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.

The Light in Christendom is But a Flicker Now: Part II

Hello friends. I left off last week with some thoughts about the concept of Christian exile, and the flicker of light left in the church in perhaps an unexpected tangent: By way of my confession of voting for the enigma which is Donald J. Trump. In fact, after touching on several issues about my ongoing cracked up life in order to get us there, that’s where I ultimately landed; with the overall purpose of getting us to think about exile and the fact that we are most definitely in it, irregardless of who is temporarily in the White House. I tried to do so subtly by interjecting that our vote as Christians was perhaps more out of fear of having to live as exilic people more than anything else. My thesis was that part of the reason that droves of Christians in America voted for the billionaire and chief, is because we are afraid that for the first time in our known history, the Christian value system is becoming extinct both in the American public square, and in the thoughts, minds and overall consciousness of almost everyone we rub shoulders with now. We’ve all felt it, and we secretly know it to be true, but somehow we’ve escaped once more due to an election without having to give it much reflective thought. And I for one believe that this is perhaps the beginning of our undoing.

 

And of course in a sense, all of this that I’m speaking about is not a secret as I also suggested last week. The reason is because we have actually been on this moral spiral downward motion for several decades now. However, in the wake of the last eight years of a liberal administration, when we’ve actually witnessed the last of nationally accepted Christian ethics fall like dominoes before our eyes and then actually become new laws in the realms of the definition of marriage and gender identity to name a few, the Christian masses are almost certain that Armageddon is just in sight. And as I mentioned last week, many middle class voters showed up in mass for Trump on Nov. 8th also due to feeling that they had been long left out of the public discussion that would concern them for so long, and are those who have been by and large left out of what remains of the American Dream. In addition, those same people who espoused to many of the same values we mutually as a nation had once held so dear, no longer saw their values represented in the main stream. To add insult to injury, the values they and their families once believed in have now come full circle in being publicly derided and dismissed as poppycock to the liberal elite in the know. As a result, this is the shape and the state we’re in.

 

My brief purpose today to wrap up some of these sentiments is not to continue on a political pathway however. This is the case not only because I am not an expert in the political arena, but also because I want to focus more on why we in Christendom, as our light slowly fades, really voted in the way that we did. My consensus is that the reason that we voted the way we did is more about fear than actually voting for the best candidate. The truth is that we voted because we are afraid of living for the first time as strangers and aliens in a world where Constantinian-like state sanctions and national acceptability of the Judeo-Christian value system is truly on it’s last hoorah. It is also my belief, that though this is not preferred in the natural state of things, in terms of our final real spiritual influence in our neck of the world, its demise should in fact be to us as a bittersweet yet welcome long-lost friend.

 

However, up until now, our only friend has indeed been the world I’m afraid. So for decades now, and as a result, the church in America has lost its cultural influence. And the reason has been two-fold. First of all, as Christians have become more and more equal purveyors and evangelists of the American Dream, and as a result have become non-distinct in the culture at large, to the point that no one is truly listening anymore. To make matters worse, the church, in a mad dash to sidestep its corporate lack of holiness and strangeness in Babylon, decided instead that what the world really needed from us was our relevance. As a result we traded clerical collars for skinny jeans, hymnody for rock n roll shows, and real prophetic pastors with John the Baptist-like backbone for CEO’s who know how to grow organizations.   As a result we saw the masses both come and go over the last several decades, and who are now going, going, and you guessed it…now gone. And yet we continually scratch our heads as to exactly what and why it happened. The second reason we lost our cultural influence is because not only is it by nature of Christianity itself that we become strangers and aliens in a foreign land as God’s people always have been, but also because we have needed to indeed reinvent who we are to actually be in exile before we can again gain any credence again in Nebuchadnezzar’s court.

 

You see the truth of the matter is that we have lived as preferred members of the state for so long, that we have no real experience living as people of exile as our own scriptures propose that we must live as. We have not yet resisted to blood, or lost our property like much of the great cloud of witnesses of the early church did, as well as the countless millions who have suffered and still do suffer as exilic people all across the world. We have lived in a land that respected our clergy, upheld our values as having equal billing on the cultural marquee, and have benefited from living in a country that upholds our right to speak our minds as it’s very own Holy Grail. As a result, I’m afraid we are at a real disservice as to what to do about it. We have now exercised our right as free citizens to vote someone out and someone else in more to our liking, and more akin to our particular brand of the truth. And I think that secretly we perhaps all believe that unprecedented economic growth, prayer in public schools, and the Ten Commandments on the courthouse lawn are indeed just around the corner. We’re also pretty sure that our new commander and chief will fix everything that is broken, and pretty soon our own vision of America will be of course “great again”, and things will go back to being as they always have been. After all, as Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home”.

 

I must conclude by saying that I long for the same primrose path as everyone else, and long for the days when the struggle to make it in this crazy world would yield some sort of final success story somewhere over the rainbow. It’s in our human nature to do so, and the Father of course knows we at least desire and even have some need of these things. But as I look out across the landscape of the culture of which you and I are apart, I can’t help but believe that the trajectory we were headed for has only been given but a speed bump for now. And of course, we voted for that speed bump and it is now very prevalently in the road. Yet the truth of the matter is, that the vast majority of our land and even our world are fast and furiously conspiring in order to ensure that there won’t be a second one. As a result, My only prayer for you and I is that when that happens, and it will; I would wish we’d all been ready!

 

Selah

 

 

 

 

The Light in Christendom is But a Flicker Now: Part I

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written last, and the time passage has been missed, at least by me. It has also brought with it a bewilderment of what to actually say worthy of your ear’s attention. Call it “writer’s block”, or chalk it up as “when you don’t use it you lose it”; it really doesn’t matter. The point is, and what I’m really straining to say is, that I’m somewhat at a crossroads these days about what I’d like to talk about…again.

But then, like the surety of a daily problem to solve or survive, there it was, just this morning. As I poured through John chapter 3 for perhaps the millionth time in my life, the thought occurred to me for some reason as I meditated about the need to be born again by the Spirit and not the flesh, and the vast ramifications and theological implications of that in light of our current milieu of a postmodern world now come of age, something else came to me that felt I desperately needed, or at least wanted to say to you. And that certain something that I would like to briefly speak about today is the further digression of the light in Christendom that I have felt for some time is indeed now merely only somewhat of a flicker.

But before I attempt to continue to unpack that thought just a bit, let me just say that I’ve been on a positive kick since my last post or two, which of course have been just a little darker, and of course quite frankly, most like me. Oh but you would be proud of me to be sure though. In fact, I’ve been “speaking the word” into my life each morning, going to a church that believes in the same, and grasping and hoping each day for brighter tomorrows. I’ve also been looking forward to victories that God is merely waiting on me to simply believe in order for me to claim so that my life experience echoes it’s reality that’s been waiting for me to get on board.   It’s all really good stuff to be sure. Oh I know, I know. You sense the sarcasm already I can tell; so now a brief explanation.

You see for most of my life I have been exposed to a particular version of Christendom that by and large, and I think rightfully so, prides themselves on being cruciform, or what Luther would call a “theology of the cross”. That is to say that the cross is most acutely reminiscent of our daily experience in this life, and the self-identification with Jesus on our own road to Calvary is of not only a tremendous truth with ample biblical support, but also brings with it the equally comfortable spiritual and emotional salve in assisting us in living in a world that tends to give us more thorns and thistles than roses if we’re honest. In light of that, understanding the fall’s consequences and correlation to our own experience in the constant battle over sin and the war of good and evil, the need for Christ to come to die, and our own necessity from time to time to do so as well in the cusp of human relationships and encounter with worldly gods, gives us at least some “aha” moments. The flipside of that cruciform life of course is what many call being “theologians of glory”. They are those who in a nutshell seem to emphasize the good news of the resurrection that resulted for Jesus, and that will surely also result not only for us in the sweet bye and bye, but also even here and now. And there is biblical support for that as well.

In addition, there is overwhelming support from those of us who perhaps have not experienced too much of the victorious Christian life, or any life for that matter, and who long to put forth a resolved faith in a God they cannot see who will nonetheless spur them on to victories that as of yet have constantly escaped them. The temptation for the earthy reality of the one, and the hope of the triumphant other, do constant battle in the war within our very souls from dusk till dawn. And so we are betwixt and between. We long for the presence of Christ in our lives, and claim we would like to be like him, yet, when the reality of His cross coalesces with the lives of our own, like everyone else, we are longing for Easter instead; with a side order of “six-pack” abs, an eternal and bulging bank account and nightly euphoric sex if you please until we meet on that beautiful shore.

But getting back to my first diversion from the topic at hand. I have decided for now until I change my mind again by next Tuesday, that I want to live harmoniously somewhere in between both of these two worlds if only in the sense that somehow, some way, if Christianity is true and everything else is a lie, God has to be the God both of the cross and the resurrection in our lives, or the vast majority of us simply won’t make it! And of course this explains why an increasing majority of us are indeed NOT making it. The reason is of course that eventually, if a dog gets beaten up enough, he or she loses the wag in its tail and thus the will to fight anymore. And as you already know, or at least imagine where I am headed, in the world of which we are currently apart, the casualties of those dogs have become the new norm rather than the exception; and they either jump from bridges, hold up signs on our street corners or stand impatiently day after day in the line at your local CVS. The culture is having its way with us, and we seem neither to blush or take notice. And we all struggle with it. But the truth is, more and more, we are also losing our numbers inside of Christendom as a result. And we’re not simply losing those who have married the spirit of the age, but equally to those who have given up the fight due to eons and eons of not winning at anything, including the Christian life anymore—and I for one have no stones to throw. So I say, bring on the resurrection!

This is of course a perfect transition into Christendom’s now flickering light I mentioned in the beginning. And this of course will also no doubt take me into some cursory mentioning of the political climate that I typically prefer to avoid. I avoid it simply because I’m not an expert (Social media addicts please take note), but also because it shows my hand and invites in the haters. Nonetheless, in the way that I will briefly speak of it, it is only with a purpose to help describe the flickering light and the realization of Christendom’s own incumbent exile, and that though many have been writing about this for some time now, perhaps the chariots coming to take us to a more permanent Babylon are just outside the front door of our ever present American Dream. So here we go.

The recent election of President Donald Trump is an anomaly on many fronts. First of all, he is not like our recent “intellectual and chief” Barrack Obama by a long shot. Nor perhaps is he like any President we have ever had, although many are looking for comparisons everywhere these days. They do so to remind everyone that the sky is indeed not falling even though Chicken Little pundits assure us in endless sound bites that the ovens of Auschwitz are just around the bend. We also have learned from those “in the know” that the reason President Trump won (Yes Joe Scarborough, he really is your President) by that faulty and outdated mechanism called the Electoral College. is because the middle class have been neglected for far too long, their voices have not been heard, and thus the call to “Make America Great Again” won the day for those forgotten masses. I could go on and on, and to be sure there is much more to be said. However, from what I have heard and read thus far, it at least seems a plausible explanation to the present mystifying conundrum our country finds itself in: That of President Donald Trump.

True confession. I for one pulled the lever for Trump late in the midnight hour. Yes that’s right I finally admitted it. I was part of the secret Trump vote nobody knew about. After desiring from the beginning for John Kasich to be the nominee and then realizing the world didn’t find him sexy enough or boisterous enough, I then skipped “Lying Ted” and moved on to “Little Marco”. I saw some redemption there at least. I thought he had something to say, was a man of some conviction, and seemed to be able to articulate it well in public debate. I even got excited when he “stuck it to the man” Trump in the debate and felt at any minute the billionaire giant was about to come tumbling down. Then of course once Little Marco lost Florida, I realized he too was a defeated foe and I applauded him for finally realizing as much. From there I really didn’t know what to do. I thought about voting for Donald Duck (seriously), but then later capitulated to the fact that it was either Donald Trump or “Crooked Hillary”. After I thought about that for about a second and a half, I then drank a bottle of Holy Water and cast my vote for Hitler; I mean Trump. So there you have it. I won’t go in to all the reasons behind that just now, but just getting it off my chest makes me feel better. I guess you could say I’m a Trump voter, and I’m quietly watching with prayers and my fingers crossed behind my back!

But there is of course another group of voters that were the forgotten in my humble opinion. They were of course those of us in Christendom, which used to be comprised of predominantly the Western world and the “moral majority” of these United States of America. Those of us including myself as the last of the baby boomers, who have quietly and sometimes unfortunately not so quietly, watched as the moral values held dear for two millennia taken from a Judeo-Christian worldview, slowly erode into nothing but a vapor. Values that at once were recognizable to nearly everyone on Norman Rockwell Street, and who by and large believed were the way the world worked and how we should then live. Ideals that most would agree were the underpinnings and bedrock of a democratic anomaly in the world: The United States of America. These same folks (myself included) have also watched sex come out of the closet and into our living rooms, boardrooms and chat rooms. They’ve watched schools become war zones and state sanctioned indoctrination stations. They’ve had marriage both redefined and declined; gender identities never before questioned now becoming a shade of gray or whimsical preference; history continually rewritten; and the churches and churchmen that were pillars in the public square become court jesters or consenters to whatever is blowing in the cultural wind. And so then, just about everything Christendom once knew that was as sure as death and taxes has now become a flickering light that almost no one even recognizes anymore. And as a result: those people , people like me, voted for Donald J. Trump. Yes that’s right. Christians like me voted for a narcissistic, female genitalia-grabbing billionaire for Commander and Chief, because well…we’ve never had to live in exile before.

Selah

Lost In This Masquerade

It is one of those particular days when I’ve not much to write about specifically, other than about what I’m feeling at this very moment. I guess you could say that many times how deeply I feel about things in this life has plagued me somewhat, yet it’s the only thing that truly makes me know I’m breathing, and that the creator is somewhere close by. It’s a slightly overcast day with gentle breezes blowing to and fro, and with a slight mist in the air that as you breathe takes the oceans not too distant scent into your very pores. So I inhale. And as I do, it conjures up a lot of thoughts and emotions as I sit here staring out the window of my local library where I often go to write and work. And so with nothing particular to say that has kept me up this week, I am again acutely aware of how often I feel lost in this big ole globalized world, and how often I’ve been here before. Surely my name is carved in a tree somewhere not too far from this familiar setting. So while I slip away into this imaginary space, I take out my pocketknife and cross out the “wuz” and put “Mark is here” instead.

 

And I guess I’m lost for a lot of reasons, but I’ll let Leon Russell explain today. You see Leon wrote the song This Masquerade that George Benson then made famous. Its words are about two lovers unsure of where their relationship is headed or what to really do about it, and so they feel lost. However, its first lines seem to accurately depict what I feel at this moment in this world, and in this space and time. It says:

 

Are we really happy here

With this lonely game we play

Looking for words to say

Searching but not finding

Understanding anywhere

We’re lost in a masquerade

 

Now I’m not sure if Mr. Russell meant anything of what I take from these words, but at least today while I’m reaching for straws from which to write, it seems to echo continually in my mind of a reality that is increasingly mine, and I wonder secretly if any of my Christian brethren feel it just a smidgeon. And now as I exhale, I am sending out an S.O.S. today for anyone who might be listening.

 

And I think the reason I feel this way and have for some time now is partly because, though America’s lonely game of the pursuit of happiness is constantly played out around us by those caught in it’s subtle grasp, I wonder as Christians if a holy sadness is not more the norm for us now than the exception–and perhaps it is even becoming a spiritual discipline, if it wasn’t already.

 

In fact, I’ve seen a real shift in the last decade or two in the toll that the need for more and more things and information has taken on all of us, but specifically those who are to somehow emit some kind of light from a city set on a hill or a lamp out from under the basket of our lives. One cannot help but notice that the light in the American church seems to be now diminishing underneath the basket of the daily grind beckoning us to work, buy, sell and trade until we give up the ghost–as well as the bad news that now comes in pixel droves across our screens like a flood from dusk to dawn. If we add to this the layers of secure red tape we must now be experts at administering in order to protect our private castles, small fortunes and our families, we’ve no time anymore it seems to spend on weightier matters of eternal value, and the wolf is of course always at the door. And he has no goodies for Grandma, but is simply there to eat you my dear! And as I see people each day, and even those of us who call ourselves followers of the Way, I see them walking around with what looks like tombstones in their eyes. They are dead men and women walking. And then I ask “Are we really happy here…I’m looking for words to say”? For people are searching, but not finding, or understanding anywhere.

 

In the first three chapters of the book of Revelation, John the revelator speaks to the seven churches and refers to them as lampstands ironically. Many commentators have various takes on who John is talking to specifically. My personal analysis has led me to believe that though he is talking to specific churches, he is also in the Spirit speaking forever to all of the universal church who by proxy carry a lampstand for the world to see whether they realize it not. I wonder what the world is seeing right now, and whether or not our lampstand will one day be removed altogether? Or has it already been removed, but we didn’t get the memo? The Catholic and Orthodox churches seem to be the last beacon of torchbearers that any of the Western world is even remotely listening to, while the Protestant church has by and large done a prick-tease with the Spirit of the age for the last 100-years or so, fully preparing to bend over any day now. And I for one am continually lost in this masquerade.

 

And so for those of us who however feebly attempt to walk on this narrow path, we are now increasingly the aliens and strangers the apostle Peter warned us we’d be…again. And I also feel that the heat is getting turned up as we speak in a furnace somewhere, preparing for torches to light some new Nero’s garden. For we now live in a world where to speak absolutely about any issue in matters of faith is often met with laughter and contemptible discounting. One wonders when the great restrainer of carte blanche evil (the U.S. armed forces) is finally removed, if we won’t all be bearing a cross of closer proximity to our Lords once and for all. Protesters cause riots to state their case, and the rights of individuals have now become our nation’s only Holy Writ. All the while, the Protestant church has now resorted to doughnuts and coffee, designated parking spaces and free t-shirts to get people to peak inside. And if that wasn’t bad enough, we now have CEO’s disguised as pastors in skinny jeans with accentuated packages, telling everyone exactly what our itching ears have been dying to hear. Is anyone still listening?

 

So admittedly I’m searching and not finding, and I’ve had a tough time finding a place to call home in preparation for the coming Eschaton of God; though increasingly I’m once again more and more inclined to believe the oldest church on the block has the only resounding clarity. Uncertainty in my secure footing in this world is about the only thing I can truly count on, and more and more a steady dose of Jesus and an occasional shot of whiskey is about the only thing that gets me through the day. I also love my lovely wife and children, and would give my eyetooth for their joy and ease in Zion, but increasingly I come up with the short end of the stick in their behalf. Nonetheless, off I go to the next hotel, and to the next presentation where I pull out my bag of products and services to sell so I can keep the lights on, and perhaps get one nostril above the water that all but engulfs me on any given day. Oh I know the message sounds bleak today, but don’t worry, I’m as stable as a guy can be even without a straightjacket, a rubber room or a bottle of Prozac. And no, I’m not Falling Down…really I’m not. And “no”, quite frankly, I still just prefer my life straight up and then on the rocks if you please. Oh, and I do love Jesus with all my heart, I really do. It’s just that today…well…I feel kind of lost in this here masquerade.

 

Selah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Isn’t It High Time the Older Generation Taught the Class?

A Text That Should Haunt Us

 

I can remember many years ago now, the late David Wilkerson, preaching a message from this particular text from Hebrews chapter 5 which says,

 

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil[1].

 

I had thought very deeply about this very text over the years, and it’s lofty premise taught in the whole of scripture. I was then encouraged to hear this now very aged man now in his 70’s, of whom I had respected and admired over the years, take this subject where it needed to go: right into the hearts and minds of those his own age who by now should be teaching the class on things pertaining to an exemplary life on the narrow path, yet instead were found missing in action. I knew where he was headed. For he too had now also graduated from his own school of sufferings, and yet continued in dogged persistence and unshakable example of the Christian life to us all. And it is to this topic that I would like to talk about briefly this morning.

 

Reminders That Assist in the Haunting

 

What jarred me back into pondering this evocative issue is three-fold.

 

First of all, I live in a tourist area, but also a retirement community for the most part; where those in the coattails of their life are not in short supply. Many are snowbirds and fly south for the winter to a comfortable oasis of some kind they’ve been able to acquire over years of hard work and savings. Those same birdies many times in their twilight years decide to take the leap and make it their permanent getaway. Others have built it from of a life of affluence that peacefully ends here with the house by the sea filled with great views, great restaurants, golf-cart living and an occasional hole in one. And who can blame them? After all, it’s a great place to be! And I guess I should also say that some of these birds are the salt of this particular part of earth to be sure, but mostly I’m afraid are far too consumed with the tail end of their American Dream to notice any fuss I’m trying to make here.

 

Secondly, now at age 52, though my elderly friends even occasionally still tell me “I’m wet behind the ears”, I am now beginning to at least prepare for what the “back 9” of my own life is to look like. And though I cannot relate to those who have acquired this life for themselves in terms of dollars and cents and a life that has gone according to their financial plan, I am beginning to see that age bracket and the variety of difficulties and also opportunities it brings just outside my rear-view window. In light of that, I’m contemplating a lot of things. Things like whether or not I’ll be able to take care of my wife and I in the final years; if I’ll have anything at all to leave my children; whether or not I will be a mean old cuss or grow old gracefully; will die of cancer; and at least for me more importantly I’ve been asking: Will those I have known and loved pay true respect finally once I’m gone? And of course, for the purpose of this blog, I am also questioning if I will be a good teacher of a class to the next generation of what it means to walk with Christ with my eyes, mind and heart wide open in a world increasingly becoming hostile to it’s proposed peculiarity? It seems that since Rome, we have now come full circle. Perhaps the lions are now grazing outside.

 

And to be sure, I also think about the view, the great restaurants, my own golf cart (minus the hole in one), and other things that run through our minds when we think of how we’d like our life to be topped off, cherry and all. Yet as I mentioned last week, I’m learning to confront the phase of growing old early on. This way for me, I’m more prepared for it’s unwelcome entrance into my life, and so that perhaps if I have no money to leave after all, a spiritual legacy of some kind is perhaps still achievable. I think about that a lot. I reflect like the elderly Private Ryan, as he looks across the graves of the men who saved his life asking if he was indeed a good man, and if likewise his life has counted for something. It is somewhat of a continual diversion in my thoughts these days to which I reluctantly escape.

 

And of course there is the third reason. It happened just the other day as I came around the corner of the last isle in the grocery store to grab some sour cream for the dish my wife was feverishly finishing up at home. As I turned the corner, I saw a lady in her late 70’s or early 80’s, and her activity arrested me for a moment. As I looked out the corner of my left eye, I noticed her going through a carton of eggs feeling each egg with her fingers to check for the best ones. She would then pick up other cartons and do the same and pick some from one batch to put it in her crate, and then transfer others to another. I then had visions of her itching the crack of her butt or perhaps picking her nose just moments before, and this of course didn’t help where my smoldering frustration would then take me.

 

Now though I am not a germophobe per say, what I saw disturbed me, and my only proclivity was to look at her pointedly to let her know that someone saw what she was doing in broad daylight! As I gave my pointed stare, I then shook my head and walked towards the sour cream and then came back by her, this time not making eye contact with my new archenemy. And then as providence would have it, as I went to the checkout line and as I was making small talk with the person at the register about to slide my card and be on my way, I looked behind me and there she was warts and all in the same checkout line. Yes indeed. The lady that I had stared down now faced me head on like a boss! It was then that Cruella looked at me and said with a slithering tongue, “Do I know you”?

 

And so, here it was. The gloves were off, the cage was locked, and it was just me and Miss Deville–naked and unafraid. I then looked at her and said, “No ma’am”, to which she then said, “Well I thought you did by the way you looked at me”. I then retorted, “I don’t know you, but I did see what you did with the eggs”, as I then went back to my business at hand. It was then that she said something that wouldn’t have been so sad if it weren’t all too predictable nowadays. She said with all the selfish Grinch-like smirk she could muster up, “Well you know, you gotta look out for yourself”! It was then at that moment, totally unable to shut my big old mouth, that I quickly replied, “Well perhaps we are supposed to look out for others instead”. I then picked up my bags and walked away feeling the sharp edge of her death stare marking its spot on my juggler as I exited the store.

 

Answers that Lead to More Questions

 

Once in the car, I judgingly surmised that she was probably at church every Sunday, with her own seat named after her to be sure. I realized I shouldn’t go there, but the temptation was already too great to resist and had taken its own wings to fly. And then I thought to myself: Where are the older women and older men around me to show me the way as I soon enter into their place in this thing called life? Oh to be sure, there aren’t as many Christians around anymore in some circles of our country, but in my town they fill up pews everywhere in mega church fashion, and silver hair is the color of choice. And of course it got me to further ask: What kind of old man will I be? What kind of growing old-fart am I now, and am I teaching the class to my kids and to those who discern and critique my life as to what it means to live for Christ and for others?   And for that matter, does anyone attempt at all to live as Christ walked anymore, and is anyone even listening to the conversation?

 

I then flashback and reminisce of the few choice words I’ve used in the presence of others that are now carved in their memory stone, or the occasional moments, that instead of avoiding a marital fight that I instead walk away from, I resort to finishing it instead and prevail the victor. Or perhaps the times I could have taught my child a valuable lesson from a lectern of graceful strength and wisdom, but instead choose to give him the chalkboard instead and take a seat in the back of the class. And then it occurs to me: What can I now do to prevent myself from feeling up on all the world’s eggs for my own benefit? And of course the logical accompaniment: Will I teach the class both now and beyond the grave of what it means to be fully engaged in this big world, yet clearly and refreshingly not of it?

 

As I deliberate more, I realize that though I have built myself a wall of stones for any passerby to pick up and throw at me from time to time, perhaps I am growing older and wiser just a wee bit. Perhaps I am also cognizant of my own human frailties, yet also seeking daily to build my treasure somewhere that both moth and rust do not exist. My heart also continually breaks for the poor all around me, both for the one’s whose fault is their own and the one’s that are not. In fact, I have many times squandered my own belongings on their and other’s welfare, though with none of these deeds still going unpunished. I’m then reminded that the Father desires obedience and there is often not a pragmatic happy ending for every gift I lay on the altar of sacrifice. The burning embers left in my hands are often the only reminder.

 

And as I muse a bit further, I also realize that I have given love to the unlovable many times, and I’ve never chosen to associate one’s holiness barometer by what they eat or drink, how many times they go to a church service, or how much they put in the offering plate–but rather in terms of what the eyes they look out at this bleeding world through cause them to be and do for it’s sake. I am also doing my best to love my wife and my children, and to be gentle and kind; and of course wish that it would be said of me that I am a man of humility and grace, and that my former sins will be forever drowned in the Ocean of the Father’s great love. And yet, to be sure, I have not yet graduated in order to teach the class I speak of I suppose just yet. Yet I do increasingly wonder as I look around me: Are there many left who are even on the path to persistently give it a college try?

 

Selah

 

 

[1] Hebrews 5:11-14

Prone to Wander, Lord I Feel It

Surviving Christmas

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last wrote anything about my cracked up American life. And now that I have finally survived Christmas and lived to tell about it, I’ve only New Year’s resolutions left to keep and break sometime before Valentine’s Day I suppose. I pondered long and hard about why as a Christian I loathe Christmas so much here in my beloved America.   Perhaps its because it brings melancholy memories of my late Father (who I now identify with), walking around like a chicken with his head cut off trying to get enough presents under the tree so that his conscience could ease his guilt of being a subpar Santa for his kids. I remember hints of joy, but mostly seeing the strain in his eyes of all that he would have to do in his and others eyes to bring Christmas joy to his children. All the while, the one who came to bring hopeful joy free of charge was at last given homage for a hasty reading of the Christmas story before we tore open the gifts. He would not get much runway on His birthday after that, and as I sit here today and recall these moments, I fear not much has changed. And so, I guess you could call me Ebenezer for short.

 

Reasons for the Old Man and the Sea Thing

So at 12:01 on December 26th, when I pinched myself and realized I had indeed outlasted the hoopla of ole St. Nick, I was reminded of a couple of things about my life as of late. First of all, I reminded myself as to why this growing old man moved by the sea in November of 2015. I had already had several people ask me, curious about why I had uprooted what was left of my family and moved to this beautiful oasis; especially now in my 50’s. Their curiosity stemmed from the fact that most have by now grown out of the move left in them, and have settled into some secure form of an American dream perched behind a Norman Rockwell painting of their making. A dream now full of houses, stocks and bonds to begin sorting out, all the while preparing for a grand ole thing called retirement just down the road a stone’s throw or two. Of course that first curious question was easily answered back in 2008 and again in 2014, when I began to realize that my dream would take a much less predictable turn. You see for me, there were no longer any of those things to sort out in the cards for my family and I, so I guess you can say, “I now had options”. Since I owned nothing, and had lost most everything materially that one holds far too dearly to, the sky began to be the only limit as to where I could go. In a sense, I guess you could say I was finally free.

 

That of course led to my second reason for looking for the answer by the sea. Because from the time I have been a child, the ocean has been a happy place for me. I had dreams as a younger man of owning a house on the ocean where I would write and then take breaks to play with my grandchildren, and then snuggle up to my wife with my favorite pipe and hot cocoa on our back deck as the waves quietly roared to the beat of the moonlight. Though this has not yet come to fruition, I was able to find a place about 4 blocks from the ocean, and so a quick six-minute walk almost any given day takes me to my Shangri-La, if to only have five-minutes to remind myself that I’m not that big of a deal, and that He really, really is. Just five or ten minutes to breathe in and hopefully take with me a morsel of what really matters in the world, when everything else I encounter tells me a I’m a fool to think it for too long. It has indeed given some sense of calm to my life, and if I know nothing else, for now, I know it is where God has me–yet for what I do not know.

 

The third reason we ran to the ocean was familial and social in nature–both good and bad. The good side of that decision was simply to give my older sons, who had now gone off in quest of their own version of some dream they possess in their beings, to do so without Mom and Dad just around the corner to catch them if they fall in pursuit of it. It was to give them some space to be free, to finally cut the umbilical cord, and to finally give them wings to fly solo. All the while with Mom and Dad a short 3 hours away with an extra room for their needed getaway, or perhaps a Mom and Dad fix as often as they could ever want. I miss them dearly, but these things have their time and place, and the time for us was now. It felt good and right, and I am very much at peace with the decision we made. The bad side of the decision to leave was that even though we were older and wiser, and knowing full well that you can’t run from your problems, we did decide that sometimes you can at least move a little further down the road from them so it takes a little longer for them to show up at your doorstep. This is in regards to my extended family I might add. A family for whose guilt, manipulation and exploitation was merely a phone call, an episode or a gossip column away. It also had to do with the network of true, Godly, and “real” friends, that seemed impossible to find after a decade and a half, and the lack of friendships for my last young son, for whom parental love needed to be coupled with friends he too could call his own. That of course has gone amazingly well, and ours; well…we’re still working on that.

 

And About the Wandering Bit

Well now that I’ve told you a little of where I’ve been lately and why I’m here, I guess I should say something briefly about my title today. The words come from perhaps my favorite hymn called Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, written by Robert Robinson in the mid 1700’s. And in that blessed hymn these particular words lately have caused me to ponder their depth and reality for me, and hopefully for all those who call themselves by the name of Christ. The words are:

 

O to grace how great a debtor

Daily I’m constrained to be!

Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,

Bind my wandering heart to Thee.

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,

Prone to leave the God I love;

Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,

Seal it for Thy courts above.

 

These words have often brought me great comfort, not only because of their rootedness in the gospel of God, but also because of their being true to my own life and experience of walking with Christ on the narrow path. For in so many ways, I know I have grown and bear some fruit that resembles Christ, and yet…still today, I’m prone to wander, with so many distractions that beckon me for their attention and importance, and sometimes I feel it for far too long as I’m derailed from the path I’ve been called to travel. And not only do I feel it, but unfortunately; others from time to time have to see it.

 

I’m reminded of the disciples when Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane. He says to them several times in essence, “Could you not watch and pray with me for an hour”. We also are told that each time he came to ask this, he would find them asleep. Now for sure sleep is a natural bodily function, yet in a person’s horrific hour of grief one would think we could put some toothpicks in our eyes or something to refrain from the temptation to sleep on the job. I’m reminded equally of the beloved big fish magnet, Jonah, who while on the boat to Tarshish away from the call of God, while everyone else is frantically trying to find a way to save themselves from the boat’s impending doom, he is asleep to it all. Yet he is especially asleep to the plight of his fellow man, and the call of His God upon his life. Or how about good ole Peter, who gets it right so many times and two seconds later denies His Lord, not too awfully different from one betraying with 30 pieces of silver and a kiss, yet who never lived to tell his own repentance tale.

 

As I have been contemplating these things as 2017 is knocking at the door for me to invite him in, I see more and more of this dichotomy and pull from both the world and my Lord raging within me now at 52. To be sure I’m smarter and wiser now, and also farther along the narrow path. So I’m not as sidetracked by youthful things such as wine, women and song; and have now long ago realized that a fool and his money soon depart, along with any friends they may once have brought. Yet I feel the difficulties of life bearing down, continuing to seek to fashion me into it’s mold and to distract me from what’s eternal and to saddle up with what’s temporal instead. The reason is because as we age, we are more and more aware of our finiteness, and death’s door; though we hope is still a country mile or two away, it nonetheless whispers to us of it’s sure certainty of which we must soon pay attention. This causes us to grasp with all we’re worth for our mortality rather than to pursue with a vengeance our promised immortality. And we begin to see that if the modern adage is indeed true, that “he who dies with the most toys wins”, then we’ve more striving to do and best get on with it. And if we surmise we’ve already lost that game, we can be inclined to resort to a slow easy chair death, where we rock our way into acceptance of a failed and wasted life, content to decay away with a self-injected slow drip of “coulda, shoulda, woulda”.

 

I recall reading one time that Billy Graham had said, if he had it to do all over again, he would have prepared much more for getting old. I was perplexed by that; wondering what exactly he meant. It’s now starting to settle in. For instance, if I had a dollar for every one of my 50’s friends, who when I speak about getting old, they say the typical things such as, “You’re only as old as you feel”, or “50 is the new 30” or something of this nature, I’d surely have a chunk of change. And to be sure, I get exactly what they are saying, and I’m not dead yet, and so I intend on continuing to push forward to greatness in whatever big or small way God has for me. However, I am no longer looking for “6-pack abs”, I don’t and can’t wear skinny jeans, I’m not searching for any fountain of youth, and I don’t think anything good now happens after 10:30 at night:).  I can rock your world till then baby, but after that, I now have to pass the baton.

 

What I have been reminded about in wrapping up today is what the Monk at Mepkin Abbey said to me when I asked him what he had learned in the Monastery that he felt he could not have learned from life on the outside. He told me that for years he had served as a Priest in parish ministry, and of course spent a great deal of time ministering to the sick and dying. He said one of the overwhelming things he picked up on in ministering to the dying is that in their last days they became the most selfless human beings he had ever witnessed, and that all they cared about was knowing God and serving and loving others. He then looked at me and said, “That’s what I learned in the monastery that I do not believe I could have learned otherwise: how to be more like those people”. I’ve never forgotten those words and have etched them in my journal perpetually so I never forget.

 

So Yes, I am prone to wander and Lord I feel it, prone to leave constantly the one I am to love first and foremost. Yet more and more each day I am reminded that nothing else outside of knowing Christ and serving others really matters, and I know that I must not let this truth wander away. In fact, I think I’d rather not die first for it to be true of me.

 

Selah