Still Holding On Loosely To Some Fool’s Gold

The Move

It was early October, when although watching the Weather Channel beforehand would have been enlightening to say the least, the Prince family actually loaded up the truck and moved just south of the “Red-Neck Riviera” to the lovely Surfside by the sea.  Yes, that’s right.  We moved smack dab in the midst of the terrible flood of 2015 that took Columbia and much of the country by surprise.  A time at which also marked a new beginning for the 6 of us minus 2 now, just 7 years in the aftermath of the economic Tidal Wave that first engulfed me, and later was to teach me lessons tattooed forever in the very fiber of my being.

Fool’s Gold

The lesson had something to do with the allure of fools gold I suppose.  In fact, in my Full Focus Planner, it’s at least penned as my number 1 “habit goal” for my life at age 53.  It reads, “Settle once and for all the allure of the world’s fools gold”.  I know, I know, you’re probably not that impressed.  But it does look good on paper.  I can show you if you like.  And for me at least, being enamored with fools gold seems to capture what I’m actually trying “not” to be about; given my lesson I supposedly learned and all.

In fact, evidently years ago it was something called “iron pyrites”, having to do with a gold-like mineral that of course is found to be absolutely worthless, thus given the name fools gold.  Many “would be” treasure hunters evidently found this out the hard way after expending all kinds of energy and capital trying to find it, and came up with the bottom of a worthless barrel.  Interestingly however, though the bible warns us that the pursuit of money is synonymous to a “fools gold” of sorts, the fact is, money is real; and it gets you a lot of stuff, and respect, and a whole lot of false friends to boot.  It also functions very much like a god however, and indeed exerts power both for us and in us in exceedingly formidable ways.  And like Gollum, to part with “my precious”is no easy task, and it’s no secret as to why.  Because as the late Zig Ziglar famously said, “though money it isn’t everything, at least in this life, it ranks right up there with good old oxygen”!

But of course you can’t really know any of these things quite honestly until you actually make some of the green stuff yourself.  And though the rich look down on the poor for what they don’t have, and the poor look down on the rich for what they do have, the truth of the matter is that you don’t know its fools gold until you’ve played the fool that a lot of us play sometimes. Just ask any lottery winner!

A Day Late, and A Dollar Short

As I said earlier, I moved here in the aftershock of my economic quake that happened in my life. And as I’ve written briefly about before, my wife and I did so for a number of reasons.  Some of it had to do with giving a little distance between us and our now blossoming young adult sons who were finally “grown and gone” (in theory at least).  It also had to do with extended family ties that no longer were binding; owning nothing of equitable merit; and a job that allows me to live anywhere in the Carolinas. All of this equaled to a risky proposition, but one we gladly took up nonetheless in order to lunge forward, and spread our wings and fly, fly away.  The oasis by the sea also had a nice ring to it as you can imagine, and I vowed that once I got here I would finally begin writing, something to which before I had only given lip service to.

We’ve been here 2 ½ years now, and moved recently to a spacious rented home just shy of two blocks from my refuge of endless sand and waves, and God’s still small voice.  We own a 2002 Honda, I have a company car, and my wife has done a wonderful job of taking the few material possessions on the inside, and has made this ocean sanctuary my favorite rescue mission ever–to the point at which I almost never want to leave.

As I mentioned before, I’m a sales dog.  In fact, if I sucked at pretty much everything else, this is the one thing that I was meant to do, even if that’s as good as it ever gets.  The last 10 years have been a rollercoaster ride nonetheless. I’ve still been in “sink or swim” mode quite a few times, but have had a few “good” years in terms of Benjamin’s, but not yet enough to purchase a home the smart way this time (If I’m to learn from my tattooed lessons), or to re-stockpile any measure of a portfolio that will as of yet put me back on the financial map (Whatever the Hell that is).  Yet I’m still optimistic.  I mean what else can we do with the time that we have other than seek to get better and stronger, still learn from life’s lessons, and hopefully follow the Lord on the narrow path that leads to real life so I’m told.  I still set goals, though if I had to cash it all in today, the social security money the government has probably already spent is about all I’ve got at this stage of the third quarter of my life.  As a result, I’m shopping for my doublewide retirement villa as we speak.  Realtors, no phone calls please.

But oh yeah, we were supposed to be talking about loosely holding on to fools gold.  I almost forgot.

Pay Attention Sucka

Well it started with a brief and acute reminder about that very thing this last Saturday.  My wife and I went for the first extended time at the beach in awhile due to a surprise winter that has had us spoiled Americans pretty ticked and ready for some “fun in the sun” baby.  It was such a joy to be down there again, though I spend at least 15 minutes a day there in reflection just about every time I’m in town. We drove our golf-cart down there, and that is so cool you know.  I mean after all if your going to live less than two blocks from the beach you gotta have a golf cart man!  It took us two years to save for it, and it was a joy back in August to finally stroke that $3200 check for a used one that we were so ecstatic to finally have.  So on Saturday, we parked our official beach bum statement at our favorite beach access, walked about 50 feet, and then gazed at the ocean’s splendor for about an hour or so.  We talked again about our dreams and plans, the children and others we love, and the God we are desperately trying to follow in the midst of the world’s rigamoro.

It was just a short hour, but so exhilarating.  And then we packed everything up and started to walk back to our golf cart.  And as I got closer, I realized I didn’t see it, but I nevertheless ignored that unwelcome thought until I got closer, until of course it was all over but the crying. My wife was so torn up about it. More for the fact that she knew money is hard to come by, and remembered how thrilled I was to finally get it for everyone, and for the guests that come to see us often.  But as she was rightly torn up about it for the both of us, I just sighed and let my words be few.  We walked back to our short distance home, made our trek to the police station and filed the report with the local police, and then numbed ourselves with a couple of Saturday cold beers until night came briskly by, with another day and another negative dollar waiting on the horizon.

Achieving At Least One of My Goals

I haven’t said much since then about it, because after all, it’s G.O.N.E.  But somehow, I knew immediately in my spirit, that though the Lord didn’t steal it, and I’m sure He was equally sad for me, it was His gracious reminder yet again to hold on to the things of this world loosely; for they are indeed fleeting and truly are (like us) “dust in the wind”.  And then all at once, I was quickly reminiscent of verses etched in my memory and in my soul, such as “whoever loves money, never has enough”, and others such as being free from the love of money, and the very truthful fact that it is nearly damn impossible to serve two masters, since we no doubt will love one and give nothing more than a month of Sundays here and there to the other.  And then I thought about that gosh-darn rich fool who looked at all his barns, quite satisfied with his accomplishments, his multiple streams of income and diversified portfolio; yet who like the late J. Paul Getty when asked how much money would be enough, he replied, “a little bit more”.  And that night, as the story goes, his soul was required of him.

The truth is, I’ve always held on to money and things loosely for as long as I can remember. That can be both a good and a bad thing, at least in this life.  At one point and time, I was like Erasmus, who once said, “When I have a little bit of money, I buy books, and afterwards I buy food and clothes”.  Other times, if I’ve had two dollars, it was a dollar too much when someone else has needed it.  And on other occasions, no matter how hard I’ve tried to accumulate some in my older and wiser years, in life it seems there’s always a golf-cart thief lurking somewhere beyond the dunes.

And then all at once it has occurred to me yet again, that though money has an immense power both for us and in us I’ve already mentioned, and Lord knows we need some of it.  Yet I don’t know if we’ve paid much attention lately or not, but the truth I’m told, is that wherever our treasure is, there will our heart be also.  And so at least for now, I’m thankful for that blasted stolen golf cart, and that it didn’t up and take my heart along with it.

Selah

A Medley of Needles, and the Damage Done

A Little Bit of It In Everyone

I was a whopping 8-years old when Neil Young released the song, The Needle and the Damage Done.  Though it would be a short 5 years later that I first listened introspectively to his haunting prophetic decrees; it was also then as a somewhat “dazed and confused” young man (minus the band), that I seemed almost “hell bent” on being on the other end of this woefully accurate foretelling.

A bag of Columbian Gold was my first gig, and before long I had graduated to a medley of cocktails that included everything from Quaaludes and whiskey; cocaine and LSD; to the likes of gasoline and Pam cooking spray (No, I didn’t stutter).  In essence, whatever I could afford and whatever gave me the means to escape the place in the world I never really felt I belonged in for a myriad of reasons, was indeed fair game to this all too eager participant.  They say marijuana is the gateway to other drugs, and I won’t argue either way.  What I do know is that if a druggie’s pathway is from 1stto home plate, in my mid teens, I had already rounded third and was headed for the home run! The only thing left for me at that point, was to “let her under your skin”; and by God’s grace; like Neil Young, “I watched the needle take another man” to the point at which something jarred in me a determination to never cross that very pivotal line.

So after the whole of my teenage years comprised of time in the county jail, reform school, drug and alcohol programs and county hospitals; something inside of me swallowed the bitter red pill of a very abrupt truth about where my life was headed at the age of 18; and that at the very least was a speed-bump to a fast car life headed for nowhere extremely fast!  It would then take until the age of 27 to take the “a little bit of it in everyone” out of me, but I watched enough men and women ruin their lives and eventually die, even at an early age; enough to make me intensely aware of where my life was headed should I not attempt to somehow change the course of my life.

Live by the Sword, Die by the Sword (Drug)

 I was no drug kingpin to say the least, but I knew who they were.  They had all the good drugs, and the pubescent bell-bottom groupie chicks that would do anything for another taste at their beckoned call—and far too youthful for such a grave choice to be made.  But then again, these pushers were the outlaws that every girl wanted, and somehow, for a brief moment, I thought that was also the man I wanted and needed to be. As a result, I at least attempted to give them a run for their money.  Yet as I grew older, I continued to watch my reluctant hero’s stoically continue their apothecary occupation into a new era when some of us were actually trying to grow up, and I also watched them enter and exit prison yards, as well as check in to the undertaker’s dead-end alley.

I was reminded this week, as more of my reluctant hero’s and those of which actually became my friends, are found still “knocking at(someone’s) cellar door”, still chanting “I love you baby, can I have some more”, as they and those around them now know all too well that their hourglass is distributing its remaining granules. They have now long since cut their hair, the lovely aficionados surrounding them are no more, and time is of course no longer a trump card in their favor.  And as I contemplate this glaring reality, my heart grows very sad indeed. For as someone who over the years has attempted to rescue such reluctant hero’s time and again; as of yet, I have no track record of success, but rather a sigh of a medley of needles taking another man, as I hear Neil echo “ooh, ooh, the damage done”—yet again.

The Medley of Junkies

 Of course it would be easy to simply put my past self and people like I’ve described into a label of sorts, and yet forget about the monster under our own bed.  After all, the blog is called “A Medley of Needles and the Damage Done”.  And of course the junkies’ “setting sun” comes in various stages.

My dear Father was one such junkie I suppose—God rest his beautiful soul.  He took a pill to wake up; to manage his depression; to go to bed; to wake up again; and much later, his daily concoction of capsules could have stockpiled a “mom and pop” pharmacy in a quick recession.  And you and I know junkies just like this, and many of us even look at them in the mirror each morning; and some of us refuse to look, as we have more excuses than the prescriptions we take.

Others of us resort to liquid drugs.  We stockpile our cabinets, and take our sedative(s) each evening as we settle in, rinse and repeat until we’ve had our fill, and we have a myriad of good reasons as to “why” that are all related to the same escapism of the not so glamorous junkie knocking on someone’s cellar door.  After all, life is hard—no argument there. And we’ve got a family to feed; the taxman cometh; we have teenagers (Slam dunk for the justification on this one); our marriage is not so good or falling part, and the list goes on.  But then there’s that cute little monster under our bed we also choose to ignore.

The 800-Pound (Monster) In the Room

The new Canadian thinker and overnight phenomenon Jordan Peterson tells the story in his book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, about a boy and a monster he sees in his room.  He tells his Mother about the monster, but she quickly tells him, “Honey, there are no monsters”.  The boy simply goes along with it, and yet as each day and month passes by, the monster gets bigger, and more horrid and hairier.  As the boy brings this apparent predicament up to her, each time she retorts that “There are no such things as Monsters”; until such a time, that one day the Monster has grown the size of the house to the point that it its arms and legs are actually protruding out the windows and has become part of the house, and has thus overtaken it.  Then one day, when the Father comes home, the house has gone AWOL because the Monster has left and taken the house and his wife and kid with him.  At that point, they all frantically look for the house, and when they find it, the Mother can no longer deny the “ginormity” of the Monster, and confesses to the son that she indeed sees it clear as a bell; at which point the monster then shrinks back down to a tiny cute little blob sitting in the corner.  And at least for now, he is of no harm to no one.

The moral of the story is both obvious and also approaching a grim un-comfort zone for the most of us. The fact of the matter is that there is a medley of monstrous “needles” in everyone that most of us ignore to our eventual and certain peril.  And it’s not just the self-medication strategies of numerous varieties aforementioned; but it’s also the marriage on the rocks, the wayward teen we’re ignoring, the Dun-lap belly, the decision to abandon all and follow the man from Galilee on the narrow path, and so on.

All of us have reasons as to why we pretend these things are “not” there, or that we put off calling it out until “tomorrow”, or; that we simply allow to grow to the size that it takes over our lives, emerging eventually into the junkie’s “setting sun”.  Whatever your Monster is lurking under your bed, or that has taken over a piece of your home, or perhaps your whole life-house…perhaps it’s time to give it a name before the damage is done.

Selah

 

Rainy Days and Mondays

I Don’t Do Mondays

There have been many songs, quotes, sayings and general universal disgruntlement lamenting the fate that is the “Monday” certainty in all of our lives.  And of course once Monday’s tedium comes to it’s stark reality by around 10:00 AM, we’re already drifting off into dreams of “hump day” (yeah), and then quickly on to “weekend getaways” and excursions filled with addictive overscheduling of massive doses of a blissfully long weekend, which by design is meant to delay the ever so punctual and “matter-of-factness” of, well…Monday.  In fact I’m sure most of us would vote to take Monday out of the 7-day week all together, but then of course we’d have a new nemesis by the name of “Tuesday” in short order.  This should serve to remind us that the issue we have is not Monday at all, but rather the humdrum characteristic that it has come to represent driven by our own brand of the “tyranny of the urgent” that comes with it, and of that which baptizes us rather quickly into the dreaded ordinary that comprises most of our lives.

Dreams

And the truth is, that if you add to this global phenomenon a big dose of the American Dream relentlessly interwoven into the tapestry of our lives, well then Monday is synonymous with “messing with our mojo”, or better yet, something akin to yet another brutal awakening to a dream that we surmise has somehow passed us by altogether yet again.  And the more we numb it’s “un”-accomplishment in our lives with toys; cocktails; action-packed weekends; and another self-help book sure to get us to our dream, the more Monday comes in like a freight train inviting us “all aboard” of which we are powerless to not simply fall in line.  And of course, the devil for each of us is in the myriad of Monday details.

I’m a big dreamer too, and always have been.  In fact, if ADHD meds had been available to me in my school days, I’d already have reached my American Dream, because I’d be the “poster child” for whatever drug company had the best bang for the buck!  By the time I got to middle school however, Mary Jane would take it’s place, and my entrance to class was an open invitation to “yours truly” to lay my head on the desk and drift to wherever my rock and roll dreams would take me.  Which at the age of 16, usually consisted of some Island full of beautiful girls, where I was of course the only guy, and where (you guessed it), a limitless supply of more Mary Jane; and well…more girls, etc., etc., etc.

Now fast forward then to the age of 27, when I finally quit running from the hound of heaven, my dreams started to mature somewhat.  They now were God-sized dreams, but I found out rather quickly, that Christendom has it’s own subculture of the American “Christian” Dream, which for someone on the way to seminary was filled with becoming the next Billy Graham, or the Apostle Paul if it wasn’t too much to ask; or perhaps somewhere in between.  Little did I know, that was not the path I was to take, at least for such a time as this.

There were some accomplishments though I suppose.  A high-school dropout made good on gaining a couple of degrees, but after a short period, walked away from the climb up the ecclesiastical ladder already full of hairy priestly butts above me, and into the sales world of “coffee is for closers”, where at least some aspect of an economic dream started to take shape and put my family slightly higher on the food chain.

Still Restless and Crazy After All These Years

And now, as 54 is just around the corner, I’m still dreaming a bit quite honestly.  I’m still on the food chain, but hanging on by a slight tether. And my dreams now are mostly about writing a blog everyone will want to read, or finally writing that best selling book.  Yet also perhaps more simple things like being the best disciple I can be (with a very distinct limp), loving my wife in such a way that she actually misses me when I’m gone, and being a voice of reason and spiritual insight to my sons and to any other wayward soul who longs to know the method to my slight madness.  And since they typically don’t pay respect until you die, and I’m not dead yet, I still want to be all God wants me to be; don’t want to miss an opportunity that’s truly from Him; and I strive to be my best at what I do; yet all the while, like you perhaps, I’m plagued with waking up to another Monday morning on this increasingly difficult narrow path, often still very restless indeed.

For instance, I go to church and wonder why I’m so cotton-picking bored out of my mind.   I keep looking for someone to walk out of a wheelchair, or to hear a sermon that knocks me off my feet, or encounter a brother or sister in Christ who looks and smells exactly like a Christian of old, and who then actually wants to do life with me.  But then I wake up, and I realize that God and I have more work to do, on me I suppose–something akin to my spiritual Monday if you will.  After all, training in righteousness is really super-duper hard work, especially with what the Lord has to work with and everything.  And yes there are bills to pay; April 15th; deadlines looming; kids that still need braces, and well…the damn trash still needs taken out too.

The Work Still At Hand

 And then there is that time with the Lord I spend everyday, doing my best to allow more of Him to show up and a whole lot less of me.  There’s the time spent uninterested in church still; the uneventful acts of kindness done to people who will mostly forget; and forget about me as well.  There are also the good deeds that will no doubt go unpunished if I continue to live long enough.  There is the time in prayer when God seems to be playing extremely hard to get, and the times when His still small voice is clearly saying “Here is the way, walk ye in it”.  And then there are rainy days and Mondays where rather than purposeful living, I feel as if I’m that damn hamster on that blasted wheel thingy!

And then I realize, perhaps these daily practices really are the stuff of life, and are eternally worth waking up for, even on Monday.  Because as I look out the window of this rainy-Monday world, I still believe the dreams of God fulfilled in the shoe leather of His people are exactly what the world still has just too little of I’m afraid.  I guess that means I’ve got more work to do.  After all, it is Monday.

Selah

The Time at Which Zihuatanejo Should Not Be a Man’s Preferred Destination

In 1994, the movie Shawshank Redemption became a beloved film to just about anyone who saw it, and no less so in the eyes of this man with a head chalked full of Andy Dufrane “shitty pipe dream” propensities. The movie impacted me greatly to say the least; to the extent that after watching it at least once a year since then, the admiration for the “Andy Dufrane” approach to life has become one of my favorite colloquialisms I give out to anyone who will listen. Particularly to those who have for far too long allowed the worries and past mistakes of their current existence to incapacitate them from dreaming bigger than what they can see, just beyond the dreadful Shawshank prison yard of their lives.

Andy of course is the “middle finger” to this even more debilitating form of imprisonment, and thus has resolved to know nothing of the sort. And as he talks to Red in the prison yard, his famous “get busy living, or get busy dying” discourse begins. He then ever so doggedly echoes to his only true friend in the world that he wants to go to Zihuatanejo and rent a little hotel and fix up a boat; somewhere on the vast Pacific where it is said that it “has no memory”. His deduction is that since he is not guilty of any of the crimes he was accused of committing, and of which he has now paid for dearly; it is the very “least” that life now owes to him. And as he makes his way through the cesspool of human excrement to the precipice of the realization of his newfound dream, we rejoice and even travel along in our hearts and minds to this remote destination with him, where there is no memory of his 20-years of “hell on earth”. Somehow, Andy has therefore become our archetypical hero of escape from life’s mirror of human suffering and injustice that we are also too eager to escape–and understandably so.

There are times however in this life, and particularly on the narrow path of the Christian life, where Zihuatanejo and the Pacific of “no memory” should not be our desired destination; at least at first. In fact, most people who struggle with depression find the exercise of “self-reflection” and finally sitting down with the “man in the mirror” particularly difficult, especially as they recall through years of bad choices with the entourage of scars and stripes to prove it. But as they navigate through the painful, yet more cozy cathartic process, the time finally comes to “own up” to whatever sins we “have” committed also ourselves, with a plan to actually do something about the mess that is our lives–and this of course is a “fly in the ointment” for most of us. And if we are not careful, this sometimes agonizing confrontation with the truth can become the impetus for an insatiable desire to escape with Andy and Red somewhere that will never again remind us of where we have been, and continue the endless cycle of our own version of “self-medicating” that will allow us to permanently walk away and forget– until of course the next thunderous sound of silence, with only us and the mirror in the room to tell the tale.

James, the brother of the Lord Jesus reminds us of this proclivity that each of us is prone to wander into. His word to us is to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only”, which he says is to “deceive oneself” quite frankly. In fact, he says if we are like this (and we often are), we are like a man looking ever so intently in a mirror, yet in a New-York minute, to Zihuatanejo of the Pacific we go, indeed forgetting our both enlightening and equally intimidating reflection.

I’ve found that the Lord gives us an incessant amount of days contrary to popular misconceptions to correct this path, if we will avail ourselves to His myriad of opportunities. For one, by the time a man or woman is in their 50’s, the phrase “becoming bitter or better” can be quite instructive for those enrolled in the class of the desire to “make a change” as a result of our own mirror check. Equally educational is the reality that we really are on “The Back 9” of our lives, and “measuring one’s days” as the Psalmist echoes, is in fact the “key” to “gaining a heart of wisdom”–which the world around us desperately needs for a lot more of us with grey hairs to have! And yet, if you are like me, even with this billboard of reality ever before the highway of our lives, we can numb ourselves with the night’s belly full of wine, favorite sitcom, never-ending leisure, or distractive workaholism; to the point at which the mirror no longer beckons us to take a little look see, or until we’ve simply covered it up with sticky notes of reminders that have now become eternally opaque. And so, as fate would have it, the Jerry Maguire memo never gets written, the Ebenezer Scrooge sleepless night of present, past and future mirrors drifts back off into slumberous forgetfulness, and George Bailey prefers to live in the fate of Pottersville, rather than the potential of a new and better Bedford Falls as we then “exit, stage left”.

As I awakened the other evening in a somewhat introspective state, it occurred to me that the reflection of the man in the mirror I have known for far too long is still the most wonderful salve salvation ever brought to me, despite my share of life’s contributions to the mirrors ammo. The ability to look into that beautiful mirror, and to ask for the matchless grace of the Lord Jesus for the ten-zillionth time, and to once again through the Spirit’s help, having been given the self-revelatory ability to see a man who really can and must “daily” change his ways, is indeed the partial treasure we should sell everything for to have.  And though Zihuatanejo of the Pacific has its addictively sedated appeal still, the mirror’s laser-like image is just what the Dr. ordered, and the only place where the dreams of God for our lives actually begin.

Selah

The Slow Emasculation of the American Christian Male

It was several months ago that I stumbled across a verse of scripture that I had read hundreds of times before. Yet somehow, as if all of a sudden struck with a “Fifty First Dates” knock on the head, everything became different, and I took a pause to reflect on this pearl of great price I had now found. It appeared to me as I read the following words in the book of II Samuel, highlighting the beginning journey of a man after God’s own heart now taking a very serious turn for the worst. This insightful text reads,

 In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem[i].

It was then that this thought leapt off the page and into the very sinew of my bones as to what really led to the beginning of the great King’s ruination, and not as we at first might conclude. For those unfamiliar, it is in the very next verses, that as he is at ease in Zion with nothing else to do but drink fine wine and eat chocolates tucked neatly under his pillow that the great King happenstances upon what no married man should ever gaze upon and then look twice without paying the piper dearly: that of a woman bathing with the glow of her endless curves glistening in the erotic moonlight, and then back into the lustful eye of a man temporarily diverted from the very purpose for which he was born.

There are of course a whole lot of lessons here to pull from, but the one I missed for far too long is laid out for us like a deer in the scope of a hunter’s rifle: When a man no longer has a battle, or something to strive for, he is as lost as a ship in the devil’s triangle, and this fantastic distraction will eventually become the tragic story of a man who has been found permanently “Dead in Absentia”. Yet the sadness lies in the fact that a prophet (Nathan) is the only one sending out an SOS, while the inattentive male now slips into irrelevant oblivion!

You see every man has something to conquer, something to do, and something to say clearly and forthrightly. Yet oftentimes, like a dog who quits chasing cars once the “family jewels” are removed, a man’s devolutionary emasculation pilgrimage happens slowly like the boiling of the frog in the kettle. Yet when it is complete; the easy chair, cold beer and Sunday football usher him into the status of a dead man walking, not easily observed until the Dr. calls much later with the dreaded news.

I know so many like this, and I’ve become somewhat of an expert in its reflection, because I too have been summoned by the subtle call of a meaningless life of endless commentating on the sidelines, away from the fear of a “Clowney-like” hit. After all, we are afraid of failure, and yet equally afraid of our possible success. We start to listen to the voices that tell us not to give it a college try, to play it safe, and to leave our appendage at the door for the wife to keep in her purse until we return. Passivity becomes comfort food for the couch potato who has now become content to play video games and watch the fight on TV, rather than find a battle of his own that requires full engagement instead of capitulating to Sunday buffets and a slow death by gamma rays.

Oh to be sure this is happening across our country like a freight train coming through our front door, yet even those of us men who call ourselves Christians have also become spiritually impotent. We chuckle as fat men with big cigars, ear hair and “no life” admire the likes of Hugh Hefner, while continually denigrating Tim Tebow and Mark Wahlberg for taking a moral stance, and amidst a culture who spent more time mourning the death of Princess Diana than Mother Theresa. We’re afraid to say we follow the carpenter and His cross in public at least, and we leave it up to our wives to take our kids to church. We even succumb to electing our wives surrogate Dads, now left alone to try and teach our young men what it means to be a man of conviction and purpose. Young men who gladly wear chivalry in their very being as a badge of honor, and who would gladly take a bullet for their wife and kids on any given day. Meanwhile, the emasculated Christian male settles down to our own endless private screening of women bathing in the buff, using all kinds of excuses for the need to do so; secretly scratching our head as to why the spark left the bedroom long, long ago–leaving our wives to the slippery slope of Fifty Shades of Grey.

The truth is men; the safety and pleasures of Jerusalem are no place for us to be when the invitation to ravage the Ammonites and besiege Rabbah is before us. This is not what Kings do!

So Men, get off the damn couch! It’s time to chase cars again!

 

[i] 2 Samuel 11:1 ESV

Becoming Jean Valjean In A Inspector Javert World

It’s been two months since we last had our time together–which is much, much too long for a writer to refrain from…well, writing. I throw around excuses such as the need for “inspiration” a good bit, as it seems to come in and out my door like a teenager with car keys lately. Nonetheless, it is something I must continually pay attention to and cultivate if I am to share blatantly honest and candid musings like some lone voice calling in the wilderness perhaps. I decided a while ago this is what I am to do regardless of any “pomp and circumstance”. Hopefully 2018 will have me doing “mo better”, and less bitching about inspiration and such. Yet part of my “inspiration” dilemma however is because I tire of reading with so much frequent repetition of what has already been said, and oftentimes not said quite so well. So my goal of course is to get one thinking and reflecting on perhaps things that are oftentimes not reflected on often enough, or not said with such unconcealed honesty that it causes one to breathe a sigh of agonizing relief! In light of that, shall we continue?

You know I don’t always explain my titles, but often either “assume” (you know what they say about that) people know of what I speak, or I simply let them figure it out along the way. Having said that, I don’t even pretend to believe that everyone is as crazy of a Les Miserables fan as I, nor as to why in fact I am, so let me explain.

Les Miserables

The book Les Miserables by Victor Hugo is a story set in early 19th Century France that has been put into both play and movie production throughout it’s long history. It is the story of Jean Valjean, a French peasant, and this man’s quest for redemption after serving almost twenty years in prison for having stolen a loaf of bread for his sister’s starving child. Valjean decides to break his parole by escaping from prison and attempts to start a new life after a saintly bishop inspires him by a tremendous act of grace of which he has never before experienced. After forging ahead with a new name and an enlightened life in the Spirit with some marked success, as fate would have it, the devil in the disguise known as Inspector Javert is simultaneously on a mission to not only prove he is the escapee once known as Jean Valjean, but also out to substantiate on center stage that he is a hardened criminal incapable of the good now bestowed upon him. There are of course varying interpretations or applications of this magnificent story for many; but for me, as one who has watched the greatest movie version of this story numerous times (Starring Liam Neeson, Uma Thurman and Geoffrey Rush), what has stuck with me is what I want to share briefly today.

First of all, Jean Valjean is the beneficiary and resultantly also the exemplar of grace in practice that should be far more characteristic of a Christian arrested by grace. He has no stones to throw, he is grateful and thankful, and he lives openhandedly to the less fortunate all around him. As he walks down the street, he has an “Andy DuFrane” strut in his steps, but not the one of self-importance, but one of a beggar who has found needed bread at His loving heavenly father’s table and keeps crumbs in his pocket to share with anyone who will but receive. In fact, he has been so affected by grace, that he can do nothing more than bear witness to it, and to live it out in his daily life as the only fitting response to the grace once bestowed him, and he’s not looking back either.

His nemesis (Inspector Javert) however is the antithesis of Jean Valjean. He is the classic legalist hard-ass! His philosophy is “You get what you earn and nothing more”. Life is about “deserving” the good that comes your way and “working your way to the top”. He is also a classical Karma lover, who believes to a fault that you “reap what you sow”, and that this is “in the breeding” down through the generations. “Once a bad apple, always a bad apple”, is his only mantra, or in the case of Jean Valjean and Cozette, “Once a whore or a criminal, always a whore and a criminal”.

Javert is also the epitome of “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”, and dull he is. He couldn’t have a good time if it came up and slapped him in his legalist face! He is also so eaten up with the “bare knuckles” of life’s darker sides of the street that he has no rosy picture in his periphery. And as a result, he will stop at nothing to ensure that Jean Valjean the escapee gets his “due”, assured that his success and fortune are a smokescreen hiding something that he must expose to everyone so he can finally say, “Aha, I told you so, people cannot change for the good”! And yet, in the most beautiful of ways as our story unfolds, grace will teach Javert a lesson that he hadn’t expected, nor could he ever have believed for himself. In a tale of various twists and turns Javert is eventually confronted with the fact that Jean Valjean is the “real deal Holyfield” and he can no longer argue or reason it away. Yet rather than allowing the grace of God to arrest his own life, Javert instead becomes even more bitter, and decides that rather than enacting that final bitterness and retribution on His adversary, he will take his own life as fitting payment, unable to forgive himself for his treatment of a man, that regardless of how many times he was slapped on one side of his cheek, he simply turned and offered the other–irony of ironies.

We Have Found the Javert, and He is Us

You see die-hard legalists can’t handle this grace that is well…truly graceful. It a language that quite frankly “does not compute”. Salvation by grace is one thing, but after that, it’s all about the law baby till death to us part! We go a step further and bequeath this sentiment to our children, by offering grace as a free gift in their impressionable years, and then make them earn our love, support and everything in between from there on out. We’ve got to prepare them for the hard knocks of life, give them “tough love”, and make sure they too work their fingers to the bone so that they get the white-picket fence, hot dog, apple pie and Chevrolet just like us by the “sweat of their brow”. We start with grace, but after that it’s all about pulling oneself up by the proverbial bootstraps for the kiddos by golly! Is it any wonder most of them “fly the coop” and leave this anathema gospel that Paul once called it on our doorstep, shaking the dust off of their feet as they go.

I was reminded also of just how this enigma plays out in our own lives this Christmas season. As Christians, we talk an awful lot about peace, love, grace, forgiveness, etc., as we sing our repertoire of endless songs and go through the motions of solemn assemblies and services to bless the Lord for that gracious gift of himself that He gave, yet the sardonicism is that the very things that should be characteristic of us if we are to “become Jean Valjean” as Christ compels us to, is the “as plain as the nose on our face” habit of it that we miss more often than not I’m afraid. Someone rubs us wrong, or doesn’t validate us, or make much of us as we have supposed is our due, and in seconds flat their deleted from Facebook, or given the “stink-eye” as if somehow they were ever our true friends to begin with. Nonetheless, we are offended, and rather than the willingness to suffer wrong as Paul compels us to in the love chapter, we are “butt hurt”; and then if confronted again with the Javert in our lives who we are sure is judging us, we give him or her runway when we affirm their judgmental arrows, rather than resting in the love of our heavenly Father for us, and for them as well. We’re ready to tear anybody a new page that refuses to bestow the dignity and grace upon us that only Jesus imperfectly gives, and yet are unwilling to chart a new course of forgiveness in advance to those who have wronged us, and who will do so again by this time tomorrow.

And though the baby in the manager is a great place to reflect on this gift come to us in swaddling clothes, it is none other than the grown up man on the cross with an invitation to take it up along with him that has any remedy to cure the Javert in us that all too often raises it’s ugly legalistic head! A remedy that also extends to Javerts in our lives that secretly wish for our failure, and who are relentless in chewing on that hopeful and marinated cud until they get the front row seats to our destructive sideshow they’ve been waiting for. I for one hate it when the rubber meets this road. And it occurred to me this Christmas season that “Becoming Jean Valjean” becomes even more difficult as the grays protrude through the “Grecian formula”, and the wolf-like Javert in all of us is always at the door–there to remind us that forgiveness is a novel idea and nothing more…until of course it isn’t!

Selah

 

Seeing Through a Glass Darkly Among the Facebook Aristocracy

It will of course be no surprise to many of you that we have become a nation of experts on just about everything under the sun it would seem, especially amidst our favorite social media and information highway platforms. Many in fact spout off about things they know; things they think they know; things they don’t really know; and things that are perhaps better off left unsaid altogether. Of particular interest to me is the fact that most of these would be prophets have their particular freak flag that they fly, and that once you look behind the veneer of, always seem to gravitate towards their particular identity politic; victimhood; geography; ethnicity; or particular bandwagon that the cultural elite have been branding to these gullible masses. And in this milieu of a smorgasbord of so-called answers “blowing in the wind”, the quest for some real truth to sink one’s teeth into has been about like trying to nail Jell-O to a freakin wall! This is particularly the case for those who are truly seeking after it, yet which also makes those attempting to speak into the cultural wind with some sort of truthful acumen tantamount to begging for a fistfight of expletives in your social media face in seconds flat.

This new phenomenon seems to be the case among the average Joe who gets his daily diet of information in mere sound bites and video vignettes from their favorite news channel; or even worse, their favorite TV show.   But I’ve found even among those who may have a specialization in a certain area, or having read the latest book on a topic at hand (a real rare phenomenon); and even those who claim allegiance to a particular brand of Christianity or clerical robe, often times speak out of that frame of reference, as opposed to speaking from the overarching motif of grace and that of expressed wisdom sifted through a self-admitted opaque glass. To be sure, I believe there are things we can truly know, and know matter-of-factly, both in the seen and unseen realm, even though the latter regards a metaphysical truth of which modern man has now discounted as mere codswallop. However, that modicum of knowledge that we can come down on, is most often found at the apex of one stalwart platform of certainty: The fact that Jesus took our place. In the words of Bono, it is indeed the “thought that changed the world”.

I say all this to say that it is through the lens of a beneficiary with absolutely nothing to give in return, and also found with no bargaining chips on the table with which to broker a deal with the divine that we then view the world; and that we then humbly attempt to speak into with the unassuming invitation, “Be reconciled to God”. And in spite of what should be obvious to those of us who have walked with a limp on the narrow path for any length of time, I have noticed that the aforementioned groups of people sound off more out of their particular brand of “high-horse” or “groupthink” rather than through both an objective and subjective stance (since the truth we uphold comprises both). Of particular interest and bewilderment for me are those who claim to be harbingers of the ancient path of truth, yet ostensibly do so driven from cultural dictates of current chicness like everyone else, or from a particular “family tradition”, rather than as one speaking from the posture of a prayerful and biblical watchman and discerner of both the truth, as well as the distant mysteries held in equal tension this side of heaven.

In fact, I have found that the quest for truth requires a “both/and” and not an “either/or” approach to arrive at a truth that is substantial enough to both weather the storms of life over the long term, and that also is capable of navigating through both plausible and implausible truth claims vying for attention and allegiance. All in all, we have an awful lot of so-called knowledge that we are sure is “the gospel according to us”, but very little wisdom tempering the claim to such from those who both “know” Him, and equally recognize His ways are past finding out. Though that might sound like the voice of a relativist, it is actually more the story of a weak man’s walk with Christ with his ears and eyes wide open in the midst of both the temporal and the eternal; the secret and also revealed; and equally as part of the kingdom that is both here and still not yet. And it is my personal belief as a wayward traveler on the narrow path, that perhaps once we attempt to get beyond “Jesus took my place”, most of us are found a “day late and a dollar short” of the truth we proclaim, and with big mouths that are better off being shut to a world trying to find it’s way to our path still sadly less traveled.

I must say that it has taken me many years of dangers, toils and snares to come to this very delicate dichotomy between that which I know and that which I am still seeking, and thus I now refrain from too many “soapbox” temptations. I used to preach to my parishioners (unknowingly at the time) from a vantage point of one who had the truth they should listen to, yet quickly conceded amidst my own daily mirror check hoping to see the reflection of a victor of the Christian life, and found instead a mere beggar searching for crumbs staring back at me. From that point onward, I came down from the “holy man chairs” and sat on the pews with the rest of the sinners, and only approached the sacred desk with fear and trembling before speaking “thus saith the Lord” to those in my humble care. It was then that I realized that my theologies and dogmata were of interest to me perhaps, yet not so much to those who were simply trying to get through another night without pulling the trigger, and who desperately needed to see the gospel come in shoe leather of real tangible hope, rather than homilies filled with moral prescriptions no one can keep past Monday morning. Instead, I became a mutual traveler on the narrow path, albeit as one appointed to guide others to where the water truly flowed, and to the one who promised that those who drank deeply of His reservoir would never thirst again. In essence, I also stopped inviting people to church by putting the cart before the horse, and instead directed them to the one who alone had the power to calm and likewise walk through the storms of their lives, footprints and all.

And yet what seems self-evident to those of us who hobble along on the narrow path, is in fact a forest by and large missed by a conglomeration of deviational or comfortable trees by a myriad of other voices in the market square, as well as by so-called friends and family members alike who are praying for our salvation to their way of thinking, and who are “praying for us ” that we finally get it right. They are those who are surer than the word of God itself it seems, and who are relentless in their adamancy that if we’d just fall in line, we could once and for all be just like them, and the(ir) world would then be a happier place.

Though to be sure the “seeing through a glass darkly” Christian life can be a lonely trek on the narrow path, and can be equally comprised of a much shorter “friends” list. And yet at this very acute cost, the opposite tendency of joining in with dogmatic assertion and argumentation while holding too many theological lines drawn in the sand, rather than a more cautious dark glass theology, is much more costly still I’m afraid. And in the aftermath, the former is ripe with casualties that thwart the very mission to bring the “good news” to those who actually want to hear it. Yet to be sure, many take the “glass-darkly” side as synonymous to entrance into the slippery slope of compromise and unorthodoxy, yet walking in the center of biblical tension is a tightrope worth the vulnerability it inevitably brings for those who in the end find the Master there with his outstretched hand guiding us to our final destination.

All in all, as found in the greatest words perhaps ever penned on the topic of love, and words of which are far too easily scurried through on countless wedding days, the apostle Paul himself (the self-recognized “chief of sinners”) reminds us that in this life, “we see through a glass darkly”, and only in the Lord’s eschaton will we “fully know”, and thus will be “fully known” by the only one who truly has the keys to the kingdom. His conclusion holds out before us three things that when all is said and done we can hold on to with a firm and constant surety: it is that of faith, hope and love. The very things we cannot see, but when experienced, are felt far beyond any sermon or moral admonition we could ever remember; and that of which the greatest of those is LOVE. And thus as those of us of whom it is incumbent upon to speak of that which we do know, it must always be through the bestowal of a more loving mirror theology if it is ever to reach the hearts of those that desperately need to hear less from a f—ing know it all, and more from a mutual beggar who has found crumbs to share.

“We are all beggars, this is true”.

the dying words of Martin Luther

 

Selah

 

 

 

How to Save a Life

An Encounter

 In one of those rare moments of late, this week I had the great privilege of witnessing humanity at it’s best at just about the time I had concluded western civilization’s (and more specifically America’s) fall into the abyss as an ever increasing and most imminent certainty. This series of episodic events over the course of the last few months started with my brief encounter with a homeless man whose morose and disheveled appearance struck me to the very core, much as the plight of the forgotten and dismissed in our society always has. Yet this man’s humble and yet acutely saturnine eyes began to tell me a story that I needed to hear for myself.

It started as an occasional dash to the golden arches on a Saturday or Sunday morning for a satiating sausage McGriddle for my wife and I after a weeklong observance of abstinence from life’s fonder pleasures. As I entered the drive-thru, I saw him out the corner of my eye, sitting there like someone uninvited yet nonetheless out front and center lingering abashedly for a few morsels from any rich man’s table. Then, as I ordered my food, I said to the drive-thru attendant, “make that a double order please”, as I then moseyed my way back around to roll down my window with his bag of food and drink with a simple “God Bless” as I then skirted by. This is of course something very easy to do, which at least bespeaks of a heart headed in the right place I suppose. However, it is as also an all too easy “pass” for most of us to skate by the obvious plank in our society’s eye that we like to pretend is simply not there while the time-release nature of our increasing desensitization capitulates once again. And then as I ride off into my middle-class coastal weekend of sunbathing, cold beer and a Sabbath observance and rest on Sunday, I begin to contemplate about what I have witnessed as I often do; and yet again to what the Lord himself would have me do about it.

After guilting myself about my own lack of response to simply open my doors to one such as he, I am quickly reminded of all of societies justifiable reasons one cannot open up his home with a wife and kids to a stranger of his kind. This of course is all quite evenhanded in both a protective and financial capacity; and yet at the same time a very clear watering down of a gospel that once upon a time was the church’s golden rule rather than a now more normal exception to it. And the thought occurred to me that it seems that it must take just about 2000 years or better to go from losing our lives to saving it again. And I’m also reminded very quickly why nothing much happens worthy of a powerful notation to a people who have somehow now lost their first love, and who have clearly forgotten that Babylon is not their home.

A History of College Tries

Nonetheless, on another note, I guess you could say I have been an advocate of the poor and downtrodden for most of my life, to at least give myself a grade on the curve. And throughout the course of my life, on any given day, our family was joined with weary life travelers who stopped in for a time of rest and a little helping hand. Of course I’d like to say that as a result of this ongoing practice I’d have an entourage of successful stories of how my rescue resulted in some “happily ever after” for those in my care. However, the truth is that most accepted my help, all the while rejecting my offer of the one who could really help them, and who then exited out my door to either an untimely death; a trek deeper into their favorite mire; or with a contumacious resolve to simply do it their way yet again. Perhaps the messenger was not as good as he should have been, or perhaps what I learned is that it’s mostly about our obedience to an open-handed life rather than the possession of a pragmatic catalog of “winning” at any heroic rescues to speak of which sell books and ushers one into some church hall of fame. Many who watched as result were sure that we were fools full of naiveté and grandiose ideas in trying to make this wretched world some better place, while others chilly obtuseness resigned them to a comfortable and lingering judgment of our endeavors, towering behind a infectious and rampant belief that “there but for the grace of God go I” applied to everyone but their miserable selves.

Yet even as a person with a track record of at least playing at “losing one’s life” for the sake of the gospel throughout the last 26 years of my life, I’ve gone through periodic bouts of joining the ranks of the naysayers, and then back again to someone who increasingly scratches his head as to why those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ have softened so much of the gospel’s loudest commandment’s around wealth and money to a very sanitized and distant undertone. And as I muse through these things, I make my way back through the drive-thru line again for a fast food fix; drop off another bag of goodies to my new and comfortably detached acquaintance; and off to my next first-world excursion.

And then the day came when I finally decided to engage him. I asked him about his story, and where he’d been in his life. He then proceeded to tell me as a man in his late fifties to early sixties about a family that had all now passed away, and about multiple heart surgeries that left him as someone with already limited skills incapable of full sustainment in this “swimming with the sharks” economy. In addition, he told me about countless tries to gain consistent employment yet continually being let go as a result of his obvious health liabilities to his employer. I then gave a feeble smile, told him I would be praying, and casually mentioned that I wanted people in the community to know about his plight. And then, like a well-intentioned do-gooder, I whisked away to yet another fantastic distraction until this week brought his memory again to my mind.

The Ray of Hope

 It seemed that someone posted something on our community Facebook site inquiring if anyone knew the story of this humble yet familiar untouchable of our seaside community. Then within moments, many began to chime in along with my wife and I about our individual interactions with him and the desire to help in some way. These comments continued amidst an occasional stone cast from Scrooge-like posts bidding us to in essence allow the decreasing of the surplus population to take its evolutionary course. All the while, one brave soul took it upon himself to start a “GoFundMe” page for our new nomadic friend. Within hours, a large sum of money was raised to help get a myriad of essentials this man would need to at least have a chance to breathe but for a moment. All the while, many more have pledged to give longer term support to a man who found himself caught up in a tailspin of life of which he had no ability to recover from. Many more have vowed to work with him to chip away at the barriers in his life preventing him from any type of hope or survival in this dog-eat-dog world of which we are all but a paycheck away from homelessness inside of ourselves. And I’ll have to say that this old dog has been given a new found faith in humanity this week, and with a new resolve to constantly be wiling to speak out and for the vulnerable of our world that the scriptures uniformly and exhaustively compel us towards. So I guess you could say that this week I learned firsthand again how you actually save a life; which most always comes by being wiling to lose some of it first of all.

A Plea to the Church Idea I Love

I’ve been an advocate for some time now of the church taking one homeless person, or family at a time, and to go beyond “feeding the homeless” to actually doing what I witnessed this week in “homing” the homeless; since that is clearly what they need. And as I say this, I know many individuals have actually done this, and many more have spawned organizations that do their best to take many off the streets who have no hope unless a truly good Samaritan should pass their way willing to stick it out over a much longer and messier haul. Yet the truth is, that most of us would not give to organizations that expend most of their resources to the machine itself, with very little left for the propagation of the gospel and to the poor Jesus said he came specifically for. And yet even as I say this, I know that the church has done more to alleviate the ills of society than any other organization known to man “hands down”. Yet somehow I believe that we have allowed the professionalization of the ministry and the needs of those within it’s comfortable and long-term ranks to supersede the needs of the one’s Jesus said were “the least of these”, and to whose humble care is sure and eternal criterion for sitting on his right hand. By choice, however painfully, I finally chose to be an unsuccessful minister in a system that many times fails to read the so obvious writing on the church wall in regards to this fly in its ointment. And to a system that actually once turned a watching world “upside down”. And yet even as I say this, I know that the hope of the world still remains with the church; or at least by those within her ranks. I only mean to say that this week, I learned how to save a life from the roadies and not the boys in the band.

 

Selah

 

 

Finishing Well Inside of a 50 Shades of Grey World

From Stalwart Allegiance to a Slip, Sliding Away

 It was 26 years ago, that at the age of 27, I finally fell down at my dining room table and conceded to the great hound of heaven. The one who had watched me run so long and so hard away from His loving arms till exhaustion finally took its inevitable toll. I had finally gotten “sick and tired of being sick and tired” as they say, and he knew it—and all I could do was say, “Here I am; please do something with this mess I’ve made of my life”.

You see though I grew up in the church and “gave my heart to Jesus” every other Sunday night; up until this point, something in that process had not yet “taken” shall we say.  For shortly after my commitment to forsake all for the cause of Christ, I was only a short mini-skirt or bong hit away from becoming a casualty in the spiritual war in the heavenlies. To be sure part of it was due to my family dysfunction, an additional portion was the rejection of an evangelicalism that I could not measure up to, and yet a vast percentage was simply due to two competing loves you might say. There was of course the love of the world I was caught up in that I could at least touch, taste and feel; and then there was the promise of a love and a home that was eternal, but yet somewhere beyond the horizon of my current ability to experience all that it had to offer. And to be sure, for most of us, this is indeed where the rubber meets the road.

Nonetheless, at the age of 27, the aspect of what it meant to hear the Lord say “Well done, thy good and faithful servant”, and this facet of what it means to truly “finish well” gave me new aspirations from which to strive and set my face like flint towards. And for quite awhile, even amidst many failures along the way to be sure, I felt that my roots started to go deep; and that a faithful tree with a promising future started to sink down by streams of water with some visible fruit for the world around me to pick from. Through a daily walk and later years of theological study, as well as a brief stint in pastoral church ministry; though difficult at times, the eternal love started to win the battle of my allegiance more times than not, and I was perhaps the happiest I had ever been.

Fast forward through my personal battle with what in my minds’ eye the church was becoming and heading towards, I eventually took a sabbatical that has lasted some 16 plus years now with perhaps no end in sight. During that time, I felt that I was still “walking the walk and talking the talk” for the most part. For instance, I was still a family man; I still read my Bible everyday and prayed; I gave to those in need around me to a bloody fault; and reasoned that for the most part, I was still on the straight and narrow path. During this time, I also shucked off most of the stifling restraints that evangelicalism sought to impose upon me to “not smoke, drink or chew and run with those who do”, and set out to explore what the church world outside of evangelicalism’s doors had to offer someone looking for a much deeper and vibrant faith–one capable of real answers to questions the church no longer seemed to even desire to answer. Yet though I had periods of great faith during this time; like the frog in the kettle, I too slowly had the “finishing well” cooked out of me, and much of who I had become looked an awful like the world I had told God so many years ago I would never fall in love with again. And as I looked around, I realized that the church had joined me in this great falling away. And it seems that now, this characteristic of “finishing well” has become at least “50 shades of grey.”

The World’s Definition

The world has its various ideas of what it means to finish well to be sure. Many believe that it has to do with dying with the most toys, which typically boils down to the acquiring of houses, cars, stocks and bonds; retirement by the sea, and a solid inheritance for our progeny as the epitome of a successful life. Others search for power, prestige and fame that equally come with spoils that can afford whatever the heart desires. Some seek to live on the edge, and get their kicks in jumping out of soaring planes, climbing the highest mountains or swimming on the ocean floor—or slowly but surely checking off a bucket list that defines and gives their life the greatest possible meaning.   Then there are others who look for various social-justice causes to give themselves to with a view to making a name for themselves as well; yet also no doubt in order to leave the world a little better than the way they found it. And it would seem that for others, to finish well apparently means to waste away in front of a television set until the undertaker finally pronounces us DEAD, whilst others don’t give it much thought at all it seems. But the crux of the matter is that most of us live by Paul’s nihilistic synopsis without something like the resurrection’s implications to really sink our teeth into: that of eating, drinking and being merry; since tomorrow we all die.

The Good and Faithful Servants of Yesteryear and Today

 I reminisced a bit lately about many who led the charge of bidding others and myself to the cause of Christ in my young tutelage. The sad state of affairs is that many of them too have become casualties of war, and are no longer finishing well or even on the path striving for it. They are spiritual MIA’s that no one can find remotely near the battlefield anymore, and who seem to be stoically pursuing it’s logical ends. Many also divorce pretty much the same as everyone else; watch the same movies as everyone else; look out for themselves pretty much like everybody else; and are doing their level best to pretend their former self was perhaps misguided or perhaps credulous. Let’s just say that there aren’t many heroes left from the good ole days anymore, and it doesn’t seem that new one’s are about to cause much of a fuss in this “50 shades of grey” world continually knocking just outside their front door.

Others caught up in the Fifty shades of the church’s “redefining” of what it actually means now to follow on the narrow path have surmised that it must mean merely “going to church” and dropping their weekly fire insure premium in the plate, while then scurrying off to continue to build their treasures and enjoy their pleasures right here; again, pretty much like everyone else. Christian Smith coined the dilemma among young people as a moralistic therapeutic deism, which resigns the Christian imperative to nothing more than being a good person; calling on God when one is in need; the pursuit of the betterment of oneself; and that all good boys and girls go to heaven when they die. My personal belief is that it is not just the young; but also that the old alike have now taken the ball and ran with it and made it a life science. Yet this description to me also amounts to a practical atheism among the frozen chosen who keep the external forms and trapping of their religion, while it’s real substance is discarded from their lives all together. It is in this present condition that we find ourselves, and perhaps I am also one of its imprisoned disciples. My only question is whether or not anyone else recognizes that the narrow path has now been redefined as the broader one, and whether or not we in the church are even letting the prospect interrupt our dinner plans.

What Does It Mean To Finish Well in a Fifty Shades of Grey World

 So what does it mean to finish well in a fifty shades of grey world? To be sure the devil is somehow mixed in with these details. What does it mean to walk the life of faith while the church and the world are at the same dinner party? For those who recognize the snake in the garden, perhaps it means sometime walking alone with God in the cool of the day. Perhaps it also means walking sometimes in a quiet sadness, not only at our own falling short of the high calling, but in the lack of finding real communal companions who increasingly also recognize we’ve drastically veered off of the narrow road that leads to life. I think it also means the willingness to become a little weird to those at the dinner party, and that perhaps our dance card is increasingly wide open. I believe it also means the embracing of what the scriptures call becoming “strangers and aliens” in a world that is most definitely not our home, and that we must learn daily to loosen the choke-hold it unremittingly has in our lives. I believe it also means the world’s grasp will not go quietly without much prayer and fasting, and that it will increasingly mean loving and being willing to lose to and in a world that will continually reject our walking to the beat of a different drum. It must also mean becoming people whose influence means more than words and repetitive bible studies, as important as they are, but that also comes with power to heal and to save, and that has the ability to transfer people from the darkness into his marvelous light, even as the lions lick their chops in a den somewhere still down the road that only the Father knows of.  And while the party guests scoff and ask “Where is the promise of his coming” since the world tick-tocks on as it always has, the disciple whom Jesus loved does not stutter as he reminds us what it means to truly finish well in a “50 shades of grey” world. He writes:

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever”. (I John 2:15-17 ESV)

Selah

The Futile Search in Finding Christ’s One True Church

At the outset, let me say that I mean no disregard for the church or one’s individual slant of it in the above statement. And I certainly have the utmost respect for the rich panorama of diversity of thought and practice that makes up the Christian church for the last two millennia. And so when I say “the Christian church”, unlike some; but hopefully like a whole lot of others; I mean the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant expression–even with the checkered history all of them carry along as their preferred but often discounted baggage. I of course did not come to this supposition by upbringing or choice, but rather by dogged compulsion. The compulsion came from a lifetime of pouring through the texts of Holy Scripture, which attempt to speak for itself through the Spirit if we will but let them. Yet it also came from being a lifetime bibliophile that has wolfed down books from each side of the church isle, longing to hear some kernel of truth to help a poor beggar trying to find his way, ever searching for the crumbs around God’s vast church table. This has been for the purpose of mining the reservoir of particular richness that is the universal church, and to the otherwise exclusion that we would have all missed had we not settled down with our hearts, the Holy Spirit, and with our thinking caps, particularly in order to linger long and hard into what they had to show us should we care to give a little listen.

An Acquired Taste

This view has come from a church-school of hard knocks, and has carried a very high cost for me personally, as one who set out many years ago with a “calling” to “preach the gospel” in a setting that for me was the Protestant-Evangelical church. At the time, I had no idea how very much I would be the “square peg in the round hole” there, all the while struggling persistently to call it my home; even amidst sheep in wolves clothing who had no other intention than my demise and hopeful resolve to finally call it quits–or to simply sit down and shut up! And in the first chapter of that journey, the wolves had the sheep by one as I exited the “call” with a mound of school loan debt and a waning belief in a system that for me had far too many casualties than successes to increasingly speak of. And though my experience hemorrhaged out in everything that came forth from my lips and broken heart, not too awful many were listening; nor do they still at the time of this writing. And in fact, this snubbing of my damaged heart and prophetic desire to allow my life to be an open book everyone could read in regards to my reaction to my particular experience with the church was typically met with disdain, contempt, and a place on someone’s permanent “we’ll be praying for you” list, while equally waiting for me to eventually “see the light” and fall back in line. And though I never did, it wasn’t for the lack of umpteen years worth of a serious college try.

An Angry Lad

I’m sure part of the reason I was unsuccessful in making the trek back was because at first I was angry. Anger is hard to hide even when we speak with a s____ eating grin on our face. The Grinch towards church in us cannot be hidden behind it, and most can spot our “accident waiting to happen” in a few seconds flat. In fact, I can remember the time that a dear friend of mine had asked me whether or not I would like to help him start a church shortly after I had waived my white flag in my last pastorate, to which I simply replied, “If you want to see it fail miserably, then I’m your man”. Fortunately for me, this particular churchman and friend saw me for who I really was, and who imputed unto me what he alone could see, as he extended his graceful hand and listening ear with a continual push for me to give it another go and even share his pulpit. Perhaps he was on drugs, or perhaps he was the one light on a dark path the Father above allowed to remind me, that perhaps I still had something to say. And he was the someone who saved my life that dark night, and I thank God he had the discerning and sensitive eyes from which to see me with at that time.

Sad and Alone on the Journey

My anger eventually subsided and turned to one of sadness you might say. For one, I was sad for what I was now “relearning” again in the business world and in my travels, as I constantly met people who were enamored with the prospect of Jesus but no so much from the institution associated with his namesake. And although it is all too unsurprising now in its familiar sound to our ears, it is still increasingly #1 on the top 10 list of barriers to the gospel, and one that has caused me many a sleepless nights and a proverbial scratching of the head.

This sadness continued for quite some time in my life and I checked out for a time to lick the remainder of my wounds before this little engine that thought he could would get back into the church game. Yet I increasingly ran up against brick walls of all shapes, sizes and colors that I couldn’t get around, nor would it’s clerical cronies and guards allow me an alternate route. For while I thought these barriers were of my own making alone, yet as months turned into years with no end in sight, I began to realize that much of my struggle was an honest angst that I shared more with those on the outside looking in than those secure within the cozy womb of the institution of which they were apart. The sadness for me then easily mutated into aloneness, and both seemed to set up camp and stay for at least a month of Sundays.

This aloneness then led to a resolve to perhaps go solo this time around and break new ground. You see I increasingly struggled with the model of the church that I saw that seemed to expend most of it’s resources on itself and the professionals that would administer it; particularly when there was not much from a pragmatic standpoint to show for its efforts when all was said, and not much done. I peeked in, and besides looking at my own imperfect limp on the narrow path, I increasingly saw people take classes in evangelism, yet who still didn’t evangelize. I saw those who were commissioned to take up their cross and follow, but who preferred to simply wear them around their necks. And I increasingly witnessed a church that continually resorted to speaking a language to a postmodern world that no one even understood anymore, much less gave an honest listen to. And evidently, someone forgot to tell the church this was going on, as they stood continually stalwart and entrenched for battle against the very ones Jesus called us to eat, drink and die with and for. I waited and I waited, and then I decided to take the plunge in my own church planting effort, all the while fully expecting failure, due to the historic dark cloud of my former clergy existence.

Put Me In Coach

Yet deep inside of me, I long envisioned a church that might actually be both distinct, and yet at the same time attractive to people who were truly lost, and who occasionally peeked around the corner to listen and see if anyone could perhaps point the way forward. A year and a half later; after much prayer, tenuous effort, and thousands of dollars spent, I was unable to find those who were willing to be peculiar with me for a short time in order to see something so obviously true and right become a reality for those outside Christendom’s stained-glass door. I knew many were secretly hoping and patiently waiting for my failure, while a few really broken people who actually knew they were, longed to see something they too no longer believed in. And then one day, I decided to pull the plug. I tapped out again. Perhaps it was not the fish, but the fisherman with the problem. I could vaguely hear my mentors from afar assuring me of this all too predictable fish story.

A Recurring But Ever Evasive Dream

It’s been several years later now and I moved to an eastern shore to forget about it all for just a smidgeon, and find God somewhere in the crashing waves right down the street and inside my restless and wayward heart. I pretty much lost everything the world holds dear in this thing called life, partially by trying to serve up my family some version of an American Dream. But I mostly lost it due to the willingness to give whatever I had for a chance to see God show up to validate my tenured thesis, and who would perhaps once again “call” me to say “Thus saith the Lord” behind a sacred desk of a local church. So far the day has not yet come. Yet even through all the dangers, toils and snares I have already come from, trying desperately to fit in and be loved by the bride of Christ as she played hard to get, I too have many times left her at the altar for another time and place, or another bride altogether. All the while, the Lord has never let me shake the constant desire to see the bride become beautiful again, while longing for her to admit her ogre tendencies in the night. I have also never ceased wanting to bring my Shrek self along with her, knowing that somehow, someway, God needs me to bring my brokenness alongside to perhaps tease her hair and make here a little more desirable to the sinners in such desperate need of her loving touch and embrace.

Through some 16 years now since my exit stage left from the one thing I just knew was the reason I breathed for besides my wife and children, but that I ultimately walked away from, I have looked high and low for the one “true” church that I could finally call “home”. The one place where I would finally become one of it’s own, and yet still be an inquisitive gadfly in continual search of God’s whole truth and nothing but the truth. So far, those teasing wolves are now up by two.

A Quick and Fantastic Distraction

 I must say however that for a long time now the sacramental church of the Orthodox and Catholic variety has sure got my wandering eye. At times they sure are “smoking hot” compared to the anything goes, fly by the seat of your pants rock n roll shows of protestant-evangelicalism. For sure their mystical and ancient beauty has caught me looking hard and long a time or two. And yet, increasingly; as I watch each of these wonderful traditions not even begin to be able to (within themselves) “un-schism” what was once the one holy catholic church, and who swear by the necessity of uniformity and conformity of their own expression as being the “one true church”, I am increasingly left no longer holding my breath–nor desire to be left holding their bag. That is not to say they don’t shine a compelling light though, especially among a protestant-evangelicalism that seems always ready to take up occasional allegiance with the cultural Joneses, and still have no idea who they want to be when they grow up. And they are a light we still all need, but nonetheless one which is I’m afraid only a microcosm of the kaleidoscope of light that is “the church”, and one that God seems to use, even as we squabble amongst ourselves as to who actually has the damn keys! Perhaps we have forgotten that we still all ultimately see through the glass darkly, and when all is said and done, the church exists for others and not ourselves as to what really matters. Or perhaps we’re also too busy trying to be the victor in the fight, forgetting that our faith was founded by the one who willingly threw in the towel.

A Child in Search of…

At present I’m hanging out with a bunch of Calvinists these days, and they certainly have something as well to bring to the table. I’ve been attending quite regularly, and though I don’t put all my eggs in their basket either, I haven’t told them as of yet. Because for now, I’m too smitten yet again with the prospect of a beautiful bride that extends the invitation of a permanent “family” in the making, with a lifetime of loving commitment to lost souls just like myself, and to those outside looking for a place to belong and extra room at the family eucharist table. And though I have ended my search for the one true church, I must say, I have yet to cease longing for and belief in a place that I can call home. After all, isn’t everyone?

 

Selah