Wednesday, December 22, 2010

always winter, never christmas

"Cause when it's always winter but never Christmas
Sometimes it feels like you're not with us
But deep inside our hearts we know
That you are here and we will not lose hope"
With the above lyrics, Relient K depicts a frigid wintry scene that closely parallels the way we can feel about life in general as it drags and refuses to resolve.  We've had a particularly cold, bitter beginning to winter in North Carolina this year.  And not the cool kind where it snows and everything feels magical but just the steely trudgery of freezing winds and plunging temperatures.  The season hasn't felt unlike what Relient K is alluding to and C.S. Lewis crystallizes in his description of the fictional world of Narnia.  It is upon her first meeting with Mr. Tumnus, a faun ally of Narnia's three child heroes, that Lucy is informed of the evil White Witch who has asserted control over Narnia.
“The White Witch? Who is she?” [asked Lucy.]
“Why, it is she that has got all Narnia under her thumb. It’s she that makes it always winter. Always winter and never Christmas; think of that!”
“How awful!” said Lucy.
Frozen Narnia is a symbol for the world in which we inhabit.  Where dreams sometimes are frustrated and hopes fall flat and dissolve.  The White Witch is a depiction of an enemy that desires our destruction either through obliteration or slow, inevitable monotony and hopelessness.  I know that sometimes I feel the tug of Narnia's gravity at my feet in this world.

The beauty of Narnia, however, is that underlying the harsh conditions there is an obvious but subtle magic.  Like the first snow of the season, just below the untouched crystals, it almost feels like anything is possible there.  So how do we escape the doldrums of winter and look expectantly toward a promised Christmas?


The story of Christmas is the story of great faith in the face of great adversity.

It's the story of Mary subjecting herself to God's plan despite an uncertain future saying, "Let it be done to me according to your will."  It's the story of Joseph putting faith in God and in his young wife-to-be and choosing to raise Jesus as his own son regardless of his supernatural origins.  It's the story of shepherds and kings and wise men being drawn to a place and a child for unknown reasons and heeding the nagging in the minds and souls.  It's the story of a young family on the run protecting their son and fleeing a tyrant into exile in a strange land. 

In uncertain times and harsh realities, faith isn't just good.  It's essential.  But faith cannot exist on its own.  It must have an anchor, a source.  In the Christmas story, the article of faith is obvious: Christ.  However, faith extends beyond just the birth of a child.  Mary's faith, Joseph's faith, the faith of shepherds and kings and wise men and all the people of Israel was found in a promise.

It was a promise given to David, the King of Israel, many years before that a new king would rise from the ranks of the people and that his dominion over the Earth would forever transform our cold winters with the promise of Christmas.
"When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him..."
Even in the ancient prophecy that foretells the birth of Christ, we see he is different type of king.  Not only is no White Witch-like tyrant bent on our exploitation and bondage, he is not like David either simply driven by power, glory, honor for his own name's sake.  He is the servant king.  And although he never commits iniquity, he bears the punishment in our place.  Our coldest winter, our sin that separates us from God, is lifted in the Christmas promise that is the faith of Christ that drives Him to a cross so that we can be restored to God and creation.

Christmas is not easy.  But it is certain.


A promise provides a pathway toward faith but it is hope that lights that path and guides us along the way.  Faith is a choice but hope is an attitude.  It is a belief in the face of contradicting circumstances that deeper realities are at work in the world around me.

As a man subjected to all types of torment and sacrifice and as a man of great faith, the apostle Paul is keenly aware of the dual realities of what we can see right before us and what exists that we do not yet perceive.
"We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently."
...and later he sums this up connecting faith and hope simply by saying...

"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
Faith is a choice but hope is an attitude.

We face tough times, economic hardships, lost jobs, broken relationships, unreliable families, jilted hearts, and deferred dreams.  We can choose to face these realities with resignation or we can dare to hope.

And hope is the magic of Christmas.  It's the feeling of waking up to snow on Christmas Day.  Hope rewarded and faith proved true are the hallmarks of the Christmas spirit.

Lewis depicts this living hope in the person of Father Christmas.  After all, who is more a symbol for the combination of magic and belief for children than Santa Claus?
He was a huge man in a bright red robe (bright as holly berries) with a hood that had fur inside it and a great white beard that fell like a foamy waterfall over his chest.…

Now that the children actually stood looking at him… he was so big, so glad, and so real, that they all became quite still. They felt very glad, but also solemn.
“I’ve come at last,” said he. “She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The witch’s magic is weakening.”
And Lucy felt that deep shiver of gladness that you only get if you are being solemn and still.

The story of Christmas is a love story.

I don't know if it's the magic of Christmas or the desire for warmth and familiarity that comes with the season or the gathering of families or the amount of time we spend watching couples in airports or what but something about Christmas makes people want to fall in love.  I also think that's part of the reason so many couples get engaged at Christmas.  I think this is the natural tendency of the Christmas story.  At its heart, Christmas is about the love of a groom for his bride.

Christ the groom.  He, in heaven, without want or need at the right hand of his Father with pleasures forevermore.  In perfect community, family with the Father and Holy Spirit.  Riches beyond measure and joy beyond comprehension.  But deep in his heart, there is a love that cannot be extinguished.  It gnaws at his soul begging for release and always desiring the good of his bride.

His bride the church.  The prodigal, disgraced, dirty church.  We with our fallen natures, our sinful choices.  We have run as far away as we can from our groom.  Seeking our own pleasures and own kingdoms, we've not only taken our relationship for granted, we've renounced it altogether. 

And yet, Christ emerges with hope for rekindled love.

The confessions of love found in all the sappy, romantic Christmas movies ever made can never compare to Christ's love for his bride.

"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich."

Without fear of consequence or regard for his own fate, he puts himself on the line for his bride.  Beat that, Love Actually.

But what Christ offers is not an earthly love that will lead to its own winters but an eternal acceptance that can never be tainted or corrupted.  His love melts our perpetual winters and makes way for a new springlike reality.  His acceptance is the promise of Christmas.

So at Christmas, we wait.  We have faith.  We hope.  We love.

Friday, December 3, 2010

ultimate christmas mix vol. 6

As you probably know, mostly because I hype this thing up to now end as we near the holidays, it is time for the ultimate christmas mix once again. Going on my fifth year (the first year was a double album), I am still making very entertaining and *unique* playlists to enjoy as we enter the Christmas season.

This might be my favorite one ever. Fair warning though. While last year's mix was heavy on pop music and could easily serve as the background music at a holiday-themed party, this mix is more likely to be listened to while cuddled up to a warm fire and hot cup of your preferred winter beverage. Listening to these songs is kind of like being at a Christmas party then walking out to get lost in the woods. Full track listing is below.

ultimate christmas mix vol. 6
1. “Christmas Party” - The Walkmen
2. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” - The Raveonettes
3. “Peppermint Winter” - Owl City
4. “Winter Wonderland” - Jason Mraz
5. “All I Want for Christmas is You” - Dave Barnes
6. “O Holy Night” – Glee Cast
7. “Silent Night” – Alexi Murdoch
8. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” – Matthew Perryman Jones
9. “What Child Is This” – Parachute
10. “Jinglebell Rock” – Arcade Fire
11. “Go Tell It On the Mountain” – needtobreathe
12. “Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem” – Bright Eyes
13. “When the Leaves” – Ingrid Michaelson
14. “Ho Ho Hopefully” – The Maine
15. “Wishlist” – The Ready Set
16. “Boots” – The Killers
17. “Christmas Lights” – Coldplay
18. “When I Get Home for Christmas” – Snow Patrol
19. “Tracks in the Snow” – The Civil Wars
20. “We Are Snowmen” – Matthew Ryan
21. “Hey Parker, It’s Christmas” – Ryan Adams

You can preview the songs on the ultimate christmas mix vol. 6 above but if you want a full copy, you'll just have to see me. I'll be the one spreading holiday melodrama cheer.

Monday, November 22, 2010


I really like the word "broken."  The way the "k" juts out in the middle disrupting the flow of the word.  Even in print the word looks like it is hiding some semi-secret violence.  The pronunication clearly causes us to pause in the middle and fight through the "k" to finish the phrase.  I like its dualistic nature.  Because while broken obviously has its damaged, fractured, weakened meaning, it also can mean tamed or reduced to submission.  In the Christian life, brokenness is not a condition to avoid but rather one to covet. 

I have been learning and writing often about the life of David lately.  Maybe that's why the work "broken" is coming up for me so much.  His life was characterized by brokenness and yet at his lowest, with nothing to boast about and nothing to bring before God to cover over his sin.  It is there we might witness David's finest hour or at least the one we can most identify with as he says, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise."  Our broken hearts and broken spirits are all we possess before God and yet somehow that is enough for Him.

David was a poet and wrote the majority of the Psalms so it's fitting that my meditation on brokenness turned into a poem.  The thing about writing poetry is that it's very analogous to cooking a meal for someone.  You never really know if it's any good until you put it out there in the world.  I say that just to ask that you not judge me too harshly.  I"m pretty rusty at this type of writing but I do enjoy it.  I also tried to do this thing with pronouns in there that hopefully you'll pick up on.  Let me know what you think.


the broken sun breaks broken day
breaking darkness with broken ray
on broken people living broken lives
exposing broken bonds and broken ties

my broken heart it cannot love
the broken her I'm afraid of
my broken hopes and broken dreams
her broken words and broken speech

my broken legs they cannot walk
the broken path we choose to stalk
broken steps will lead no where
but to broken promises we now share

my broken eyes they cannot see
broken you and broken me
but when they lift to broken Him
broken chains are broken again

broken prayers on broken knees
from broken he's and broken she's
our broken God shows the broken way
to place our brokenness on display

Thursday, November 18, 2010

just friends

Now it came about when he had finished speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself. - 1 Samuel 18:1
Now let's be honest with ourselves for a minute.  That feels a little weird.  Saying one man's soul is knit to another and that he loves him as himself.  That falls somewhere in between the posting on my friend's facebook wall, "OMG!!! We're BFFs!!!" and catching my roommate singing "Teenage Dream" loudly to himself in his mirror.  (Neither of those have actually happened though one is substantially more likely than the other.)

Even as a friend and I were mutually making plans via the magic of Facebook to watch Monday Night Football together a few weeks ago, a female friend inserted her own comment to one of our posts.  "Isn't that cute?  You two boys have a date."  This isn't written to chide her but simply to illustrate the general attitude of our society toward male friendship.  We look on it with suspicion.

Ironically enough, it was an essay written by Al Mohler in the wake of the release of Brokeback Mountain that caused me to realize one of the main causes of the decline in male friendship.  The strongest aggressor in the war against men being friends is homophobia.  It's impossible for two men to share any kind of meaningful friendship without the eventual, obligatory, intolerant, narrow-minded leveling of the charge, "You're gay."

From the biblical narrative to numerous examples in literature, art, and history, we can easily produce evidence that our culture was once much more likely to celebrate the concept of common brotherhood rather than be repulsed by it.  After all, our nation's first capitol was located in Philadelphia, "the city of brotherly love."  Our society has quite literally moved away from the virtuosity of male friendship.

It was C.S. Lewis, himself a possessor of a strong bond with fellow author J.R.R. Tolkien that helped from both men's writing and character, who wrote most poignantly about the current condition of friendship or "philia."

To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue.  The modern world, in compariosn, ignores it.  We admit of course that besides a wife and family a man needs a few "friends."  But the very tone of the admission, and the sort of acquaintanceships which those who make would describe a friendships, show...It is something quite marginal; not a main course in life's banquet; a diversion; something that fills up the chinks of one's armor.
Far from denying the superfluous nature of friendship, Lewis goes on to argue this is friendship's virtue.  The fact that men and women and whole societies can go on living and existing in a world without friendship proves the spiritual nature of the love.  He ultimately concludes that the reason God does not use friendship as a symbol of divine love for human beings is because it could so easily be mistaken for what it symbolizes.  A love that is unnecessary but freely given is perhaps too close to divine to be used analogously.

What love motivated God to create human beings in the first place?  A love for the other.  The trinity is a mysterious and inexplicable truth.  One thing we can definitely know is that if God lives in community and has lived in the community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit from eternity to eternity and God is Love, then God is motivated to create out of His love and in conjunction with His character as developed by the eternal connections that bind the three members of the Trinity into one God.

What love motivated God to forgive His creation even as it rejected Him and severed the community that existed between God and man?   The love of a friend.   The same love that Jonathan showed to David when he went to his father, King Saul, and pleaded for David's life.  He convinces the king to be merciful and spare David's life.
Saul told his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David. But Jonathan had taken a great liking to David and warned him, “My father Saul is looking for a chance to kill you. Be on your guard tomorrow morning; go into hiding and stay there. I will go out and stand with my father in the field where you are. I’ll speak to him about you and will tell you what I find out.”

Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, “Let not the king do wrong to his servant David; he has not wronged you, and what he has done has benefited you greatly. He took his life in his hands when he killed the Philistine. The LORD won a great victory for all Israel, and you saw it and were glad. Why then would you do wrong to an innocent man like David by killing him for no reason?”

Saul listened to Jonathan and took this oath: “As surely as the LORD lives, David will not be put to death.”

So Jonathan called David and told him the whole conversation. He brought him to Saul, and David was with Saul as before.
One of the most important beliefs that Christians hold is that Jesus pleads to His Father on our behalf.  And it is not difficult to imagine that the conversation doesn't sound much different than the conversation between Saul and Jonathan.  Except God is completely just in asking for our lives as we have sinned and broken our relationship with Him.  Jesus, as the truer and better Jonathan, not only pleads with His Father on our behalf but takes the punishment we deserve in our place so that both His Father's mercy and His justice can be satisfied.  The same Jesus who calls us "no longer slaves, but friends" is the one who sacrifices Himself that we might live.  Christ is not only our Savior but our model of friendship as well.  "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends."

Now I might be able to write all this in a blog post, but I am no model of friendship.  If there's one thing I have been learning lately, it is that I don't allow my friends to share enough of my life.  I am ashamed of vulnerability and never want to burden other people with my struggles.  Often, I find it easier to blog about my problems than turn them over to a friend for support and prayer.  Sure, I'll say that it's because I don't want to burden other people's lives with my problems but the truth is that, like many men, I never want to appear weak in the eyes of others.  Even if I know that through my weakness, God's strength can be more clearly imaged. 

But when we hide behind our facades of strenght and pretend everything is just fine, we not only deprive ourselves of the help of others, we deprive ourselves of true friendship.  If we never share our struggles and doubts and insecurities with other people, we never have reason to celebrate together over our victories or marvel together at God's deliverance.  By not allowing others to carry our burdens, we're not doing them any favors.  Instead, we are depriving them of the biblical sense of community that they have been created for and called to live in.  In reality, we are denying the truth of the trinity and rejecting Christ's own model of friendship.  Christ died that we might have friends and be friends.  Far be it for us to reject His sacrifice out of fear.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

i am still painting flowers for you

"When I wake up, the dream isn't done
I want to see your face and know I made it home
If nothing is true, what more can I do?
I am still painting flowers for you"  All Time Low
A boy who would be a shepherd in a field before it's known that he would be king.  This is how we meet the boy-king David in the first book of Samuel.  A boy who would be king in a temple before it's known that he would be a savior.  This is one of the scenes introducing us to Jesus in the gospels.

The parallels between the life of David and the life of Christ are exponential in scope but I hadn't really take the time to connect those dots until recently when our church began a study on the life of David.  All throughout this study, the pastors and elders of our church have been emphasizing that we should be looking to David as someone we should emulate directly but instead read his story as a foreshadowing of Christ and his life.  By doing that, we learn more about who Jesus is/was supposed to be and we stop placing the focus of bible stories primarily on ourselves.  After all, the books of the bible are written in histories, in letters, in proverbs, and in song.  But none of those books are primarily about us.  All of them are primarily about God. 

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to hear my friend and pastor Trevor preach about what discipleship means.  He was making the altogether true, but somewhat controversial point that discipleship does not happen in the Protestant-approved spiritual disciplines.  Reading your bible is not discipleship.  Singing worship songs is not discipleship.  Prayer is not discipleship.  Sitting across the table at a coffee shop from someone and talking about your feelings is not discipleship.  That's not to say those things aren't important to the Christian life or forming our character or that they aren't good spiritual practices.  But they are only preparations for discipleship.  Discipleship, after all, is following Christ.  That happens primarily when we suffer and when we struggle and when we fail.  Because discipleship is following Christ and Christ is going to a cross.  The question we face as His disciples is are we willing to follow Him even there?

As many similarities as there are between David and Christ, I am indebted to my friend Dan for pointing out to me a key difference.  David became king.  Yes, he spent much of his life running from Saul, hiding in caves, facing persecution, plots against his life, and real danger.  But he became king.  He enjoyed the spoils of wealth, of success, of power, of prestige, of significance, of military might, and of celebrity.  He became everything he could have ever dreamed to be and more and all of this was clearly done by God's own hand.

Jesus did not.

At least, not in the way we see in the life of David.  Jesus would become a spiritual king, the savior of Israel.  But he spend his life nomadic and homeless, hanging out with the scourges of society.  He had no real career or accomplishments to his name, certainly no prestige or celebrity.  He never wrote a book, never was even recognized as a proper teacher by the religious authorities of His day.  He was 30 years old, unmarried, with no property, and spending all his days with a bunch of uneducated fishermen.  It is safe to say that most people probably thought Jesus' life was a failure.  And then he went to a cross.  The only recognition of his kingly status was a sign reading "King of the Jews" hanging above his head adorned with a crown of thorns.

Now who do I really want to be like?  Do I want to be like David or do I want to be like Christ? 

Our pastor J.D. drew a comparison in his sermon this week between the pasture where David is tending sheep when they call for him so that Samuel can anoint him as the next king of Israel and the place we spend our lives as we prepare for whatever we think God is calling us to in the future.  I think this reads with a lot of twentysomethings like me who constantly feel like we are waiting for our real lives to begin and these preparation times to fade away to mere memories.  J.D.'s point was not waste this time.  God forms kings in the pasture.  That is where he makes ordinary, weak people into people who are capable of extraordinary things through His strength.

But what if God's calling for me isn't from a pasture to a throne?  What if while I wait and doubt and struggle what God is calling me toward is more suffering?  If following Christ means going to a cross then suffering is a permanent part of that equation.  I must be united to Him in His death if I am ever to access the healing that is found in His life.  Would I still worship Him if that is the case?  Am I enduring the pasture and the cave and the wilderness because of the promise of a throne or because I know that God is with me no matter where I am?  (I'm asking these questions because I honestly don't have the answers.)

If God's calling for me doesn't involve getting married to the woman of my dreams or having a moderately priced house in the suburbs or attaining financial stability or having the respect of my colleagues or the admiration of my friends, then am I still interested in pursuing the path which he has laid out before me?  And if I don't, then did I ever really have any faith or trust in Him at all? 

I think no one serves better as an example of someone who suffered well in scripture than Paul.  He encountered difficulties not when he was young but when he was older and knew enough to avoid strife and hardship.  He had status and prestige and power before he met Jesus on the road to Damascus.  That was where Paul lost everything.  He lists out the various things he has suffered in his second letter to the Corinthians. 

Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.
And yet through it all, he sings hymns while in prison and converts his jailers.  He not only endures torment and hardship, he almost seems to prefer it or at least to expect it.  He goes around writing things like, "I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.  And "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us."  And "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want."  At the end of his life, he uses his allotted time to defend himself before his would be executioners to try to convert them to Christianity instead.

This is not to fall into the all-too-common traps of sanitizing the bible or of glorifying the saints.  Paul's suffering were real and painful and difficult.  I think his testimony suggests that he endured them faithfully but at the cost of great discomfort.  I just don't think Paul considered it to be suffering if it was what God planned for Him to do.  He welcomed God's plan no matter the outcome or affect on his life.  He didn't hold back his faith hoping to attain the things he wanted all along and then just slap the name of God on the side.  He was ready, he was eager to suffer if it meant joining God in His mission for the world.  I don't have Paul's faith.

Much like life, this blog post will remain unresolved.  But I do want to leave you with some encouragement.  There's no better way for me to do that this week than to introduce you to new music.  My friend Jonathan put out his debut album this week under the name Aftermath and it is called The Aftertaste of Abandonment.  Not only is the record an incredibly insightful reflection on what it sounds like and feels like to have faith in God in a world that often disappoints us, it's also just flat out good.  You should go download it immediately.  (It's only $7.92!)  And listen to track 5 entitled "Waters Rise."  No, this storm is not over.

Monday, August 30, 2010

heart heart heartbreak

I would be sad because you left me all alone.
I would be sad because the lies that you had told.
I would be sad because I got left by a girl that I adore.
I would be sad because the love I had before. - The Avett Brothers

I meant what I said when I said I would settle down with you
although I know it's not something that you were asking me to do.
And I know we are young but we won't always be, so marry me;
lets not be that predictable young couple changing, moving on.

Heartbreak.  Inevitable.  Undeniable.  Instrinsic.  There is no way to both breathe and avoid it in your life.  Yet we spend most of our days, our waking hours, our efforts and energy trying to distance ourselves from it.  Even the risk of having our hearts broken, the mere prospect, is so awful as to cause us to rearrange our lives, reconfigure our choices, to ensure we would never face such a sentence.  Still we fail.  It catches up to us all.  We don't deny its power, we deny it is an essential quality of life.

"My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me."

Christ's prayer spoken with His face in the dirt, alone in the Garden of Gethsemane looking for any way possible to remedy our sin.  Jesus in no way denied his fate.  He knew the pain he would endure, the torture that would be inflicted to mete out God's punishment.  He was willing to endure it.  For the joy set before Him, He did not waver.  It was the heartbreak that gave Him pause.  To suffer the pain that we had merited by our waywardness was a difficult task.  To face the heartbreak of His Father as He turned from the sin that weighed down on the back of Christ even as he clung to the cross, I have to imagine that was what brought Him to His knees in the garden.

But I can tell by watching you that theres no chance of pushing through.
The odds are so against us; you know most young love it ends like this.

In the midst of my trials in the garden of my life, I must admit I never respond so graciously.  I shake my fists in the air and rage against the stars that would dictate such a fate.  I blame God Himself temporarily forgetting that my arms are too short to box with God.  Forgetting that He has endured far worse from my hands and only desires my good in the long term.

God is not the author of heartbreak.  He is the author of love.  But you cannot have love without heartbreak.  There is no such thing.

God subjected Himself to that pain before any of us.  God was perfectly content before creating us.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were in perfect community, in perfect Love before the world we know was spoken into existence.  But it was out of the overflow of this love that God decided a perfect universe would be made somehow more complete with us in it.  It was out of this love that we were created.  Among our first acts to thank God for the inexpressible gift of somethingness out of nothingness that we responded by breaking His heart with our disobedience.

And yet I'm angry at God.  The weight of the evidence leads to an easy suggestion about which party should be truly grieved by this deal.

I meant what I said when I said I would rearrange my plans and change for you.

In the course of His ministry on Earth, Christ and his disciples happened upon a blind man one day.  His disciples, ever taught and never learned, immediately turn to Jesus and ask, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"

Christ responds patiently, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life."  He tells them, "I am the light of the world."  He heals the blind man and sends him on his way home. 

I am sight.  Without me, you are all blind.

There is no bargain we can cut with God to avoid heartbreak, no deal that He would prefer.  It's as natural as a wildfire.  An Austrailian grass tree is a very special kind of tree.  Subject to the conditions of wildfires, they can become damaged but not die.  After the fire has finished, the trees are known to push new leaves and bloom brighter than they ever had before.  In fact, some Austrailian grass trees only bloom after a scouring fire.

Only the heart set ablaze by pain that knows the depths of the contrast joy provides.  It's only in contrast to the darkness that light gives meaning and purpose to our sight.

You know me; I've always been the kind with easy confidence.
Confident enough to honestly believe that nothing out there stopping me
especially not someone who's not loving me.
Now listen here I told you I could live on without loving you.
I was bluffing then, but it seems that just might have been the truth.

That doesn't make dealing with pain any less hard.  It still hurts just as much even to the enlightened mind.  But our suffering, even when its meaning is opaque, is not without purpose.  If we are to believe the words of scripture, temporary pain is producing in us a glory that is incomparable to what we had before.  Hope dilutes sadness and spreads until even depression is changed into a new substance entirely.  Bleak worlds are colored by hope.

As Paul writes it to the Corinthians in his second letter, "For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory."

Well my dad told me, "One day son, this girl will think of what she's done
and hurting you will be the first of many more regrets to come."
And he said, "If she doesn't call, then it's her fault and it's her loss."
I say, "It's not that simple see, but then again it just may be."

"Yet not as I will, but as You will."

Christ concludes His prayer in the garden.  Accepts His fate, draws on God's strength even in the face weakness, and endures the cross. 

In the final analysis, heartbreak is not a reason to lose trust in God.  It is a reason to trust Him.  We see the heartbreak that he endures at our hands.

It's not a proof that God does not care for us.  It is a proof that He does.  Even from the cross, Christ petitions God on behalf of His murderers, namely you and me, "Forgive them for they know not what they do."  We almost never do.  But we should know that we can follow and trust the God who endures such heartbreak on our behalf no matter the heartbreak we must endure ourselves along the way.

I would be sad...

Friday, August 20, 2010

i need some meaning i can memorize

I got a hunger and I can't seem to get full/I need some meaning I can memorize/The kind I have always seems to slip my mind - Bright Eyes

How is that a person can image God?  How can we walk as Christ walks and live as He lives even as we continue to reside on this earth?

These are the essential questions I am struggling with the most these days.  And I have found some insight from an unlike source: Christopher Hitchens.

Hitchens is the among the most unlikely sources of Christian inspiration because he is a well-known atheist, indisputable contrarian, and all-around crank.  But he's brilliant and a great writer.  He's also recently wandered further into the limelight as he was diagnosed with cancer and many evangelicals began to start movements to pray for his death bed conversion to Christianity.

I have recently picked up his book, god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, mostly because he is a great writer and dogged contrarian, both of which to some degree I also aspire to be.  I was in no way surprised by his skepticism towards the Christian faith as he repeated sneeringly refers to believers as "monotheists."  In his angrier moments, he fires flaming arrows at the heart of the brand of Christian theology as comfortable and worn as an old pair of house slippers.

How much vanity must be concealed--not too effectively at that--in order to pretend that one is the personal object of a divine plan?  How much self-respect must be sacrificed in order that one may squirm continually in an awareness of one's own sin?  How many needless assumptions must be made, and how much contortion is required, to receive every new insight of science and manipulate it so as to "fit" with the revealed words of ancient man-made dieties?

Not eaxctly the lighter side of atheism.  More the grizzled and vaguely angry veteran, Hitchens' most poignant critique of Christianity is not Niestchke's grand proclamation that God is dead but rather that Christianity itself is a dead religion.  In the same way that Latin as a dead language is incapable of producing any new words, Christianity is vacant intellectually and incapable of producing any new thoughts or insights.
Religion spoke its last intelligible or noble or inspiring words a long time ago...  We shall have no more prophets or sages from the ancient quarter, which is why the devotions of today are only the echoing repetitions of yesterday, sometimes ratched up to screaming point so as to ward off the terrible emptiness.

Is it true?  Are we ready to declare new thoughts about theology and God as impossible?  Are no new formulations of the Christian faith possible?

Regardless of our answer, we live in too many churches that act as if it is.  But if there is nothing left to be done, nothing new to discover about God, no new insight to be gained about His intentions for the world, then what is the point of the Christian life?  In the literal sense, what difference does it make?

What might have been the most startling aspect of the chapter for me was a story that Hitchens recounts about selecting an appropriate scripture to eulogize his father at his funeral in a chapel of the Church of England.  He picked a passage from Paul's letter to the Philippians (chapter 4, verse 8), "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report: if there be any virtue, and ifn there be any praise, think on these things."  He then explains his selection by saying,
I chose this because of its haunting and elusive character, which will be with me at the last hour, and for its essentially secular injunction, and because it shone out from the wasteland of rant and complaint and nonsense and bullying which surrounds it.

And with that Christopher Hitchens, the most unlikely of sources, gave me as good of an insight into scripture as I had heard in months.

So why aren't we thinking new thoughts about God?  Why aren't we gaining new insights?  Mostly because of fear.

Don't believe me?  Just watch when someone tries.  Take, for instance, an author such as Rob Bell.  In his book, Velvet Elvis, he questions the centrality of doctrine in building a strong Christian faith by describing the Christian life as a trampoline and doctrines as the springs that hold it together.
This is where the springs on the trampoline come in. When we jump, we begin to see the need for springs. The springs help make sense of these deeper realities that drive how we live every day. The springs aren’t God. The springs aren’t Jesus. The springs are statements and beliefs about our faith that help give words to the depth that we are experiencing in our jumping. I would call these the doctrines of the Christian faith.

They aren’t the point.

They help us understand the point, but they are a means and not an end. We take them seriously, and at the same time we keep them in proper perspective…

In fact, its stretch and flex are what make it so effective. It is firmly attached to the frame and the mat, yet it has room to move. And it has brought a fuller, deeper, richer understanding to the mysterious being who is God. ...

Even his analogy is one that evokes the image of motion and energy.  The converse is a systematic theology built on stagnant doctrine brick by brick saying that a Christian who subscribes this view has quite a differenct experience of the Christian faith, "For him, faith isn't a trampoline; it's a wall of bricks. Each of the core doctrines for him is like an individual brick that stacks on top of the others. If you pull one out, the whole wall starts to crumble. It appears quite strong and rigid, but if you begin to rethink or discuss even one brick, the whole thing is in danger."

Brian McLaren relates a similar idea in his book, A Generous Orthodoxy.  For him, orthodoxy is not a set concept that is now and forever incapable of being bent and stretched and questioned and reformed.  It is a set of beliefs that are articulated by a community in the process of living out the Christian faith together.
To be a Christian in a generously orthodox way is not to claim to have the truth captured, stuff, and mounted on the wall...That, to me, is orthodoxy -- a way of seeing and seeking, a way of living, a way of thinking and loving and learning that helps what we believe become more true over time, more resonant with the infinite glory that is God.

If you need proof that these ideas are dangerous, divisive, and disfavored, just take a moment to google the names of the previous two authors and see how they are vilified.  For some "conservative" critics, the only new thoughts they ever have are critiques of someone else's thoughts.  As a people, Christians have become more critics than creators.  But in the essential picture of creation, fall, and redemption of the Bible, who is the creative force and who is the critical one?  When we spend all of our time opposing a new way of thinking, just who are we really imitating?

As Galileo put it, I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.  I am always drawn to authors with new ideas because they might be able to help me understand a new aspect of the character of God.  Isn't that kind of the point of learning to know him more?  Is that even possible by only simple repetition of everything I have learned before?  If we cannot accept a new concept or the possibility that God might still have something left to reveal to us, then our faith really is as dead as Hitchens would have us believe.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

date me, brent

So last night, I started a conversation with my roommate Joel by saying, "You know?  I really need something unique to do for my birthday."  After all, it is just over a month away and I am kind of looking around for ideas and available options.  His idea?  "We should do a Raleigh version of The Bachelor with you."  Yeah, haha, very funny.  This is a ridiculous idea that we'll get a few minutes of laughs out of and then be done with.  Oh, no.  Didn't go that way at all.

Because that's when my friend Jamie was brought in on the plot.  And the conversation changed from "What would the Raleigh bachelor give out instead of roses?" to "We could do webisodes."  Pretty soon, an entire elaborate plan was concocted with several stages, a day of challenges, a survey was created, and a Facebook page.  An application deadline of August 15 was set.  That's when it became pretty clear they really wanted to do this.  Like I said, at first I thought it was ridiculous.  But I also figured why not?  I'm young.  I'm single.  I like having fun experiences.  And I'm generally comfortable enough with who I am that I'm not afraid to put myself out there and look like a fool.  (Which seems pretty likely at some point in this process... especially considering that normally the number of girls who I think want to date me and the number who actually do are two numbers that bear little correlation to one another.)  The only sad part will be if no eligible bachelorettes actually fill out the survey.  That will be less than an ideal birthday present.

So ultimately, their plan is to culminate in one lady being chosen to be my date to my birthday party on September 11 with the help of Joel, Jamie and other friends Amy, A.J., and Billy.  I don't have to actually hand out any roses.  There will be less harsh rejections and certainly less sensationalized scandals.  No tabloid coverage, and above all, I won't be proposing to anyone at the end.  (Which is good because I'm not really looking to do that any time soon.)  Just one date with the person they hope to make Raleigh's most eligible bachelor.  Namely, me.

Please like this pageShare it with your friends.  Share it on your profile.  Fill out the survey or send it to a friend.  If I have two responses come in, it might really strike a blow to my self confidence.  This is a joke but it's also really going to happen.  There's no stopping it now.  And if nothing else, it's going to be really hilarious.  And hey, if you're reading this, you (or your friend) could be the lucky bachelorette.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

my heart like a kick drum

"I won't look back anymore/I left the people that do/It's not the chase that I love/It's me following you"  The Avett Brothers

Not too long ago I was part of a conversation that shed a little light on how men and women operate differently when it comes to their expectations for one another.  One friend, female, we'll call her Heather; the other, male, we'll call him Jeremy.  I wasn't as much a part of the conversation as a spectator.  (Sidenote: You never seem more brilliant than when you keep your mouth shut for an enlightening conversation.  Try it sometime.) 

Now that the scene is set and the characters identified, I'll just make up recreate the dialogue that ensued.
Heather:  Guys just generally try too hard, I think.
Jeremy:  What do you mean?
Heather:  For instance, with dating.  Guys think they need to go out of their way to wow a girl early in the relationship.  Horse-drawn carriages, candlelit dinners and the like.  I think most girls prefer something a little more simple and organic.  It doesn't have to be a big show.
Jeremy:  I can understand that.  You don't want to base your relationship on creating a moment that is to a certain degree contrived.
Brent (interjecting):  Hold on.  For me, personally, I can't afford to hold anything back.  I'm not nearly charming or engaging enough to just hope it happens for me naturally.  I need to try hard just to make it seem simple.
Heather (eyes rolling):  True.  Your charm-deficiency is readily apparent.  So some will have to try harder than others.

OK, I'm not sure she really said that last part.  But she was definitely thinking it.  In fact, I remember the context of the conversation but almost nothing that was actually said so the above dialogue is shrouded in mythos at best.  Still, the point holds as long as the war wages between Ares and Aphrodite.  Girls think guys try too hard.  Guys think they don't get enough credit for trying.

I just recently got around to reading Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, an instant classic about music, manliness, and memory told through the voice of a protagonist forced to face his fears about relationships and get his life together after his girlfriend breaks up with him.  (A favorite among twentysomething, not-quite-directionless hipsters whose mothers can't figure out why they can't just a find a nice girl and settle down.)  Anyway, there's one particularly illuminative passage that sheds light on why relationships between men and women are doomed to inevitable failure.
You hear that?  She's not very good at slushy stuff?  That, to me, is a problem, as it would be to any male who heard Dusty Springfield singing "The Look of Love" at an impressionable age.  That was what I thought it was all going to be like when I was married...  I thought there was going to be this sexy woman with a sexy voice and lots of sexy eye makeup whose devotion to me shone from every pore.  And there is such a thing as the look of's just that the look of love isn't what I expected it to be.  It's not huge eyes almost bursting with longing situated somwhere in the middle of a double bed with the covers turned down invitingly; it's just as likely to be the look of benevolent indulgence that a mother gives a toddler, or a look of amused exasperation, even a look of pained concern.  But the Dusty Springfield look of love?  Forget it. ...

Women get it wrong when they complain about media images of women.  Men understand that not everyone has Bardot's breasts, or Jamie Lee Curtis's neck, or Cindy Crawford's bottom, and we don't mind at all. ...  We worked out very quickly that Bond girls were out of our league, but the realization that women don't ever look at us the way Ursula Andress looked at Sean Connery, or even in the way that Doris Day looked at Rock Hudson, was much slower to arrive, for most of us.  In my case, I'm not at all sure that ever did. ...

(I)t's much harder to get used to the idea that my little-boy notion of romance, of negliges and candlelit dinners at home and long, smoldering glances, had no basis in reality at all.  That's what women ought to get all steamed up about; that's why we can't function properly in a relationship.

That's the problem.  As men, we are constantly searching for that look that we have been taught is attainable from a million movies, television shows, and fairy tales.  We have literally seen the look of love, just never directed toward us.  It's a refusal to believe this reality is unreachable.  So results the constant struggle to up the ante, to make our pursuit of the woman more grandiose and cartoonish, still never seeing the look we think we deserve... that we've earned.  Women just don't fall in love like that.  At least not with guys that would try that hard just for the satisfaction of a fleeting glance.

This weekend, I was part of the $60 million-plus intake for ticket sales for the new Christopher Nolan-directed, Leo DiCaprio starring, dream-themed flick Inception.  (Worth every penny.)  Without giving away too much of the plot for readers who might still be planning to see it, the movie is structured around the proposition that you can change someone's mind, and as a result their entire being, by simply implanting an idea deep inside their mind and convincing them the idea is their own.  One character struggles throughout the film with the difference between fantasy and reality, memory and projection.  Eventually, he must come to terms with whether memory is enough to sustain a relationship with someone or whether simply projecting actions, events, and conversations with someone else is enough to keep that person alive at least within the confines of our own minds.  Can you really imagine the reaction of another person or create a dialogue when you are writing both sides of the script?  Can you really remember a person for all of their virtues and all of their flaws at the same time?  And if you can't then are you willing to accept the imperfect version you create in your own head?  Can the memory of what once was or the projection of what could be ever be enough to satify you?

It's a fascinating question in light of the above conversation I referenced between two friends that is vaguely related to real events.  Because in trying to impress and pursue a woman by creating this moment in time, hoping that will be enough to produce the look of love I desire, am I not in some ways simply trying to implant deep within her mind the idea that I am lovable and attempting to convince her that idea is her own?  Should she accept that kind of pursuit?  What am I after anyway?  Her or the projection of love as I think it should be?  Maybe Aphrodite is righteously indignant after all.

But what am I supposed to do differently?  How can I change now?  I have only been trained to over pursue.  Not just because my charms are lacking.  But because the look of love is the only thing I know to want.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

no one man should have all that power

"Now I embody every characteristic of the egotistic/He know, he so... gifted."  Kanye West

In case you've been living under a rock or have no knowledge of or interest in sports whatsoever, LeBron James long thought to be the best basketball player of a generation decided to uproot himself from the only home he has ever known in Cleveland last week and "take (his) talents to South Beach" announcing "The Decision" in a one-hour ESPN special. 

His decision immediately unleashed a torrent of criticism from local fans who burned his jersey, said some pretty horrible (but possibly true) things about his mother, and generally just flooded the streets to yell obscenities.  No fan was drunker, less calculated, or more haterific than Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert who fired out an ill-advised letter.  (Except you're going to need to imagine that this letter was written in Comic Sans font... because it was.)
Dear Cleveland, All Of Northeast Ohio and Cleveland Cavaliers Supporters Wherever You May Be Tonight;
As you now know, our former hero, who grew up in the very region that he deserted this evening, is no longer a Cleveland Cavalier.

This was announced with a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his "decision" unlike anything ever "witnessed" in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment. ...

To which the Reverend Jesse Jackson responded:
He speaks as an owner of LeBron and not the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers. His feelings of betrayal personify a slave master mentality. He sees LeBron as a runaway slave. This is an owner employee relationship--between business partners--and LeBron honored his contract. ...

LeBron is not a child, nor is he bound to play on Gilbert’s plantation and be demeaned. ...

And that pretty much brings you up to speed on where we are today.

Now various and sundry sports talking heads have attacked LeBron for his decision to spurn the Cavs for the greener pastures of Miami and a chance to compile championships with his friends Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.  He has been attacked for everything from disloyalty to the cities of Akron and Cleveland and state of Ohio, to an alleged fear of trying to win championships without surrounding himself with other highly talented players, to joining Dwayne Wade's team, to being an egomaniac more concerned with pushing a brand than chasing the greatness of previous players like Michael Jordan.  Now rather than rehash all of the arguments I have made over the last week asserting that LeBron did his time in Cleveland and isn't the first 25-year-old to get out while he had the chance, that he can forge his own path to greatness without following the Jordan model to a T, or that you can't join someone else's team when the "team" is only four guys and not even enough to run fullcourt games; I think I just want to focus on the charge that "The Decision" special was nothing more than the overblown overindulgence of an overhyped athlete.

See, I think it is much more than that.  No matter what he does the rest of his career, if he ever lives up to the "King James" and "Chosen One" monikers, or how many rings he puts on fingers... last week, LeBron James changed the game forever.

Like Michael Douglas in Wall Street, he took control of his own destiny in every way.  Why?  Because only he could.  For the first time in the free agency era, a player didn't have to negotiate with teams or try to come to terms on a deal.  Teams came to him offering cart blanche and more.  They cleared their rosters, freed up money meant for him, tried to put their team in a situation over the better part of two years just to have a chance to talk to LeBron. 

Now this freaks people out.  Because everyone likes it better when these players are under control.  We already hate them for the money they make and the cars they drive and the women they pursue.  (See my previous loosely-related post "hater nation.")  But to have to stomach that one man can direct his own destiny without control from a team, an owner, a city, a fan base, the media, an agent, a PR rep, or anyone other than himself.  Now that we just can't swallow.  The hate is too thick to stomach.

This will destroy basketball.  It will shatter the dreams of little children who believe in heroes and puppies and rainbows.  This is the death of loyalty and fidelity and bravery and integrity.  Everything good has perished.  Only the dark reign of egotism remains.

LeBron is not the destroyer of basketball.  He is the liberator of it.

We hate him because we can't do what he can.

Imagine if you had the opportunity to declare free agency in some part of your life.  Don't have a job.  That's fine.  Declare free agency.  Watch the job offers come rolling in.  Don't like your cell phone company.  You're a free agent now.  Discounts are coming your way.  Need a better rate on your car loan, mortgage, retirement plan.  Free agency.  Time to put those banks in competition with each other.  This is the free market, baby.  Greed is good.

As a single, relatively well-to-do, comparatively young, certainly available man, I'm ready to declare some free agency of my own.  I'm ready to start hearing some offers.  I'll take my talents to South Beach myself if I like the terms of the contract being offered.

Point is, free agency is the way of the world.  We all take advantage of it any chance that we get.  It's not only farcical but entirely hypocritical to judge LeBron just because he is the biggest free agent in the world and made the decision he thought was best for him.

You don't like players having all that power?  You better get used to it.  The game is changed.  We are all witnesses.  And we are all free agents.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

tuesday's gone

I have a couple of ideas for blogging soon but there is no way I can write anything else until I write this.

Lately, I have been encountering a wealth of pain and struggle, not of my own but of others.  Everything from the failure of relationships to the dissolution of marriages to death and sickness and poverty.  I have been witness to too much grief and too few miracles.  There is little else in the world that makes less sense to me than seeing parents mourn the loss of a child.  It is something that is particularly affecting my church family as our pastor reported on his blog just the other day.
The past 24 hours have been pretty devastating for us as a Summit family.

First, our beloved Helen Young, a matriarch in our church, passed away this afternoon. Helen had struggled with a severe case of cancer for some time…and went home to be with Jesus at about 4pm. Helen was our church’s backbone. I remember when she told me, 9 years ago, that God wanted me to be pastor of her church, then “Homestead Heights Baptist.” I thought she was crazy then. Perhaps she was. She has served us and our congregation faithfully, and up until the past year has been on just about every church-wide mission trip we’ve taken. She has entered into joys unspeakable.

Secondly, Chai Atwood, the son born 14 weeks premature to our college pastor Trevor Atwood and his wife Keva on Sunday, went home to be with Jesus a little before noon. We were praying for a miracle. God has taken Chai on into ultimate healing. No longer can he come to us, we will go to him. (1 Sam 12:23)

Third, we found out today that Nate Henn, the son of Summit members (North Raleigh campus) Bob and Julie Henn, was killed by a terrorist bomb in Uganda yesterday. Nate worked for Invisible Children, leveraging his life to see healing and hope brought to forgotten children around the world. Check out his story here.

I have said prayers for all of these people over the last few days knowing that feeble but powerful offering is all I have to give them.  For the Atwoods, it is a little more personal for me as I have served in the college ministry with them for years now and have learned so much from the example of Trevor and Keva as godly people and loving parents, even though they probably don't even realize what a testimony they have provided for me.  Shortly after I learned of what happened, I saw Trevor's response on behalf of his family and it was filled with grace, humility, hope, and strength.
Today much changed, Jesus did not. The gospel is true in the face of death. Thx to the 1st born among many brothers. Chai Samuel is yours.

I don't know if I'll ever be a man like that.

I am lucky to call Trevor a pastor and a mentor, blessed to call him a friend.  Inasmuch as he is like Jesus, I need to be more like him.

While all struggles are light and momentary in comparison to the glory and inheritance we have in Christ, my struggles truly are light and momentary in comparison to anything that matters.  Still I rage inconsolably blaming God and anyone else for my slight pin-prick of pain that I experience.  I am a bratty child in God's sight.  A sissy when it comes to pain.

The light of the gospel shines its brightest out of darkness.  Hope is precious to those who would be without and useless to those who have everything that they need.  One of the greatest gifts God can give us is the clear understanding of our desperate need of Him.

That will usually come when I stop trying to make sense of everything or presuming that I can or should know what God is doing in the world.  It comes from knowing that Christ does not change.  His love is steadfast.  His character remains the same always.  God doesn't wait around for me to need Him to show up.  He is always there, ever-present.  But thank God for the times it is made clear to me how desperate I am for Him.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn and pray for these people if you are reading this and are so inclined.

And I pray God that I will remember...
Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.  For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Friday, May 14, 2010

change vs. more of the same

Change is the only constant.

This week, I have been thinking a lot about human relationships and also our relationship as humans to God.  I've been consciously pursuing a relationship with God for nine years now although he's been pursuing one with me for much longer.  (In fact, today marks the ninth anniversary from the day I walked forward in a church in Louisville, Kentucky as tears streamed down my mom's face on a Mother's Day that will probably always represent the best gift I ever gave to her.)  Like so many better men before me, that day I "admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps... the most dejected and reluctant convert" ever.

Nine years is a long time to hold onto a relationship.  In fact, other than the members of my family, there is not one person who has been constant in my life throughout all that time.  When I say that God knows me better than anyone, I don't just mean that he has more wisdom than anyone else could ever possibly hope to possess.  I mean also that He has been there through the good times and bad, the low points and high, the struggles, the celebrations, the hopeless nights, and the days that I thought I could take over the world.  God doesn't just know me because he knows everything.  There is nothing about myself, my thoughts, my motives that are not laid bare before Him.  I want to tell him everything there is to know about me because it is only in Him that I find acceptance even in my mixed motivations, my tendencies toward wandering, the cynical walls I build up around my heart for protection against unwelcome interlopers, and my sometimes seemingly unquenchable desire to fill myself with things that will surely end in my destruction.  My pastor said something this weekend that made a great deal of sense to me.  To be known but not loved is rejection.  To be loved and not known is superficiality.  But to be both known and loved, that is the thing.  God loves me like that.

As human beings, we are in a constant state of flux and change.  Everything around us is constantly changing.  Our circumstances, our preferences, our knowledge and ideas.  Our bodies are growing older, our hair and fingernails are growing longer.  Seas are eroding beaches, the earth is constantly spinning and making its way around the sun.  The moon waxes and wanes to mark the change of time.  In fact, change or variance is the only way we can measure time.  Without the alternating days and nights, or the rhythm of seasons, it is hard for me to imagine how life would continue or how we would mark the progress of our lives.

And yet constantly, we tend to live our lives in the constant fear of change.  We hold onto our notions that we are constant, that we never change.  We paint out own mental pictures that we are hunkered down as the world rages around us, rising and falling in an unpredictable rhythm and that if we can just hide ourselves from that oh so changeable world that somehow we can find bliss and protection in the serenity of sameness.  But the truth is there is not such thing.  Like sharks who must swim to live, change is to the human being as essential as breathing.  We evolve, we adapt, and we survive.  Change is our only constant.  It is unavoidable.  It is certain.  It is happening.

In my nine years of learning more about God and myself, I cannot tell you how many times I have felt distant from Him.  As if he had turned His back on me that He was somehow out of reach just beyond my grasp or that He just didn't care.  I have so many times grown bitter and disappointed and wrathful toward God blaming Him for changing and injuring our relationship.  But God doesn't change.  He always was and always will be.  He was in relationship with Himself by means of the mysterious Trinity long before I was ever created.  God is loveHe is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  His affection for me has not waxed and waned.  He did not pull back or hide Himself from me.  It's me who has run from Him, tried to hide when came to find me in the Garden, and allowed our relationship to become less than a priority.  His love has been constant.

Don't get me wrong.  I am not making the argument that change is bad.  After all, the title of this post comes from a meme created by a political adviser during Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign for the White House.  Almost every great movement in history and every political candidate who gets remembered is immortalized for bringing a desperately needed change to society.  As people, we need change.  That's why it is part of our basic natures and why God created us to experience change and growth and struggle.  Even in our salvation, we are changed from dead to alive.  "Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet."  "The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here."  The Bible is full of calls to change.  I feel like I've lived a lifetime of mistakes.  There are days when the only thing I want to do is start something completely new, rewrite the rules to everything I've ever learned, and embrace the change as it comes.  Sometimes change is just what we need.

But let me never put my faith and trust, hope and foundation in the changeable whims of other people.  No matter how important another person may be to me, no one else can determine my identity but the unchangeable, unwavering, unrelenting God.  The one who is called Alpha and Omega, beginning and end, the same from everlasting to everlasting.  For God, for nine years to eternity.

You are my only constant.

Monday, March 22, 2010

the end of the beginning

In the midst World War II, on the heels of an important victory for the Allies forces against the Axis, Winston Churchill took a moment to reflect.  It was later said that before the Second Battle of El Alamein the Allies had no victories and afterwards they had no defeats.  But at this critical juncture of history, among the shouts of glory and vitriol, Churchill cautiously reminded his people, "Now this is not the end, nor is it even the beginning of the end, but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

The health care overhaul approved by Congress last night hardly matches the magnitude of that great war though its effects may linger with my generation much as the World War II lingered with the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers.

No, our great war is not against an Axis of Evil or a piece of legislation or a political party or a philosophy.  Our struggle is against ignorance and apathy.  It is against the manipulation of politicians bent on controlling not only our deeds but our thoughts as well.  Our weapons in this battle are information to diffuse the malaise of too many arguments and technology to free us from the quagmire of rigid ideological dogma.

You need to know how this health care overhaul will affect you.

You need to educate yourself.  A good place to start is with this article in the New York Times and another in the Wall Street Journal.  But don't stop there.  Keep researching and asking questions and learning.  Don't just trust me or the talking heads on television or the blaring voices on talk radio.  But decide for yourself what you want for yourself, your family, your friends, and the rest of this country.  I know not everyone cares about politics and most of it feels like it doesn't affect your daily life.  I promise you that won't be the case here.

You need to know that health care didn't become free yesterday because Congress said so.  Congress is a powerful force in American life but they are not omnipotent.  Doctors and nurses still must be paid; prescription drugs still cost money; medical research still requires the financial resources that underwrite every great discovery.  That's the way the world works.

That means that insurance companies now forced to cover individuals they normally would not choose to cover without being paid to do so will be forced to raise premiums on those who already have insurance.  The vast majority of you reading this article probably have health insurance through your employer and may not even know month to month what you are paying for that coverage.  You will soon as you see more and more money drained from your paycheck to cover the cost of other people's medical care.  Insurance companies aren't going to make less money because Congress is mad at them.  That's not the way the world works.

See, Congress chose the worst possible way to keep costs down by asking government to control them.  Don't believe me?  Just do a little research on the development of Medicare and Medicaid since their inception.  You'll find that costs have skyrocketed out of control on a constant trajectory since the inception of those programs.  Working in state government, I have seen up close and personal how North Carolina like almost every other state across the country is nearly going bankrupt paying its medical bills because of Medicare and Medicaid.  Government is not an organization that find efficiencies and pinches pennies.  It spends money like a 12 year old boy at an arcade.  Until it's all gone.  When you print your own money, those numbers can really add up.

But people shouldn't have to be without health insurance.  It's not a privilege, it's a right.  Putting aside the odd paradox of newly discovered human rights for a moment, if it is a right to have health insurance then surely it must be a right to choose not to have it.  However, under this legislation come 2014 you won't have that right anymore.  If the time comes between you deciding between owning a car, or buying a home, or paying tuition and purchasing health insurance, the government has already made that choice for you.  I'm all for charity.  But charity hasn't traditionally been something that government has forced us to buy for ourselves.

As Ronald Reagan once said, "We have long since committed ourselves, as a people, to help those among us who cannot take care of themselves."  That is a promise we ought to keep, a dignity that ought to be held in high honor in this country.  But at what cost?  Will we really allow the federal government to take over every aspect of health care and its delivery to ensure that no goes without?  There are only two ways to make health care "cheaper" under government control.  Tax more to make up the difference between what people can afford to pay and what it truly costs or offer less care and poorer quality so that no one has to foot a bill we cannot afford to pay. 

That's no way to run a health care system.

As a country, as a people, we have abolished slavery, invented the automobile, survived two World Wars, put a man on the moon.  We made snowboarding an Olympic sport.  You're telling me that we cannot figure out a way to make health care affordable and accessible to all who want it?  I don't believe it for a second. 

We can do better than what we did with this bill.  And I hope you'll help us do it.

Now, to my Republican friends, a couple reminders are in order.  This is not the end.  It's not the end of liberty or freedom or capitalism or our constitutional republic.  It is not the end of American exceptionalism or the American dream.  If the history of this country has taught us anything, it is that the idea that is America may be tarnished but it is never broken.  Our flag may tatter but it is never.  Just as our government cannot declare something, it cannot long enslave those who would be free.  We as a people are stronger and smarter and better than our representives and every two years we get to remind them of that.

There are no final victories and no final defeats.  There is only here and now and the fight that has been and the fight that is to come.  America is an idea perpetually in the pains of birth crying out, demanding both liberty and unity.  There is only perserverance and courage and idealism and strength and hope to come.  We will not survive.  We will not endure.  But we will prosper.  Freedom always does.

This not the end.  It is not even the beginning of the end.  But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.