shoeless

For as long as I can remember I’ve had one big problem. A deficiency you might say. A lack of ability in a critical area of life.

I can’t buy clothes that match.

In high school, I actually won (a term that I use loosely) a “mix and match” award for my ability to consistently pair stripes with polka dots in color combinations rarely seen.

Recognizing my problem, as an adult I began to wear solid colors and a great deal of black (which I maintain matches everything.) And then a few years later I arrived at, what I considered, the perfect solution. I would go to the mall and buy whatever the mannequins were wearing. Someone else (presumably with more fashion sense than myself) had already chosen the best shirt/pants combination. Overnight I became fashionable, wearing the latest styles in colors pleasing to the eye.

Problem solved.

Until recently, when I went to a department store not to be named (JCPenny) to pick out some casual, fall clothing. You know, something less dressy that work attire but more dressy than a T-shirt? And I found some great things. On sale even. But there was an issue.

The mannequins had no shoes.

Most of the time our decisions are simple aren’t they?
What movie to watch,
what to have for dinner,
what shoes to wear.

But often our decisions are big and they’re scary and they’re consequential.
Where to live,
what job to take,
who to marry.

We seek guidance from friends, family, trusted advisers, tea leaves, fortune cookies…and sometimes even God.

Just go to the Christian bookstore, or simply do a quick Google search. You’ll find terms like “5 steps” or “7 keys” to hearing God’s voice and learning His will.

Because we all want to know that the voice in our head telling us to move to Montana or purchase brown loafers is authentic and true.

We want things to have purpose. We need things to have meaning. Prayer, seeking Godly counsel, reading scripture (spoiler alert: these are 3 of the “7 keys”) these are all good things.

But sometimes I wonder, are we even asking the right questions?

Do we really want to know where to live, what to do, and who to be with? Or are we really asking, will this place fulfill me, will this job sustain me, will this person love me?

Fulfilled
Sustained
Loved

In his time on Earth, Jesus was asked many questions. One in particular came from a rich young ruler.

And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Most often this story is interpreted from the perspective that the rich young ruler was placing money above God. And that may very well be true. But what if Jesus had something even more radical in mind? What if He was challenging our entire worldview?

The questions the man asked to Jesus implied there was something he could do to gain eternal life. At an even more basic level, they assumed a cause and effect. Don’t we still view things that way?

If I do this, if I say this, if I go there, then that will happen.

What if the rich young ruler’s greatest sin wasn’t the love of money after all? What if it was his need for control? To control the outcome, to control life, to control God?

You see, his questions assumed that there was something he could do to gain eternal life. But for Jesus, the Kingdom of God wasn’t something to be gained in the future. It was something to be experienced. Right here, right now.

Jesus speaks of living water gushing up to eternal life. The water is a gift. Freely given. Like a mustard seed, starting small but becoming so much greater.

As He would later tell his disciples:

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

For Jesus, the answer wasn’t to act a certain way, say a certain thing, go somewhere or do something. It wasn’t about cause and effect at all. It was to simply let go…

…of our need for control.
…of our belief that we can earn it.
…of our expectation this always leads to that.

For by losing it, we will find it.

Fulfilled
Sustained
Loved

With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

Even if the mannequins have no shoes.

 

Baseball-Pitcher

“The hardest thing to do in baseball is to hit a round baseball with a round bat, squarely.” – Ted Williams

By the time a baseball player makes the major leagues, he has seen thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of pitches. From little league to high school, college to the minor leagues, a hitter has seen pitches of every shape and speed from every arm angle imaginable.

Fastballs
Sliders
Curves
Knuckleballs
Sinkers
Cutters
Split-fingers
Screwballs
Changeups
and even Spitballs

The distance from the mound to home plate is 60 feet, 6 inches. A fastball traveling 95 miles per hour takes four-tenths of a second to reach home plate. Which means, the hitter has approximately one-tenth of a second to decide if they are going to swing.

Clearly, Ted Williams is right. Hitting a baseball is not an easy thing to do. Even the best hitters fail to get a hit 7 out of 10 times that they try. To do it at all takes tremendous hand-eye coordination.

It also takes practice.

Lots of practice. Players learn the discipline of when to swing and (often more importantly) when not to swing by practicing over and over and over. In that tenth of a second, they can pick out the rotation of the ball and gauge the velocity and location.

Lots of practice.

Our spiritual lives are much the same aren’t they? If we wait until a crisis hits and a big decision is called for, and only then decide to open our Bible or begin to pray, we’re going to find it much more difficult. Spiritual growth is a disciple. We grow from each prayer, each Bible study, each discussion with a friend, each sermon we hear, book we read and video we watch.

Each time we listen to the God speak, we grow more and more able to recognize His voice. Each time we see Him at work in the world, we are better able to decipher the authentic miracle of His presence.

Some people call this “intuition.”

According to Rabbi Irwin Kula, “Intuition is the result of an accumulation of decisions. Intuition is really a culminating voice, one that speaks of thousands of previous decisions made consciously and unconsciously.”

In other words, hearing God speak takes lots of practice.

And while it takes practice, the one thing that isn’t required is certainty. Think about it. Nearly every hero of the Bible, when called by God to go, is reluctant. Moses, Abraham, Jonah, they all feel unworthy, they feel doubt, they all feel afraid.

God doesn’t call us to be certain. He calls us to act.

The mystical text the Zohar (not to be confused with the truly awful Adam Sandler movie) tells us that God says to every human being every day to “go forth.” Begin the journey that is yours to make.

To hit a baseball, you first have to swing.

Now, in baseball, among the variety of typical pitches that everyone prepares for, among the curves, sliders and fastballs, there is one pitch that a batter is likely never to see. Maybe once in a lifetime.

The eephus.

The eephus travels at around 50 miles per hour and has a huge trajectory peaking at over 20 feet. Even with twice the normal amount of time to swing, the batter is typically frozen in place. They’ve just never seen anything like it.

…Japanese TV is the best…

The invention of the pitch is attributed to Rip Sewell, a 20 game winning pitcher in 1943. Sewell gave up only one career home run with the eephus pitch. This occurred in the 1946 All-Star Game.

Ted Williams was the batter.

In order to hit a baseball, you first have to swing. In order to join God in redeeming the world, in bringing order out of chaos, we don’t have to be certain, we just have to be willing to try. We have to “go forth.”

Just remember that sometimes, life throws you a curve….and sometimes it throws you an eephus.

FS-everest

…attempting to climb Everest is an intrinsically irrational act – a triumph of desire over sensibility. Any person who would seriously consider it is by definition beyond the sway of reasoned argument. – Jon Krakauer from the book Into Thin Air

Twice a week at 6:00am my phone makes the most disturbing sound. With one eye open only the tiniest of fractions, I roll over and stab at a small area in the center of the phone. Mercifully, this puts an end to the infernal noise.

For nine minutes.

Repeat.

Repeat.

After exactly 27 minutes, I turn off the alarm. Then, not unlike some primordial beast emerging from its bog, slowly get out of bed. I put on a number of knee, shin and ankle braces, my athletic attire, grab a bottle of water and head to the local park where I meet my trainer to workout.

At this point, you’re rightly asking, “why would anybody put themselves through this torture?” Two reasons really. I’d like to be able to bend over and tie my shoes without losing my breath. Second, I’d like to lose 20 pounds.

Is that too much to ask?

For many of us, it does seem something akin to dreaming the impossible dream.

But twice a week, much like Don Quixote, I joust at the windmill that is weight loss.

Now, my trainer has a few things she says nearly every week. One is, “You’re going to hate this.”

She’s clairvoyant.

The second is, “You can do anything for 60 seconds.”

****

Recently, I agreed to be in a charity bachelor auction. Again you’re asking, “why would I do such a thing?” THAT is a question I asked myself many times in the weeks leading up to the event.

The answer? I wanted to get outside my comfort zone. To meet new people. To prove to myself that I could do it. I wanted to grow.

I wanted to go on an adventure.

Basically, the reason I agreed to auction myself off in front of a room full of inebriated women is the same reason I get up at 6:00am to do more burpees than seem humanly possible. It’s probably the same reason people attempt to climb the highest mountain on Earth.

We all have a desire to

grow

evolve

learn

question

hope

and believe that there is more out there than we’ve ever experienced before.

We can be better tomorrow than we were today.

For many people, however, this growing, learning and testing of limits has no place in their spiritual lives.

For them, all they need to know they really DID learn in Kindergarten.

God is good. The world is a broken place, but if we trust in Him, we’ll get to Heaven where everything will be good again.

And that’s really about it. Because to question bring all sorts of messy emotions into play, doesn’t it? What is heaven really like? Is God there? Or is He here? Who is “our neighbor?” Why do bad things happen to good people? Who is good? Who is God?

In some truly unfortunate situations, people have actually been taught that to question is to doubt and to doubt is to sin. (This is, of course, the path to the dark side.)

At all costs, trust, believe and preserve the status quo.

But this isn’t the way of the world is it?

The world changes. It evolves. Mistakes are made. Choices are forced upon us. People hurt us. Things we count on one day, we’re no longer certain of the next.

Life is messy. Why can’t our faith be?

The Bible is full of messy faith.

Jacob wrestled an Angel.

Moses needed proof.

Job questioned God.

Jonah was swallowed by a fish.

Peter nearly drowned trying to walk on water.

Jesus felt forsaken.

Are you questioning God? Are you wondering just why things happen the way they do? Are you searching for something more?

You’re in good company.

When my trainer says, “You can do anything for 60 seconds,” she doesn’t really mean that does she? I mean, I couldn’t climb up on my roof, jump off and fly. That “flight” would last all of 4 seconds. What she really means is, “I know this is tough. But don’t give up. It won’t last forever. When you are finished, you will be so proud of yourself.”

Isn’t that what life is about? Isn’t THAT the definition of faith? It isn’t believing in something no matter what. It’s trusting that there’s something bigger and better just around the corner.

So, may today be the day that you step out of your comfort zone to discover there is so much more. That life in all it’s messy glory really is an adventure. You really can do anything for 60 seconds. And God, who is so much bigger than we can possibly imagine, is right in the middle of it all.

FS-McConaughey

He said there’s no doubt about it
It was the myth of fingerprints

I’ve seen them all and man

They’re all the same

I’ve been thinking a lot about love lately. Maybe it’s because Valentine’s day was last month? Maybe it’s because I’ve agreed to sell myself in a bachelor auction this week? (More to come on this one.) Maybe it’s because I’ll be performing a wedding ceremony in April?

More likely, it’s because Matthew McConaughey just won an Academy Award for best actor in a motion picture.

And somehow it wasn’t for
The Wedding Planner
How To Lose a Guy In 10 Days
Failure To Launch
Fool’s Gold
or Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

If there’s a man that knows how to make a romantic comedy it’s probably…Hugh Grant. But, Matthew McConaughey is definitely a close second.

So I was thinking, why is it that we love romantic comedies so much? I believe it’s because they are really modern day fairytales. And fairytales, unlike fingerprints (sorry Paul Simon), really are all the same.

From Cinderella to Romeo & Juliet to The Wedding Date, the story is the same. Boy meets girl. An undeniable chemistry binds them together. An event happens (usually either and evil outside force or a tragic misunderstanding) that breaks them apart. Then they are reunited to resume their love. And finally….

They live happily ever after.

Recently, I heard someone pine for the elusive fairytale. My first thought was that this girl has seen Love Actually too many times. But she’s not alone is she? It’s what most of us are looking for.

But what part of the fairytale do we really want? We can say that we want the happily ever after. Is that true? Or if we’re honest, do we want the undeniable chemistry? We just want it to last forever.

Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works.

Timeline

You see, the entire movie Pretty Woman exists in only a tiny portion of the Fairytale Timeline. And while those initial feelings are intense, it’s only a hint at the true love we’ll later discover. The happily ever after.

Ask yourself this question. If love were only or even mainly about that squishy, pit in your stomach kind of feeling, why would Jesus have commanded us to love our neighbor?

Love at it’s best is the love that one chooses to show. Even when one doesn’t feel at all like showing it at all.

That’s what happily ever after means isn’t it? You wake up and you choose to love. You wake up the next day and you choose to love. You wake up the next day and you choose to love again.

Love isn’t something you put to the test.

Love isn’t something you can’t control.

Ever after love is a choice you make.

*****

Back to the wedding planning.

Since I’ll have a captive audience, I’ll probably share something like this:

I believe love, like life, is holistic. It’s about that pit in your stomach as well as the ever after choices. It’s in her smile and it’s when he takes out the trash without complaining.

Sometimes people are brought into our lives. For some, these are divine events. For others, it’s fate or good fortune. For myself, I believe all experiences of love are actually interactions with the divine. We experience God through the very act of love itself. Relationships therefore take on a spiritual nature.

When we are truly lucky, we meet someone that makes our life better. They make us want to be better people. In fact, they equip us to do so. Often, simply by showing us through their eyes, our true potential. They see us not just as we are, but who we can become.

When this happens, when we find a person like this, we want that person in our lives as much as possible. We crave their touch, the sound of their voice, their smile. Just being around them makes our lives better.

That pit in your stomach? Could it actually be the presence of God?

When we connect to another in love, we are actually connecting to a divine power and it’s overwhelming.

And then slowly, over time, we realize the truer, deeper, eternal, ever after love as the person we love chooses to show us love back.

Isn’t this the fairytale we should be seeking? The opportunity to love, and be loved and to experience God every day with our beloved?

Or as Matthew McConaughey once said, “Life is a series of commas, not periods.”

…it’s okay. He doesn’t know what that means either.

FS-America

I’ve had the feeling lately that Freedom Sandwich has been a teeny bit (okay, a whole lot) too heavy. So, just a fun post today. Possibly the most controversial though. Hopefully, it will spur some comments. I’m thinking I’m forgetting somebody and certain you’ll disagree with some of these, but here goes!

1. Rick Blaine

Humphrey Bogart’s character from the classic Casablanca. A man with a checkered past who always fights on the side of the underdog, but as he points out is “always well paid for it.” He gives up the love of his life to help save the world, drinks and smokes constantly all the while looking extremely cool. This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

2. Ethan Edwards

The character played by John Wayne in the Searchers. Really, we could have picked almost any John Wayne role here. This one, however, is likely his best. Relentless might best describe Ethan Edwards. Bent on revenge but won over in the end by love of family.

3. Philip Marlowe

THE hard boiled detective. He may break the rules, but he lives by a moral code. In any situation, no matter the danger, he’s ready with a quip. He always gets his man and usually gets the girl too.

4. Bruce Wayne

He’s Batman for goodness sakes. Cool car. Cool gadgets. Keen intellect. And more money than many small countries. While possessing no superpowers, he still manages to be the coolest superhero of all time.

5. Harry Callahan

Go ahead punk. Make his day. But remember that a man’s got to know his limitations. More one liners than any cop in movie history, Dirty Harry has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Pick up a .44 Magnum handgun and try not to think of this character. Go ahead.

6. Indiana Jones

Assuming you can put the fourth movie out of your mind, Indiana Jones is the classic American adventurer. With bullwhip in hand, he saves the world from the Nazis (on more than one occasion.) Somehow, he even manages to make archeology seem cool.

7. Captain America

His name is “Captain America.” What more do you need to know?

8. John Henry

Some say there was an actual John Henry, but that’s a subject of great debate. So, for our purposes, John Henry is the classic American folk hero. Swinging a sledgehammer, he outworked a steam-drill, only to die afterwards. Is man greater than machine? John Henry thought so.

9. Bugs Bunny

In fairness, a rabbit might not qualify as a citizen of the United States. However, he was seen to be living in Hollywood in several of his short films. Plus, he almost always “should have taken a left turn at Albuquerque” and seems to have a Brooklyn accent, so I’m fairly certain he’s an American. If you know any classical music, there’s a good chance you learned it from a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

10. Jefferson Smith

Unfailingly honest (if not somewhat naive) Mr. Smith goes to Washington to fight for a boy’s camp and runs headlong into political corruption. The quintessential Frank Carpra character, Mr. Smith may be attacked, but in the end he retains his honor, his optimism and his belief in the goodness of America.

panningforgold

A few weeks ago I watched the mini-series Klondike on the Discovery Channel. It tells a fictionalized story of the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896-1899. The Klondike Gold Rush took place in an extremely remote part of the Yukon Territory in western Canada. The winters there were bitterly cold.

You know that face you make when you’re outside in the cold and you squint your eyes, scrunch up your nose and try to tighten up into a ball while you walk? It was that kind of cold.

Only worse.

The main character also served as narrator for the series and at one point said “Winter does its best to kill us.”

Winter does its best to kill us.

It’s true isn’t it? As humans we try hard to avoid this fate. We heat our homes and buy heavy jackets from companies with adventurous names like The Northface or Patagonia.

It’s important to stay warm as we run out for a Venti Mocha Latte from the nearest Starbucks.

Have you heard the expression, “we survived the Winter?” No one speaks of surviving the Spring, do they?

But Winter we survive.

In nature though, in the wild, in places like 19th Century Yukon, Winter really can kill. And when you think about it, that’s the natural order to things. Things are born. They grow. Then they die. When they die, they help new things grow.

We call this fertilizer.

I have a maple tree in my front yard. Right now it’s February and to look at it, that tree is dead. But come this Spring, it will sprout leaves. And the leaves will grow until the tree is a beautiful shade of green again. Then little seeds, at first also green, will turn brown, dry up and fall to the ground spinning like helicopters along the way. The seeds that were once living, will die. They’ll break down in the soil. And soon, new little maple trees will be growing all over my yard.

There is a rhythm to life. A cycle. Birth, life, death and then new life begins again.

Sometimes, things have to die in order for other things to live.

For Christians, this is personified by Jesus. In the book of John, Jesus compares himself to a shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep so “that they may have life and that they might have it more abundantly.”

For Jesus, death wasn’t the end to the story.

It was the beginning.

But this isn’t just a story about life yet to come. Birth, life, death, and new life. It’s a story for now. Because sometimes what has to die isn’t a life.

It’s a thought
A deed
An image
A belief

Take the disciples. For years they traveled with Jesus. They heard his teachings. They saw his miracles. If anybody should have understood his mission, it was them. But when Jesus said he was going to Jerusalem to die, they tried to stop him. Why?

Because they didn’t understand. The disciples (like most other Jews of the day) had a belief in a different kind of savior. A powerful savior. A military leader to overthrow the oppressive Roman invaders. That leader couldn’t die on a cross. They wouldn’t let him.

For the disciples, their image of Jesus as a conquering hero had to die before before a more abundant image could take it’s place.

On their spiritual journey, some people go through a time referred to as a “dark night of the soul.” It’s a time of questioning and doubt. A time where God seems silent. Your faith is tested as you feel very alone, distinctly apart from God.

It’s a great deal like a cold winter night.

I recently went through such a time. I couldn’t pray. Not at all. I’d try. I’d get down on my knees but nothing would happen. Silence.

My winter lasted over a year.

As I grappled with the situation, my first thought was that perhaps I was angry at God? Or maybe the reason I couldn’t pray was because I simply had no use for him? He wasn’t answering my prayers, so what good was He? Only after a lot of study, discussion and reading did I see the answer.

I had replaced God with an idol.

There was something I wanted more than anything else in the world. Something I thought would make all the other things right. Something that would fill a void in my life. If I could only have that one thing, then nothing else would matter.

That’s what had to die.

Not so much the idol, something I thought would fill a void. I had to let go of the very belief that there was a void to begin with.

That’s pretty heady stuff, I know.

But think about it. If you get that promotion, you’ll look forward to the next one. If you make that million dollars, you’ll decide you need two. If you finally find that relationship, you’ll realize that all that baggage you’d been carrying around,  you’ve brought it with you.

Relationships, money, a career. They’re all good things. And worthy to strive for. But if you think those things will “fix” you, then you’ve been mining for fools gold all along.

What do you need to let die in your life so that other things may live?

Is there something that you need to let go of? Something that you think will fill an emptiness? Money? A career? A relationship?

Could it even be a belief? Has your image of God replaced God himself? If so, then like the disciples, you need to let it go.

Because in truth, there is no void. There’s just life. It’s a life more abundant than you can possibly imagine. And it’s all around you.

Winter does its best to kill us. But after every Winter comes a Spring.

****

Many of these ideas are influenced by or borrowed from the Peter Rollins book The Idolatry of God. Check it out.

God Stuff

Groundhog Day

FS-groundhog

Well friends, it’s the first of February, and you know what that means…turn on your TV at any moment of the day, look hard enough, and you’ll find the movie Groundhog Day. Actually, you shouldn’t have to look hard. It’s on every channel from Animal Planet to ESPN 8.

I’m sure you remember it. Self-centered weatherman Phil Connors (played by Bill Murray) goes to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover the Groundhog Day festivities. After a snowstorm strands him there an extra night, Phil wakes up to realize he is living the same day, over and over again. Each morning he wakes up to I’ve Got You Babe by Sonny and Cher (a unique torture in itself) playing on his alarm clock. Each day he relives the same events, meets the same people and has the same conversations. After his initial confusion, he begins to deal with his situation in different ways.

We get to experience each day with him. We can say to ourselves, “I’d definitely have done that” or “Oh my goodness, I can’t believe he did that!” We can identify with his character.

We’re in on the joke.

At first he takes advantage of his situation. He robs an armored car, eats as much junk food as he wants, and seduces a woman by pretending to have gone to her high school.

Who hasn’t longed to live life as if there were no consequences?

After the novelty wears off, he becomes depressed. At one point, he asks two men at a bar, “What would you do if you were stuck in one place and everything was the same and nothing that you did mattered?”

Who hasn’t felt as if  they were going through the motions? That each day was an endless string of monotony? My job isn’t fulfilling? My relationship is going nowhere? What am I doing of consequence?

Eventually he tries to end his life in a number of morbidly funny ways culminating in kidnapping the groundhog, going on a high-speed chase through town and driving off a cliff.

And then he wakes up. To Sonny and Cher. Again.

Accepting his fate, he decides to do good deeds. He plans his day around mishaps throughout town. He catches a child falling from a tree, changes a flat tire and performs the heimlich maneuver. He even tries to save a homeless man from dying by buying him a warm meal. In this situation however, he learns that sometimes no matter how hard we try, our best efforts fail. He learns he can’t save everyone.

Who are you trying to save?

Look, I won’t spoil the end of the movie, but suffice it to say, throughout his ordeal of living the day over and over again, he grows. No longer the shallow man from the first of the movie, no longer going through the motions, he learns to be aware of others around him. He becomes truly empathetic.

And while all of this is clever, and we are able to see ourselves in Phil’s shoes, recognizing all sorts of different situations and experiences during the course of his transformation, I think maybe we miss a really important point. Throughout the entire movie, we are tempted to ask ourselves, “What would I do if I were trapped in Groundhog Day? How would I handle the situation? What would I do differently?” Maybe there is a more interesting question?

What if I am already living in Groundhog Day?

What if, instead of seeing life through Phil’s eyes, we saw life through the eyes of the townspeople?

What if we aren’t in on the joke?

Is there a Phil in your life? Someone who’s living life as if there are no consequences? Who’s going through the motions? Seeking fulfillment? Doing good deeds?

Who’s trying to save you?

Regardless the reason you choose to believe, be it a break in the time-space continuum or God stepping in, there are people in our life that matter. And they may be dealing with things we can’t understand. And we may be playing a part in a scene much greater than we realize.

As one of the men at the bar says to Phil, “Some men would look at this glass and say it’s half empty. Other men would say it’s half full.”

Are we already living in Groundhog Day, just not in on the joke?

It’s a matter of perspective.

atheism

In a recent interview with Marie Claire, Katy Perry announced. “I’m not a Christian.”

Millions of Christians collectively said, “Whew!”

Actually, most Christians over 40 years old probably said, “Who?”

More accurately, Miss Perry said “I don’t believe in an old man sitting on a throne,” and “I’m not a Buddhist, I’m not a Hindu, I’m not a Christian, but I still feel like I have a deep connection with God. I pray all the time.”

She believes in a higher power, but clearly doesn’t see the need for organized religion.

****

Just before Christmas a Facebook friend of mine wrote that while Imagine by John Lennon wasn’t typically considered a Christmas song, it was really meaningful to him and basically encapsulated the spirit of the season.

Imagine by John Lennon.

A song extolling the virtues of a world with no Heaven or religion seemed to my friend to be the perfect song to commemorate the birth of God’s son.

Let that sink in for a minute.

What does it mean that a song about a world with no religion seems entirely appropriate for celebrating the birth of Jesus?

Religious people (myself included) have done a really terrible job promoting religion.

It’s true. An absolutely terrible job.

Somewhere along the way, well intentioned Christians read the Bible and decided that other people needed to be saved from eternal damnation. Apparently, the best way to keep people for an overly warm, sulfuric future was to point out all the things they were doing wrong. And there’s a long list of sinners.

Including, but not limited to:
fornicators
idolaters
adulterers
homosexuals
sodomites
thieves
covetous
drunkards
revilers
extortioners
And that’s just from two verses. Yikes!

So, Christians have spent a great deal of time discussing, what is a sin, what isn’t a sin, how to be forgiven for sin, who can’t be forgiven, and where you’ll go if you do sin.

All of this sin talk has lead to a group of people (including many of my friends) that consider themselves “spiritual but not religious.”

****

One of my favorite new songs is On The Mend by a group called The Milk Carton Kids.

I could say that for a moment it all made perfect sense
No unholy posture, nothing heaven-sent
Hold the hand that leads you, there’s no god here to believe
What matters moves around us in the air we breathe

Sounds like the Milk Carton Kids, my Facebook friend and Katy Perry all agree. Religion? No thanks. God? Don’t need him. Heaven? I’ll take what I’ve got right here.

I wonder though, if Christians haven’t been taking the wrong approach? Sharing the wrong things? So much time has been spent discussing what is a sin and what isn’t a sin. Perhaps that isn’t even the main point?

I can’t imagine that the best way to show someone you love them is by telling them what a rotten sinner they are.

It would certainly make for some strange holiday greeting cards.

Maybe a better approach is the way Jesus did it. How did he deal with “sinners?”

He had dinner with them
He talked to them beside a well
He asked them to follow Him
He stooped down beside them and asked for those without sin to cast the first stone
He forgave them
He healed them
He showed them love and respect.

Pretty much the only people that Jesus seemed to condemn were hypocritical religious leaders. Many of his discussions with them started, “Woe unto you…” and trust me, that never ends well.

So, for 2014 my resolution is to spend a lot less time worried about how people choose to live and a lot more time sharing life with them. Sharing hope with them. Showing them kindness and grace. That’s what Jesus did. That’s what Heaven is like.

That’s what I choose to imagine.

*****

God, what matters does move around us in the air we breathe. It’s the people we come into contact with each moment of each day. It’s the person right in front us. Right now, in this moment, may we be a model of love and of peace and of You. Amen.

God Stuff

All

christmas-lights

 

I occurred to me recently that I wasn’t really filled with the “Christmas Spirit” and that something had to be done about that. The obvious solution, of course, was to purchase $30 worth of Christmas lights and decorate my living room. That would do the trick.

Oddly, it sort of did.

At any rate, my house is more festive.

Not content to settle for just the lights, I decided to overanalyze the situation. “What is the Christmas Spirit,” I asked? (cliche alert) What is the reason for the season?

Christ.

I love the sunday school answer. Concise, clear and one with which you can’t argue.

According to the book of Luke (or Linus from the Charlie Brown Christmas Special) at the very first Christmas there were shepherds, visited by an angel.

And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

So, the birth of Jesus was “good news.” But what is the good news?

Pause for more online Bible research.

Early in His ministry, Jesus defined “Good News” by quoting from the prophet Isaiah.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

That’s not good news. It’s great news. …if you’re in captivity, blind or oppressed.

Yes, Jesus came to bring hope to the poor and marginalized. But what about the rest of us?

Could it be that we are all held captive by something? All blind to situations in our lives? Do we all need liberation?

What in your life is holding you down? Stressing you? Telling you that you aren’t good enough? What is it that you need to let go of right now?

Right now.

Now.

Jesus came with a word of good news to the woman at the well, the tax collector, the blind man, the rich, the poor, the sick, the lonely, his friends and even those that hated him.

That word was “all.”

You aren’t alone.

The beauty of Christmas isn’t just that Jesus brings “good news of great joy,” but that He brings it to “all of the people.”

All. Everyone. Each one of us.

We’ve all been liberated.

As the Apostle Paul explained, in Christ we are all one.

Jew/Gentile
Slave/Free
Male/Female

And couldn’t we just as easily add:

Rich/Poor
Black/White
Republican/Democrat
Sinner/Saint
Christian/Non-Christian
Your friends/that annoying person driving the SUV in the Target parking lot

You see, the good news that Jesus came to proclaim is just as radical today as it was 2,000 years ago. It’s so hard to accept that we have to reminded of it once a year at Christmas. The Christmas Spirit asks that you love your neighbor, even when you don’t want to, even when they don’t seem to deserve it, even when it’s difficult.

Because we’re all in this together.

When we show love and compassion to all of those around us, we become the Christmas Spirit.

And it doesn’t take $30 worth of Christmas lights to do it.

God Stuff

Get The Sprouts

FS-get_the_sprouts

Sometimes I have ideas for a blog post a long time before I figure out a title for said posting.

This isn’t one of those times.

This time, I had a perfectly good title all picked out: “Sometimes You Don’t Get A Second Chance.” Of course, the problem with that title is that it sounds morbidly depressing. To avoid questions about my mental state, by now you’ve discovered that I arrived at the much more hopeful sounding “Get The Sprouts.”

I find it’s best to start at the start though, and the start of this story involves a much younger, incredibly shy, incredibly awkward 13 year old version of myself. This version of myself, much like any other 13 year old male was rendered doubly shy and triply awkward around members of the opposite sex. This condition was, of course, amplified when the member of the opposite sex in question was one that I was particularly attracted too. You get the idea. Perhaps you can even relate?

One evening near sunset I found myself at a party in a somewhat secluded area of a park. I was sitting on a small wooden bridge with a girl to which I was particularly attracted. Summoning up not a small bit of courage (I’m sure) for a 13 year old girl, she said “you know I really like you?”

This was clearly a pivotal moment in a young man’s life. Alone, with a girl, who I’m quite attracted to, in a park, moonlight fast approaching. To borrow a line from Casablanca “this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Or at least an awkward first kiss. It was a moment begging for a perfect reply, a devilish grin, or a longing gaze.

Instead, I said “really?”

That’s it. Nothing more. Just awkward silence.

My memory is a little hazy on which (or perhaps both) of us ran away in embarrassment.

I’d like to tell you that young love found a way and days later when given another chance, I found that perfect response. But that’s not the way life works.

Sometimes you don’t get a second chance.

Years later this situation pretty much repeated itself. To avoid complete humiliation, I’ll spare the details. Suffice to say it involved a couch, a (different) girl, sharing a blanket, watching a movie and the girl throughout the movie turning toward me with a look intended to say “why don’t you kiss me stupid?” And me returning a look intended to say “because I’m a shy, awkward idiot!”

This situation ended about as you’d expect.

Sometimes you don’t get a second chance again.

We’ve all been presented with times in our lives when, moments after it was over, we said “that was a huge opportunity and I blew it.”  The sad truth is, yes you did. You blew it.

The question is, why?

If you’re like me, it’s hesitation. Failure to take a chance. In truth, fear.

Fear I’ll:
Say something stupid.
Embarrass myself.
Be rejected.

These moments missed, never involve:
Putting myself out there.
Taking a leap of faith.
Trying something new.

Which brings me to current day me. (One far more confident and significantly less awkward.) While visiting friends in North Carolina recently, I happened into a small brewery in Durham. It was located in an old brick warehouse in maybe not the nicest part of town. (Truthfully, it could be the nicest part of Durham for all I know, as it’s the only part of Durham I’ve been to. I’m sure it’s a lovely city.) It was Saturday night just before Halloween and the place was packed. Some people in costume, most not. People talking, people laughing, people drinking. Full of good beer and cheer, my friends and I stepped outside in the chilly October air to try our luck with one of the food trucks parked on an adjoining street.

After choosing a truck called “American Meltdown: Gourmet Melts,” I was just walking up to the window to order when I heard a girl sitting on a nearby picnic table say, “get the sprouts.”

Get the sprouts.

“Do you like sprouts,” she asked? “No,” I replied. “Then you have to try these. When are you ever going to be somewhere and have sprouts that you like,” she asked?

So, I said to the man at the window, “Let’s do an order of brussels sprouts with that patty melt.”

The girl walked off across the street and I never had a chance to thank her for the two important lessons I learned that night.

One is that fried brussels sprouts are amazing.

Two is that when you’re in a strange city, at a brewery, with a food truck outside and cute and somewhat odd girl says, “get the sprouts,” you get the sprouts.

This is normally the time in this blog when I tie the whole lesson together with something spiritual. I would love to find the perfect Bible verse and say “see how sprouts are a metaphor for __________” (You fill in the blank.) But I’m learning that just as life doesn’t always give you a second chance, it also doesn’t wrap each lesson up in a neat bow.

This time, when opportunity knocked, I was ready. Will I say yes the next time? I hope so. But I’m wondering, what if rather than waiting around for that next big opportunity, what if we chose to see every moment as an opportunity? What if instead of asking where is God in a particular circumstance? What if, as we learn to see each moment, the good, the bad, the mundane and the sublime as a moment of intrinsic value simply because every moment is an opportunity to interact with the divine, how much more valuable would each person, place or thing become? And then just maybe, we’d necessarily grow more courageous?

At any rate, do yourself a favor and get the sprouts.