When Family Ties Don’t Necessarily Bind

To say I’ve been a little lost since I last spoke to you wouldn’t be an understatement. Perhaps it’s been less depression this time around, and more of an uninspired lost-ness as it relates to the practice of writing something that someone who aspires to be a writer is actually compelled to write, and of course something that has the potential to lift up those who read it. This of course is the plague that all would be writers’ experience, and there are probably more books on attempting to get rid of “writer’s block” than perhaps the craft of writing itself. In addition, every writer knows that no matter how you overcome it, the real daily task is to sit down and just simply write—something I am still struggling to break through in a much more consistent fashion. But now on to the task at hand.

 

I’ve had it in my heart to write a little something about family for some time now, yet for some reason I have avoided it much like a man purposely evades doctor appointments. I guess it’s because I know, and so do you, that though the word family can evoke some of the greatest emotions and happy thoughts, it is also the cause of some of the most gut wrenching pain that this life can dish out—and sometimes mercilessly so.

 

Now I understand that for some of the lucky few, mostly the happy thoughts I spoke of, as wells as concepts of things like “home” and “warmth” and “peace” and “tranquility” are the feelings that come to mind; and for good reason. For instance, if you have been privileged as my wife and I have to actually put a lot of thought and focus into building a family like that as a result of our own childhoods’ lack of familial bliss, even if you’ve been successful at nothing more, these are sensations that should be hopefully normative. Having said that however, I also realize that we’ve had our share of failures in that purposeful endeavor, and that if we live long enough; both history, our own sanctification process, and perhaps our own children are bound to let us know where we too have erred.

 

Others however know nothing of this experience of which I speak from their own background as a child, and as a result, the sins of the fathers and mothers procreates on through them in such a predictable fashion that Hollywood makes billions of dollars each year showcasing its sadness for our viewing pleasure. Abysmal dysfunctionality is the norm, and one would have to channel surf until the cows came home to find it’s corrective opposite. And so ultimately people find themselves on one of two sides of the equation; or perhaps like me, they find themselves somewhere a shot or two shy of the middle. The miracle of it all is that in spite of my own dysfunctional familial background, through God’s grace, I have been privileged to have a very wise and patient God give me some insight on how to “undo” some of the curse of families like my own from Cain onward, and alongside a loving wife with the same vision for saying “no” to the worlds terrible example of how to do so. It’s also the same emphatic “no” to many “family worshipers” who put family above all else with the accompanying guilt-mongering and “my kid is an honor student and yours isn’t” that goes with it; and to the exclusion of the loving compulsion Christ bids us to embark on for others outside of our families, which sadly also includes most Christians. And it is also a final “no” the incessant deification of the self that causes both rich and poor mothers and fathers alike to take a back seat on child rearing all together, and who gladly surrender them to educational institutions, social media and Tinseltown, who have been more than happy to take up the task for them. The results in my humble opinion rival sins equivalent to the holocaust, in that resultantly, we are slowly killing them in ways some of them don’t even uncover until much later in life. The body bags for now are slightly hidden or perhaps tucked away in prison cells, failed marriages and Xanax bottles, but they could fill up a Normandy-like battlefield in no time flat.

 

Jesus and the apostles of course had some things to say about family, mostly none of which we actually remember I’m guessing by what’s blowing in the wind these days. They mentioned things like the particulars of the sexes and roles within that make up an actual family, and the fact that “putting it asunder” was not in the original design despite our whimsical wishes, and how we are to train our little rug-rats in the way they should go–all the while not exasperating them in the process. And of course they said a whole lot about that thing called graceful love being permeated throughout and thus characteristic of those families that the world I’m afraid is still waiting in an endless line to see.

 

Yet we are also taught another side to family from the scriptures that we also forget that should be good news for those somewhere in the middle or on the lower spectrum of experiencing what this kind of family can be like. In fact, on one particular day Peter himself said these words to the Master. He said:

See, we have left our homes and followed you.” And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:28-30)

As I read that passage, and as I have studied others and read countless books about the concept of family as it relates to the Christian’s task in it, I realized that there is often a time on the narrow path where one is called upon to sometimes “leave” family and friends to answer this call to a higher love. Though many Christian parents understand this conceptually, most recoil at the prospect once they are faced with letting one go to in fact embark upon it. Jesus’s promise however is that by following Him we also take up another family (the universal-organic church) that will give us more brothers and sisters and Moms and Dads than we can shake a stick at (a blog for another time). This is of course is really good news to those who accept the call, but equally good news to those of us who never knew what family was like until we step into God’s much bigger, much more loving and inclusive family. In fact I can remember time and time again reminding my sons that no matter what the world would dish out during the day, that once they stepped into the threshold of our home, it was to be a place of sanctuary and peace, and where absolutely everyone belongs. There were of course times when the devil would attempt to have his day, but we all became trained exorcists with stock piles of holy water, who each knew exactly when it was time to cast the demon out of our loving, yet imperfect home–and we did so expeditiously.

 

The scriptures as a whole also teach us that when our biological families and friends become more of a curse than a blessing, or who become cancer-like in their toxicity to our own families that we that we are now trying to raise, despite the admonition to still honor them rightly defined, there are times when those ties must be somewhat loosened, and thus given less prominence in comparison to our own call on the narrow path, and to which many times are in stark competition with one another. Something about “leaving” and “cleaving” also come to mind. Nonetheless, this however is a “tough row to hoe” when it happens; as the demons of guilt, manipulation, sibling rivalry, family money and power, and self-projected allegiances are asserted as nothing shy of how God himself would have it. The painful betwixt and between many times are enough to become a “no win” scenario that requires a partial divorce of sorts that pours time-release salt into an almost endless wound. And as I’ve been know to say time and time again, “there’s nothing like frickin family”, and often times they are the ones who run the damn salt factory!

 

This reminds me of the admonition from the apostle Paul on how to live Christianly in our relationships in the tail end of Romans chapter 12 where he writes,

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all”. (Romans 12:18)

In my own experience with family relationships, I have found that most specifically here, many times the possibility of peace becomes an impossibility for those who simply will not allow the peace of Christ to pour on the healing oil and let go of the gripping hold they have on various family members, and their hold of choice is not sticks and stones regrettably, but the venomous words that indeed always hurt us. This scripture tells me that we must let go and forgive, but this does not always mean our bestowal of peace will be reciprocated, especially if it comes with a heavy dose of speaking the truth in love towards those who’ve been used to their job as a Geppetto-like puppet master over our lives. But our Lord has not mixed words here. He will have no other Gods before Him, and unbeknownst to some, this includes the ties that were initially designed to bind. And the truth is, sometimes God is all we’ve got while we wait for our families to take up the task of peacemaking with us, confession is made, and the relinquishing once and for all of their power-wielding sword is finally put in it’s sheath–but we mustn’t hold our breath. However, we must realize that even as we wait, the one who holds your hand will always most definitely be enough, and He is a good, good Father.

 

Selah

Crosses and Resurrections: A Juxtaposition of How Christians Ought To Live

The Narrow Path

I’ve thought a lot about the cross and the resurrection lately—two very distinct but cataclysmic events that also have their mystical place in the outworkings of our very real and daily lives. My contemplations have not been because Easter and its emotive reminders of both events are a few short months away; nor is it because we’ll celebrate the birth of our Lord lying in a manger in just a matter of weeks. Instead, I’ve actually deliberated about it primarily because my experience has been that living in either extreme somehow has not served me quite well–nor has it served others of which I’ve had the opportunity to walk down the path of life with thus far. Let me briefly explain.

First of all, living a cruciform life has been somewhat easier for me than most. That is of course not to say that I know it better than many…

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The Sad Man Behind Blue Eyes

It was the early spring of 1969, and the shot heard around our microcosm of the world caused the Prince family’s life to abruptly happen while we were clearly making other plans. We stood frozen and painfully awake to its unwelcome attention. And within a camera flash, our family photograph was minus one, and the sad man was left to pick up the pieces with no idea of how to put his family back together again. Friend and familial speculations and conspiracy theories were forthcoming, and yet a wise and solemn few simply wept, listened and poised for the gap they would now need to fill in the aftermath. My older brother of 12 and sister of 10 were robbed at gunpoint forever of a Mother’s love, and this child of almost 5 would never know what hit him until the later discovery of a void the size of Texas. I guess you could say that for us, this was the day our music died–somewhere between The Yellow Submarine and Abbey Road.

 

Many months’ later there were mixed emotions at some unwelcome wedding bells in the air, and the young bride that joined the sad man in holy matrimony had no idea what “I do” would cost her in the way of mostly sickness rather than health–with death’s parting to be postponed until much further notice. And with three orphans and a beautiful baby boy on the way, they would now embark on new beginnings, and thus the abrupt pause hit play for the Prince family once again. Then one day it happened, and the sad man would surrender and give his life to the one who had promised beauty for his ashes, and strength where fear once took up residence and stayed for far too long. And thus he would put his hand in the hand of the man from Galilee, and they would walk together for the rest of his days–even through the valleys and the shadows of a certain kind of death. And he was indeed the sad man behind beautiful, loving blue eyes.

 

His life started in 1937, right before the final curtain was pulled on the great depression. He was the baby of a family of four children, with two sisters and a brother to guide him along the way. After all, his Papa was a rolling stone who often forgot to make their house his permanent home. And Mom, well…she just kind of rolled with the punches, and there were more than a few of those so I’m told. His Dad and he would later reunite in a common salvation that restored some years that the devil had stolen from them, but the sad man admitted that he never really knew his Father. He wanted to though. Man, he wanted to so very, very much. And so the dreams of his Father’s vacancy and the family that never truly was filled his lifetime of mostly sleepless nights.

 

The sad man made a startling discovery sometime during my turbulent teens however. It was a new medicine that helped with an imbalance that many were sure defined his sadness to the core. And they were of course partly right. The progress that he made was nothing short of miraculous I was told, and it showed in his life in almost every way. He became a wonderful Christian man who would give the shirt off of his back to any lost soul, as well as someone who was a wonderful teacher and indeed a fisher of men that would shame most of us. Through all my years, I remember his faithful attendance and leadership at men’s prayer breakfasts, prison ministry, and his constant work in the church; and witnessed firsthand the growing reputation that the sad man had in our community for being someone that I truly believe was a man after God’s own heart. But like all men with that gift, he had his demons too; and at times they were Legion. And yet it was through those episodes manifested before me that I witnessed equally a brokenness and humility that had to make Jesus awfully proud. I just don’t know that he ever really believed it.

 

During my time as a prodigal son, while his demons were at bay, the sad man did everything he could to have a relationship with me, and to somehow not repeat the sins of his Father. He also tried desperately to connect with me about what was going on inside this troubled head of mine, but the generation gap was a class that he had just missed. And though sadly, in many ways the die on our relationship was already cast, I remember his continual pursuit of a son whom he thought might not make it to see his 18th birthday. He even made time for family devotions, even when he probably knew I’d rather cough up a spleen than to join in! I also witnessed many, many times, finding him on his knees in tears, pouring over the scriptures with his pocket protector pen kit not far beside. And I knew that on that day when he first saw the light of Christ, that part of his burden did roll away; and admittedly, though in the strangest of ways, he infected me with a heart after God that is also unquenchable, yet with my own demons of various shapes and sizes lurking in a dark corner nearby.

 

My reference to my Father as the sad man, is simply because he was just that for most of his life, and not even his beautiful and contagious smile could hide it from those who knew him best. Though modern medicine, a good counselor and Jesus Christ came in and gave him a new lease on life, the malevolent quasi-deities that lurk in the fallen world’s undercurrent of devastating tsunami’s, dysfunctional families, tragedies that strike unannounced, and repetitive sins of absentee or simply passive Fathers, are deep in the human psyche and make their time-release impressions until we give up the ghost. This of course is not to negate the work that Christ does in a life fully committed to the pursuit of the abundant life he promises, but to simply state that for those who struggle with real depression, theirs is a sometimes endless battle of peaks and valleys, with not much else in between.

 

I can remember many times before his death, as he continued to have periodic overnight visits to the hospital for new tests and new adjustments in supposed elixir that would finally get him back on track, that I felt as if something was still amiss. And as I watched, I continually encountered the sad man behind blue eyes still searching for a good nights sleep, or one day that he could wake up to say that he was truly happy. I could feel him slipping. I knew it when one day I asked him why didn’t he read his Bible and pray much anymore, and I remember him telling me that he didn’t feel worthy to do so. I was taken aback to learn this from a man who all but had a bible as a protruding appendage from his side, nor far from his eyes or spoken from the lips of his mouth for as long as I could remember. And then, the medicine that would ultimately give the supposed initial cure so many years before, now became part of his undoing, which took a man who never drank or smoked to an untimely death at the age of 73.

 

It will be seven years this December since my beautiful Christian father passed away. His last days came in the wake of my own economic tsunami of 2008, when I too wrestled for a smile to cast some shadow to others on what was really going on inside. I felt like he always had something he wanted to say to us during that time, but I think he was in a hurry to go and just leave it all behind and perhaps just get a good nights sleep for a change, and to finally rest in the arms of his Savior and Lord. Jesus of course I believe has now wiped away his tears, taken away his pain, and I’m pretty sure his joy and his smile is now the talk of the heavenly city. And to be sure, his mansion will of course be much bigger than mine ever will. This is of course what he longed for after all, and I think the more we walk with Jesus on the narrow path, however shakily along the way, the longing to fill the eternal void is still always a preoccupation in our souls.  But, while he was here, he was indeed the sad man behind blues eyes, and I guess you could say that I am my Father’s son.

 

Watch over us Dad, because we could use a little help down here. Tell Jesus I said Hello and to save the other hand for me please.

 

 

P.S. Happy Father’s Day!

 

 

Selah

 

 

 

Trump vs. EveryFrickingBody: Our New Mascot for “Sticking It To The Man”!

To be honest, I really didn’t have much I wanted to say today, but then I really did. Nonetheless, I cautioned myself on not doing so. And now here I am doing so and have thus thrown caution to the wind. However, the reason for the betwixt and between is because I mostly focus on writing about spiritual things like how we’re missing the mark in that endeavor, my own struggle with the outworking of it in my own life, the Jesus missing in America, and thus the shape all of the cracked up people like you and I are in. After all, those meanderings can keep a man occupied with a lot to say; at least in my case, and I hope to continue to do so for anyone who actually cares to continue watching me get naked with verbal transparency for your amusement and hopeful catharsis. However, over the last couple of days, as I have watched both the shock value of the enigma that is Donald J. Trump, and the visceral attack of both the left and the right lining up to gut him like a fish in the public square, it has evoked a lot of thoughts and emotions within me that I can’t hold back any longer.

Some of those thoughts are in wondering why in the Hell I ended up reluctantly voting for this bloke in the midnight hour of the election as I wrote about in a previous blog (The Light in Christendom is But a Flicker Now: Part 1 and 2). Other thoughts focus around perhaps still being bloody well glad that I did, and yet more so about the eruptive emotions deep inside that cause me to almost get to the point where I might even want a Trump bumper sticker and one of those damn hats too! In fact, I’m almost to the point that if the election were held tomorrow, I might actually vote for that crazy genitalia-grabbing commander and chief again–and even volunteer to be his campaign groupie! In fact, I’m pretty sure that the more everyone hates him; it just makes me want love this guy even more. And then I ask myself, why is that? Why is it that so many love to hate this man, and so many others of us, though unsure as to exactly why, love him all the way to heaven and back? Why has he caused this “shock and awe”? And why is it that both the left and the right go to bed at night with orgasmic dreams about his eventual undoing, and who are even willing to forgo the cigarette afterwards?

Well of course by now, some 5 months into his dark horse Presidency, most of us have already theorized as to why. We’ve read no shortage of blogs and articles from our favorite spin doctors, and maybe even a book or two. Others have chosen to strictly force feed ourselves with the steady stream of media overload piping into our phones, computers and TV screens from our favorite left or right leaning news outlets, and have formulated our opinions there. And though I realize we all think we know a little something about it, my contention is that most of us really don’t know “diddly squat”– which of course is a big part of the problem.   But I do think that one thing we should all perhaps agree on by now is that part of “The Trump Factor” is due to (as we’ve heard about relentlessly now) the fact that a large population of America has been forgotten about, laughed at, put down and compartmentalized into a now popular category of “deplorables” resigned to classroom Dunce cap status, with nothing to say that the teacher or the elitist class cares to listen to. And yet the amazing thing is, now all of us who have gotten sick and tired of the way the world has been heading from what they say is our own particular shade of grey glasses, we now have a new mascot: And his name is Donald J. Trump.

And so now, on any given day, as we reminisce about days gone by when we wanted to tell our boss to “take this job and shove it”, or when we wanted to ask questions in that dumb and severely boring company meeting as to why we still do it “this way” and refrained because we didn’t want to upset the applecart or lose our job, we now have a new hero and villain all in one who has come to save the day. And though some might think he’s a fool to do our dirty work, he has nonetheless volunteered to do the job for free.  And so, Donald J. Trump is none other than our “altar ego, who “sticks it to the man” for us when we really can’t afford to. He’s Buddy Love who lives out everything Professor Clump wishes he could do, say and look like. He’s Jerry “Freakin” McGuire who writes his life mission (or a tweet) and sends it out without a thought or repercussion. He’s the imprisoned Andy Dufrane who locks the doors, turns the music up as loud as he can and kicks back in his chair like a boss. He’s the big brother that goes out and kicks the school bullies ass and dares him to ever mess with us again. Or if you will, he’s our John Wick, and he’s pissed off about us killing his dog and stealing his car, and thus; he “is” our Bogeyman n Chief!

And so when people ask me how I could vote for such a man, or why when folks on the left and right both disdain him with vitriolic fervor that knows no bounds, the more I actually like him and want to say, “Thank you sir, can I have another”, I now know why. And the more jokers to the left and jokers to the right say “he’s done”, the more I want to lift him up.  And the more I want my altar ego to wipe the floor with the whole lot of them bitches, and perhaps “drain a swamp” or two while he’s at it. And part of the reason that I feel this way is because of the postmodern conspiracy theorists that run amuck in the American political system and in the culture of which we are apart. Every Tom, Dick and Harriett has an opinion that should be heard regardless of whether it’s true or not, and rather than argue through the vehicle of reason, logic and skillful debate we deconstruct everything into oblivion and instead “lawyer up” or launch ad hominem attacks. Instead, if we can’t win, we just won’t play at all, or perhaps we’ll just burn the damn playhouse down!

Now enter, Donald Trump. Everyone is so sure that he’s the Anti-Christ, or Hitler, or Mephistopheles perhaps; and on and on it goes. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Absent from the discussion is that instead of those things, it’s plausible that he’s actually crazy like a fox, and quite frankly refuses to play the same games we’ve all been playing–win or lose, sink or swim. In fact, if they say po-ta-toe, he says po-ta-to. If they say up, he’s says down. If they say you can’t do that, he says, “Why the Hell not”? And as we sip our non-fat latte’s, eat organic food, and claim to be “in the know” about almost everything, yet we are appalled at steaks eaten well done with ketchup, or disgusted with the lack of etiquette of a tweeter n chief, or someone who quite frankly my dear couldn’t give a good damn what any of us think! And perhaps that is exactly what the Dr. ordered in order to cure our disease that is wasting us away.

And the elitists on both sides hear Trump scraping his nails down the chalkboard on any given day, and the sound is starting to deafen them in more ways than one. And while everyone is fighting and protesting against someone who neither gains or loses sleep regardless, we are oblivious to the fact that our land, our children, our institutions and our world is about to fall off into the freaking sea with California! And on any given day, many might think our toleration of Trump is somewhere between the Scylla and the Charybdis, but never ponder the thought that our big brother might actually be the good guy who’s in town for a short while to stop the bleeding of an American experiment that almost no one who’s truly looking recognizes anymore. A quick history of leadership should awaken us to the fact that one would have to be a narcissist to actually want the job in the first place, and that if we are going to measure our particular brand of character as the sole arbiter of who is fit or not to hold the office, we might ought to look back into our very checkered Presidential history with a keen eye. And for those of us with the dunce cap hat on, and who’ve been drowned in political correctness enough to upchuck a political party, we have grown just deplorable enough to roll the dice in favor of someone who actually wants to do what he’s promised, even though his medicine may taste like milk of magnesia at first; rather than placing our bet again with those who simply want another vote just so they can get reelected and leave their “so-called” legacy. Pardon me, while I vomit and have diarrhea at the same time if you please!

Oh I get that our world now prefers truth as an opinion poll; and like buttholes, everybody’s got one and all but theirs stink real good. But have we now become so sure that our particular community of victims is right about whatever freak flag we’re flying that particular week, that we can no longer see anything that looks like truth even it walked up and slapped us upside the head! Can we not see that the British are coming? Can we not see the smoke on the horizon? Do we not believe that perhaps Chicken Little is right, and the damn sky is actually falling in some form or fashion? Can we not be still and quiet enough to listen or to ponder, or to truly think? Can we not read and search and question to find some beacon of truth? Can we not study the past or look into the future; or better yet; to see our own relativistic dust blowing in the wind?

In my previous blog that I mentioned earlier in my post, I declared that perhaps Trump is nothing more than a speed bump to curtail, but for a moment, the prophetic outworking of the writing that for most of us dunce cap alumni has long been written on the American wall. I’m smart enough to know that he probably won’t be able to save us from oblivion, even though I get a sneaky suspicion we should probably give him a college try. After all, it can’t hurt to roll the dice one more time while we still have a few chips on the table. Of course the truth is, no one who owns the information we gullibly digest each day is bound to let that happen I’m afraid. Meanwhile, if only for a moment however, it sure is nice “Sticking It To the Man”!

Selah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keep Your Soul Diligently

A Refresher

I guess you could say the focus of our time today is really a Part II of what I wrote last week https://marknealprince.com/2017/05/26/remember-so-you-dont-forget-part-i/. In fact, in that excerpt, I mentioned the exact words of our title taken from the mouth of Moses himself. I also mentioned that it is both simple and complex in the doing of what it suggests. One thing is for sure though; it is a recurrent theme throughout the book of Deuteronomy and the canon of scripture, and also something that we would do well to ponder long and hard over–as it is the stuff of life itself. And of course just as I say this, in chapter 30 of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses then says these words just to throw a little fly in the ointment where he writes,

 

[11] “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. [12] It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ [13] Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ [14] But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. (Deuteronomy 30:11-14 ESV)

 

And then again in verses 19 and 20 he tells us in essence what I have taken now two blogs to try and say and hold out for our serious contemplation,

 

[19] I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, [20] loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” (Deuteronomy 30:19.20 ESV)

 

Simple and Complex

 

So it is here that I think we can see both the simple and complex tied up in knots together. It is simple because of course as Christians, we know that we simply have to open up ourselves to the divine takeover of our lives and can rest in the fact that His righteousness and not ours is what gets us over the hump. God then, unlike our teachers, grades us on the curve. Whew! It is also at least at face value simple because the Lord himself has said through Moses that it is not far off in the heavens or as far as the eye can see over the ocean like we sometimes make it, but in fact it is near us, if we keep it diligently, in our hearts, and that we can actually do it. OK, done right? Well not so fast. Because the complex part is of course the very contemplation of the divine itself, and better yet, the part I have been yapping about incessantly: that keeping your soul diligently is backbreaking work!

 

So God says we can do it, and that it’s near us. And if we have been remembering all the things he said so we don’t forget, it should be like, “Open Sesame” right? And in all fairness, he tells us ways to do this with things such as the need to:

 

  • Get rid of Idols in our life
  • Keep God’s commandments
  • Raise our children in the fear of the Lord
  • Stand up for Justice
  • Be openhanded and non-condescending to the poor and needy all around us
  • Love God with all our heart, soul and mind
  • Not live in fear
  • Trust in God’s power to save and to heal
  • Have a humble heart and attributing everything we have to God
  • Not being deceived and ensnared by the myriad of false God’s all around us
  • Consider all the things the Lord has done for us in the past when we are wrestling with problems in the present

 

So there it is. We just do that and we’re good to go–or maybe not. So now let’s focus the rest of our time on the “brass tacks” here. After all, I guess now you see it, the complex is well…really complex isn’t it? Oh, we know we need Jesus to help us do all this stuff, and we’ve got a couple of million sermons in our memory banks somewhere that tell us so with three main points on how to do it before Monday! But the fact is that in one sense, the more we make this task simplistic, the more we actually make it complex. And the more we make it utterly complex, not only do we exclude a lot of people, but also we neglect the simple in our own behalf to boot. And yet the truth is, that these things the Lord has laid out for us are indeed near us and not far off, and as the Lord has said, they are doable. In fact, the apostle Peter reminds us that,

 

 

[3] His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, [4] by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Peter 1:3,4 ESV)

 

It’s Doable, But…

 

So yea, we know that God is not lying here; it is doable, and there are a few saints in the history of the church to attest to that. But I think there is perhaps one thing we are missing which I hinted at last week but want to focus for a little bit more on today: Do you and I live and believe as if God himself is our life, and not the myriad of other things vying for God’s attention? Now I know in one sense that sounds a bit preachy, which is not my intention. What I want it to sound like is simply what it says, that God “is” actually our life! Just let that marinate for a second.

 

You see you and I, and understandably so, go about our lives thinking that it’s just the things we can see, feel and touch that are the bee’s knees in our lives. After all, we live in a materialistic, naturalistic universe that on the average day we believe is really all there is, to the negation of the spiritual realm that is actually even more real, but that we need a special compass to see with. Then for those of us who are barely taking a stab at this Christian thing, primarily because we’ve been told our whole life by Grandma that we should; we then pick up a Bible or a Christian book every now and again, or stumble in a place we call church on occasion, and this jolts us into some reality that this God sidebar is perhaps plausible. It is then very short-lived and easily forgotten; until perhaps we run into grandma again, or that weird Christian friend that walks around with that cheese-eating grin on their face all the time that says they are praying for you, and we think about it some more. We then shuck it off because we don’t want cheese like that on our face quite frankly because we know life is not that simple and “Easy, peaezy, Japanesy” (Shawshank), and the cycle continues every now and again, particularly as life hands lemons with no lemonade; or as old age is setting in with the reality of our finiteness to boot; or when someone we love dies; or when on any given day life just really sucks for whatever reason. Rinse and repeat.

 

Then there are the so called enlightened ones. They are those of us who claim we’re doing the deal man, hopefully without the cheese-eating grin I might add. Oh yeah, we are doing all the stuff God has told us to do, or at least trying really hard. We go to church most of the time, put the check in the plate, read the bible, pray, read all the Christians books, eat fried chicken on Sunday and check off the list. And yet, if we’re honest, like most of the aforementioned grandma Christians, we get an extra shot of lemons too, some people we love also dies, we start to age and no longer turn heads, and life starts to kind of suck on any given day, and guess what: we rinse and repeat too. And everyone is asking, and looking, and trying to find out if the real Christian will just please stand up so they can simply do what you do.

 

A Testimony

 

I went through the cycle myself. Some considered me a great preacher, a compassionate man, a “man of God” if you will, and someone that would perhaps do great things for God in the world of the church. But unlike the expectations that abounded in that anticipation from those who watched closely, they would soon be abated by a man that did not, and still has not in a large part found his sole answer in the four walls of a place we call church–nor among those who claim they have. Part of that reason was and is due to the institution itself, and part had to do with the man (me) himself. For I too, after striving and working so hard to keep my soul diligently; perhaps like you, realized that I too easily forget, am easily enamored by predictable fools gold, and continually allow other idols of the world and my own making to distract and ensnare me from the divine life that is promised. Perhaps the preacher man still has to do a little walking too.

 

And the longer I walk, I realize, that to keep one’s soul diligently, it requires paying close attention to one’s life; I mean really close attention. It also requires discipline of thought and action. It requires serious contemplation; reading the bible and great books; and prayer; and loving the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls and minds. And again the truth is, He asks for everything, because, well… He is everything. For from his dust you were formed, and from his dust you shall return. But after all, perhaps keeping one’s soul diligently means simply that the life that we think we currently have, are still striving for, or that we believe is constantly missing is not the crux of the answer to our problem after all–but rather that finding a way to make Him our life instead really is. And perhaps the conventional ways we thought would get us there are not getting us very close at all. Somehow, I think falling in love has to be the answer. After all, it always is.

 

Selah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remember, So You Don’t Forget: Part I

I can remember several years back re-stumbling across the book of Deuteronomy and having a eureka moment if you will.   Like the rest of the Bible, I had read it over and over throughout my pilgrimage as a reincarnated son of the wilderness yahoo’s called the Israelites. Nonetheless, as often happens as a wayward son of God, we miss the forest for the trees about every other Monday—and I’m being nice here. But as I stumbled across this powerful book and read and prayed through it with the desperateness of a dog in search of a good bone, there it was like salivary delight for Pavlov’s dog. What began to formulate in my mind and made itself front and center of my time spent here was a recurring theme that sounds more like a contradiction than anything to ponder, especially if you’re an English major. The very words “Remember, so you don’t forget” were so naturally flowing from Moses sermonic tone throughout, so much so that I wrote it down in the introductory page of my Bible, and from there I made the time to let it grip me for a period, and to which now…you guessed it, I had now forgotten. I’m definitely an Israelite.

 

As I read through this book of sermons to the people of Israel from a man preparing for his own exit stage left, the constant catchphrase from Moses lips to the people is to “remember not to forget”. And the particular thrust for me comes in chapter 4 and verse 9 where Moses writes,

 

“Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life”

 

Now rather than go into some ever evasive perfect meaning for what “soul” means, I think it’s safe to say that our soul includes “who we are” as a person. It starts from the head and goes to the toes. It comprises what keeps us up at night, drives us during the day and causes us to smile at laughing babies that we can’t get enough of. It has to do with what we do with our time, what we think about and who and what we choose to listen to. It is the real you: naked, warts and all. And so to keep one’s soul diligently, means to live our lives purposefully and intentionally.

 

Now as Americans we get that, even though most of us don’t do it. We’ve been sold purposeful living from parents, teachers, Sunday prophets and self-improvement gurus like the surety of death and taxes. We know it’s important physically, spiritually, mentally, psychologically, etc., etc., etc., but we still don’t do it; some of us think we can’t do it; and this world for goodness sakes makes it difficult as Hell to do it. We’re waiting on the next big break, and the Israelites were waiting on manna soufflé and water from a rock, but it’s the same ole song and dance. We are all just trying to make it the best we can while Darwin’s fittest run right past us. And as a result, we complain, we bitch and moan, we ask “why”, and reach for some kind of past slavery in our own previous or future Egypt that we think will fix it. We think a change in geography, a better diet, a bigger bank account, a new hairdo, a sexier mate, a bigger job and some chocolates under our pillow and some Grey Poupon if you please might just do it. But of course you know it doesn’t. That’s for another blog. The point is, regardless of our circumstances, we pretty much do everything except…you guessed it again, “Keep our soul diligently”, and I’ve finally found the reason why, but not just yet.

 

First of all, Moses proceeds to remind the people so they won’t forget things like:

 

  • Remember you were a slave in Egypt (5:15)
  • Remember what God did to Pharaoh and all of Egypt (7:18)
  • Remember the way God has led you in the wilderness, to humble you, to test you and to know what was in your heart as to whether you would obey Him or not (8:2)
  • Remember God is the one who gives you the power to get wealth (8:18)
  • Remember what God hates (9:7)
  • Remember you were a slave and the Lord redeemed you (15:15)
  • Remember where you came from (16:3)
  • Remember you were a slave and be careful to observe the statues (24:18)
  • Remember the olden days, study the generations, ask your Mom and Dad and your elders (32:7)

 

And these are just a few. See any repetition here? If I could sum these warnings to remember into conversational Mark Prince street language it would be something like this:

 

  • Remember where you came from girlfriend, you ain’t all that!
  • God is an awesome God and will kick your butt, because He’s God and you’re not! (repeat as many times as necessary for it to sink in)
  • God wants to know how your heart really beats more than anything, and what makes you tick.
  • Don’t get cocky thinking you’re all that and a bag of chips, God is the one who ultimately determines whether or not to entrust you with wealth and can just as easily take it away in a New York Minute!
  • Remember God saved you; you didn’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps contrary to popular demand. (That’s not Obamaspeak, that’s Godspeak, so please note the difference)
  • Do what God says!
  • Listen to the wisdom of Godly parents, Godly people and learn from generational stupidity and wisdom please.

 

 

And the purpose of this blog today is not to go into a detailed list of what Deuteronomy teaches, but really to emphasize one very important thing: We are forgetful to a bloody fault! Which is why Moses is telling us to keep our soul (that is who we are in every facet) diligently! And let me just go ahead and tell you that I lead the pack in “not” doing this OK. One who set out to be some kind of spiritual director or guide on the path of following Jesus has over and over again forgotten what he already knows to be true, but because of all the giants in the land; and fear; and depression (which comes from…you guessed it, the devil); and shiny rings and what they represent (Gollum); and hot chicks; and rock n roll; and triple cheeseburgers from Wendy’s; and great cigars; and good bourbon and Pecan “freakin” Pie for goodness sakes–I get sidetracked and I forget. And so do you. You dig? Oh yeah, sure God made us to love all of these things and our heavenly Father also knows we got to pay the dang rent, but here is that answer I said I finally found smack dab in chapter 8 of Deuteronomy and echoed again in Matthews gospel. Drum roll please.  Moses writes in chapter 8:2 the following,

 

“And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. [3] And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD”.

 

Can I just say, “badabingbadaboom”? And can I get a witness up in here? And in case you were wondering if the Old Testament and New Testament were some polar opposites, we now turn our eyes to Matthew 6:33, where contextually the gospel writer has been talking about how the heavenly father knows what we need…but he says this,

 

[33] “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you”

 

You see the problem with you and I is that we are so focused on our surroundings, circumstances and very stark realties (what we see in the natural realm), but we have forgotten that we are children of the God of the Universe who has chosen to invite us to know Him, and He’s really big, and much bigger than all that stuff that is weighing us down like a fatboy suit. Or perhaps, and this is the really big one, perhaps those of us who still call ourselves Christians, or perhaps nominally and loosely so, don’t really believe that He is that big at all. Moment of silence please.

 

You see this is the chink in the armor at least for me, perhaps it is for you as well. You see I know where the water is and I drink properly from it regularly, but my problem is that I actually drench myself with the worlds’ realties and sidebar philosophies for nowhere men often more so, and before long I don’t hear so well God’s voice anymore, and I forget, and the next thing you know I am beaten down for awhile. And you want to know the real reason I am and you are: It is because the Preacher doesn’t really believe anymore! You see that’s how the slope gets slippery, it is a process over time where attendance to the soul is put on the backburner, or on autopilot (that does not exist), or simply “forgotten’ and left untried altogether (Chesterton).

 

So follow my logic here. Does it not make sense that if you and I believe that we come from God ultimately and first and foremost, and that we are made from his dust, that our very sustenance and survival, and not secondary things like water, food, clothing, sex and more stuff is what our souls need the most of (Does Jesus temptation in the wilderness, being the second Adam, have any relevance here? Hint, Hint) I mean it makes sense right? Well that’s because if you are a Christian, it is the gosh dern, honest to goodness truth! But you see the real question is whether yet we still believe God is ultimate and everything else is secondary, or if we’ve succumbed to the opposing belief that the natural world is really all there is and whoever dies with the most stuff wins this shindig! A good case in point methinks. Because I assure you, if we did truly believe in God as ultimate, a lot of things would change; drastically so. In fact, my wife just told me so this morningJ. But the real catch is: in order to keep one’s soul, it takes a lot of backbreaking work; and you can take that joker to the bank. Or shall we say it’s simple and complex. But the simple part is a decision to believe again in the God who knows us, knows what’s down the road, and who is the one bread that we should not live without. And it is he who is asking us to remember, so we don’t forget!

 

Selah

 

 

Chris Cornell and A Few Thoughts on Depression

It’s been a few weeks since I wrote last, primarily due to being caught up in the rat race of living, perhaps a little writers’ block, and keeping myself comfortably numb to what’s all around me—something I’m not typically very good at. Having said that, my growing battle has been that it seems as if an awful lot of the culture of which I am apart seems to be really skillful at it; and methinks contrary to primrose prophets, this is to an abysmal fault! Perchance also this is a point of comradery I have recently found between Chris Cornell and myself besides both being born in 1964, as he wrote and crooned melodically about things that I hope never cease to break my own heart.

 

By the time Soundgarden debuted in 1984, I was coming back from Los Angeles right before the Olympics after a brief hiatus in 1982 to the Western shores from my South Carolina home. “Down at the Sunset Grill” by Don Henley was playing as I walked down the Sunset Strip where for the first time “we can watch the working girls go by” and “watch the basket people walk around and mumble” were given true flesh and bone meaning in the city of Angels. I can remember feeling for the first time that I was not in Kansas, or Sumter anymore for that matter, and that besides my own dysfunctional upbringing of which I was in constant escape from, the world became a much scarier place for me. After a 1 ½ year stint there and feeling even more lost and alone, I packed up my bags and moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky to hang out with the guys and girls, girls, girls in and around Western Kentucky University, all the while finding a new smokescreen life behind the bar of a famous hotspot in that town–yet with still no particular place to go and with no answers to life’s questions in near sight.

 

Having said that, and given my age, I had pretty much bypassed the grunge era of modern music that was coming upon us during that time. Partly this was because though Chris’s same age, I had my teenage rebellion of which Soundgarden was it’s Priest in the years of the age of 13 to 18. That’s not to say that I didn’t listen to this new wave of music with the likes of Soundgarden, Nirvana, Alice in Chains and others, but I had grown up on the rock n roll of the 70’s and early 80’s with the likes of AC/DC, Van Halen, Boston and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. So in essence, by the time they came out, I was trying to find my adult voice and move forward from a life of teenage angst and stints in reform school in my early years, while some who had played it cool during my “stick it to the man” days were starting to find their rebellion in their early 20’s instead. The only miracle for me is that I survived it all. And though I was still dazed and confused about everything for some more years to come, I had figured out a way at least to stay out of trouble with the “Po, Po” (Madea), and in some loose sense, was striving for how I could rise above the story I had made for myself in a small and seemingly unforgiveable town up until that point. This was pretty much the reason I bolted for California, or Kentucky, or anywhere I could possibly go in order to forget about my seemingly hopeless and directionless life for a while.   And as you might have guessed, I quickly found out a change in geography doesn’t have much to do with filling the inner void that one tries to fill with almost everything except what one needs the most: a steady dose of communion with the creator and hopefully some of his people who actually give a damn. Though admittedly, chasing after both of these for someone who is inclined towards depression can be like chasing a girl who is purposefully playing hard to get.

 

Nonetheless, in the late 80’s and early 90’s, as I slung drinks at the speed of sound to other life escapees, I continually was both drawn “to” and repelled “by” the grunge music that was now center stage. This was simply because as I was struggling with my own quest for answers to life’s questions and the cosmic battle between good and evil that was raging inside of me.  And of course in these songs, their dark and melancholy anthems both reminded me of days gone by and of course my own loneliness–but it also began to show me that it’s nihilism could not ultimately lead anywhere but inside the bottom of a bottle, an empty pill dispenser or at the receiving end of a .45 to the head! In fact, at the time, one of my drug dealer friends played that scenario out all too close to home. With that cataclysmic event, and another close call with the law and a wife and two kids already in tow, these were the final speed bumps I needed to get me searching for the wisdom of Jesus and Augustine instead of the cultural reactionary’s and prophets of Chris Cornell and Kurt Cobain, whose deaths now sounds an all too eerie alarm to us all. An alarm that like the fictitious world of Facebook and the American Dream (nightmare), remind us that all that glitters is not necessarily gold, and perhaps those we admire and respect for a variety of reasons, without any real truth serum to inject us with, are leading us to nothing more than the realm of being proverbial nowhere men. Please listen.

 

So as I said, I was not a huge fan of the grunge scene at that time, though as I made my peace with the creator at the age of 27, I began to understand and even like their sound very much. I was was also particularly attuned to what they were saying and feeling, while most of the churches I was apart of could not see past their blasphemy and potential menace to society’s young. The Jesus Christ Pose video was what they thought was their case in point https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14r7y6rM6zA.  In fact, it wasn’t until several years back that I began to notice Chris Cornell again as I watched a movie I cannot recommend highly enough called Machine Gun Preacher starring Gerard Butler, and of which the theme song was written and performed by perhaps the Godfather of alternative music himself. The story is about a man both very much like and also unlike me in many ways, who lived on the rough side of the track, and who after a dramatic series of events with where his outlaw life was taking him, had an encounter with Christ that would change the trajectory of his life in ways he never imagined. Though his style was unconventional and unpopular, his remedy to the pain and suffering of the children of East Africa with no home and no voice was to fight fire with fire and an army of reciprocal machine guns. The song Chris wrote for the film was called The Keeper, pretty much giving words to Sam Childers life, but in it I believe he was subtly exposing us to his own wrestling with the pain and suffering of the world and his wish to be a part of its solution where he writes,

 

“Beauty and truth collide

Where love meets genocide

Where laughter meets fear

Confusion all around

And as I try to feed these mouths

That have never known singing”

 

And then like the character he is describing, I thought I heard his own heart break when he wrote,

 

“I cannot see the light

At the end of the tunnel tonight

My eyes are weary”

 

I live back and forth on any given day in the acute understanding and experience of those words myself, and those lyrics, depicting the character in the movie, I believe also described Chris’s struggle that many of us have. A melee of trying to make sense in a world where the tunnel seems to be getting darker, even as we try to put up our own feeble lampposts along the way for some poor lost traveler (including ourselves) to see with.

 

As I was in a googling frenzy yesterday to try and find some answers from a man who supposedly just converted to Orthodoxy just a few years prior through the influence of his Greek wife, I wondered had that faith taken hold, and to what extent. I knew he was searching, though previously his search unfortunately had led to nothing more than a Postmodern quest that only ends up trying to “nail Jell-O to a wall” (which I also empathize with) instead of really coming down on some kind of truth that has the substance to get us up in the morning and even in the darkness compels us to not be weary in doing good. Yet I also thought, that even if his new Orthodox faith was compelling for him, his suicide blows a hole in this concept that primarily Evangelical Christianity has sold to the gullible masses: that somehow faith in Christ and entrance into this church solves everything, as if somehow the fallen world we are taught about has magically ceased to be fallen in the aftermath of our conversion. The truth is, faith in Christ that is not also immersed in a community of people who truly give a damn daily about each others lives with the honest bearing of one another’s burdens and holding up the weak will not cut it, and currently it is not. Instead, most would rather resort to their doggedness of accusatory glances at incorrect doctrine and who resign to the belief that their lives, compared to their current condescendees, are definitely a measure above. This current lack of communal glue stuck together with love to make what Christianity really has to say taste good in our culture is indeed the $64 question whose answer I am still feverishly looking for.

 

And the truth is, that I really don’t know where Chris was at in his life, though in the days ahead we will get some piece of the story, yet to be sure it will be fragmentary at best. However, in the aftermath of this sadness, it reminds me that it is high time that the people who call themselves “the church” light the way in getting their feet and hands dirty with their pocketbooks, possessions and love rather than equally being caught up in the distraction of the ravenous quest for the American Dream that is derailing all us into oblivion. And the truth is, Cain cannot tell us anything here, for we really are our brother’s keeper contrary to our current belief solely in the love of our individualistic selves, which supposedly needs no one and nothing. And as I sit here today, I ponder whether anyone was paying attention to Chris, and whether or not we are really paying attention to all the pain and suffering around us as the only hands and feet that Jesus has. Or are we, as I confessed earlier, quite comfortably numb to it all, blissfully following our own white picket fence dream on the yellow brick road, while life’s inconvenient traveling companion casualties topple all around us threatening to block our path. Perhaps the desensitization of our culture has now come of age, and we are now past the point of no return in a world where we surf back and forth between news of the latest fashion trend, vacation getaway, or solicitation to buy our favorite cultural icon; yet pass by the bombs that kill little babies or belts that kill fathers in lonely hotel rooms–all in the same sound bite or pixel across our screen.

 

But don’t worry, there is no guilt here intended, unless I start with myself first. And upon Peter’s admonition, I recognize that judgment begins with God’s house of which I am reluctantly apart. And though I have perhaps preached and at least tried to live this message more than most in my circle with my hands and pocketbook, I too am painfully wed to the quest for survival in a naturalistic world that’s random selection cards are almost all taken–and perhaps like you, contemplation of it’s small deck realities consumes way too much of my time. Chris’ passing again reminds us that perhaps fame and some fortune are not what they are cracked up to be, and that even the veneer of family can be a clever camouflage of what’s really going on inside of us that perhaps no one, including your bed buddy, is truly listening to. My prayer is that those of us who call ourselves Christians will take our earplugs out for a while.

 

Selah

 

RIP Chris, and thanks for bearing your soul with us. I hope you now rest in the arms of your Savior. May we all be Keepers of a flame in some small yet profound way.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4i2ryOiH0rQ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Striving for a Caleb Spirit When Your Name is Eeyore

A Slave Mentality

 

I wrote some weeks ago a post entitled “Broken Into Disbelief” https://marknealprince.com/2016/11/16/broken-into-disbelief/. My basic premise was in seeking to understand and thus attempting to explain why many find it so difficult to believe consistently due to a lifetime of a what I call a slave mentality–much as was the experience of the Israelites in transition to a proposed promise land the first batch of desert wanderers would never reach. I related to not only actual slavery, of which the Israelites were a part of for four hundred years, but also to the many other slaveries we either allow to come in by stealth and stay for far too long by our own choices and decisions, and by the slavery that we are caught up in by virtue of the hands we have been dealt upon our entrance into this thing called LIFE. My purpose was to communicate my understanding of the physical as well as the spiritual ramifications of a slave mentality, to which the New Testament reminds us continually is to be something we can learn from if we hold on to our belief (The message of the book of Hebrews). But admittedly, I reasoned that this is no easy task for those of us caught up in the tailwind of its subtle yet decisive grasp upon us. And I would like to pick up on those meditations again today for a brief moment after spending a good bit of time lingering around Numbers 13 and 14 this week.

In chapter 13 of the book of Numbers, we basically have a scene where in preparation for a later Joshua style take over of the pagan nations around them, that a group of Israelites (to include Caleb and Joshua) have been given charge to go in and spy out the land to survey whether or not they have what it takes to go in and “kick butt and take names”. Then, in a typical “So You Wanna Go Back to Egypt” (Keith Green) Israelite fashion, the synopsis that comes back in essence is that the land is full of “milk and honey” and the fruit is luscious, but the people are really big and really mean. They then determine that if they go in, they’re going to have their butts handed to them, and they’ll surely have their children for lunch as well! From there the slave mentality erupts into a full-blown “We want to go back to Egypt” discourse that drowns out the lone voice of a young Caleb who surmises “We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it[1].

At this point, from some legitimate human fear, past slavery memorabilia, and yet downright coming apart at the seams, they are certain slavery has to be better and are opting for regime change all at once! As a result, Joshua and Caleb, having now rent their clothing, now in unison say some pretty profound words that I want to think about with you for the rest of our time together today. They say, “The land which we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land which flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord; and do not fear the people of the land, for they will be our prey. Their protection has been removed from them, and the Lord is with us: do not fear them”[2]. And as the people digress even more, we then find a congregation (the majority- sarcasm intended) commencing to the advocation of stoning the only ones who’ve been paying attention to God’s clear voice, specific commands and miraculous actions thus far in their behalf.

My Name is Eeyore

Now let me first of all say that we as Americans really like this story. We are seriously into “kicking butt and taking names”, and then some. We thrive on victory, we don’t like to lose, and we are all about being positive; and of course the self-help business is bigger than it ever has been. But I am coming at this usual dilemma that I write about an awful lot from a different angle today, and as to what I believe that for me (and perhaps for you), is a word from the Lord as it relates to the continual struggle in my own life of striving ever so feverishly for this “Caleb spirit”, when over the years, through the school of hard knocks, I have adopted a very Eeyorean mentality. And I will have to say that this particular 100-Acre wood demon is a hard habit to break once you’ve been a slave to your circumstances for so long.

Now in case you think I’ve been watching a lot of Winnie the Pooh lately, I really have not. However lately, out of all of the obvious mental disorders of the cast of characters in the 100-acre wood, it is Eeyore that I mostly self-identify with. I mean let’s take a look at him. The guy is not going on tour with Tony Robbins as his wingman anytime soon, that’s for sure. After all, some of his known slave mentality-speak are such sayings as “No, but I sure do like this new tail” when asked by pooh if he’s happy. Or when Kanga noticed one of Eeyore’s frequent new tails, he retorts, “It’s an awful nice tail Kanga, much nicer than the rest of me”. And again in reference to the never-ending saga and experience of lost tails, he surmises, “Most likely lose it again, anyway”. And let’s be honest, he has a little ax to grind. After all, he’s made up of sawdust, constantly loses his tail (story of my lifeJ), and his house is made out of sticks barely big enough to hold his own…well tail, and is constantly being torn down causing him to have to rebuild again and again (the irony). And I’ll have to say, that if life deals you lemons and you’ve yet to conjure up any lemonade, Eeyore is an awfully good bunkmate with a stockpile of commiserate balm in his overnight bag for what ails you. But if we are not careful, his spirit can take up permanent residence in our hearts and minds which starts to cement the defining of a story for our lives that we wrongfully believe is as good as it will ever get.

My wife and I had a talk about this just the other day. As the poor soul who always has to listen to what I’m feeling and thinking, she indeed is my Ambassador of Quan (Jerry “Freakin” McGuire). And I opened up to her about my ongoing struggle that hit me like a ton of bricks about 8 ½ years ago at the beginning of my financial meltdown, but that dropped about two tons more on me in the aftermath of my 50th birthday celebration. It was like a tidal wave of constant reminders from my negligible financial portfolio, topsy-turvy career, feeble faith and evaluation of my measure as a man that I no longer “cut the mustard”, and like Eeyore, I keep building up houses made of sticks that are blown down at every attempt I make to finally just take one deep breath. And in many ways, It is has been more difficult than I ever imagined to look at the glass of my life as being half full: something that at least from my late 20’s on would not have been descriptive of me. It is indeed a hard monkey to get off your back; or if you will, a difficult slave mentality to rid oneself of, and that starts to cause us to want to pick up and stone all the Calebs in our path that beckon us to cast away our fear and trade it in for power, love and a sound mind.   Instead, we are realists to a bloody fault, and the prospects and hopes of an eventual miracle from God guiding us in to take new lands has now gone on life support deep inside of us. And then before we even realize it, we can eventually be the ones who pull the final plug.

Now those who know me up close and personal know that I am and have been an avid reader for the last 25 years or so. In addition, my wife and I have devoted ourselves to devouring the scriptures and to the devotion of personal prayer every morning for at least that long before we start our day. In fact, I often joke with people that, if they think I’m a mess, just imagine me without that daily practiceJ. Thank God, you don’t have to witness that, but just pray for my wife. But my point is that even with that as a daily ritual in my life that has become as habitual and natural as brushing my teeth, life’s slavery can take a more substantial toil on us if we give up the hope that God can still move mountains in our lives. In fact, sometimes that hope is all that we have, and if we lose it, we can lose the tiny mustard seed that is simply biding its time forming in us a Caleb spirit that is in continual expectation of God showing up despite what has lingered for far too long in our rear view mirror.

So What Gives?

Is it about obedience? Oh sure, to a degree. This is of course how Saints are born. Those who after continual and persistent practice have learned to die and allow Jesus to live through them more often than not, and we remember their names. And then there is you and I. Those who like those blasted Corinthians are also called saints ironically, but whose halo is just a little crooked. Sometimes it’s our own bloody fault, and there are plenty of friends, foes and mirror reflections to remind us of just that. Other times, it is just LIFE showing up, and all we can really do is close our eyes and hang on the merry go round for dear life! And here’s the tricky part: many times when we lose our tail perhaps from our own making, we have a tendency to go back to the law and flagellate ourselves for missing the mark and not getting it right. And on the flip side, life and its uninvited and undeserved guests of pain and suffering sometimes bring us to our knees to the point that we become, shall we say…comfortably numb. With the former, we are pretty sure that God is not going to make much of a fuss about us, and postulate that His miracles are reserved for someone else who actually made the grade. And with the latter, all we see is giants in the land amongst us little grasshoppers, and we live in fear that there is nothing left but “gloom, despair and agony on me” (Hee-haw). And before we know it, we’ve disengaged from the walk of faith in hope of a promised land and opted instead for a fatalism of an eternal status quo that we are quite sure closes the book on our story.

And so, I guess you could say that these days I’m striving for that Caleb spirit in a world that for now has built my house made of feeble sticks that seem to buckle under the slightest breeze, and where at any moment, I’m bound to lose a tail or two. And by the way, my name is Eeyore. But I’ve been listening to the spirit of Caleb lately, and he’s starting to convince me that God still has some land for us. What do you say we go and get it?

Selah

[1] Numbers 13:30 ESV

[2] Numbers 14:7-9 ESV

The Cure for Rollercoaster Christianity

I’ve been moving at a snail’s pace through John chapter 15 this week, and its’ kind of ironic being that it’s message is on “abiding” or “staying” or “remaining” in Christ. And after all, the majority of this mind-blowing piece of scripture is perhaps the key to consistent navigation on the narrow path called the Christian life, and thus somewhere I need to camp out for a while; and perhaps never leave. Perhaps you’d like to nestle up by the campfire and stay with me for a while.

And you see the reason I’m staying here besides the obvious, is because I think it is where we find the cure for what I like to call “Rollercoaster Christianity”. Now I won’t call that phrase my invention (though I certainly wish I had), but I do believe that most of us have bought a perpetual ticket on this not so amusing ride.   In addition, to the curious observer, perhaps you’ve noticed that most of us have a short attention span for just about everything. Very few of us anymore read like we should, and we want our news and information in short sound bites with all the color and pizazz we can get, or else we’ve moved on to the next quick and cheap thrill. To add to our fluidity in what gets our attention, we have incorporated it into our faith as well. As a result, we have very little stickiness within us, and commitment and stick-to-itiveness through the long haul is dependent on a list of variables that are checkered with conditions that most of the time are keeping us from experiencing anything “next-level” that God may have for us.

Oh No, The American Dream Again

 And to add to this puzzle, most of our conditions and barriers to abiding have to do with our unquenchable quest for something I write an awful lot about: The American Dream. And the reason that I do is because I feel that it plagues us an awful bit more than we want to give it credit for, and in one sense, who can blame us for succumbing to it’s pull. After all, we have been sold on its importance since we were old enough to ponder anything of significance that relates to our life on planet earth. We get little nuggets through various stages of our growth into adulthood, and by the time the final piece of the umbilical cord under our parent’s care has been cut, the dream is now front and center of our lives. And the dream goes something like this: We get a good education, we get a good job or open our own business, we work harder than most, and we live “the good life” until death to us part—though many don’t give much thought to that piece soon enough. Many of us then continue this march and have the good fortune to either amass a good bit of wealth while we are here and begin enjoying some of the dream or even all that it perpetuates much earlier out of the gate. These are the people we then idolize. We read their books on the 5 steps to success at this, or the 7 steps to success at that, and we watch them and we seek to emulate their path in hopes of our American dream that will soon come knocking eventually–if we just work hard enough. This chase of course drives us even more as we have kids. For now the dream has to get much bigger to include not only what utopia we can provide for them here, but what we will leave them when we’re gone. And of course we must then pass on the dream to them as well, and so on, and so on and so on.

Now let me just say that dreaming in and of itself is not a bad thing. In many ways, the God of this world has put dreams in our hearts and minds to not only fulfill us and give us purpose while working on this earth, but also to fulfill the mandate to be good stewards of the earth, and those who make mankind’s stay on this earth a bit more cozy and functional. We are also born in many ways with this sense that we were put here to do something significant, and much of our life is spent seeking to find what this is. The late Mark Twain captured this sentiment when I believe he accurately opined that, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why[1].” I believe much of this seeking and searching is therefore God given and not to be equated with the problem the American version of our dreams proposes to solve for us. For instance, as we discover our identity in Christ and His love for us, as well as His continual reminder that the dream inside us must first of all be in light of the dreams of God for the world and for us, we are then commissioned and are welcome to build from there. And therefore when Jesus says that He is “the way, the truth, and the life”, then the dream for the Christian must be constructed from that premise first and foremost; and when we deter from that, it is then that the dream becomes askew for us. Particularly it becomes lopsided when the quest for perpetual comforts in this life take precedence over the call and quest for the comfort, peace and eternality that can only come from knowing Christ himself: our real answer to life’s “sixty-four dollar question”. And if we are truly seeking for the Jesus missing sometimes in America, then this is something that we should be constantly wrestling with, and hopefully coming down on the right side of that conclusion.

Life As It Is For Most of Us

But then there is the “rubber that meets the road”. For after all, we are only human. And as a result, we must live on this earth and we must have certain things in order to merely survive. It is also natural that we want to enjoy the comforts and pleasures that the Lord has given us for our good. And because we live in America, the possibility of acquiring those comforts more frequently is a titillation that at least seems to be within most of our reach. Having said that, the problem comes in when the seeking after and acquisition of these things have escaped our grasp thus far as we move beyond middle age and look out in an almost full crystal ball that gets misty as we look into the near future. And though we are now currently in our quest to “make America great again”, the truth of the matter is that there is only so much room for the “have’s”, and some of us will have to be some of the “have not’s”. And if we didn’t yet believe it, if we are honest, we are finding it to have a grain of truth sketched already into the canvas of our lives. And we secretly wonder how long this old ball called earth can withstand our quest for more and more prosperity for the bigger, better deal. Equally, we also secretly imagine as we run around this hamster wheel of our life if we might eventually get caught in the cross hairs of its threshold. This alone adds an anxiety to our life that for us as Americans seems to be the Achilles heel that keeps us from the abundant life Jesus said he had to offer. It causes us to dread Mondays, and if we’re not careful, to either fall in love with our beds or succumb to an endless cycle of a liquid and sedative weekend.   We then add to our weightiness that the dream has heaped on us the likes of things like cancer; the loss of loved ones; wayward children; and the endless sound bites of bad news that we are forced to digest as it pushes its way into our smart phones for what seems like a 24/7 wakeup call–all the while skirting by the guy with the sign begging for some of our spare change.

The Minister’s Confession

I can remember years ago when I was a minister, I used to preach to these types of people on any and every given Sunday. I spent most of my week in study, prayer, the visitation of the sick, and attempting to fraternize with and evangelize those lost from the hope or current desire of the gospel. In addition, my time was spent trying to convince people caught up in the American dream to give more and more of their time and money to help in the quest of spreading the good news, and in outreach to the poor all around us. I often grew weary and tired, because I felt that the task was next to impossible. So while I was growing weary and frustrated with the people God had given me to shepherd, I had forgotten that the people he had called me to were just like I myself am today, trying to figure a way out of a rollercoaster Christianity life we know is not God’s desire for us, yet all the while caught up in the midst of our struggle to “make it”, while life is many times dealing out a steady dose of difficulties–sometimes discriminately so. And though I am still a minister at heart, I am now one of those same people, and I consistently feel that perhaps others are frustrated with me, secretly haranguing from afar about my need to “get it together” and “straighten up and fly right”. I find that Job’s friends are never in short supply.

In fact, I also think sometimes well meaning ministers of the gospel have forgotten the daily anguish of the common man. And though their lives are filled with countless demands and struggles like us all, many are caught up also in a bubble of privilege that perhaps they don’t even realize they live in. For in essence, they are paid to be an exemplary Christian so to speak. A mascot we can all get behind and follow. Many, out of their sincerity nonetheless, tell us their own version of the 5 and 7 steps to a successful walk with Jesus. We walk out each Sunday with a new admonition to “simply” do this or to “merely” do that and by Monday the weight of life has already told us that it’s just not in the cards for us, and we fall back in line under the tutelage of our American Dream taskmaster and the path back down the rollercoaster begins. I won’t attempt to give you any real answers today, but I do hope to at least be a peddler of a new hope.

No Easy Answers…But

This is why I’ve recently begun to realize a few things for our brief consideration. First of all, though countless scholarly men and women of the cloth scratch their heads in contemplation of the means of reaching an increasingly antagonistic culture to the gospel, I have resigned to the belief that new methods are not what we lack, and the writing for goodness sakes should have already been on the church wall! Secondly, it is not my belief either that the answer lies in our ability anymore to merely reason our way into the life of the mind and hearts of those who bypass our offer of eternal life; though not to its negation. In fact, as I have contemplated about these very things for most of my life now, both as a once professional clergyman and now as a renegade wandering prophet who walks the life of Christ with a noticeable limp, my conclusion is this: that nothing but the power of God and the Baptism and engulfing of His Spirit in those of us who are called by his name has any remote chance of reorienting our society towards the desire for God and of His Christ. Neither will anything else help us get off the rollercoaster ride of Christianity that we can’t currently seem to escape. And though these are new waters of suppositions for me to traverse in, I am convinced that unless you and I pray continually that God revisit His church with an outpouring not too different than what happened in an upper room over 2000 years ago, you and I are destined for more of the same.

Now to be sure we must continue to abide in the vine of Christ’s love and to surround ourselves with others who are truly seeking to walk the narrow path, and this we must do with reckless abandon. Yet I am reminded of something the late Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones began ranting about years ago that echoes my humble sentiment. His synopsis was extracted from his take on Mark 9 where the disciples could not expel a demon from a boy and Jesus finally has to come in and save the day. Upon expelling the demon, the disciples were somewhat despondent and asked why they could not free the boy from his demonic oppression. Jesus’ answer was that “this kind cannot be driven by anything but prayer” or as Matthew’s gospel states, “prayer and fasting”. Dr. Jones’ interpretation was that the reason we need the baptism of the Spirit is because we now live in a Mark 9 world, and without God’s power through fervent prayer and the Baptism of the Spirit we will continually fail in the ability to live Christ-like lives and to become Christ-like witnesses. His reason: “Because the demon is too deep in the culture”[2]

Some Dylan Theology

As a result of my recent musings, I have begun the voyage of adding several things to my cracked up life. First of all, I am trying to not only pray more in my normal routine of prayer and time in the scriptures, but to also find as many excursions away from the norm of my very predictable life to purposefully get alone with God and cry out to him about these things. Secondly, I have begun saturating my soul with as many books and teachings about the Spirit-filled life as I can get my hands on. And thirdly, I have purposefully put myself in a new and at first uncomfortable terrain of being where people are hoping and praying for these same things in daily practice, and who seek to allow God to move in their everyday lives and give God room to do exactly that in their corporate gatherings. Again, though I am knowingly a man with mere “sea legs” in these things of the Spirit; like Dr. Jones, I am convinced that herein, as unpredictable as the movement of the Spirit is and knowing with zero predictability where its wind will blow in mine and your life, I do however believe that it will not be found in the “sure fire” formulas we have been used to prescribing to ourselves and others ad infinitum and ad nauseam.

In conclusion, I realize most of my conclusions of late are about like “nailing Jell-O to the wall”. I apologize for that. I’ve thrown just about all of my formulas out with the trash a long time ago. But perhaps still like me, you are looking for some gold mine of truth that you can sink your teeth into, because like me you sense something is amiss, and the old ways of business as usual Christianity are no longer working for you, or perhaps they never did. If that is you, I want to simply say that you are not alone, and at the risk of sounding somewhat cliché, let me nonetheless say that Jesus loves you and longs for you to abide and continue on this sometimes very lonely and narrow path. Oh, but one other thing I want you to consider, or rather not forget: Perhaps the answer my friend is actually blowin in the wind, the answer is blowin in the wind!

 

 

Selah

 

[1] “A Quote by Mark Twain.” Goodreads. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.

[2] Lloyd-Jones, David Martyn., and Christopher Catherwood. The Baptism and Gifts of the Spirit. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1996. Print.

Life Goes On Long After the Thrill of Living is Gone

A Recurrent Theme

 Oh yeah I know, I know. The title at least got you to stop for just a second for a couple of reasons didn’t it? The number one reason is of course because you know me, and so you might be just a little worried as to whether or not I have finally gone off the deep end (a distinct possibility). After all, the blog is about my cracked up life right? And as a result, you might be thinking that perhaps someone should come check on me. After all, depression does run in my family, but also the American family I might add, and I do write about it—a lot. Or at least you can say I’m very “authentic” in that I am indeed an “open book” about what I’m thinking and feeling at any given moment. And by golly, if you’re going to read anyone who claims to actually aspire to be a decent writer and not someone who just compiles information in complete sentences, then real is what you should damn well get!

The second reason that you lingered around perhaps is because well…the great philosopher and crooner John Cougar Mellencamp himself penned these lines years ago in the song Jack and Dianne, and like me, I bet you just loved that song didn’t you? I mean who didn’t? I can remember when I first listened to the song and got past “does his best James Dean” and “dribble off those Bobbie Brooks slacks and let me do as I please” and then got to the chorus; I said “Yea, I get it”, and then just moved on each hundred times I listened in. I then got a little older and it stuck some more, so I gave it a brief meditation or two beyond mere reminiscence and again moved on. Fast forward to the year 2017 at age 52, it’s now kind of my theme song. But let me explain.

Truth Serum

 You know there is one thing I’m learning in life that seems to be more and more undeniable: it’s that most people really don’t like the truth. They don’t like to hear it from you directed toward them to be sure, but they don’t really like to hear your own truth about yourself either–especially if it’s negative in nature. After all it’s the American way you know to keep your “poker face”. We got to be positive all the time, MAKE IT HAPPEN, keep moving forward, and keep “pushing up the hill”. All good stuff to be sure. However, did you ever wonder why it seemed so much more effortless and somewhat natural to say that for most of your life, but then all of a sudden, when you reach middle age and beyond, it becomes MUCH more difficult—that is, if like me you have not yet achieved your part of the ever delusional American Dream. I mean think about it. We all hear the great stories of those who rose from dire straights to get their piece of it, and now they are filling up concert halls, writing New York Times bestsellers, have built multiple streams of income or who are shall we say “financially secure”. Or better yet, perhaps they are just stinking filthy rich. And I’m no hater. Heck no. Man I applaud that stuff. Hell, I even pray for it for myself and for others, and still try to “be all I can be”, take my fat butt to the gym at least 3 times a week, try to watch what I eat at least 85% of the time, know when to say “when”, and even continue to learn and grow as best I can. It’s much harder now to be sure, but there really doesn’t seem to be much alternative quite frankly if we are still going to be residing on planet America.

Buying Into the Dream

However, I can remember when I first started trying to really be single-minded and focused (since I am by nature the ADHD poster child), and started really trying to get a good education, prioritize my plans and goals, and actually tried to organize my life around some sort of mission statement and purpose in search of my own version of an American Dream. I’d read about those who made a bunch of money in business and then used their wealth and influence later on to help the poor or something noble like that and this really motivated me. I worked really hard and aspired to be like this, and I even listened to those I loved tell me I was just the type of guy that could actually make that happen. And I’ll have to say, it’s quite an aphrodisiac, and it got me up everyday to try again and again. Then I hit my forties, and it was like a speed bump that I could see was just ahead. And like good speed bumps should do, it definitely slowed my game down. I began to see my mortality a little more up close and personal, and realized all too well that I was in no way invincible, and in fact was very volatile in a variety of ways that made me quite unsure of my footing in the world. And then 50 came and hit me like a sonic boom! And while I would read stories and hear about all the guys my age who were still in their supposed prime of their masculinity and strength, and who still made their lady swoon and seemed to have life by the proverbial cajones, it became clear to me that my gene pool may not be so kind. For sure, I knew what to do about what I could control (when I felt like it), but the scary part was all the new challenges that began to multiply like Gremlins all around me, that I in fact could not control in the least.

I had even desired to be a spiritual director of sorts: someone who could lead others on the narrow path with Jesus. Someone who could not only point the way, but navigate through it victorious on the other side. Yet it seemed that at least every other day, I had more questions than answers, and the thought of leading others seemed at best a fruitless prospect and perhaps even a laughable notion. I awoke everyday however realizing that even though I sometimes lacked what others needed from my life spiritually, nonetheless I had to keep striving to “make it” (whatever that means) in the natural world: a world that gave me only morsels of its anticipated success, but yet kept constantly the real entree at just an arm’s length.

After all, success inside this American Dream is tricky is it not? It seems that’s what we’re all striving for in America isn’t it? It’s our birthright, and to some they think it’s actually their God-given right. Everything we do is for the purpose of getting ahead, building a nest egg and forever plodding onward in that great quandary called “the pursuit of happiness”, yet most of us are never really finding it. And to be sure there is only so much room at the top. Now to be sure, those with wealth, if their head and heart is in the right place, can have a possible advantage toward this path, even though the Bible tells us that the pathway to heaven for the rich man is filled with all kinds of toils and snares and “eyes of the needle”. Nonetheless, that doesn’t seem to keep any of us who call ourselves followers of the way from desiring it also for ourselves. In fact, we say we’d like both, but again very few of us are competent to juggle the two. In fact, we’re not juggling it very well even in our futile quest for it, and we are indeed finding rightly so that if that elusive pursuit is all there is, then John is right, and the thrill of living is indeed gone.

Time to Get a New Dream

 I think lately that I’ve come to the conclusion that God often allows us to work through this opaque looking glass for a very distinct reason: So we will realize that it is abysmally far from the way, the truth and life that He offers us. In fact, Ted Dekker reminds us in his groundbreaking book The Slumber of Christianity echoed from the wisdom of Solomon himself, that eternity is bound up in the heart of man, and that man’s real reward will be in heaven, NOT on earth. And in fact, he reminds us that this earth will mostly only yield disappointment, especially when this temporal existence becomes our sole preoccupation.[1] And to be truthful here, I must say this is a hard lesson for us to learn. We are by nature habitual creatures that continue to be sidetracked by repetitive quests for the attainment of perishable fools gold rather than the imperishable promise of abundant and even eternal life that we can’t see with our earthly eyes. The reason is because the pursuit of the eternal is not always tangible or palpable in the way that we would have it, or that has been described by those who peddle in gospel particulars on any given Sunday. It is nonetheless real, but it is otherworldly real, and that’s a world we haven’t given much time to exploring in, until often times the natural world stops us dead in our tracks for its abrupt contemplation as the final curtain calls.

And so, the reason Mr. Mellencamp speaks as he does, and why we especially resonate with the song in our later years as to its unadulterated truthfulness, is because we realize that if this is all we now have in our bag of tricks, we are indeed magicians caught with our pants down when it matters most. I for one am now coming to the stark realization, though I would be mocked as credulous by the intelligentsia of our increasingly Brave New World, that when Jesus says that He is the way, the truth and the life, that He was actually serving up real gold for those who would mine for it and make it their primary vocation. Perhaps the man who found treasure in a field no one else knew about and sold everything in order to purchase that field was onto something. And perhaps if you are finding that the thrill of living is indeed gone for you, then like me, perhaps it’s time to liquidate and buy a field.

 

Selah

 

 

[1] Dekker, Ted. The Slumber of Christianity: Awakening a Passion for Heaven on Earth. Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 2005. Kindle.