Have Yourself a Compelling Little Christmas

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pond5.com

The gospel is compelling, not coercive.

Is there a statement that more fully embodies the Christmas story?

In a time when Christian denominations offer a fragmented picture of the body of Christ, when self-appointed gatekeepers impose narrow definitions and restrictive requirements for what is and is not acceptable, and when fear is wielded as the primary motivator of faith, we as the church would do well to be reminded of the compelling nature of God’s entry into our winner-take-all existence.

The ancient Hebrews spoke of God’s hesed love. Hesed is most often translated as “loving-kindness,” eliciting mercy, loyalty, faithfulness and compassion.

Hesed love is not conditional. It is not a love that wavers with our commitment or diminishes in the face of our disobedience. It is not love that pushes us to change in order to be acceptable.

Hesed is love that comes to us in a story of the poor and oppressed, of the despised and reviled. Of a baby born in dirt and filth to an unwed mother, whose coming was announced not to kings or religious leaders but to untrustworthy field workers and immigrant astrologers.

It is no coincidence that hesed is by its very nature incarnational. It is love that comes to us not as a warm and fuzzy feeling of attraction and excitement but as something that comes alive and takes shape in us and through us.

It is not just something that is delivered to us, but produces something in us, something new and surprising.

Something faithful and compassionate and merciful and just and beautiful.

There is nothing coercive about this kind of love. Nothing about it screams, “accept me or else!

But could there be anything more compelling?

Is there anything else, any other power in the universe that so captivates us? That grabs our imagination and makes us ask, what if life could REALLY be like this?

That’s the answer that Christmas gives us.

The compelling story that life really CAN be like this. That there is a love that reaches past our sorry commitments and our disobedience. That brings the incarnational beauty of hesed alive in us and unites us.

This Christmas, may we truly embrace the hesed loving-kindness of God through the incarnation of Jesus. And may we, like him, become a compelling force for mercy, love, justice, and compassion.

Happy Christmas!

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Faith Not Fear: A story of inspiration

FNF_01

Dear fellow Conspirators for Awesomeness,

As a seminary student and someone seeking to discern a call into vocational ministry, I often find myself in conversations about discovering our purpose in the world. Often, we find ourselves talking about how we’ll know what God’s will is for our lives.

What I’ve come to believe is that, more often than not, God’s not so much directing us to a particular activity or position as he is encouraging us to find something that ignites our passions. Maybe, rather than waiting to hear what God is calling us to, we should do what excites us most and allow God to bless it.

A few months ago my friend Allie started a new venture called Faith Not Fear Apparel. FNF sells inspirational t-shirts as a means for people to start meaningful conversations, and gives away a portion of all sales to help empower others.

I wanted to feature FNF here on TheAwesomnessConspiracy.com both to help spread the word about their products as well as to tell Allie’s story. I think it’s a shining example of finding that place where your gifts and talents intersect with your passions, and watching God go to work with it in spectacular ways.

I recently had a chance to ask Allie to share the story behind FNF. And while many are rushing stores today for Black Friday deals, I thought today would be a good day to feature a possible alternative for your Christmas shopping.

What inspired you to start Faith Not Fear? 

Faith Not Fear Apparel was born out of a desire to “do more” to encourage people’s faith. After coming back from a life-changing mission trip to Haiti, I knew I couldn’t go back to sitting behind a desk, looking at the computer screen all day, when just a few days prior I put shoes on the feet of impoverished children, handed out Bibles and prayed with strangers. While sitting at my desk I kept wondering what I could do to make a difference here…as Mother Teresa said, “love begins at home.”

FNF_02Why t-shirts?

America is not a third world country and is privileged in many, many ways. But it’s a land full of hurting people, people who need Jesus. However, as a Christian it’s sometimes hard to start a conversation about God with strangers (or even friends!) − how do you bring it up a topic like that to that person behind you at the grocery store or that mom waiting to pick up her children beside of you. A t-shirt − that is was it! I decided that that was the way I could try to make a difference in my own community. It is our hope that by wearing a Faith Not Fear Apparel shirt that someone might ask you about it and give you the opportunity to share a little bit about faith/God/church with them. As a company, we strive to develop shirts you would be proud to wear and that have a simple, powerful message.

You said your trip to Haiti was life-changing. What was it about that experience that motivated you to do something like this?

With the root of the idea being planted in Haiti, 10% of the sales price of what we sell goes to support the ApParent Project, a nonprofit I visited there. The ApParent Project provides opportunities for Haitians to have steady employment. Haitian artisans learn skills, which enable them to provide for their children rather than send them to an orphanage due to extreme poverty. The Apparent Project distributes Haitian recycled, or “upcycled” items, which have become beautiful products including jewelry, home décor, pottery and more! They are making great strides in empowering Haitian people and keeping families together. To learn more about this heartwarming organization visit them at http://www.apparentproject.org

What’s in the name, “Faith Not Fear?” Is there a story there?

FNF_03Dave Willis, a leading expert on building strong Christian marriages, said, “There isn’t enough room in your life for both fear and faith. Each day, you must decide which one gets to stay.” This quote really stuck out to me − fear is something so many people (including myself) struggle with, it’s something the devil uses to paralyze us, so as the quote says, each and every day we have to make a conscious decision to squash those lies and choose to believe the promises from God.

How have other people spoken into your vision for FNF? Was it important for you to hear other voices? If so, why?

I have received a lot of encouragement from others to continue down this journey and each time I start to take a step back, God puts someone, even strangers, in my life at the right time to continue to push me! People have shared their heartfelt testimonies with me, and shared the reason they want a shirt whether it to be wear themself or to give it as a gift to encourage someone else. I love the way people want to shine God’s light on others using Faith Not Fear Apparel as a vehicle to do so. 

If we could fast-forward to a year from now and you could call FNF a success story, what would that look like for you?

I would love to walk down the street and see people wearing my shirts! I would also love to be able to send significant contributions to the ApParent Projects and be able to see the wonderful ways they will put the money to good use! 

What dreams do you have for the future of FNF…both in terms of product as well as mission?

I hope to expand the product line to include more designs and possibly a workout line of apparel. My main goal will continue to be to think of ways to shine God’s light on hurting people and find ways to help encourage people’s walk in faith.

To learn more about Faith Not Fear apparel, visit their fully-featured online store at www.faithnotfearapparel.com.

 

Time to come clean…

writing notesIt’s time to come clean.

I’ve kicked around explanations and excuses for weeks, and I just have to admit it.

I got lazy.

I haven’t gone this long without publishing something here on the blog for almost two years. Even when I was in a dry spell, I was trying to find interesting content to link, or at least pull something out of the archives to re-post.

But since about the end of July, I’ve found precious little time to update my little corner of the interwebs. Wait. Strike that. I’ve had time. I just haven’t been motivated.

I’ve been writing long enough to know that these extended bouts of unproductiveness happen from time to time. But to be honest, this time has been different.

Every time I’ve tried to sit down to write something, I’ve allowed distractions to creep in and steal my attention & focus.

It has been a busy and eventful few months. I got to spend the summer working as a ministry intern at a traditionally African-American church in the heart of one of the whitest cultural areas of the country. I learned and grew a lot during my time there.

About the time that gig was wrapping up, I accepted a part-time job as the director of youth & children’s ministry at another church in my area. I never really saw myself going back into youth ministry, but it seems like a good fit and, even though I’ve only been at it a few weeks, I feel a genuine connection with the students, families and congregation.

I also busted my hump by loading up on extra hours during the summer term so I can finish my master’s degree in December. The heavier-than-usual workload took some adjusting on my part, but hopefully it will be worth it to finish things up a semester ahead of schedule.

But even with all the work that has gone into those endeavors I still have to admit that my failure to keep the blog updated is due less to busyness than to laziness. And so, not for the first time, I’m trying to jump-start and get things rolling again.

I think part of the problem is that I sort of lost focus. I had begun to drift into what can be a dangerous area for writers. I had started to think I needed to write about things people wanted to read.

If I’ve learned anything from my time in the blogosphere, it’s that writing to your perceived audience is almost always ultimately a dead-end road. It causes you to over-think and makes you hypercritical. And it rarely has the desired effect.

What experience tells me (and conversations with other writer friends bears this out), is that I’m at my best when I just write what I need to write, whether I believe anyone else wants to read it or not. The best I can do is invite you along for the ride and hope you find something that connects, that inspires, that breathes life into something you, too, may be wrestling with.

So that’s my goal. I hope my rants and rambles will find a place in your imagination and help you give voice to your own thoughts and dreams.

Let’s conspire together again.

Peace,
Joe

…The powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse

istockphoto.com

istockphoto.com

“Funny the way it is, not right or wrong
Somebody’s broken heart become your favorite song”

— Dave Matthews

With much of the world, I am stumbling today through the fog of the reality that Robin Williams is dead.

More than a comedic genius and brilliant entertainer, Williams had that rare gift of bringing to light the depth and breadth of the human experience through his art. He exhibited a sort of radical vulnerability that pierced through the realities we attempt to construct and spoke joy into life in a way few others have managed.

In many ways his was the artistic and prophetic voice of my generation. While we were virtually peeing our pants laughing at his antics, we were often almost simultaneously struck to the core by the truths he revealed about who we are and what our world has become.

It is indeed tragic that it appears the joy he brought to millions escaped him personally. That the masks he helped us strip away from ourselves were ones he was unable to live behind any longer. That the raw depths of pain he used to fuel our laughter would overtake and destroy him.

Beyond just the loss of Williams and his creative force, I also find myself mourning the inescapable reality that so much of what brings us joy and life is borne out of such deep and destructive pain.

All great art requires the artist to lay bare the aches and struggles of life, to expose the powers behind them, and transform them into something transcendent. But the fact that so much of that vulnerability places the artist on a razor’s edge between life and death strikes at something deep within me that makes me question why it is that we seem to have an almost innate need to feed on others’ suffering.

Whether it’s for something as seemingly as flippant as “entertainment” or for the deeper appreciation of what it is that great art of any kind stirs within us, we seem to dwell in this sort of noxious tension between the joy we receive from it—however it is we define that—and the pain in someone else that paradoxically breathes life into it.

My only solace is the sure knowledge that in some mystical, mysterious, inexplicable way, even the harshest torment the world can serve up can be molded into something good and lovely. That art is perhaps the Great Creator’s way of taking what is horrible and revealing something exquisite.

That it is the art that endures beyond the temporal shell of the artist.

And so out of pain and death, life and beauty persist.

Perhaps to show that beneath misery and wretchedness, there is something more true, more splendid and more good that can’t be defeated.

Rest in peace, dear soul. Thank you for your gift. And may the demons that robbed it from you and from us be vanquished in the knowledge that you were able to twist their maleficent schemes into something beautiful.

Worship or warfare? A tale of pens and swords.

Feather sword and letter

You may have noticed that I’ve been in a bit of a rut lately.

As a writer I’ve learned that sometimes we go through these dry spells. Times when it’s just really hard to process and coalesce any thoughts that seem worth articulating.

It’s not that there haven’t been things I’ve wanted to write about. In fact, I have about a dozen rough drafts saved in a folder on my laptop. Stories I’ve started to write but couldn’t figure out how to end. Most of them were responses to occurrences where it seems the church is failing to seek justice and act mercifully in light of current events.

But somewhere in my effort to write pieces that try to critique in a helpful way, I crossed a line.

When I read through those rough drafts, I don’t find the voice of someone searching for truth and justice. I find the voice of a self-righteous jerk.

I find myself becoming exactly the kind of Christian I was criticizing.

And so I had to try to step back and take an honest look at what I was doing.

And in reading back through all those unfinished, unpolished, discarded drafts, I started to see a pattern.

And behind the pattern I found the problem.

Somewhere along the line, my writing stopped being an act of worship.

One of the scary things that happens when your creative work starts to get noticed is that, well, it gets noticed. And getting noticed carries the weight of expectations…those you perceive from your audience, and those you place on yourself in response to that perception.

My best writing, or at least what I consider to be my best writing, is the stuff I write that comes out as an expression of how I’m experiencing something of the divine. It’s the stuff that articulates a deep relationship with Jesus…whether that comes through a day on a trout stream or a season of wrestling with difficult scriptural texts or a conversation with another human struggling to navigate life on planet earth.

It’s the stuff that takes a hard and honest look at what we’ve become as a church and tries to find a way back to The Way of The One.

And that’s worship. When we pour ourselves out in love and awe as a result of how we experience the reality of Jesus.

It doesn’t just happen in gilded buildings on Sunday mornings. It happens when we hand a homeless man a dollar or a cup of coffee. It happens when we give up a Saturday afternoon to help a mom & daughter move out of an abusive household. It happens when we fix meals or build houses or buy toilet paper for people who, for whatever the reason, can’t do it for themselves.

It also happens when we stop to hear the morning songs of the birds in the trees, when we listen to grandparents’ stories of their youth, and when we watch four-year-olds eat ice cream.

And for some of us, it happens when we make music or mold sculptures or paint images or even write sentences and paragraphs that express a reality we can’t explain any other way.

If the pen is indeed mightier than the sword, it can’t simply become a sword. It must serve a higher purpose.

So that’s what I’m trying to get back to.

Writing is a gift, and with it comes a responsibility. It’s not a weapon to wield in the destruction of opposing ideas, but—hopefully, at least—a conduit by which I can help you connect to your own unspoken realities.

Yes, at times that requires honest critique. If the church is to be a vehicle for justice and mercy in this world, it must be open to regular and constant self-assessment and adjustment. Our abuses usually come out of sincere desires to help, but sometimes we get in our own way by putting the wrong things first.

And this is where you come in. I need you, my readers, to keep me accountable. To keep the right things first.

It’s easy to get on a bandwagon when you connect emotionally with a particular argument or issue. It takes deep discernment to find the most helpful, loving, transformative ways to create dialogue.

Our goal should be communication, not condemnation.

Worship, not warfare.

Sometimes the bar, why, he eats you…

A snippet from my latest piece over at The EcoTheo Review, and the iconic clip that inspired it:

emptycreelNobody wants to read about my bruised toes from hiking too many miles with untrimmed nails, or the times I’ve busted my ass on snot-covered rocks, or the hours of sweating through nettle-filled underbrush that goes along with getting off the so-called beaten path in order to experience those transcendent moments.

But sometimes, “sometimes the bar, why, he eats you.”

The truth is, those moments when everything comes together, the ones which fill our memories and the ones we tell stories about, those moments are the exception rather than the rule.

Sometimes, you just get skunked.

Most of us, when that happens, find a way to wax philosophical about the whole thing.

Our power to rationalize is indeed formidable.

But mostly, it’s bullshit.

Read the whole article here.

But first, a word from The Dude (insert obligatory language warning here):

 

 

Here is the church, here is the steeple…

steeplefingers

istockphoto.com

“…Open it up, and see all the people. … Hey! They look just like me!”

I’m in the middle of a seminary class this week on leading change. “Change” is a big word in church circles these days. It seems like everyone is either dying for it or dying to avoid it.

I’ve been part of church change conversations in a variety of contexts over the past several years. I’ve been part of internal change movements and have tried to help others either facilitate or manage change.

There are a few things I’ve noticed about change in churches:

1) Almost everybody seems to know they need to change. The alternative to changing is to fade into non-existence.

2) Almost everybody is terrified to actually implement change. They understand the consequences but simply can’t bring themselves to endure the uncertainty that comes along with it. By doing so, they essentially choose a slow but sure diminution into non-existence.

3) Those who want change generally want something specific. And what they want is for the church to change to be more like them.

It’s that third thing I want to focus on.

When I was part of a change movement in my church several years ago, I had a vision. At the time, I thought that vision was for a more vibrant, more lively, more “relevant” expression of the church.

In hindsight, what I now realize is that what I wanted was a church made in my own image. One to suit my wants and desires and perceived needs.

I arrogantly assumed that everyone would (or at least should) want the same thing. And even if they didn’t know it yet, that was the kind of church that they really desired to be part of. Once they could experience it, they’d surely come around.

Now that I’ve spent some time seriously studying the church in its various expressions and various movements, both historically and contemporarily, I’m coming to the realization that that’s pretty much what everyone wants.

The best church, we assume, is the one that’s most like us.

And so we embark on these Quixotic change missions, trying to make the church what we want it to be, laboring under the assumption that what we want is really what everyone wants. More hip. More traditional. More welcoming. More stable. More conservative. More progressive. More evangelical. More missional. More straight. More gay. More “biblical.” More “spiriti-led.” More diverse. More homey. More young. More multi-generational.

What you seldom see or hear in these conversations is probably the one thing that maybe we should all be striving for.

Instead of a church that’s more like us, maybe we should be seeking a church that looks more like Jesus.

Of course, our immediate response to that is to say, “That is what I want! JESUS WANTS EXACTLY WHAT I WANT!!”

Really?

Here’s the thing: The church of Jesus almost never looks like what we think we want.

Because Jesus is dangerous.

Jesus calls us into those places that make us uncomfortable, that challenge our preconceptions, that stretch our imaginations. The church we think we want, the one that looks and thinks and acts just like we do, does none of those things.

And do you know why?

Because Jesus is all about LOVE.

Sound oversimplified? Think about it. Really think about it.

Love is anything but simple.

Love makes us uncomfortable. Love challenges our preconceptions. Love stretches our imaginations.

Love—real, authentic, unconditional, life-giving love—is the hardest thing we can do.

Love calls us to die so that it can rise up in our place.

We cannot continue to box ourselves into our labels and categories and preconceptions and preferences, and love like Jesus loves. It’s not until we abandon all of those things that we can even begin to glimpse what that kind of love is like.

It’s only in utter surrender that we can find true freedom.

In Wesleyan theology we talk about the idea of “Christian Perfection.” That’s a pretty hard concept to get your head around. We all know instinctively that we can never be “perfect.” But because of that instinct, we never really give the idea an honest try.

What John Wesley meant by “perfection” wasn’t an error-free existence. What he meant was that we could—at least conceivably—actually love other people and the world around us the way Jesus does.

Bob Tuttle, one of the most brilliant professors I’ve had the privilege to study under, defined it like this:

“Love devoid of self-interest.”

The love of Jesus, the love he calls us to as individuals and as his church, is a love that does nothing for its own benefit and everything for the sake of others.

Everything.

So whatever our agendas are and as noble as they may be, unless they are founded on that kind of utterly self-sacrificing, thoroughly generative love, they fall short of the best life Jesus calls us to.

So what kind of church do you want. Really want?

If you want one that’s just like you, I guarantee you’ll find it.

I hope we can choose the riskier path.

Where moth and rust consume

Moth

istockphoto.com

Nobody ever believed in Jesus because they lost an argument.”

I wish I could remember the name of my seminary colleague who said that in class one day. I’d gladly pay him royalties for the number of times I’ve quoted him.

In today’s contentious church environment, I think it’s a salient reminder.

It seems everywhere we turn, church people are fighting. Not just with non-Christians but, even more frequently, with one another. Don’t believe it? Google “Christian blogs,” pick one, and go to the comment section.

In fact, let me save you some trouble. Just go check out one of my favorites, Rachel Held Evans’ blog. Pick any post. You won’t have to scroll down far before you see the vitriolic responses starting to fly.

Who’s selling out to who?

In a recent post, Evans notes that the most frequent argument levied against liberal/progressives from the conservative/evangelical camp is that we are “selling out” to the culture around us. We compromise the truth of scripture in order to win friends from the “world” so that we can appear to be “relevant” or even “cool.”

But, Evans pointedly notes, the very same people who voice those accusations are also very often the first to “sell out” to the “worldly” notions of retributive violence, economic elitism, racism, sexism, and secular class warfare:

“And I am concerned that the Church is indeed conforming to the world—every time it preaches violence as a way to achieve justice, every time it glorifies celebrity and success, every time it reduces womanhood to subordination and manhood to power, every time it justifies cruelty or unkindness in the name of proving a point.”

Treasures in heaven

Not surprisingly, Jesus has something to say about all of this. In addition to the rather obvious issue of splinters and planks (Matt. 7:4-5), there is a somewhat obscure and almost universally misunderstood passage wherein our favorite itinerant Galilean rabbi challenges his followers to a radically different perspective:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. […] No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

—Matthew 6:19-20, 24 (NASB)

Contrary to popular belief, Jesus really isn’t talking about money in this passage. Nor is he advocating some kind of pious “investment” in a distant, post-mortem future. Those interpretations take the passage out of its context as the climactic words of what we now refer to as the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7).

In the buildup to this statement, Jesus is encouraging the marginalized amongst his followers and admonishing the religious watchdogs of his day. He tells the oppressed and disenfranchised that, contrary to social convention, they are blessed. He tells the religious leaders that their scrupulous adherence to the law falls far short of its intent.

“Treasures on earth” doesn’t necessarily refer to wealth itself, but to the the trappings of power, influence and status. Because those things often accompany wealth, it becomes an apt metaphor for anything other than Jesus to which we attach value.

“Treasures in heaven,” similarly, are not good deeds which we store up in some sort of religious bank account to cash in when we…well…cash in. Instead, it is a call to treasure Jesus himself and to embrace his way of being.

Righteousness of the Pharisees

Early on in his sermon, Jesus informs his listeners that their righteousness must surpass “that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law” (Matt. 5:20, NIV). A bit later, he tells them to “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48).

Jesus is not laying down a new, more stringent legal code to follow. He is challenging his followers to integrate his life into theirs. In doing so, he directly contrasts that kind of life to that of the “Pharisees and teachers of the law.” The religious elite. The self-appointed gatekeepers.

The Pharisees were not evil people. They were convinced they were doing what God had commanded of them. They were adamant that legalistic morality, even at the expense of those who were thoroughly unable to achieve it, was the path to realizing the kingdom of heaven.

Unfortunately, they were missing the big picture.

Radical reorientation

Throughout his discourse, Jesus’ whole point is not for his followers to try to obey some set of behavioral mandates. It’s to reorient their lives around him and the kind of radical, unconditional, thoroughly inclusive love he displays…especially to those who seem to deserve it the least.

The “treasures on earth” Jesus rebukes are the systems and structures that oppress, objectify and dehumanize others at the altar of self-righteousness, exclusivity and superiority. Systems which, incidentally, the Pharisees had embraced in their behavior-management-based righteousness.

“Treasures in heaven,” then, are not deposits on some cosmic ledger, but an orientation toward love as the highest universal value. Not just love as a touchy-feely emotion, but as a radical, forgiving, inclusive force that rejects all manner of self-interest for the benefit of others.

For Jesus, the kingdom of heaven is not a place or even a way of life. It is the ultimate reality, where love reigns and rules, and which he embodies.

Moths and rust

The Pharisees were sincerely trying to do what they thought was right. The problem was, they were misunderstanding the story God was telling. In their zeal to be holy, they had sold out to the worldly systems and structures of status and power.

And Jesus’ message to them is that their earthly treasure—as noble as they believed it to be—was ultimately unsustainable. In fact, he tells them, it will consume and destroy them.

The church should pay attention.

When we obsess over our arguments and the defense of our particular beliefs, we are falling into the same trap. And eventually, it will consume us. And we’ll miss the kingdom reality Jesus is offering.

Sorry ’bout your cornflakes…

istockphoto.com

istockphoto.com

So this was one of those weeks.

I don’t mean one of those weeks. The ones where things fall apart all around you and make you wonder why you bother getting out of bed in the morning.

It was just one of those weeks. A week when things were going along reasonably well, when I was managing to be fairly productive for what felt like the first time in a long time, and when a few pieces started falling into place for some things I’ve been working toward. Not one of those stellar shout-it-from-the-highest-hilltop kind of weeks, but decent enough.

Unfortunately, true to Mr. Murphy’s prediction, there’s always someone who wants to piss in your cornflakes.

(For you non-hillbillies out there, that’s one of our quaint little Appalachian sayings for someone trying to ruin your day. We have quite a way with words here in the hills.)

And so at the end of what was otherwise a reasonably good week, I found myself having to deal with something I really didn’t want to deal with. Not a crisis or any kind of emergency, just one of those pain-in-the-ass situations that distracts you from the other things, the productive things, the enjoyable things.

It happens. We all know it.

The question is, what do we do with it?

We basically have a couple of choices in that kind of situation. We can let the distraction disrupt all of the good things that are going on. We can worry about it, fret over it, complain about it, and focus all of our time and energy on it. We can devote entirely more attention to it than it deserves.

Or, we can see it for what it is, deal with it, and then dispense with it.

In the past, I’ve chosen the first option way too often. This week, I decided to go with the second.

Sometimes there is no amount of focus or energy that we can pour into a situation to make it any better. There is no amount of worrying or hand-wringing that is going to bring about a resolution of any kind.

At the same time, as much as we’d like to, we can’t simply ignore those things either. That’s a recipe for disaster. It’s like the roof leak you don’t get around to fixing. It may just be a little drip for awhile but eventually your ceiling will cave in.

But we can just deal with things. Assess them for what they are, do what we can, and then let it go.

We can choose struggle and conflict, or we can choose shalom.

That doesn’t necessarily make the thing go away, whatever the thing is…in fact, it may come back at some point with even fiercer urgency. But more often than not there’s nothing you can do about that in the moment.

So I had to throw away a bowl of cornflakes. It was disappointing, but I didn’t let it ruin an otherwise pretty okay week. I’ll just wash up the dishes and start over again. Maybe I’ll add some strawberries to make it a bit sweeter.

That, after all, is the path to awesomeness.

Breakfast, anyone?

When I heard the voice…

campfire

I remember the first time I heard it.

The voice.

I remember exactly where I was and exactly what I was doing.

And I remember what it sounded like. And how I knew it was real.

It was by a campfire. And I was listening to a story.

It was the story about the two disciples leaving Jerusalem after Jesus’ crucifixion, making the long, dusty walk back to their home village of Emmaus, and how this stranger came alongside them and told them another story.

It was a story they’d heard before.

But this time it was different.

Instead of being about what they’d always heard the story was about, it was about something else.

Instead of being about guilt and shame and vengeance, it was a story about brokenness and healing and love.

It was a story about hope.

It was a story that turned their former story on its head. Upside-down. Inside-out.

And it turned out the stranger was Jesus.

The one whose story they thought was over came and told them the real story.

The one about hope.

The one about him.

And he invited them into it.

And in the midst of their story, I heard it.

The voice.

And I knew the voice was real.

Not because of what it sounded like.

But because of what it said.

Because it said something I’d never heard before. Not really, anyhow.

It said something that made me know the story was true. The one about brokenness and healing and love.

The one about hope.

It told me something I needed to hear more than anything I’d ever heard before.

Something I didn’t dare believe.

“I know you’ve fallen. I know how many times. And I know you’re going to fall again.”

“But know this…no matter how many times you fall, no matter how often you fall again, no matter why, I’m here.”

“I’m here.”

“I’m going to pick you back up, get you back on your feet, dust you off, and help you start again.”

“No matter how many times.

“No matter how many times.”

And I knew, in that moment, that the story I had been believing before wasn’t true. The story about how I wasn’t good enough, about how messed up I was, about what a failure I was.

I knew the story I’d always heard, the one I’d always believed, the one about guilt and shame and vengeance, was a lie.

And in that moment, I knew everyone else I knew was believing the same lie.

And they deserved to hear the truth.

And then I heard it again. And I’ve heard it countless times since.

The voice.

“Tell my story. The one about brokenness and healing and love.”

“The one about hope.”

Maybe you’ve heard that same voice.

Maybe, like me, you’d been hearing it for a long time, but you didn’t know whose voice it was or where it came from, because it got blended in and garbled up with all the other voices and all the other stories.

Maybe, like me, you just need the time and the space to listen. To sit quietly somewhere and hear the story.

Or maybe you just need to hear that the other story is a lie. The one about guilt and shame and vengeance.

Maybe you need to hear the story about hope.

My prayer for you is that you will find that time and space. That quietness.

That story.

The one about hope.

And in hearing the story, the true story, you’ll hear the voice. The one you heard before but couldn’t dare to believe.

The voice.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

A guy I know named Jake has a blog, and on his blog he’s telling and looking for new stories about God. Because we’ve heard the wrong stories for far too long. We need new stories. This one you just read is one of them. If you want to experience these new stories, I encourage you to share this one. Then, go visit Jake’s site, and read the stories, and share those, and maybe even tell one of your own.

Shalom.

The Voice of Silence: An excerpt

rocksofa

The latest entry in my “Benthics” column at The EcoTheo Review is online today. Here’s a brief excerpt:

As wide path gives way to twisting trail
through swatting branches and stinging nettles
and malevolent knots of vine and laurel
opening into stunning views
that rob the lungs
of breath itself

It speaks.

And at day’s end
with throbbing feet and aching backs
and phantom pack weight still yoked
on exhausted shoulders

We repose on luxuriant recliners of flat river stone
and remember distant memories
of beds and blankets and pillows
and love.

And It speaks.

You can read the entire poem here.

Enjoy!