to do, because they’ve listened to the lie that they need to be worthy  before getting into God’s game.
  2. “No problem.  Another ‘upper story’ seminar can fix you.  You just need to learn how to articulate your strategy with more passion, or diversify your tactics, or manage change.  In other words, we can solve your inadequacy problem with better ‘above ground’ skills.

Nope.  Your inadequacy isn’t a problem to be solved.  Rather, it’s a gift intended to lead you to a life of intimacy with your Guide.  When I don’t know the mountain, I stick with the Guide.  And here’s the reality folks:  Whatever it is that’s staring you in the face in the moment – you don’t know the mountain.  So you need the Guide!

“Thanks for that Richard, but I’m OK.  My business is doing well.  My kids are healthy, 4.0, starring on their soccer team, and 1st chair musicians.  To quote the favorite phrase of culture these days, ‘I’ve got this’.

Fine.  If you want to continue living in fantasyland for a little while longer, go ahead.  The reality though, is that every one of us will eventually find ourselves in the land of brokenness, and that’s precisely where all the good stuff starts.  Brokenness, the existential awareness of our failures and inadequacies, is exactly what leads to humility, which leads to intimacy, which leads to the revelation that takes you above ground, and eventually, to the land of influence.

My dad’s death.  My terrible year one in an urban church.  My melancholy.  My fear of rejection born from adoption… these are all part of my brokenness, yes.  But they’re also gifts – the bedrock out from which intimacy with God is born.

My complaint with American leadership culture is that it minimizes brokenness, or even vilifies it.  In my view, it’s a gift.  One author says it this way:  “…so we must stumble and fall, I am sorry to say.  And that does not mean reading about falling, as you are doing here.  We must actually be out of the driver’s seat for a while, or we will never learn how to give up control to the Real Guide!” Yes indeed.  So let’s start teaching and learning the foundational principles of Underground Leadership, in hopes that each of us will find the life for which God has created us.

 

 

 

Steal, Kill, and Destroy – stealing our unity

“Every time the Christian church divided or separated, each group lost one half of the Gospel message…”  Richard Rohr

I understand that the literalists will have a problem with Rohr’s statement, but the point is essentially accurate:  Our divisions are mostly losses, not gains.  Since Jesus made unity a climactic request in his final prayer,  taking steps toward reconciliation, unity, and love for all people, is perhaps one of the most important things we can be doing.  Here are some recent thoughts toward that end:

Here’s a manifesto on unity.    I spoke it the week after Charlottesville in the church I lead.   We’d set up the sermon series far ahead of time, having no idea that the racial divide of America, already a gaping wound that’s been festering for centuries, would become even deeper.   In case you don’t want to listen to the whole thing, here are the talking points:

  1. Jesus’ last prayer on earth was that those who claim to follow him would display visible unity.  He said that visible unity of groups that would otherwise be at odds would become evidence the gospel is real, because it would be unique.  The subsequent 2000 years have, of course, proven him right.  We humans divide into all manner of category:  insider vs. outsider.    Jews and Neo-Nazis.  Blacks and KKK.  Property owners and “serfs” (back in the feudal days), or “homeless people” today.   Saved & Unsaved (in spite of the fact that Jesus explicitly warned us not to play at being the “salvation police” in these words).   Educated and Illiterate.  Young and old.   The result is always the same too.  Our divisions testify that we would rather be tribal than reconciling.  In spite of John Lennon imagining otherwise, we can’t seem to acquire the unity we desire.   Jesus knew that our world is longing for visible displays of dividing walls being broken down, and that when those displays are evident, not just on placards and in marches, but in actual relationships, such unity testifies of a deep spiritual reality at the source.
  2. Visible unity requires truth.  Real unity isn’t some sort of “anything goes”, mindless tolerance.  For any community to be a community, there must be values that mark the community as distinct.  We don’t like this in our highly individualized culture, but it’s true.  If a community stands for peace, then violence becomes ‘abnormal’.  If a community stands for generosity, then closing one’s heart to the needs of the world is unacceptable.   If a community stands for sexuality as an expression of love, then rape, pedophilia, and other sexual power plays are out of bounds. Stand for the truth that every person is made in the image of God, and vilifying any person based on their skin color, sexual orientation, or economic status is out of bounds.
  3. Truth, though, requires an atmosphere of love if it is to thrive.  Air dropping into someone’s life because you see “sin” and “confronting them” is hardly the “speaking the truth in love” that Paul had in mind.  Real telling of truth requires a whole package of things.  When you’re going to ‘say the hard word to someone’, if you’re not willing to also say:  “you are made in the image of God and God’s desires for your life are infinitely more beautiful than you can imagine”, and “I’m committed to walking with you, into the valley of darkness, through it, and into the light”, then don’t bother saying anything.  Lacking a culture of love or a commitment to fostering it, you’re not telling the truth at all – you’re just fault-finding.
  4. Love, though, because it’s love, will always seek truth.   We won’t always know truth, not in a ‘bombproof’ sort of way, the way we know the sky is blue.  But we’ll always seek truth.  That means a real loving community will, at times,  be wrestling with differing views, generously speaking, listening, praying, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith…”  In the meantime,  there will be situations where there are points of disagreement and enough humility to realize that we don’t KNOW (the way we know, for example, that pedophilia is wrong, or that putting a burning cross in someone’s yard, or affirming neo-nazis, or shooting police just because they’re police, are wrong).  When that happens, we’re to seek truth “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love”

Some are so good at speaking the truth that they’ve become the doctrinal and moral police for the world, presumptuously claiming the moral high ground and judging all those “down there” who don’t see things precisely like them.

Others are so good at tolerance that they’ve stopped caring about the pursuit of truth, and are passively endorsing unfettered greed, individualism, and various forms of sexual debauchery, all in the name of unity.  Such unity, though, is worthless in the end because salt will lose its saltiness, and when the time comes to shelter Jews during the holocaust, or take a stand against abortion, or sex with pixels, they’ll remain silent in their attempt to preserve unity.

Nope – too much tolerance or too much moral policing will steal our unity, one way or the other.  It’s time for something different.  Time for truth and love, interwoven so tightly that you can’t tell one from the other.

We live in perilous times, because our social isolation and disintegration of family have created a longing to belong.  This is fertile soil for crazy tribes, including those wearing religious clothes of all faiths and denominations.  Seeking to embody real community, real truth and real love for all people is a lot of work.  But it’s our calling if we claim to follow Jesus.

 

38 thoughts on Marriage after 38 years.

 My wife and I celebrated 38 years of married life yesterday.  Here are 38 thoughts on what’s contributed to our marriage not just surviving, but thriving.  Enjoy, and please feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments section.  Thanks to all of you who’ve walked with us over various sections of our path!  
still smiling after 38 years of journeying together

1.  we had specific reasons for marrying each other, and through times of difficulty, it’s helped to remember those

2. truth-telling occurs best in an environment bathed in affirmation and encouragement
3. your spouse can’t possibly meet every need in your life.  Enjoy a broad reach of friendships without idolizing them, all the while affirming the strengths of your spouse.
4. having common passions (in our case, the outdoors and the mountains) makes life together very enjoyable.
5. apologizing when you make mistakes, as soon as you’re aware that you’ve made them, is by far the best path to maintain intimacy.  Denial and justification is poison.
6. forgiving when the other apologizes is equally important
7. we both have our bad days, and hard seasons.  Don’t panic when your spouse descends into a valley.  Walk there with them and commit to walking through the valley with them, and out of it.
8. it’s important to create a secure environment where truth-telling and saying the hard thing can occur
9. truth-telling can only happen if the other party knows, at some deep level, that you’re committed to their wholeness and well being, and not just venting frustration.
10. truth-telling also happens best when the one saying the hard word has a sense that it’s safe to do so – but this safety takes time to foster.
11. celebrate and leverage the differences between you
12. she’s practical, he’s idealistic
12. she’s a doer, he’s a contemplative
13. she fixes things that break, he writes.
14. simple, affectionate touch matters – nurture it
15. good sex matters too – it can be a barometer of other areas, so keep investing in it
16. while apart, try to touch base every day
17. never grow tired of saying or hearing the words, “I love you”
18. approaching intimacy with God differently is fine – don’t impose your particular spiritual habits on your spouse
19. help each other discover the spiritual gifts you both have – affirm, celebrate, and use them.  They’ll bring you great joy, and bless others.
20.  know what your spouse longs for from you in order to feel loved. A good resource for this can be found here.
21. cook together and eat romantic meals at home
22. if you’re laughing together on an almost daily basis, that’s a good sign.
23.  you can’t affirm what you appreciate about the other person too often – recognize the profound value of encouragement and offer it regularly.
24. say “please” and “thank you”
25.  nothing will unfold exactly as planned, so as life happens, if you don’t have a spirit of adaptability, it will be trouble.
26. while the children are still in the house, make certain you’re investing in the marriage, not just the children.  After the kids move out, the marriage will still be there, stronger than ever if you do.  And remember this simple formula: happy marriage=happy children
27. in an age of cynicism regarding marriage, remember that your very act of committing to a covenant is culturally subversive, swimming upstream against prevailing currents.  Celebrate that, and recognize the importance of it.
28. if she’s better at fixing electrical outlets, don’t be threatened by that.
29. backpacking together seals the marriage.  When you’re in a tiny tent and it’s raining hard for eighteen straight hours with the wind blowing so that the tent fabric is in your face, you’re bonded for life.
30. recognize the many blessings God has given you as a couple, whatever they are.  Count them.  Be grateful for them.  Celebrate them.   See them as gifts, not entitlements.
31. recognize that the blessings you have are given so that you can bless others.  Talk together about how you’re doing that, and going to do that.
32. don’t cling to certain seasons of life – embrace each new season as a new context for learning, growing, and growing closer.
33. if neither of you have “cards and gifts” as love languages, then count yourselves fortunate.  You don’t need to buy each other cards and gifts!!
34.  learn Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
35. remember that you won’t always be facing the same season at the same time – so be patient with one another, and give each other grace to walk through seasons at your own pace.
36. Even if you’re better at fixing broken stuff, remember to affirm the myriad of ways HE enriches your daily life, talks you into activities you would never do on your own, and cooks delicious food for you.
37.  now that she’s a ranger, remember to always obey her while you’re in the forest
38.  don’t forget that you now live in the forest.  So…..
Happy Anniversary

Vicarious vs. Experience: Not Even Close

There’s a line at the end of Song of Solomon in the 6th chapter that speaks of an old problem.  “Come back!  Come back, O beautiful woman, that we may admire you!”  It appears that some onlookers are enchanted by the beauty of the woman in this love story.  She strong, lovely, confident.  And she’s courageously in a relationship of real love with her man, a shepherd.  Note that in this particular scene, when she’s heading away with her lover, they call her back.  Why?  “So that we may admire you!”

They would, in other words, rather look on a relationship from the outside, experiencing the hollow thrill of being an observer, rather than jumping into the deep end of real intimacy in their own lives.  This is a sort of primitive pornography, not in the sense that they’re viewing explicit love making but in the more critical sense that they’re voyouristic and vicarious rather than involved and intimate.  Apparently the escapist fantasy route has always been an option.  Today it’s more than just “an option” – it’s become so ubiquitous as to be considered normal.  The popularity of video games, fantasy sports league, and pornography have created a destructive trifecta.  There’s an entire virtual world now available to emerging generations and both genders, but especially men, are living there in increasing numbers, with increasing regularity.  The pathologies arising from this sort of behavior present as everything from academic failure and arrested social skill development (especially with the opposite sex), to erectile dysfunction.  Much of this is cataloged here.

Yourbrainonporn.com provides the compelling science behind why the prevalence of porn is so destructive for cultures, for those who value science.  The short summary is that you can now encounter more lovers in an hour of the dungeon that is pornography than you would have encountered in one, two, maybe even ten lifetimes, one hundred years ago.  You are not physiologically designed for the continual stimulation and variety offered in this fantasy world.  What’s worse though, is that it can quickly become an “arousal addiction”, meaning that the addict doesn’t just want more of the same.  He/she wants “different”.  If this isn’t a recipe for marital disaster, I don’t know what is.

What’s more, porn is only one alternate reality inviting the investment of our time and attention.  Why play sports when you can join fantasy leagues and watch sports, no exercise or risk of injury to body or ego required?  You could play games demanding social interaction, eye contact, laughter, risk, courage, and wisdom, all of which combine to aid in the both the building of friendships and the development of social skills.  But why not play a video game instead?  Alone.  With no risk of rejection or failure.

In a word: safety.  Is this alternate world real? No.  Life giving? No. Contributing to a person’s sense of mission? No.  Capable of filling the intimacy void we all feel?  No.  But its safe, and in a world where there’s fear at every turn, safety is appealing.

What’s the way forward?

1. A strong core.  If a person sees themselves as capable, having gifts to share with the world, forgiven, called, and empowered, its much more difficult to enjoy disengagement from reality.  When people with a strong sense of self retreat into a tiny fantasy world for comfort, the dissonance is often just too much, and they refuse to stay there, in spite of the short term pleasures gained from escaping.  You build a strong core by beginning to believe that what God says about you is true – that you’re loved, forgiven, blessed, gifted, and invited, even called, to be a blessing in this world.  Keep learning what God says about you and believing it!

2. A sense of call.  When it became clear that I wasn’t ever going to win the Alpine Skiing World Cup, or write a symphony, skiing and music took back seats to other things, like preaching, parenting, marriage, church leadership, teaching university students, writing, and helping create outdoor environments and experiences where people can encounter Christ.  When I’m at my best, the use of my time, whether exercising, reading, or praying, feeds my sense of call and core identity and, to be blunt, there’s little time left for virtual escapes.

3. A high view of marriage and sexuality.  The erectile dysfunction that’s hijacking healthy sexuality among increasingly younger men is happening precisely because the safer fantasy world, which over-promises and under-delivers, is so appealing. In contrast, Song of Solomon shows us that radical monogamy is better.  It requires all kinds of things that are wildly beyond the scope of this post, but perhaps the main thing is a foundational belief that the best sexual expressions are mutual rather than one party giving in to the other out of a sense of obligation.  They both respect the boundaries of the other, and at times this creates an intensifying of the longings because there’s a confidence in the underlying love, and an obvious playfulness sexually, whether or not it ends in the land of O.  All this, of course, requires self-control and the belief that an unfulfilled sexual appetite won’t damage your body or soul, a message rare in our culture.

4. An internal bias toward reality rather than fantasy escapes.  Whether porn, Netflix, Facebook, or Ben & Jerry – a chronic preference for these easily accessible and easily stimulating options creates an increasing bias towards the safety, predictability, and risk free nature of the virtual world (or in the case of ben & jerry – the high glycemic world).  Such worlds feel good in the moment, but the ensuing crash leaves an emptiness and ache.

The good news is that movement away from all of that can happen!  Here are a few resources for your consideration.

Celebrate Recovery

Homecoming

Pure Desire

There’s a class at Bethany Community Church beginning at the end of summer that helps people move out of destructive behavior patterns and into God’s better story.   Contact us for details.  Here’s a testimony from someone who took the “spiritual journey” class.

The best resource, however, and the most important, is your life with God.  You have a calling, a journey yet ahead.  Don’t miss it by getting stuck in some fake world, when a real world of adventure awaits you.  Yesterday’s gone, and there’s no point wallowing in guilt or shame over failures that are common, when God’s inviting you to move on, into freedom and real intimacy.

Video

37 Years married and Still Enjoying Eros: Here’s How

Preaching the Song of Solomon this spring has reminded me of a few critical truths that are mostly lost among Christ followers.  In our fear of abusing the gifts of sexuality God has given humankind, we’ve unwittingly taught that our sexuality is a liability to be scorned and controlled, rather than a gift to be celebrated.  The Bible tells us otherwise:

  1. God affirms eros.
  2. Healthy eros requires a cocktail of practices on a regular basis, including affirmation, invitation, respecting each other’s boundaries, and a commitment to serving the other.
  3. These ingredients aren’t possible in casual hook-ups, let alone pornographic stimulation via a fabricated fantasy world.
  4. There’s a book in the Bible about sexual love, because God affirms it.  There’s only one book in the Bible about sexual love because it is a part of life, but isn’t the whole of it.

This past Sunday’s teaching, “Eros Affirmed” might provide some insight into what I’m talking about.  Steep a pot of tea, a carafe of French Press, or a glass of “something”, and have a look and listen – and maybe consider sharing with someone who’d benefit from it.  One woman told me on Sunday she’s planning on sharing it with a few folks who’d benefit from it.

(audio or video)

http://churchbcc.sermon.net/main/main/20940294

I welcome your thoughts!

Idol Busting and Fire Walking – the power of right habits

“Nebuchadnezzar said to them: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: Is it true that you don’t serve my gods or worship the gold statue I’ve set up? If you are now ready to do so, bow down and worship the gold statue I’ve made when you hear the sound of horn, pipe, zither, lyre, harp, flute, and every kind of instrument. But if you won’t worship it, you will be thrown straight into the furnace of flaming fire. Then what god will rescue you from my power?” Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered King Nebuchadnezzar: “We don’t need to answer your question. If our God—the one we serve—is able to rescue us from the furnace of flaming fire and from your power, Your Majesty, then let him rescue us. But if he doesn’t, know this for certain, Your Majesty: we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you’ve set up.””

‭‭Daniel‬ ‭3:14-18‬ ‭CEB‬‬

I know it’s not technically firewalking, but its fire – maybe “fire bathing“?  The point of the story is that there are three men who are so deeply committed to worship their God, and no other, that they’re willing to pay the ultimate price while being mindful, as well, that their God is powerful enough to protect them in the fire.

In his book “The Power of Habit”, Charles Duhigg helps readers see that when we determine in advance what our routine will be when certain cues occur in our lives, our response to those cues become habits.  Cue: stress   Response: nicotine.  Habit: chain-smoking.    Cue: weariness.  Routine: TV.  Habit: wasting your life!     Cue: loneliness. Routine: porn  Habit: arousal addiction (as brilliantly articulated in this book).

Our three fire bathing friends have something significant to teach us about this.  They’ve determined in advance that when the cue is worship, the routine will be to worship their own God, and no other.  It’s become so entrenched in them that they don’t seem to wrestle with it at all.  They’re all in, with no thought of turning back, even at cost of their lives.

The critical question that comes into play here for me at this point in their story is:  “What’s their reward?” It’s an important question because the reality is that we’re built for rewards.  You run (or sit and eat ice cream) for the reward.  You get an education (or stop learning and growing) for the reward.  You do your job with excellence (or choose to scaresly show up) for the reward.  We do what we do, including following Christ – or abandon fidelity to Christ in pursuit of other sources, in order to receive a reward.

Our rewards are the same as these three enjoy:  confidence, courage, peace, and freedom, and power – which are all promised to us in the scriptures as fruits of faithfully looking to Christ as our source.

APPLICATION: 

Our eyes tend to glaze over when we think of idolatry these days, because the word conjures imagery of statues, altars, and visible representations of false gods.  Here in the west, though, our idols are different: less visible, and more seductive.

Our idols anything we look to in our lives as our foundational source for comfort, meaning, direction, security.  Our idols, then, are our ROUTINE RESPONSES in the cue, routine, reward loop, that we look toward as a primary means of coping with a particular state of mind and heart.

“When I’m lonely I visit chat rooms”

“When I’m stressed I drink”

“When I’m frustrated I get angry and blame”

“When I’m _________ I ________”

Especially to the extent that any unhealthy response to a cue becomes a habit – we’re enslaved, and hurtling toward idolatry, if not already there.   Idols overpromise and under-deliver – every time.

In contrast, whenever I choose cues that contribute to my fundamental identity as a child of God, or to my calling – the rewards of confidence, courage, peace, and freedom, are ignited and I’m strengthened to walk through fires – surely most of which are metaphorical, while believing that if I’m meant to walk through literal fires, the power will be granted.

TRY THIS: 

Consider an unhealthy cue, response, reward pattern in your life and change both the response the reward.  Do you believe that, over time at least, the right response will lead to the fourfold reward of confidence, courage, peace, and freeedom?  Then determine the right response to the cue, the response of faithfulness that will bring the reward:  

When I’m lonely I will call a friend to encourage, be encouraged, or both.

When I’m stressed, I will exercise and give thanks for my body

When I’m frustrated at work, I will pray for the wisdom and strength to be a person of peace, grace, and truth – and by faith thank God that I’m becoming such… little by little.

You get the picture.  Changing our habits of response to life’s cues isn’t just what the book The Power of Habit is all about – it’s what Christ followers call discipleship.