Saturday, January 24, 2015

Week 4b - Oh Glorious Sin?

Damien Rice
Oh and I don't want to change you
I don't want change you,
I don't want to change your mind
I just came across a manger
Out among the danger
Somewhere in a stranger's eye
-  Damien Rice, “I Don’t Want to Change You”

As often happens with me, I encountered Rice’s “I Don’t Want to Change You” and became a WEE BIT obsessed recently. For some reason the song made me think about sin. That may also have to do with a conversation I had this morning with my buddy Ronnie. We were meeting for our Friday coffee at Panera and going through a Henri Nouwen book on Spiritual Formation. Somehow the conversation turned to sin. We were probably talking about transparency and the importance of sharing not just our sin, but also our achievements. But as we got to talking I was speaking about my view of sin. I don’t think it is so much strange as it is pretty well thought out. So, imagine a box within a box, something like this:


So, it is kind of easy to explain. Inside the small box is this group of things that is basically always sin for all people. Inside the larger box are things that are sometimes sins. What I mean by that is that either depending on the situation it may be sin for a person or not; or it may be sin for one person, but not for another. An example of the first is something like negotiation with someone holding hostages. Normally it’s not okay to lie, but to save lives a person may need to say some things that are untrue. In the second category I usually use the same example: if you’re an alcoholic, it’s a sin to pick up a drink. If you’re not, and you are going to simply have a glass of wine with your meal and are not hiding anything, it’s probably not a sin. In other words, there are things that are specifically a sin for me that are not a sin for you, because of what is going on in my life. 

Now, I realize that to some people this is not kosher. Some of you may think that I am off my rocker and that this is dangerous thought. But let’s put this in perspective; theologically you are already choosing to ignore certain Scriptures: you eat bacon cheeseburgers, you wear cotton-polyester blended sweaters, you let women lead Bible studies that men attend, you allow women to wear make-up, you don’t throw sinners out of your congregation. But we are comfortable with this, because they have been systematized. Because we all do those things, it’s all of a sudden a different scenario. Since we collectively ignore those things it must be fine, but don’t start introducing new nuances.

Richard Rohr
But me being who I am, of course I’m going to buck up against that notion. Rules are rules for a reason, but sometimes rules prohibit true versions of truth, justice, love and mercy. But I digress. This was not where I was originally headed, but, hey, it’s free of charge theology for you to ponder.

Where I was headed was this – there is a grace in sin that we don’t often comprehend. 

Oh geez. Now I’ve offended some more people and have put myself back on the fringe. But hear me out. First, there are others who agree with me, and second, I’m not saying what you think I am saying.

Richard Rohr says it like this: "When we fail we are merely joining the great parade of humanity that has walked ahead of us and will follow after us." He cites one of the saints that talks about the gloriousness of sin. This references not so much that the action of sin is great, or that there is great pleasure in sinning. What it refers to is that there is this amazing impartation in the midst of sin that drives us back to God.

That is what I like about this Damien Rice lyric: "I just came across a manger/Out among the danger/Somewhere in a stranger's eye." I’ve been there. I’ve found love in the most of mysterious places. I’ve found the grace of God strongly in the midst of such overt failure and self-imposed exile that I cannot deny that my sin is what drew me into His arms. There comes a time and place in many lives where all of the things that work simply fail. We cannot make things work; things fall apart; you hate life; you don’t know how you can even rise again to face another day. This is humanity. This is reality. This is the pain that it is to be frail, to be human.

But when we reach bottom we find this hand extended down to us, and that hand is battered, bloody and holy (holey?). Only then, at the end of all our life has become, do we allow the true grace and mercy of God, the truth that we have proclaimed across the mountain tops to burrow into the depths of our souls. We do not find God in the midst of the mountains—we merely find glimpses of Him. But then, at the end of our reckless desires and insatiable desire He reaches down to us.

This is not to deny genuine experiences of God in the best of times, but to say the ultimate goal is not perfection. We can achieve perfection very much without God. We can check off our lists and demonstrate our faithfulness. We can proclaim that certain activities have sanctified us beyond anything we could have dreamed. However, ultimately if this is our reliance it will fail.

What will not fail is the infiltration of God into the midst of our real life: the messy, the dirty, the destitute, the hidden and dark places. And as the rays of His sunlight consume those places we find that the drity and the dank become sweet smelling and the very places that bring us true joy. Once we realize the true mess we are, and once we realize that we cannot wield the broom and mop; once we hand those things over and sit in the corner as God does His work, we become who we were always meant to be.

Do not despise your weakness, your dirt, your curmudgeonly spirit, but allow it to be the very grace that you need.

Week 4a - Lex orandi, Lex Credendi

Good book; I still love Church.
There is this thing floating around on Facebook that at first sight addresses ten songs we should stop singing in church. A few of the songs on the list I nod my head to, and a few of the songs I get miffed that the writer would list. As I have been reflecting on that this week and reading Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor I felt like I put together a couple of things together. In Taylor’s words:

“What I noticed at Grace-Calvary is the same thing I notice whenever people aim to solve their conflicts with one another by turning to the Bible: defending the dried ink marks on the page becomes more vital than defending the neighbor. As a general rule, I would say that human beings never behave more badly toward one another than when they believe they are protecting God.”

Don’t worry my friends, I get how you can pick this passage apart theologically saying that Taylor is drifting toward an unhealthy form of humanism that proof texts in order to justify itself. I get that as a ready defense to the first sentence, but the second sentence is more the sentiment of where we’re headed today. I think we have all been there and seen this at play; heck, many of us have been the ones treating people badly in order to “protect God.” But just stop and contemplate that for a moment. Protecting God. Protecting God? We’re out to protect the “immovable mover,” the “Maker and protector of the Earth,” the “Saviour of all mankind.” That’s who we’re protecting? (I use these phrases as there are so many views of God, not necessarily to reflect my thoughts on the Infinite Being I call God and see in the form of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.)

Now, let me say that I understand that through the waves of Modernity and Postmodernity there is inherently built into our life systems a defense of our faith, thus the entire branch of theology called Apologetics. We are defending that this system we have created is somehow the right one that needs to be adhered to.

Let me also say that I understand that there is great importance in proper belief. Proper belief forms our identity and our policies. It informs how we integrate faith into our very lives. And, the author was right to go after music as opposed to preaching, because like it or not our songs are likely more readily shaping theology than sermons in people's lives. The songs we sing change us more, because frankly put they stick with us long after a good sermon does. I know that seems like I have a low view of the preaching ministry, but that is not the case, in fact a GREAT sermon will probably more radically change someone in the short term than worship. But the average person is not really as engaged in Christian worship as we suspect and a little musical ditty is more likely to get stuck in your head than a sermon tag. In fact, think of the industry that has sprung up around Christian worship, Christian music and the like. Now compare those sales to say a sermon series in the same store. Speaks for itself.

How is this a thing? It is funny though!
There is a little Latin phrase that speaks to this – “Lex orandi, lex credendi.” Roughly, simply translated it means “The way of worship determines the way of belief." So, basically if our worship is off then our belief will become unhinged as well. This is where the author is coming from. He wants worship to be right so that our belief is right. And I could get on board with that except this: whenever we become so obsessed with theological correctness we have a tendency to over correct in loving the Lord with all of our mind to the exemption of loving the Lord with all of our soul, heart and strength.

And there is good reason for this. It is easy to defend right belief. It is easy to defend rational theological thinking. Rational thought is a much easier battleground for theology than experience, emotion or soul-shaping. Therefore it is much easier for us to dismiss Charismatics and Pentecostals, because they are easily swayed by their emotions. It is easier to dismiss Episcopalians and Presbyterians because they are trying to live between the lines of Scripture and adjust their lives to the thoughts behind the words, not the words themselves. It is easier to dismiss those who have soul-shaping experiences that were based on prayer and meditation rather than an application of a specific Scripture verse. In other words Christianity has moved approximately a foot up from the heart to the head. Henri Nouwen mentions this in his writing. He talks about the Scripture using a much broader definition of heart than we do. The heart is not just the center of emotions, it is the home of intuition, movement and the deepest places of our soul.

So, here is what has happened in a lot of ways – we have determined that the head is much more accurate and finely-tuned than the heart. We can rely on well thought out theologies that define and redefine proper belief, but too often we have done this to the exclusion of the great commandment – Love God, Love people, Love His creation. Think has become the new bastion of Christianity not love. We are a people who spend time arguing and fighting over the bylaws of how our congregation calls new ministers or spends our money and have forgotten to break bread with one another. We have forgotten that the songs that are being critiqued came from real experiences with a divine presence that left the writer in a place of vulnerability. These words that poured from them are a response to encountering the actual divine presence that the rest of are simply talking about. And, yes, this is a quiet rebuke, even to my own soul.

When we spend our lives so caught up in defending God, we forget that He is indeed our defender. When we get so caught up in correcting doctrine, because God needs us, we forget that that is just as humanistic as we accused Taylor of being earlier. Being the herald of correct theology that beats everyone else into correct thought is about as ego-centric as it comes. It means that we have now turned into those that believe that we truly and fully understand God. And that my friends is just not a place I can go. I cannot understand God. Those thoughts are too vast for me. I can however enjoy God and enjoy His people. I can learn to love the invisible mover that directs me, and find a way to trust in the dark caverns of doubt that I feel paralyze me even as I know I need to move forward.

The Nouwen book I referred to earlier.
I can also love those that God has put in my path. And I can love those that are extremely difficult to love. Because if I cannot love my brother who is seen, how can I say that I love a God that I cannot see. In other words I can actually work through how to live a life of grace, mercy, love and justice or I can spend my life correcting others, probably in an effort to maintain the shoddiness of my own faith. If I can just get someone to see things my way, then maybe this is actually real after all, right?

Now, I need to wrap this thing up, but let me say two things: first, these are the words of a 36-year old guy. There is nothing final about this. I will change over the course of my life. Second, we do need to correct certain things that we encounter. Some things are frankly so damaging to people that they need to be addressed. That is not what I am critiquing. What I critique is this knit-picky stuff that really is a matter of encountering something as huge as the divine presence and saying that these little things that I think are the right things to think. Okay…until next time.

Week 3 - Words

Went to Kentucky last week; read Merton, visited Gethsemani.
Words. This week I have been thinking about words. In no less than three of the books I have been reading the importance (and non-importance of words) has come up. One (The Name of the Wind) seems like an obvious contender to discuss such a thing. Gilead, which I have read before had a nice section on words; and On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness delightfully plays with words that we normally use all of the time.

What is shaping in my head is the importance of meaning as opposed to the actual words that we use. This morning I was reading the introduction to one of Thomas Merton’s Journals. The author talked about the way Merton would slip in French and Latin words in the midst of his journals, especially in his early years. I have no doubt that part of this was because sometimes our limited words have to find another way to express things.

Often times we hear someone say something like, “We have this phrase in German, and it does not really translate into English, but it means…” and what follows is a weird little explanation that the speaker nailed—it doesn’t translate. I find myself in this situation quite often. But I think this is where something like music or the Pentecostal practice of praying in tongues makes so much since. As Paul wrote, there are “Groanings too deep for words” within us and these feelings struggle to get out.
One of the best ways I have read describing this is in The Name of the Wind. After a character his experienced a deep loss he talks about picking up his instrument, a lute in this case, and begins to play. I found this pretty beautiful:

“Soon after that I began playing…how can I describe it?
I began to play something other than songs. When the sun warms the grass and the breeze cools you, it feels a certain way. I would play until I got the feeling right. I would play until it sounded like Warm Grass and Cool Breeze.
I was only playing for myself, but I was a harsh audience. I remember spending nearly three whole days trying to capture Wind Turning a Leaf.
By the end of the second month, I could play things nearly as easily as I saw and felt them: Sun Setting Behind the Clouds, Bird Taking a Drink, Dew in the Bracken. Somewhere in the third month I stopped looking outside and started looking inside for things to play…”

I think that does due justice to Patrick Rothfuss. What he describes is what many of us encounter: a lack of words. Not in the sense of not being able to speak, but of being unable to communicate something that we feel so deeply. I feel like I live there.

Being recently married there are plenty of times where this comes into play. Betsy and I are not so much people who lash out or really even fight. We are people who pass by each other, desiring to communicate to one another our affections, but often fumble toward that. I think sometimes we do a better job of just simply sitting with one another. I think the feelings that we share are better portrayals than the words that leave our lips. Which, when I think about it makes me laugh a little bit. Betsy is a therapist, and I work with patients at a hospital. It seems we would do better with words.
But that is exactly the thing about words. I can come up with words that come close to meaning, but don’t actually get us there. I can throw out words like compassion and love and grace and mercy to hint around at this thing that I feel. The problem is none of those words can come close to "I Like the Nearness of Your Presence in the Silence that Brings Me Comfort and Lets Me Know Everything Will Be Okay." Even with something like that, it doesn’t get quite to what burns inside.

And thus, why I think of words. Words. Words. Words. Words. What good are words when you cannot find a way to use them to explain to a small child that you loved them from the moment you first held them in your arms before they could ever do a thing for you? How can words describe the understanding of salvation you got just by having that person draw near to you? How often words fail when you try to describe that nature is the sanctuary you return to; the place where you know the transcendent is real and draws near to you…almost like a kiss on the forehead.

But these words are what we are stuck with. In the book mentioned above a young man is trying to discover what his professor means by the "name of the wind." The young hero thinks it is exactly what it sounds like, a particular name that you can pronounce.

Marilyn Robinson
I think we are like that with our friends. How many times we have been asked to describe a friend? We default to things like short, tall, black, white, thin, chunky, tow-headed or has a weird gait. But if the person is close to us we would describe them as the one with wild eyes, that hides an ocean of loneliness cloaked by a desire for true friendship or the one with the gentle demeanor that lets me know I can let my guard down even if just for a few minutes. Those come nearer to names than something like James or Betsy or Tom or Tina.

All of that said, I think what astounds about the limitation of words is how they draw us together. I can read the words of someone like Thomas Merton or Maryilynne Robinson and feel within me a connection, a knowledge that this person is a kindred spirit. I can feel that same struggle when I eat lunch with a friend and we clash into the limitation of our grasp on language. We cannot communicate the deep things of our soul, but we can point them to a song by Mumford or some other artist that comes nearer than our attempts.

Words. Words, words, words words. What a beautiful mystery and misery.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Week 2 - Grace and Mercy

Whole30 requires me to post food pictures. Lucky you.
Throughout every week I try to start on my weekly blog post. It’s just kind of what I do. When I get too much in my head I try to get those thoughts into tangible words. Inevitably those words, those writings end up for naught…in the sense of you never reading them. They are like little rabbit trails I have to explore on my own. They usually don’t even amount to the capture of any rabbits either, so there’s that. But this morning as I sat down, I “knew” what I was going to write. But, that’s not what I am writing now. Once the fingers hit the keyboard the story changed.

I was going to say that this week was comprised of two key influences – Jonathan Martin and Housefires. But the reality is my week had so many more influences like Whole 30, my wife, conversations with Chris and Phil, reading Longmire and The Name of the Wind, times of prayer and meditation; and what I came to realize is that Saturday is kind of my time to sit and watch these things collide into something that resembles the state of my heart, which is a very interesting thought indeed.

I texted a few friends this quote I came across in The Name of the Wind and thought it quite controversial, but now, here I am sharing it with any of you who are reading!

“Call a jack a jack. Call a spade a spade. But always call a whore (meaning prostitute in this particular brand of fiction) a lady. Their lives are hard enough and it never hurts to be polite.” – Patrick Rothfuss

I know that is an odd place to be headed, but it makes me think of the aforementioned Jonathan Martin and thousands just like him. It also makes me think of the prophetic statement nestled in that wonderfully spiritual film Spiderman:

The one thing they love more than a hero is to see a hero fail.

Basically, we as the Church suck at the story of redemption. Sure, we like to see someone rise above poverty or illness or trying circumstances. But we do not trust that men and women can be genuine about their faith and running to Jesus after major failures. But the problem is…that is what faith is all about. Christian perfectionism consumes our resources. We sing songs about breaking the chains, we sing songs about the perfection that is heaven, we sing songs about being spotless and shiny before God. And these things are part and parcel to our faith. But, the problem is we forget that Scripture instructs on what to do WHEN we fail, not if we fail.

How have we distorted this so far from original intent? How have we made the sinner the pariah instead of the welcome guest at our table? How have we made “All Star Christianity” about following rules instead of actually living life? These are questions that should make us stay awake at night. And I honestly believe that some of us see beyond this…but it’s usually people we discount: that person who too readily defends homosexuals, that person who is just standing by their friend, that person who is obviously hiding some kind of sin. In other words, we do all we can to discount people who defend the sinner, because they are obviously in cahoots with them!

Here I want to combine two things: Jonathan Martin’s blog and a passage of Scripture. I'm not necessarily going to comment on them, but let them be the guide for the end of the post.

From his blogpost: “Sitting around the table that day, I had two thoughts: one, all the people in my former life who would, if they saw the scene, say some version of, “look how far he is fallen.” I could think of more than a few who would be sneering when they said it. And alternately I thought, there is no place on God’s green earth I would rather be on this Thanksgiving day than right here, right now.

From the book of Luke: One of the Pharisees asked him over for a meal. He went to the Pharisee’s house and sat down at the dinner table. Just then a woman of the village, the town harlot, having learned that Jesus was a guest in the home of the Pharisee, came with a bottle of very expensive perfume and stood at his feet, weeping, raining tears on his feet. Letting down her hair, she dried his feet, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfume. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man was the prophet I thought he was, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is falling all over him.”
Jesus said to him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Oh? Tell me.”
“Two men were in debt to a banker. One owed five hundred silver pieces, the other fifty. Neither of them could pay up, and so the banker canceled both debts. Which of the two would be more grateful?”
Simon answered, “I suppose the one who was forgiven the most.”
“That’s right,” said Jesus. Then turning to the woman, but speaking to Simon, he said, “Do you see this woman? I came to your home; you provided no water for my feet, but she rained tears on my feet and dried them with her hair. You gave me no greeting, but from the time I arrived she hasn’t quit kissing my feet. You provided nothing for freshening up, but she has soothed my feet with perfume. Impressive, isn’t it? She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal.”
Then he spoke to her: “I forgive your sins.”
That set the dinner guests talking behind his back: “Who does he think he is, forgiving sins!”
He ignored them and said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

That passage is a bit longer than I recall, but the whole story has to be there.

Jesus is called by many the friend of sinners. It was a term of derision actually. It was Jesus’s enemies that called him that. There is something however about the friend of sinners that doesn’t make sense until you really understand the depths of what sin does. Sin does not simply alienate you from God. Sin casts you away from your friends. It puts you in league with people you detested until you got there. It makes you rely on a kind of grace that was only mouthspeak before. Your heart finally catches up to your lips. And that’s why this faith thing makes sense to me.

I know the follies of my heart. I know the pain of losing reputation and friends from sins I have committed. 

Even as I write this the words of Housefires sing, “This love doesn’t leave me alone. And it never forgets it own. This love won’t leave me cos my past is bad. Oh and this love lifts me up above the waves; I don’t need to be overwhelmed. Ohh and it raises me upon the rock, so my feet can finally stand on ground. It’s every moment, every day, always.”

That is the love that I have entered into. It is the love that reaches down into the depths of not just my sin, but the consequence of my sin. It tells me that God reaches me amidst my own psychological angst and pain. It tells me that there is a community who loves me amidst all of the rubbage of my life. It tells me that the friend of sinners has given me communion amongst his people…amongst sinners that have run rough and tumbled hard and landed in a pool of grace that can’t be understood until you have found the muddy waters of despair somehow give way to the crystal clear drink of true, pure love. My sin does not remove me from the love of God, but catapults me into the depths of grace and mercy that transcend any rational thought. It doesn’t make sense.

I run beyond the understanding of my mind and live in that realm where His heart calls unto my heart. There is something contradictory in this. It makes me feel like an outcast to the society that taught me that my sin hides God from my eyes. But when my sin draws me to a place of such utter despair, pain and desolation I have no other place I can go. And there is nothing else I can drink but the true, unfiltered love of God that is poured out in the compassion of His tears. And that is why I can say things like, “I want to be messy. I want to get down into the muck and mire of people’s lives.” My reputation will likely be ruined by the people I associate with, because the love of God is most readily available to the broken, to the tired, to the poor, to the destitute, to the handicapped. But that my friends is the love of God. We somehow come to know the reality that is our God. We find Him in the darkness and not just in the light. We come to know Him in the worst days, which bring forth light to walk into the best, not because they are easiest, or because they are the most blessed, but because they are walked in the genuine knowledge that this is all grace.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

First Thoughts of 2015...kind of

I hope for more ridiculous faces in 2015!
So, the first blog post of the year, but be to be honest, the second attempt. It turns out my first thoughts of the year are not yet quite refined enough to be put into words. I need to meditate on the subject a wee bit longer. Instead, my first thoughts are about a little reading I did this morning. But before I get into that, I have felt like there are two big changes in the way I am approaching my “quiet times” with God this year.

First, for about three years or so I have lived in the Psalms. They have become a refuge for me. I have read the entire book of Psalms every month for this time and really just seen the ways that the Psalms are theology as much as Paul, even if we don’t like it. Instead of the Psalms I am moving into John. I feel inasmuch as the Psalms have taken a few years, John may take even longer. At times I worry that my knowledge of the Word of God may suffer from spending most of my life in just two books, but I trust that if that is where I am led…that is where I should be. It is a really interesting place to be.

Second, I feel like where in the past my quiet times have been about reading, 2015 (and maybe much beyond that!) is about reading and writing. I have become a consumer and part-time contributor to the world. I don’t know that my writing is as much about contributing to society as it is working through life. There comes this point where we can only consume so much without needing to work that consumption off or out. As gross as it is it’s like food. If we don’t work out and poop, we just store up without purpose and become unhealthy. I think that is what James was writing about when he said, we “must become not only hearers of the Word, but doers” (James 1:22). So, this is a year of writing. And today I am writing about something I read from one of my heroes…Mr. Thomas Merton. I was reading in The Wisdom of the Desert this morning and a couple of passages jumped out, but particularly this:

“They were humble, quiet, sensible people with a deep knowledge of human nature and enough understanding of the things of God to realize that they knew very little about Him. Hence they were not much disposed to make long speeches about the divine essence, or even to declaim on the mystical meaning of Scripture. If these men say little about God, it is because they know that when one has been somewhere close to His dwelling, silence makes a lot more sense than a lot of words (p 14).”

Seriously, look at this handsome devil. Hero status!
This thought really amused me and made me happy. I love the honesty with which Merton speaks. I understand the skepticism with which many of my friends reading these words may view my enjoyment. Most of the people in my life are Evangelicals. Evangelicals are nothing if not vocal about God. We like to have our knowledge and share it too! That's what we do. We vocalize our faith and make sure other people know it too. Our job is to make sure everyone knows rightly about God.

But this is something where I think the skeptics, strugglers and agnostics do a better service to the divine than we do. There is a humility in doubt. I try to maintain that humility even in confidence.

What now? You contradict yourself Mr. Love!
Well, yes…and no.

I have confident of assurance that this whole following Jesus thing is real. I do not have confidence that I fully understand it all…and at times any of it! Of course, I struggle with the big things that plague us as a society – suffering, pain, senseless violence, tragedies, etc. But beyond that I even struggle with things like, “What is God’s definition of justice or love;” “Should Christianity have ever held hands with any government;” “Is our individualism too pronounced, making our Christian ‘communities’ nothing more than self-congratulating gatherings that proclaim, ‘At least we’re not like those other people. Praise God for that!’”

Heck, there are times when the nature of God as Father, Jesus is Savior, the Holy Spirit as Comforter are challenged, because experience has dictated it to be so. This is why I say I try to maintain my humility even in confidence. Even on those days where this doesn’t seem real…I just can’t shake the sense that cosmically millions of people have had this feeling and real-life experiences. Yet, the men and women who have dedicated their lives to whole-hearted commitment are usually labeled simplistic or ascetic and too mystically minded to be of any good for us to follow Jesus.

If you know the myth of John the Beloved, it was said that in his old age the congregation used to bring him forward to speak. He always said the same thing, “Little children. Love one another.” That is frankly not a very challenging word for a man who once laid his head on Jesus’s chest and stood by with his mother when he was crucified. This is also the same man some believe to have written down the words and visions of Revelation. To have this crazy insider knowledge and to week-after-week say, “Hey guys…love each other,” doesn’t seem to be that life altering.

But the fact remains, if this is a true story, this was central to John’s revelation of Christ and was important enough that he was speaking it to the first, second, third and possibly fourth generation of Christians that this was it. This is what you do. He was not making bold proclomations of the character of God. He was saying, “We gotta figure out how to love one another or this doesn’t mean anything.”

And it is this same humility that I find important as we approach living out faith in 2015 and beyond. I can do without grand revelations from the greatest of prophets if it does not resort in this being more real, and more lived-in in my life. That is the great challenge – shaking off the academic nature that a bunch of facts about faith are going to change the lives of men and women who still have the marks of heroin needles in the arms and on their soul; or women who bear the shame of resorting to prostitution and bear the scorn of the Church instead of Her sympathy when some of Jesus’s followers were prostitutes themselves. 

I speak humbly and lightly of who God is, because I know from my time with Him…that I can’t ever know truly who He is until I see Him fully face-to-face. More later my friends, but for now I've reached my 1000 words I try to keep this around!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Michigan Wedding!!!

Married at last...with a green moustache to boot!
So…I am married now. That’s new. It seems every few days I have this strange thought that, “Hey. I am married to Betsy. Huh?” Most of the time it seems normal; all of the time it feels right; it is just new, so I find myself in wonder at times.
Betsy and I had this grand idea that we were going to post something about being blissfully wed every day…last week. Since that did not happen, and I have not found an appropriate outlet for ALL THESE WORDS that need to escape, I present to you today’s post. What I am most focused on today is talking a little bit about what shook down in Michigan.
First, Michigan is the “official wedding date,” aka the one that must be remembered for antiquity when it comes to anniversaries. It was the one that, when all is said and done, we considered ourselves official. It is the one that changed things for us. Though other events helped us create new identities (e.g. the Valentine’s fight, our July trips, the Texas vows), the Michigan ceremony is what we mark as “the two becoming one” for us.
This is significant more on my end than Betsy’s. Early in the process I wanted two separate but equal ceremonies as we knew that significant people would be missing from a wedding by choosing either Texas or Michigan. My family (rightly) said Michigan was the logical choice. That stung, but the aftermath of that conversation was a major turning point for us. After that decision was made, we both learned the value of checking ourselves on any decision that was selfish to the point of the exclusion of the other. Ouch! Selfish! Yes...but you have to understand that I approach life by understanding that each of us is inherently selfish, meaning we think about our self first. That is not rocket science. When I ask you to do or for something your first response is normally, “Am I able to do or give that?” That is not a bad question. But the marker of maturity, and what I saw after this decision was that both Betsy and I were able to think, “I really want this. Is this something s/he will like, and if not, is it something that is worth fighting for?” We never had a big disagreement after that…which, trust me, I am QUITE thankful for.
So, all the planning came together. All the chaos ensued (such as me running lights, sound, figuring out a/v and clearing a stage at our rehearsal). The cool thing…the bride was part of the initial line up instead of the groom as I was quite busy! And Betsy has quite frequently joked, “Yeah. I married my uncle and my father the night of our rehearsal.” So…fun times, new jokes.
The day of the wedding it was 43 degrees and raining lightly, then heavily in about 15 minute cycles. This could have proved disastrous. Instead, it just made for fun stories. Pictures were fine, except I hate pictures so I got grumpy, not because of the photographers, but because…you know…I hate posing. I think at one point we had an exchange something like this:
Jodi: Soft lips James.
Me: (Anger seething about not having soft lifts, adjusts my face.)
Dan or Jodi: That is really more of a snarl than soft lips.
Me, internally: Ohhh…you think that’s a snarl do you…I will show you the wrath that cometh. My vengeance shall be swift and fierce.
My mom getting me to dance.
So, yeah. Pictures were great! Then something happened that I have NEVER seen happen at a wedding before, but I was absolutely enamored with. EVERYONE just hung out. It was fantastic. Family members, friends that were early, the wedding party, we all just hung out in back of the church telling fun stories, enjoying laughs. It was the best! We did that until about 10 minutes after the wedding should have started, because two closed streets and no parking lot led to lots of people walking. Again…fun stories, no anxiety. So, so thankful.
Our ceremony was equal parts cry-y and laugh-y. I sang a song I wrote when she walked down the aisle. We did vows we had written ourselves. We shared communion with everyone. We had lots of hugs and laughs. Betsy’s nephew received his reward for doing a job and showed his Hulk hands to everyone! It was just such a relaxing day, and remarkably unstressful.
Most people find me to be an extrovert. I understand that, because I can basically talk to anyone. Really…anyone. But, the thing people don’t realize is I hate being the center of attention for any length of time. It creates a lot of anxiety for me. So, when people dinged their glass wanting Betsy and I to kiss one too many times, I stepped outside the tent…and vomited. Yes. This glorious day was great, except I lost my lunch at the reception. Knowing this was nothing more than nerves, not true illness, I had a great rest of the reception by breaking everything glass that could be dinged. I kid. But, thankfully it did stop and I enjoyed the rest of the night.
Betsy's reception.
My friend Billy but two pictures up on the Facebook that demonstrated our two different receptions. It is here for you to see. This picture basically sums up much of the night. I enjoyed people with conversations; Betsy enjoyed people on the dance floor. Remember that not liking attention thing? That is what keeps me off of dance floors. I know it is a limitation. I know I need to get over it…but I also understand myself enough to respect limitations. If I (or Betsy) had pushed things to be different, it would have been a miserable night. And that is one thing I really love about us. Betsy knew that dance floor James equaled miserable James, so she didn’t ask it of me. (Thanks Mrs. Love!)

James's reception.
So, that is basically my take on Michigan. What an awesome day. What awesome time with family and friends. We are both so thankful for the many memories and stories from that day. If Betsy is up for it, I think she will write a little about her time in Michigan. We also want to share about the glory that was our honeymoon and the laugh fest that was our Texas shindig. And then I have something that has been kinda burning in me that I want to share. The only hint is that Janet, Rebecca, Ginny, Cari, Betsy, Dawn, Tammy, James, Aubrey and Evangeline, will probably be the only ones that share the memory that sparked it. That said, I think it is something so universal that the story will resonate with all of you. So, until later, hope you are well. Much love my friends.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Thoughts on the Monday before My Wedding

So…it’s the Monday before the wedding. What does that even mean? (Wow…that sounds like a bunch of philosophical, coffee-house, pretend meaning of life pretentiousness.) Scratch that.
So…it’s the Monday before the wedding. What am I feeling, what am I up to, what is kicking around the old mind grapes?
Well…by using the phrase mind grapes, I am obviously thinking of some 30 Rock. By the presence of Whitney Alexander in my house, it means I am still working my second job as a DMin editor. By the presence of James LeCroy in my house, it means I am still single and living with a roommate. By the text from Betsy I just got, it means preparations are still in swing approximately 800 miles nearly due north of me ahead of my arrival. By the phone call from my Aunt G last night, it means final planning for the Texas re-Wedding is wrapping up. By a good (albeit difficult) conversation with Betsy’s dad yesterday, it means that we have reached a point where Betsy and are to stick to a plan, even in the midst of life happening that will affect our new family. So, I guess at the end of the day it means this –
Getting married Saturday, although an event, is simply the next step of merging two lives into one. Granted it is a significant part of the journey, but it is simply, metaphorically, moving our left foots in front of our right foots, but this time holding hands as we move forward.

One of my heroes (Thomas Merton, of course), although not writing about marriage, puts it like this:

What I wear is pants.
What I do is live.
How I pray is breathe.

In essence, all of these things, these big events, these life-changing circumstances are part of a simple narrative of which we are a part. Yes, this wedding on Saturday is exciting. Yes, Betsy and I have made decisions that will make this day special. Yes, throughout the week family and friends will start arriving (and have already arrived) to make this a special day. Yes, Betsy and I hold that something special will come about because of the preparations that we have laid for the day.
But, today is Monday. And this morning I will go to work. And this evening I will edit dissertations and maybe even get to see my friends at small group if all goes well. And Betsy will paint some doors, hang out with Rachel Bliss and do other preparations that I will never really know about, but will be thankful for just the same.

And tomorrow I will go to work, and repeat much of what I did today, including editing dissertations. And Betsy will take on more preparations and hopefully spend time with other people and just enjoy being home in Grand Rapids. Hopefully she will be nice to Bella for me.
Then Wednesday, I will go to work. Then, Gaylynn Bittle will take me to the airport. Jay and Amy will board a plane in Boston, and somehow our planes, originating from different parts of the country will arrive within half-an-hour of one another. Apparently at that point a few of us will sit around a fire and enjoy each other’s company. Also, the Webbs will start their drive from Chicago.
Thursday brings about a whole other wave of travel and preparations. Friday brings more. Saturday brings still more. And so many of you will be making little preparations that Betsy and I cannot see. From John, Sheridan and Scooter driving from Chicago, to Deb flying from Colorado. From my family road tripping and hopefully eating some ribs in Memphis for me, to Betsy’s family erecting tents and putting in lights at the house. A few of you will lift up prayers. A few of you will be in a small church in Michigan or a tabernacle in Texas to be a part of our big days. Some of you will help us “warm” a house that I have already been living in for two years. Our roommates will be getting married. Other friends will be getting married. Friends will have babies. My friend Amy will grieve the loss of her sister. Other people will do the same.
But today is Monday. Today I will go to work. I will wear pants. I will breathe. I will edit dissertations. I will look forward with expectancy to things like a ceremony and a honeymoon. There will be dancing. There will be sitting and quiet conversations. There will be anxious moments. There will be heated tempers. There will be gentle tears. There will be big laughs. There will be unexpected moments of tenderness and grace.
Betsy will step into her dress on Saturday and feel different in a way she can’t explain, or even comprehend. Amy and others will help her with her make-up and hair. The guys will sit around for “getting ready pictures” when most likely we will all be dressed already and staging something that has already happened. I would guess a radio or a phone will be playing the Michigan and or Michigan State game while we wait…and probably at the honeymoon if I were to be honest.

On Sunday, the two of us will drive with Jerry to Detroit. He’ll go to L.A. We’ll go to Nova Scotia. We will land WAY past my bed time. We’ll take a cab to our first hotel. We’ll wake up late and go to the little tea shoppe around the corner, because Betsy likes tea. I will probably convince her to take a walk along the harbor market and drink a local beer at an Irish pub and eat some poutine. I will read some Wendell Berry. She’ll read some Tina Fey. We’ll drive up the coast to Cape Breton Island for the rest of the trip.
We’ll come back, do another wedding in Texas. Love on my family. Stay at the family farm. Drive to Alabama. Get back to work. Attend another wedding. We’ll do thank you cards. Betsy will apply for jobs.
But today is Monday. I will put on pants. I will go to work. I will breathe.