Sunday, January 24, 2010

On a lighter note...

I carry a purse.

It looks like a backpack, but I came to the realization this week that I carry a man-purse....a murse. Seinfeld called it a "European man's carry-all." Joey Tribbiani (from Friends) called it his "man's bag." Some call it a 'satchel.'

But in all practicality, and humility, I realized I carried everything but the kitchen sink in it... books, journal, vitamins, a pair of gloves, Tylenol, band-aids, hand sanitizer, Rolaids, toothpicks, earplugs, gum, kleenex, iPod... and yes, even a pencil sharpener (for the pencils I use to underline in the books I read).

Anyway...just needed to confess that to the cyber world, and break out of the recent pattern of deep, heavy, thought-provoking blog entries.

Don't worry... I'm not far gone enough to make sure my clothes match the bag...although black probably goes with anything, right?

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Bryan knelt by my chair and prayed for me.

We were in South Africa, August 2008, ending a two-week 'discussion' of life, ministry, and mission. An image stuck out to me from his prayer, as he prayed for, and sensed that part of my near future was going to involve God lifting some of the 'fog' from my life. And while life has only seemed to get foggier since that prayer, I find myself intrigued by that imagery and continue my pursuit of direction and clarity.

Like a lot of natural, weather-related things, fog can be a neat, beautiful, mysterious phenomenon. I woke up the other morning and headed to my car for work. I quickly went back into the house to grab my camera when I saw the icy blanket coating trees and bushes, and even signs and fences. Fog had frozen in amazing and intricate crystals that frosted everything with a prickly photogenic layer.

I encountered the flip side of the 'fog coin' last night, making it home in some of the soupiest fog that I've seen in a while. It was difficult to see the road, let alone fellow travelers. It had everyone a bit nervous, and driving a bit slower.While mysterious and intriguing, it was dangerous. And regardless of how often any of us drove that stretch of highway, the lack of visibility made everyone reevaluate their normal driving habits.

The parallels to life are obvious, or at least they are in my mind, having locked on to this idea of fog for the last year and a half. The dual reality of  the fog illustration seems ready-made to describe this earthly journey: equal parts beauty and danger, mystery and path-blinding madness. And while the beauty and mystery are worthy of being captured with mental and physical snapshots (and the occasional blog), the blindness and danger of traveling the foggy road has me longing for clarity and the stability.

Enter Mother Teresa... as told by Brennan Manning in Ruthless Trust...

Encountering a volunteer at her "Home for the Dying" in Calcutta, India, Mother Teresa asked the man what she could do for him. He was there to try and figure out how he was going to spend the rest of earthly ministry life, so he asked her to pray for clarity.

She said firmly, " No, I will not do that." 
When he asked her why, she said,
" Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of."
When [he] commented that she always seemed to have the clarity he longed for, 
she laughed and said,
" I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. 
So I will pray that you trust God."

Manning continues...
"Craving clarity, we attempt to eliminate the risk of trusting God. Fear of the unknown path stretching ahead of us destroys child-like trust in the Father's active goodness and unrestricted love."

It seems easy to see the fog as a gift when you embrace it's beauty and mystery. It's when you're worried about keeping the car on the road, or anxious about unseen and imminent obstacles that you question both the 'gift' of fog and the Giver.

Maybe I've had a the wrong focus since Bryan's prayer. I've been a lot more frustrated by the fog than blessed by the beauty and value of this season. If the fog forces me to change my 'driving habits,' maybe it's not such a bad thing.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

2010: The Year of the Ragamuffin

It seems a ripe time to show some ambition and forward-thinking by publishing a list of goals and 'resolutions of grandeur' for the coming year. And while I did make said list (or at least started), it is not ready for public consumption. In fact, it might never see the light of my computer screen.

In keeping consistent with a theme of this blog entry, I'm pretty cynical about people sharing the depths of their hearts online, but most of the things on my goals list seem intrinsically tied to something more central and internal. So, I'll break with my norm, and share a little more vulnerable shot of the 'umbrella' issues(s) that motivate the smaller life goals for 2010.

I've been reading, and finished, The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. Ragamuffin isn't close to the top of the list of 'most-used words of the last decade.'  In fact, if it's outside your normal vocabulary, it basically means unpolished, ragged, and even dirty.  Manning's intent, in his book, is to give hope and life by illustrating that the heart of the Gospel message is not about coming to God with everything together, neatly wrapped and tied with a bow. The heart of that message is God's grace which is, in his words, "for the bedraggled, beat up and burnt-out."

Sidenote:I like to use a pencil and mini-ruler to neatly underline sentences and thoughts that catch me or that trip some trigger in my head and heart. There are several of those pencil lines in this book, thoughts waiting to be processed more deeply and weighed for their worth in possible life application. Rarely have I actually taken the time to go back and dig through the pencil lines. But I'm in a season where I think I need to dig a little deeper, and I'm mining some pretty significant and valuable stuff. Application still to come...

I'm feeling more 'ragamuffiney' of late. And by of late, I mean the last several years since the Pollyanna black-and-whiteness of my worldview has been buffed and sanded by 'real life.' Things were a lot simpler when I was young, and even in high school and college. I was surrounded by people who, generally, thought and believed what I did (or my parents did). Cliches held a little more weight then, and trite answers seemed to suffice.

That seems a long time ago. The current, and true, reality is more the unpolished, ragged and dirty nature coming through... in me, in others, and in our world. (It's probably a good thing for the blinders to be off, right?)

I think the biggest struggle of the last couple years for me has been joy. You know the word... it's the quality that we're supposed to exhibit as Christians (and especially pastors, right).

It's not happiness. No, that is an emotion tied to favorable circumstance. (How many times have I taught that in Sunday School, or heard it in a college class?)

Joy is the lightness of heart and mind that comes from being content and at peace in one's life and circumstances. And joy is truly and best seen when peace and freedom and life are exhibited in spite of hard circumstances.

For Christians, it's the assurance that God IS, and that everything He's said is true, and everything He's promised will come true. Joy comes when you truly rest or abide (or whatever other biblical John 15 synonym you want to throw in there) in those truths, evidenced by actually enJOYing life and living in the freedom that comes from believing that God has everything covered... as opposed to wrestling and struggling and striving to try to produce those 'everythings' in one's own strength.

Joy is the byproduct of the relief and LIFE-giving freedom that comes when God is allowed to do the heavy lifting.


It hasn't always been this way, but in more recent years, instead of exhibiting joy, my life and heart have been heavy. And instead of hope there has been cynicism and doubt. I'm not sure when that switch got flipped. I think, in retrospect, there are two realities: 1) that my personality and wiring flow to more melancholy and 2) that it has been more a gradually tightening of my grip on life instead of the releasing of things to God's care and sovereignty. In the dicey moments and intense times (and even the daily mundane things) I have tried to exhibit my strength and ability instead of exhibiting God's. And the white-knuckle grasp for control results in nothing but an ache and the disillusionment of realizing that I have little control.

And while I know the right answers, the 'love, joy, peace, patience, etc' fruit have seemed overshadowed by the fruits of pride, doubt, fear and cynicism.

Jon Foreman was interviewed recently, and weighed in on the heart of a cynic...

'A cynic is just someone with a broken heart. 
Things tear you apart, and the easiest response is to tear something else down."

In a world that's full of pain and brokenness, cynicism runs rampant. It seems an uphill battle to believe and live the joy-filled, fruitful lives that we were made for.

From Manning's Ragamuffin,
"In a world that is torn and tearing, it takes a touch of folly to believe that 'even when our choices are destructive and their consequences hurtful, God's love remains unwavering. Thus, regardless of our own insulation and defensiveness, God is constantly open and vulnerable to us.'"
-Manning, with an excerpt from Addiction and Grace by Gerald May

The Gospel is best understood from the perspective of the ragamuffin... a person who has no illusions of 'having it all together,' but who crawls humbly to the feet of the Savior and says, "I'm broken, I know it, and I need You to put me back together."

And, with the ragamuffin, it's not an issue of 'IF' you will fail, but 'WHEN' you fail, that you are able to find help and healing and forgiveness and the encouragement to get back in the fight and keep going.

So... here's to a 2010 full of-
  • more moments of embracing the ragamuffin in me/us
  • more joy than circumstance-dependent happiness
  • the 'folly' that results in hope in the One who is unwavering, lovingly benevolent, and ultimately trustworthy
  •  life that is truly LIFE
And where those things are true, I think everything else will fall into place. 

Or, in Jesus' words in Matthew 6,
"Don't worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, 
or your body, what you will wear... 
But seek first His Kingdom, and His righteousness, 
and all these things will be given to you as well."

 Happy 2010

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