failure

All-in: a term used in the game of Poker when a player bets all his/her chips.

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There are lots of terms used to describe various levels of failure. One might “make a misstep” or “botch a robbery.” You could “make a mess of things” or “take a false step.” Movies “flop” and comedians “bomb.”

My favorite term though and perhaps the greatest most spectacular form of failure possible is

fiasco.

A fiasco is a truly remarkable failure. A fiasco is one for the books. It’s a cautionary tale. A story told at parties. Something you will be remembered for.

A fiasco can change the course of your life.

You were this person, on this trajectory, with this plan for your life.

Then there was the fiasco.

But there aren’t just levels of failure, there are types of failure.

The first type of failure is just that…failure.

There’s no moral to the story. There’s no lesson to be learned. There’s just failure. Something that was, now isn’t. Something that began with such promise just never panned out. You did your best. You did everything right. You gave it your all.

Still it failed.

This type of failure is hard to take.

Because we want things to make sense.

We want all our hard work
and time
and energy
and hopes
and dreams
to have been for a reason.

But what if there isn’t?

Sometimes the business fails.
Sometimes the relationship ends.
Sometimes cancer.
Sometimes death.

The French philosopher Albert Camus defines this as the absurd. It’s that conflict between the human need for meaning and the apparent meaninglessness of the world.

In other words, sometimes life isn’t fair. Some situations defy meaning. To look for a cause, a purpose or a point is to do a disservice. A child dies in a car crash. A young mother gets cancer. The holocaust. These events aren’t retribution by an angry God for some failing. And they aren’t life lessons to help us become better people.

They’re just events that really really suck.

For Camus, the appropriate response to some situations isn’t to look for meaning where there is none and it isn’t to try and escape that meaninglessness. It’s to accept it, embrace it and make the best of life going forward.

******

In the second type of failure there IS a lesson to be learned.

Sometimes because we fail, we grow. You might call it a teachable moment. Sometimes when we fail there was a mistake made but we learn from that failure and come back stronger.

New Coke for instance.

Thomas Edison is famous for saying, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

And he invented the light bulb.

Sometimes we trust the wrong person.
Sometimes the timing isn’t right.
Sometimes we say the wrong thing.
Sometimes we miss the shot…the putt…the mark.

Babe Ruth (one of the greatest hitter in baseball history) hit 714 home runs.

He struck out 1,330 times.

There will be times in your life when you give it your all, when you pour all your heart and soul into something. When you study, plan and prepare.

And still, you fail.

But given time, prayer, introspection and advice one day you’ll wake up and the pain will be less intense. You’ll see that you have become a better person.

You may even look back on the failure as a blessing in disguise.

******

And then there’s a third type of failure. It’s a failure that isn’t a failure at all.

This one’s a little harder to understand. In fact, you might call it paradoxical in nature. How can a failure be a success?

Isn’t a failure by definition the lack of success?

That’s what Merriam-Webster says.

Are we talking about a matter of semantics? Or is there something more?

******

God said of Job, “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” …and he lost everything.

Saul of Tarsus set out to capture and kill the followers of Christ …and became the greatest evangelist the world has ever known.

Jesus died on a cross …and I think we know how that turned out.

******

In the movie Elizabethtown (and I’m suddenly realizing that I write far too many blog posts about romantic comedies) Drew Baylor (I’m also realizing this may be the first spiritual lesson learned from the acting of Orlando Bloom) is a young shoe designer for Mercury Worldwide Shoes. He has spent the last several years of his life completely absorbed in his work. He’s missed holidays and time with his family, sacrificing everything for the pursuit of his passion: the perfect running shoe. Unfortunately, the Spasmotica (his design) is a complete failure, ultimately being recalled and costing his company nearly one billion dollars. In the process, Drew loses his job, his reputation and his girlfriend. Without giving away the plot (it’s on Netflix people), in a voiceover epilog Drew opines:

“No true fiasco ever began as a quest for mere adequacy.”

You were made for so much more.

So much more than the status quo.
So much more than just getting by.
So much more than settling for that.
For this.
For them.

Have you experienced a failure in your life? Did the relationship end? Did the job not pan out? Did the deal fall through? Were you lied to? Was there pain? Is it over?

It hurts. A lot. But trust me, you aren’t alone.

Identify the type of failure. If there is a lesson, learn it.

Then
move
on.

One day. One step. One breath at a time.

And the next time life presents you with an opportunity. The next time you are dealt a hand. Go all-in. Because the size of your failure or the measure of your success will always be proportional to the amount of your heart you pour into something.

“No true fiasco ever began as a quest for mere adequacy.”

You were made for so much more.


I recently went on vacation with my family. My parents, my brother, his wife and their 5 year old son loaded up in two cars and drove to the beach. Picture a 5 year old singing the lyrics to the musical Hamilton while a 70 year old tells you every story he can remember from his days selling insurance 40 years ago and you’ll get a good idea of the car ride down there. (Side note: My nephew knows more of the lyrics than I do and my dad once ate several desserts in one sitting.)

While the exact dates are in question, many scholars agree that the Israelites spent over 400 years as slaves in Egypt building bricks for the pharaohs. That’s a long time. And a lot of bricks.

By the time of Moses, if you were an Israelite, you were a slave, your parents were slaves, your grandparents were slaves and your great-grandparents were slaves. Slavery is all you knew.

In the modern world, in America 2017, even the poorest among us grow up with dreams. Dreams of becoming the President, a professional athlete, a famous singer, a reality TV star or at least a YouTube sensation. But if you were a slave living in Egypt, you really never considered freedom, or opportunity or anything beyond a life of slavery. It simply wasn’t an option.

So, when Moses came along with advice from a flaming bush, a magic wooden stick and a series of increasingly annoying plagues to set his people free, they were to say the least, emotionally unprepared.

Ready or not though, off they went in search of the promised land, guided by a whirlwind during the day and a pillar of fire by night. But even with the miraculous escape from Egypt, the magic stick, the plagues, the parting of a sea and the primitive GPS that was a nightly pillar of fire the Israelites began to grumble, and gripe saying “Oh woe are we! If only we could return to slavery in Egypt! At least there we had a bed to lie on and food to eat.”

7 hours of driving, 3 bathroom breaks and one ham and cheese sandwich later, we made our way to our rented beach house. After a brief period of unpacking we all walked across the street, over the dunes and dipped our toes in the ocean.

Oceans and seas and waves have inspired philosophers, poets and songwriters since the dawn of time. It’s impossible to gaze out on something so vast and not be filled with awe and wonder at your place within the universe. There’s a rhythm and a pattern to the waves that suggests something greater than you is at work. There’s beauty and there’s comfort and there’s life. The symbolism is simply too great to be missed.

When you stand at the ocean, you stand in the presence of God.

And as I stood there pondering the meaning of life, I thought of the Israelites and their travels. The wilderness that may have looked something like the I-26 in central South Carolina and the ham and cheese-like manna provided each morning for them to eat. And the whirlwind and the pillar of fire that was clearly God in their midst.

How could they not see it?

How could they miss the presence of God?

And then I realized, it was all too much.

They had no concept of the unknown.

No idea of adventure.

They were afraid of freedom.

There was comfort in their slavery.

Their brave new world was beyond anything they had imagined. They were on the road to the promised land, but they had spent so many years in slavery and been so beaten down that they were simply unable to grasp God right in front of them.

You see, the trick isn’t knowing the right answer. As each new wave crashes on our shoreline, we hear God speaking to us. Teaching us. Showing us where to go. It’s as unmistakable as a pillar of fire at night. The question isn’t, “where is God?”

The question is, “how will we respond to the waves?”

For years I’ve thought about the importance of forgiveness. I’ve counseled people about it. I’ve understood that there is freedom in forgiving. That many times forgiveness is less about the other person and more about setting ourselves free from the anger and the pain that we are dragging around with us. Pain as heavy as a giant brick.

Only recently, when I’ve been tested, I can see that I’m far from a paragon of virtue. That illusion has been shattered. I’ve not missed the pillar of fire. God is right in front of me. But as the waves have crashed down, I’ve been crying out, “Woe is me! I hate this person and this situation! And I don’t want to forgive them.”

I am the mother of Ray Finkle baking football shaped cookies and telling anyone who will listen that, “Dan Marino should die of gonorrhea and rot in Hell.”

To give up the hate is to give up control.

There’s comfort in control.

As I stood at the edge of the water watching the waves roll in, I realized that most often the point of the story, our story, isn’t the event. It isn’t the awesomeness of the pillar of fire or the vastness of the ocean. It isn’t the still small voice. It isn’t even the miracle.

It’s how we choose to respond.

There’s a couple of guys in a little book called the Bible that have something to say about this. In Galatians chapter 4, Paul declares that we are no longer slaves but sons. And in the book of John, none other than Jesus says that if you know the truth, it shall set you free.

The truth is that we’ve all been hurt. We’ll all built bricks. But our past is simply that. Our past. It has shaped us and it informs us but it doesn’t have to control us. We’ve been set free.

We will see waves as clear as a pillar of fire.

And when we do, if our response is to let go of our fear and our need for control, if our response is to forgive, then our lives will become a space where God can build something new.

A new life.

A new hope.

A new adventure.

 

 

God Stuff

Crash Landings

crash

Ladies and gentlemen, we now request your full attention as the flight attendants demonstrate the safety features of this aircraft.

When the seat belt sign illuminates, you must fasten your seat belt. Insert the metal fittings one into the other, and tighten by pulling on the loose end of the strap. To release your seat belt, lift the upper portion of the buckle. We suggest that you keep your seat belt fastened throughout the flight, as we may experience turbulence.

Please take a few moments now to locate your nearest exit. In some cases, your nearest exit may be behind you. Should aircraft evacuation become necessary, floor-level lighting will guide you towards the exit. Doors can be opened by moving the handle in the direction of the arrow. Each door is equipped with an inflatable slide which may also be detached and used as a life raft.

In the event of a sudden depressurization, an oxygen mask will automatically drop down from the compartment above you. To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask towards you. Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally. Although the bag does not fully inflate, oxygen is flowing to the mask. If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person. Keep your mask on until a uniformed crew member advises you to remove it.

***********

If God is really my co-pilot, why did my plane crash?

Why does any plane crash?

Why are people abused?

Cheated on?

Lied to?

Why are we hurt?

If God is my co-pilot, He’s doing a really awful job of steering this plane.

Of course, the response you’ll get from many religious people would be something along the lines of, “you’ve got to take your hand off the stick and let God fly the plane.” In which event God no longer functions as co-pilot, He’s taken over the plane. You’re simply along for the ride.

And often this seems like the right thing to do, doesn’t it? Take the 1995 movie Crimson Tide. Gene Hackman plays Captain Ramsey, commander of a U.S. Navy submarine Alabama. While the ship is at sea, they receive orders to launch their nuclear missiles. However, before they can fire, a second order comes through. Unfortunately the order is incomplete as their communications system is damaged. The X.O. (the ship’s second in command played by Denzel Washington) suggests they take the time to reestablish communications and hopefully avoid a nuclear war. Captain Ramsey disagrees. Crew members take sides and a mutiny ensues. The X.O. has control of the submarine. Communications are repaired and nuclear war is averted.

Is God the cautious X.O. wisely taking over control of the submarine from our blustering command?

If so, why could he save the crew of the Alabama and not my marriage? Or my friendship? Or my sanity?

Is God always in control?

Does He allow us free will, only taking over in times of crisis?

Or does God only take control when we ask Him to?

I’m not sure God is my co-pilot at all. It’s pretty clear I’m flying my own plane. So, where is He? What exactly is He doing? When I’m surrounded by flashing lights and warning bells, deftly steering my plane right into an oncoming mountain range, perhaps He could speak up? A little help would be nice.

Maybe He is.

Maybe the flashing lights, and blaring sirens, and warning signs are all God’s way of trying get us to pull up.

Maybe God is the stewardess, reminding us to keep our seatbelts fastened because there may be turbulence ahead.

Maybe God is our best friend that pulls us aside and says, “Hey, that person you trust so blindly. Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

Maybe God is our conscience, that little voice, that gut feeling we too often ignore telling us, “something isn’t right here.”

Maybe God is our aching back, our headache or our upset stomach urging us to slow down. To pay attention. To take a break.

Maybe God is stress.

There are many reasons why airplanes crash.

Mid-air collision

Terrorism

Bad weather

Structural failure

But the most common cause is human error.

From time to time toxic people come into our lives. People who are sick. People who are out of control. People who are so unhealthy that to simply be around them is to court disaster. People who hurt themselves and everyone around them.

Pray for these people. They are hurting. Love them. They need your help.

But they have to ask for it.

Maybe God is my co-pilot? Maybe He isn’t? Maybe God is the Stewardess with safety tips (as well as complimentary snacks)? Or the flashing lights warning of danger? The feeling in our gut or the ache in our back? Or the sage advice of a friend? Or stress?

Whoever or wherever God is, it’s important to remember one thing. When confronted with the danger of an impending crash caused by human error, God wants us to help those who can’t help themselves. But in order to help them, we must remain conscious.

In the event of sudden depressurization, secure your mask first, THEN assist the person beside you.

And remember to breathe normally.

Because God is literally and figuratively the air that gives us life.*

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At this time, your portable electronic devices must be set to ‘airplane’ mode until an announcement is made upon arrival.

We remind you that this is a non-smoking flight. Tampering with, disabling, or destroying the smoke detectors located in the lavatories is prohibited by law.

You will find this and all the other safety information in the card located in the seat pocket in front of you. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask one of our crew members. We wish you all an enjoyable flight.

Cabin crew, please take your seats and prepare for take-off.

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*Look it up: http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/kjv/pneuma.html

God Stuff

Dancing In The Clouds

dancingpair

If you haven’t seen it yet, run don’t walk (or better yet dance) to see La La Land. It’s a salve for the modern soul. And Lord knows we could use that these days.

On the surface, it’s the story of an aspiring young actress and a struggling jazz musician as they meet and fall in love in modern day Los Angeles. One filmmaker’s tribute to the classic musicals of Hollywood’s golden age.

For my money at least, it’s a love story to life.

You’ve heard the story before, hundreds of times, only the characters and settings ever really change.

Boy meets girl.

They hate each other.

But really they love each other.

They realize they are in love.

All goes well.

Until it doesn’t.

Something happens to keep them apart.

Until love wins out.

Happy Ending.

It’s the story of every musical and every romantic comedy ever filmed. But the reason it works every time, the reason we watch it over and over again, is that it’s really the story of our lives. Our journey from birth to death. From self-realization to self-actualization.

If your eyes are glazing over, hang with me. This story has a happy ending as well.

In 1943 Abraham Maslow stated that people are all motivated to fulfill certain needs. Some needs take precedence over others. These are our basic needs. Until these basic needs are satisfied, we aren’t able to fulfill our higher needs. This is illustrated in the chart below.

pyramid

The lower level needs are sometimes referred to as deficiency needs. In other words, they motivate people when they are unmet. And the longer they are unmet, the stronger the need becomes. Just try going a day without food and see what becomes of your mental state. However, once the deficiency goes away, the need goes away. Then you can move on to higher level desires.

The highest level of needs are growth needs. Growth needs are different. They actually become stronger as they are met.

At the top of the pyramid we become fully-functioning human beings. We realize our full potential. In 1970 Maslow listed the characteristics of a self-actualized human being. That list includes:

Perceive reality efficiently and can tolerate uncertainty
Accept themselves and others for what they are
Spontaneous in thought and action
Problem-centered (not self-centered)
Able to look at life objectively
Highly creative
Concerned for the welfare of humanity
Capable of deep appreciation of basic life-experience
Establish deep satisfying interpersonal relationships with a few people
Peak experiences
Strong moral/ethical standards.

In short, complete awesomeness.

Transcendent.

Nirvana.

Self-actualized people are able to look beyond themselves and help others achieve self-actualization.

Felling a bit inferior at this point? Don’t worry.

Maslow estimated that only 2% of people ever become fully self-actualized.

So, speaking of musicals (and at one point we actually were), there’s a classic scene in the 1965 movie The Sound of Music. We’ve all seen it. Maria (Julie Andrews) is on a mountaintop in the Austrian Alps twirling and dancing and singing that “the hills are alive with the sound of music.”

If only for a few moments, Maria reaches self-actualization.

Spontaneous
Creative
Appreciating Life
A Peak Experience
Complete joy, complete happiness, complete freedom.

Or is it?

I would argue not. Just as there are different levels of needs, there are different levels of freedom. What if running, skipping, dancing and singing across a mountaintop is an illustration of only the most basic type of freedom? A deficient freedom. A freedom from something.

Now, that isn’t to take away from Maria’s freedom. It’s a freedom we crave. It’s a freedom we need. But’s only the first step.

Complete freedom, transcendent freedom isn’t found on the ground at all. It’s found in the air.

Transcendent freedom is flight. Unbound by even gravity.

Basic freedom is defined by our circumstances. We are free when we can go where we want and do what we want. When no one or no thing can stop us. We control our own destiny.

Ever met a teenager? They want basic freedom. And with it they learn to test themselves and their limitations. They start to see what they are capable of.

Basic freedom does not and cannot bring happiness however. Because basic freedom is defined by what we are free from. Once we attain that freedom, then what? Once we have that freedom we see that it isn’t really freedom at all. Because once the restraint is removed, the very definition of freedom goes away.

We are free, but we are empty.

Complete freedom, transcendent freedom is a freedom for something. It’s a freedom that allows us to reach higher than we ever though possible. A freedom that allows us to become people that we never though possible. To go places we’ve never dreamed of.

We are free and we are fulfilled.

freedom-chart

Ironically, this transcendent freedom is rarely something we can obtain ourselves. We need help. To use our earlier metaphor, we need a plane in order to fly. And we need lessons to fly that plane. When we fully and completely give ourselves to another, then we can leave the ground.

Perhaps this is what the Apostle Paul means when he speaks of becoming slaves to Christ so that we might be free?

Could it be that willingly giving yourself fully to someone or something is the pathway to true freedom?

Do you have someone in your life that is teaching you how to fly? Someone who doesn’t hold you back, but lifts you up? Are you the engine for someone else’s freedom?

Or are you stuck on the ground? Does taking care of the basic needs of life require all your energy right now? Self-actualization? Hell, I’m just trying to get out of bed in the morning. And pay my bills. And heal my broken heart. And find some sort of purpose in the world. Flight? Transcendent freedom? I’m just trying to breathe.

A lesson from movie musicals is that all goes well…until it doesn’t.

But if you are reading this post right now, it means you are a living, breathing human being. Your movie isn’t finished.

The end of your story is not written yet.

And maybe, just maybe, there is something better ahead. A freedom you’ve never known. A time when all your needs are met. A person to fly with. A place to reach your full potential. A song. Your song. A dance in the clouds.

A happy ending.

May you breathe until you can sing. Walk until you can run. And dance until you can fly. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

God Stuff

Donut Wholes

donutwholesmall

Last Sunday I got up early (okay, it was early for me) and went to a local donut shop. I bought three donuts and a cup of coffee. In case you’re counting, that’s two donuts for breakfast and one donut for lunch.

I was eating healthy that day.

All three were cake donuts, cooked just perfectly. Crispy on the outside and light & fluffy on the inside. One was vanilla bean flavored, one was churro and the other coconut cream pie.

I was eating healthy that day.

As I sat in my car eating my breakfast, I pondered the meaning of life. More specifically, what makes a donut a donut. That is, what makes it different from a biscuit, a muffin or a cinnamon roll. I mean, those are all excellent breakfast options, but what is the distinguishing characteristic of a donut?

So I messaged some people and asked, “Quick, without thinking, describe a donut.” And I got answers like:

Happiness

Childhood

Cakey

Sticky

Sugary wheel of death

Round, with a hole in the middle

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Most standard models of cosmology suggest that the mass and energy of the universe is made up of 27% dark matter. The name dark matter comes from the fact that it doesn’t emit or react to electromagnetic radiation. One type of electromagnetic radiation is light. If an object doesn’t emit or reflect light, then that object is invisible.

27% of the universe is completely invisible.

While dark matter cannot be directly observed, its existence is inferred from its gravitational effects on the visible matter around it.

In other words, while it can’t be seen, it has a profound effect on everything around it.

Have you ever been to a party where everyone is happy? Everyone is dressed in their best clothes, drinking wine and eating a great meal. Music, dancing and laughter fill the room. But you feel strangely alone, because the person that you love more than anything else isn’t there.

Sometimes, a person’s absence can be more present than the presence of everyone else in the room. Right?

Sometimes, we are defined by an absence or a lack. Or to put it another way:

Sometimes we are defined by a hole in the middle.

Sometimes there is a presence that is completely invisible that guides our actions. And there’s a word for that.

Love

Sometimes love is that absence that is present. Sometimes love is that unseen thing that guides us. Sometimes love is the hole in the middle.

Most people are familiar with 1 Corinthians 13. It’s often referred to as the love chapter. It describes the attributes of love. Patience, kindness, humility, selflessness. The last few verses go like this:

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

Last time we learned that you can be very much alive but not really living at all. Now we learn something just as counterintuitive, and just as revolutionary. What if our very brokenness is the thing make us complete? What if the hole isn’t a lack at all, but rather the very thing that gives us life?

You see, the thing that makes a donut a donut is the hole in the middle. (Do not get me started on jelly donuts. Just don’t.) Often the thing that defines us is that unseen hole in our middle. The thing we circle around caught up in its gravity.

Do you feel broken? Does it seem like there is a huge wound that will never heal? Have you suffered a loss? Has a relationship ended and you feel like things will never be right again? Do you feel broken?

You aren’t broken. You’re a donut.

And it’s the hole that makes you whole.

That, my friends, is what it means to be not only alive but living.

Peace.

 

God Stuff

You Are Only Falling

I grew up in a two story log cabin. It had one of those large open living areas with a loft and really high ceiling. There were three rooms upstairs. My brother’s bedroom, a bathroom and my bedroom. My bedroom was to the right of what’s called a half landing staircase. As the name implies, halfway up the stairs there was a landing area. On the landing area, my mother had setup some decorations. There was an antique sewing machine and a ceramic pot with dried flowers inside it. The pot was large, about two feet tall and was something of a family heirloom.

As children will often do, I would run up and down the stairs. And as mothers will often do, she would tell me not to do that. One day as I was coming down the stairs, on the very first step, I fell.

Gracefully of course.

As I recall, it was something like a base runner sliding feet first into second. But really, it was probably more like a child riding careening out of control down a water slide. Feet in the air. Bottom bouncing off each step. Until I reached the landing.

And the ceramic pot.

* * * * * * * * *

All material on Earth can be divided into two basic types, organic and inorganic. While the definitions vary, basically organic material is made up of compounds which contain carbon. Carbon is one of the building blocks of life. So, essentially, organic material is either currently alive or was living in the past. This material could be man-made, but only if it is made from natural organic compounds. Organic materials include items such as wood, paper and textiles. It also includes all living organisms. So, trees, fish, birds, flowers, cows, octopi, and human beings.

You are made of organic material.

Inorganic material does not contain carbon. It isn’t alive. Inorganic materials include stone, metal, minerals, and glass.

And the ceramic pot.

Now, all material is degradable. Over time wind, water, sunlight and microorganisms work through a process called decomposition to break material down into simpler, more stable, components.

Inorganic materials decompose. Rocks erode, break down and fall apart. Buildings crumble. Even the styrofoam cup that held your 32 ounce sweet tea will eventually fade away. It may just take a few million more years.

But when organic materials decompose, something special happens. Organic materials return their life back to the Earth. Energy, nutrients and water all return to the food chain. In other words, the things that create life never go away, they just take another form.

* * * * * * * * *

When I fell down the stairs that day and slid feet first into the second base that was my mom’s ceramic pot, I shattered it into approximately one billion pieces. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put that thing back together.

* * * * * * * * *

This past Saturday was a simply perfect autumn day. A chill in the air, the leaves just beginning to turn. So, I went to the woods. The woods have a certain feel to them, don’t they? It’s an ecosystem all its own. When you listen to the wind, or the sound of a distant creek, when you see the Autumn leaves in all their splendor you can’t help but feel more alive. And there is a smell. It’s a musty damp smell.

It’s decomposition.

A typical definition of this process might say that living organisms have died and are slowly returning to the soil to help form new life. And there is some truth to that. But maybe a better and more accurate way to look at it is that life is simply changing form. It’s taking a new shape. The energy is still there.

Carbon. Oxygen. Organic material.

Life.

In the book of John, Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it in all its fullness.” When Jesus said this, I think we can presume He was speaking to people who were currently living and breathing. They weren’t dead. They were alive. But were they living?

You are alive.

But are you living?

For Jesus, there was a new kind of life. More than just a beating heart or oxygen filled lungs. One with greater hope, joy, and love. But of course, one with more pain, struggle and heartbreak as well. Jesus is speaking about a life lived to its fullness. No holding back. One lived not just for yourself, but for others and with others. A life with unlimited potential. Where the hungry are fed and thirsty are quenched. A life where you are given total freedom. And a new kind of freedom. Not just a freedom from, but a freedom for. A freedom for bringing new light and new life into the world. That is what life is all about. You are a part of the process. A part of the cycle. You are alive, but are you living?

* * * * * * * * *

As I stood there, alone in the woods, watching leaves of brilliant red and gold swirl and fall to the ground, I realized that no one, no one in their right mind could watch this spectacle with anything less than profound amazement. No one would describe the trees as broken. Yet there they were falling apart. In a few short weeks they would be bare. Limbs once full and green would be empty. It’s leaves on the ground. But the tree isn’t broken and the leaves aren’t dying. The energy is still there. It’s only changing. Alive and living.

Do you feel broken? Are you far less than perfect? Have you made a complete mess of life? Has life made a complete mess of you?

My mom’s ceramic pot was broken. Shattered in a billion pieces. It wasn’t alive. It never was.

But the leaves. The leaves, like you, are organic, made up of the very building blocks of life.

The leaves aren’t broken. They’re only falling.

And maybe you are too.

 

 

 

CrispFall

Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall. – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Upon his enlightenment, the Buddha’s first teaching (what essay on changing seasons would be complete without the Buddha?) was to the present the Four Noble Truths. These truths are central to Buddhism. All other Buddhist teachings support these four ideas. And the first Noble Truth is:

Life is Dukkha

I’m pretty sure we can all agree with that statement.

Life is a big steaming pile of Dukkha.

Dukkha is a Sanskrit word most often translated into English as “suffering.”

Life is Suffering.

Got it. Thanks. Next religion please.

Maybe the second Noble Truth will help:

Dukkha is caused by greed, desire and attachment. In other words, life and everything in it is temporary and fleeting. Because we desire wealth, health, relationships, happiness, success, and peace, we will constantly be disappointed because all of those thing are temporary states. We may find them for a short period of time, but they won’t last.

This sounds fairly awful until you realize that this temporary and transient nature of life also applies to the painful times.

The calendar we use today was devised by the Romans roughly 2000 years ago and is based on a standard lunar year. These 365 days are divided into 12 months. The first month is called January. Within these twelve months we find the four seasons of Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter.

Did you ever wonder why the New Year begins in the dead of Winter on the first day of January?

Not if you live South of the Equator. Because there you would be ringing in the New Year in Bermuda shorts.

Rather than an arbitrary calendar date, shouldn’t we base the new year on a season?

Shouldn’t the New Year begin in the Spring? Isn’t that when we find the beginning of new life? Flowers bloom, grass grows, we shed our Winter coats, leave our homes and venture out to discover the world. Our attitudes improve. Cold and Flu season is over (let’s ignore allergy season for now). The birds are singing, the Sun is shining and life is wonderful. Surely this is the beginning of the year.

If Spring is the beginning, then Winter must be in the end, right?

What if there is a different way to look at it? For most of human history, life wasn’t industrially based. That’s a relatively new phenomenon. For most of our time on this planet, societies were agriculturally based. The most important time of the year was the harvest. All that they worked toward throughout the entire year culminated in the harvest. Fruits, vegetables, grains. Everything was harvested, celebrated and stored up. The fields were picked clean, plowed and left unplanted for a season.

This season is Fall.

The end of the cycle isn’t Winter. It isn’t death. It’s Summer. It’s harvest.

A field that is plowed and left unplanted for a season is called a fallow field. Allowing a field to lie fallow for a time will produce better crops.

Therefore, the beginning of the cycle isn’t new growth. It’s a fallow time. A time of rest. A time where on the surface nothing appears to be happening. But in reality, the soil is undergoing a transformation. Millions of microorganisms and nutrients are rejuvenating the soil and preparing it for it’s next season of growth.

Does life feel for you like one huge pile of Dukkha? Is someone that you love suffering through one storm after the next? Death, disease, brokenness, emptiness, failure. These experiences are painful. They are meant to be felt, shared and lived. But though they may seem it at times, they are not forever.

Are you in a fallow time? Does your life resemble a big, muddy, empty, plowed-over mess of a field? This too is a time to be felt, shared and lived. It is also only a season. It had to come, but it won’t last forever. Life will appear. Hopeful and new.

Perhaps we need a new Noble Truth:

Life is Fallow

And that’s okay. In fact, it’s good.

Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall. – F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

 

SherlockHat

“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” – Sherlock Homes

The human mind, at least the modern human mind, seems to be hardwired with a desire for certainty. We’re uncomfortable with doubt. A + B should always equal C. If we do this, we should get that. There is an answer for everything. And that answer is logical. It’s comfortable. We want things to make sense.

Science teaches us that there is an order to the universe. There are laws of gravity and nature. What goes up must come down. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The sun rises and sets every day. Like clockwork.

From clocks to computers to cars to cameras the things we’ve built run according to predetermined patterns. Hit this keystroke, push this button, turn this wheel and we know what will happen. It happens every time.

Music has a rhythm. A time signature. An order.

There are rules for grammar.

And mathematics.

A + B = C

Every time.

And that’s a good thing isn’t it?

Because without order in our lives there would be chaos. If what went up sometimes came down, we couldn’t function. We couldn’t fly an airplane, build a skyscraper, or toss a baseball.

We couldn’t even toast a Pop-Tart.

This need for answers, and order and certainty extends to our spiritual life as well. We want a purpose for everything. And our need for a seemingly logical answer is so strong that we’ll listen to anything that promises to take away doubt.

Why did this happen? Because you sinned.
Why did that happen? The devil.
Original sin.
The world is imperfect.
You’ll be rewarded in Heaven.
Free will.

All attempts to provide order. And meaning. And certainty. A reason.

But what if the radical truth of Christianity is that there isn’t always a reason? Certainty? Meaning? Or Order?

And that’s okay.

In the third century A.D., Tertullian is paraphrased as saying credo quia absurdum. A Latin phrase meaning “I believe because it is absurd.”

Crucifixus est Dei Filius, non pudet, quia pudendum est;

et mortuus est Dei Filius, prorsus credibile est, quia ineptum est;

 et sepultus resurrexit, certum est, quia impossibile.

— (De Carne Christi V, 4)

“The Son of God was crucified: there is no shame, because it is shameful.

And the Son of God died: it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd.

And, buried, He rose again: it is certain, because impossible.”

It is certain, because impossible.

What if the foundational moment in Christian history, the death of Jesus on the cross, is the ultimate example of the impossible? God becomes human and God dies. We accept this now, but at the time this was a completely impossible concept. Gods were warriors. Gods were strong. Gods killed. They didn’t die. They certainly didn’t die in the most powerless and inhumane way.

Christ’s death is the ultimate example of, “Well that isn’t right.”

In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul said:

Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. – 1 Corinthians 1:22-23

The Jewish faith looked for signs and the Greeks relied on reason. Each sought an explanation. Each sought order.

Signs and wisdom are two ways that mankind has attempted to explain the unexplainable. But Christ crucified says there is no reason. There is no one to blame. There is no easy answer. But God is right there in the middle of it.

Do you ever wonder why bad things happen to good people? Are you single and want a partner but you can’t find one? Did the business you worked so hard to build fail? Have you lost a loved one? Do you have doubts?

Have you asked these questions? I have. And the answers I’ve been given no longer work for me.

What if faith isn’t about taking away doubt? What if it isn’t about providing us with all the answers?

What if the radical, transforming power of Christ’s death on the cross is a new reality where we acknowledge doubt, and pain and unknowing? Where we no longer see these as failures and weakness? What if Christ died to say we are human? There is suffering. There are events in our life for which there is no explanation. But even in the middle of those, we can find hope and healing and love.

So, today I’m leaving behind the need for an answer to every situation. I’m putting to death the guilt I’ve confused with doubt. I’m letting go of my need for control. And I’m looking for those opportunities to share love and experience God with those people all around me, every day.

Care to join me?

And to Sherlock Homes I say, “Sometimes the impossible is the truth.”

And the truth shall set you free.

Can I get an amen?

 

 

 

 

Whats-your-sign

I have a friend. She’s funny, wise and a bit strange. (All traits I look for in a friend.) She asked me the other day, “What is your sign?”

I know what you’re thinking. Is this 1975 at the Regal Beagle? …If you are under 40 years old, just ask your parents. They’ll get the reference.

As it turns out, I’m a Virgo. Virgos are intelligent, analytical introverts. They are serious, practical and loyal.

They can also be critical and stubborn.

And they overanalyze everything.

Over analysis leads to worry and worry leads to stress. And stress is the path to the dark side.

The dark side is our desire to control a situation.

Some situations demand that we are in control. Driving a car or operating heavy machinery for instance. But many (if not most situations) are simply out of our control.

Recently, I found myself in just such a situation. I was feeling very confused, and frankly alone. Hopeless was a word I used to describe it. To pretty much anyone that would listen. And believe me, I wanted somebody to listen.

Woe is me was my cry! See me suffer! Pity me. Encourage me! Hug me!

Are you not entertained?!

Surprisingly, most people were not. Sympathetic yes, but desiring to be around a whiny, mopey, sad sack of a Virgo, not at all.

There’s a story in the Bible of King David. King David has committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband killed. In the process, Bathsheba became pregnant. The Lord sent the prophet Nathan to show David his sin and the consequences were severe. David’s son, born of Bathsheba would die.

After Nathan makes his proclamation, the child becomes very ill. David prays to the Lord for the baby. David fasts and lays on the ground all night. His family tries to get him off the ground and to eat, but David refuses. This goes on for a week, and on the seventh day, the baby dies. David’s servants are afraid. David would not get eat or get up while the baby was suffering, what will he do when he hears of the child’s death?

When David sees the servants whispering, he knew what had happened. He asks, “Is the baby dead?”

“Yes,” they answer.

David does something completely unexpected.

He gets up, washes himself and changes clothes. And he eats.

And he worships God.

His servants are perplexed to say the least. “Why are you doing this,” they ask?

David said, “While the baby was still alive, I fasted, and I cried. I thought perhaps the Lord would let the baby live. But now that he is dead, I can’t bring him back. Someday I will go to him, but he can’t come back.”

At that point, David was completely out of control. He had done everything he could. He had given it his all. But when he was simply out of options, it was time to turn it over to God.

Which brings me back to the present. Not 1975, but the present.

I found myself in a situation that was completely out of my control. I had given it my all. And believe me, my all was something to see.

But was it enough?

That’s a painful lesson to learn. Sometimes, your best is not enough. The situation is simply out of your control.

So I did what Virgos do best. I overanalyzed. And I was pessimistic. And I worried. And I was stubborn.

But my funny, wise, strange friend said this, “Just relinquish. It’s out of your control. Focus on things you can control.”

Relinquish.

It’s out of your control.

Focus on things you can control.

So simple. So true. How did I not see it?

I was lost in a stubborn haze of over analysis and desire to be in control.

So, may you, my friends (especially my Virgo friends) get up. Wash yourselves off. Eat. And know that life is good and it’s meant to be lived. Here and now. May God work out my situation and may He work out yours.

balls

As an avid reader of this blog, you know that I enjoy a good analogy.

Or is it a metaphor? To be honest, I get them confused.

Now, if you work in an office or have ever been to an office, then you’ve likely come across a Newton’s Cradle. A Newton’s Cradle is a row of five metal balls, positioned to just touch one another and suspended from a frame by thin wires. When one of the balls are pulled back and released, the device is set in motion. The first ball comes into contact with the second, it stops and the fifth ball is propelled into the air. When this ball comes back down and strikes the fourth ball, the first ball then moves upward. Then the cycle repeats itself.

Perpetual motion.

For many of us, a perpetual motion device is the perfect analogy for the perfect life.

Everything in balance. Everything in order. Everything working as it should.

Balance

Order

Symmetry

Once plans are put into motion, they work perfectly.

Personal Life

Work Life

Spiritual Life

Everything humming along. Everything in balance. Everything is perfect.

Perpetual motion.

This, unfortunately, is where the analogy falls apart.

You see, a Newton’s Cradle isn’t a perpetual motion device at all. Outside forces have their effect. Friction and heat take their toll. Eventually, the balls stop.

Only in a vacuum can there be no friction.

How many of us operate in a world without friction? How many of us live in a vacuum?

Time

Sickness

Stress

Selfishness

Corruption

Loss

Hurtful words

Hurtful deeds

They all take their toll. Our perfect life comes crashing down around us. Life isn’t perfect.

Life is friction.

So while a Newton’s Cradle may be a wonderful analogy for a wonderful life, perfection isn’t realistic. The desire to be perfect can be, in fact, harmful.

Perhaps a better analogy for life is a guitar.

When a guitar is in a state of balance, calm, symmetry and order it isn’t making any music at all. It’s simply sitting there. Silent.

In order for a guitar to make music, stress must be added. Each string must be placed under a state of tension. And each one tuned to a different note. The proper note. Then friction is introduced. The strings are bent.

Tension.

Friction. 

Music.

Does your life seem far from perfect? Does it feel like there is a giant broken cog in the Swiss watch (another good analogy now that I think of it) that is your life?

There will always be pain. There will always be stress. Because it’s in the tension that music can be found.

Tension

Friction

Music

Life

May you find today, in the midst of the chaos that is your far from perfect life, that music is being made. And may you join with others to bring a song to the world.