“Self-Preservation: A Gaping Chink in the Armor to Spiritual Formation in American Christianity”

The Search for Happiness

Well for someone who had as their goal to “write one blog a week in 2018”, I have no doubt given “I suck” new meaning in terms of goal setting.  In fact, it’s been almost two months now.  And though I have a myriad of excuses the size of all my x’s who currently live in Texas, the truth of the matter is that ADHD in this above middle-aged man is the “real deal Holyfield”J.  And the irony is that as I’ve deduced lately, like most Americans, my distraction is of my own making, and not something I can blame on a “syndrome” or a culturally created “sickness”; but rather the ravenous quest built up in my DNA since my more original “sucking” at my Mother’s breast for the pursuit of some “pipe dream” called “the pursuit of happiness”.  In fact, Ruth Whippman reminds us in her best seller America the Anxious: How to Calm Down, Stop Worrying, and Find Happiness that though “Americans as a whole invest more time and money and emotional energy in the explicit pursuit of happiness than any other nation on earth”, the results of that investment has not delivered the goods in that it has instead made us the “less happiest place in the developed world”.  Yet, no one seems to be in line to request their money back!

Five Minutes of Fame

And as you look around, the results of our learning from the limitless poor investments has not taught us much I’m afraid. Today for instance, as you look around, everyone is looking for their “five minutes of fame”.  Facebook, Twitter and YouTube has made us all into stars now who otherwise would have had no chance, allowing us to “go live” in the most risqué of life’s otherwise “behind closed doors moments” by recording for us everything from our bedroom privacies; pregnant teenage Mom’s holding their child while simultaneously getting the hell beat of them on the street for only God knows what (our shock and awe I suppose); to no endless repertoire of self-authoritative opinions derived from mere regurgitation of the media spin doctors we feed on from dusk till dawn. And though the exception to the rule is some stars are truly born who otherwise would not have been given a passing glance, the vast majority are an endless upchuck of “much ado about nothing” forced into our watching eyes and mini-screens.  Who will be the next American Idol, YouTube sensation, Twitter n Chief, or Facebook phenomenon?  Only time and a whole lot of endless blushing and barfing knows!

And though the pursuit of happiness in and of itself is not a bad thing, “if” we know where it comes from and the place it should actually hold somewhere down the line in our lives; the real issue for us is our unremitting “fear of death”, which is in stark antithesis to our lofty American pursuit.  As a result, self-preservation rules the day in all of us, and has not bypassed this modern man to boot, constantly scurrying about wondering what to do about it.

The Culprit: Self Preservation

For instance, we’ve got health insurance; life insurance; flood insurance; fire insurance; pet insurance; and now identity-theft insurance, as well as any number of nuances of extra insurance as a caveat to whatever the aforementioned insurance doesn’t cover in the endless fine print.  And of course, everyone now knows that most of the food we eat and the water we drink is toxic; just one more proposed threat to our “survival of the fittest”.  As a result, other fortune hunters and equally do-gooders have created a new health and wellness industry that promises better health, more energy, a better sex life, a solution to the germaphobes in us all, and overall adds more insulation to our otherwise cushy American life.  In the aftermath, when you tally it all up, there is little left for the “giving back” part of life that supposedly delivers the real happiness according to our antiquated Savior, and not enough time in a day to barely write the skimpy check after the “necessary” precautions have been taken into consideration for our own escape from the stuff, and the people of the world crumbling all around us.

What this has done to Christianity in America and in me should be no secret for anyone who pauses for a millisecond to pay attention, or who hasn’t been sleeping under a rock with Rip Van Winkle. Spiritual formation and discipline in the areas of contentment, sacrifice and humility have already “died on the vine”, and the prospect of storing treasures in a blissful and remote heaven we’re so far removed from rarely makes it into the discussion in the majority of our homes, and now sadly (even more a travesty), in most churches that claim to be teaching us (for a small fee) how it’s all supposed to be done.

Seniors Lead the Way?

I do recall once upon a time, if anyone was listening, hearing the prospect at least, that the old men could teach the younger men, and the older women could teach the younger women how to exemplar Christ, but not to worry anymore.  The old have now by and large become even worse about their own self-preservation and the desire to live till that can’t see straight, just as long as endless surgeries and pharmaceuticals can preserve them, right up until the precipice of the injection of the final embalming fluid.  And they have become the germaphobes extraordinaire these days quite frankly.  In fact, as an ecumenist who takes it upon himself to visit and worship with the kaleidoscope of churches under the Christian rainbow, I’ve noticed lately a trend in the high churches I had not before experienced. It seems that even to them, the eucharist is not that “big a deal” I suppose, for the elderly take the bread and bypass the cup, and then whisk back to their seat, shortly after they “nod” at the “blessing of peace” to others, rather than shake someone’s “germ-ridden hands”.  After all, who the Hell knows where those hands have been for goodness sakes, and even God would want us to be cognizant of this wouldn’t he?.  And so it would seem I guess, that they too no longer believe it’s the actual body and blood of the Lord that we need to imbibe.  Transubstantiawho? In fact, I’m now waiting for the “gluten free” bread line to enter the buffet line of church options.  Hell, there’s an idea!  Maybe we could start a eucharistic gluten free church?  Oh, and bring in the organic wine without all those damn added sulfites too for goodness sakes.  Throw out the Common Cup and bring in the plastic protestant-evangelical cup thingies why don’t we?  Opportunity knocks!  But I now digress.

In Search of the Spirit

The truth of the matter is, that self-preservation has infiltrated the one last beacon of hope (the universal church), while the self-proclaimed “frozen chosen” all across the Christian landscape in America hasn’t much left at the end of the church ledger sheet to tip the poor and send those called to proclaim the good news to the rest of the world as to what makes for real happiness and joy in both this life and the next.  And unless the Spirit comes and engulfs all of us by surreptitiousness, none of our money, reason or logic will budge the thinking and shoes of the vast majority of those who still as of yet aren’t paying us even a smidgeon of attention.  And the crux of the matter to be sure is, that enduring hardship as a good soldier sounds like something synonymous to old fashioned rubbish even to the Christian masses, and thus the chink in the Christian’s decrepit armor takes center stage!  Ho Hum.

But at least lately, as I look at myself in the mirror, I doubt that until I’m willing to die in some form or fashion again, or volunteer occasionally to become our Lord’s court jester, that a world and a church now going head-first after whatever spirit of the age is willing to lift up its dress and show its new world to us, that anyone will pay much bloody attention. Sniff, sniff.

Selah

Still Holding On Loosely To Some Fool’s Gold

The Move

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

Fool’s Gold

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

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

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

A Day Late, and A Dollar Short

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

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

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

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

Pay Attention Sucka

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

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

Achieving At Least One of My Goals

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

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

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

Selah

Rainy Days and Mondays

I Don’t Do Mondays

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

Dreams

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

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

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

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

Still Restless and Crazy After All These Years

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

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

The Work Still At Hand

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

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

Selah

The Futile Search in Finding Christ’s One True Church

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

An Acquired Taste

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

An Angry Lad

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

Sad and Alone on the Journey

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

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

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

Put Me In Coach

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

A Recurring But Ever Evasive Dream

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

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

A Quick and Fantastic Distraction

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

A Child in Search of…

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

 

Selah

 

 

How to Build Bigger Barns, Look Out for Number One and Still Take Up Your Cross

The Dilemma

 For those of you who know me and the things I write about, you should immediately get the blatant irony and sardonicism in the above title. For those who don’t, let me spend a few extra minutes this week unpacking it for you. Drum roll please! I mean after all, my blog is called: The Narrow Path: The Daily Meanderings of a Cracked Up American Life Looking for the Jesus Missing in America. So immediately you are probably suspect given the title itself (a novel idea). But what I want to write about today is certainly some more of that, but particularly of how the Jesus I’ve been looking for is not only missing sometimes in me (crystal clear), but unfortunately, how He is missing in most of the people I bump into who eagerly and persistently claim His name, and who propose they are at least attempting this narrow path thing. And I mean this unambiguously as it regards our predisposition towards greed as our favorite doctrine (why capitalism works), that is pretty much lock, stock and barrel a carbon copy of every other Tom, Dick and Harry pagan we claim are devoid of the truth we hold so dear; or at least we have a bumper sticker or a t-shirt that says we do. The paradox in all of this is that we float along every day of our lives from one church meeting and bible study to the next, knowing the obvious and redundant sarcasm of the above statement, yet we have somehow watered down Jesus’ message so much so that the American Dream and the narrow path almost sound the same to our itching ears; even though they are very strange and polar opposite bedfellows indeed.

Building Bigger Barns and Eternal Life

But let me outline the problem for us a little bit for those who like me, claim allegiance to the man from Galilee. For instance, in one particular parable entitled The Parable of the Rich Fool, we are introduced to a man who has done pretty darn well for himself. He’s a businessman extraordinaire. No harm, no foul. But before we get to the crux of the parable, a question from someone in the crowd is posed to Jesus about helping him figure out how to get his greedy brother to divide his inheritance with him. Now right there, you and I know we have a serious problem. First of all, we don’t know “Jack” about this guy; like whether or not the inheritance in question is rightfully his, or any of the other myriad of issues around that which makes splitting money with family members after a death in the family akin to wrestling with demons who have names like brother, sister and Aunt Linda Lou (fill in the blank). Secondly, I’m sure Jesus is smart enough to know that getting involved in family business as an outsider is also risky business. Perhaps we see this, as well as Jesus moving away from being merely a Biblicist with a specific chapter and verse for every problem under the sun where he says,

“Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?”

Instead, Jesus uses this interaction to speak about a much greater issue, that quite frankly, he speaks about ad nauseam throughout the gospels and the whole of scripture, and that most would have to poke both of their eyes out, or simply not read it (a blog for another time) to not see it. The text reads:

And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:14-15 ESV).

Also, words such as “taking care” and “being on your guard” against a thing called “covetousness” in our lives should sound like a megaphone within us and remind us that as humans caught up in the race for whomever has the most toys wins mindset, we must constantly be aware of the power that either the acquisition or preservation of money has upon us. Like the shiny ring that has Gollum in daily torment and as mere milquetoast to its illustrious power, the love of money has the ability to produce the greatest of evils and distractions warring against the quest for the divine life we mostly give lip service to. And admittedly, in the words of the late Rich Mullins, It’s Hard to Be Like Jesus. But Jesus seems pretty clear here that our life does not (even though everything we see around us says differently) consist of, or is not complete or totally fulfilling or “abundant” in the mere consumption and stockpiling of things. Of course as I say that, we all know that we need “things” in order to live, although I’m equally sure as perceptive beings we would also equally know that the defining of the things we actually need is the real crux of the matter, and thus requires a lot of “taking care” and “being on guard” about since the devil is always at the door.

But of course Jesus doesn’t just say it here. In fact, we see it resounded in the story of the Rich Young Ruler, where even though we have danced around the demands or implications of this passage as not really applying to us, Jesus’ educational lesson for the day for the distressed man in search of eternal life he assumes he already has dibs on, is that he give up everything that he has, give it to the poor, and then follow him on the narrow path. The text then tells us that,

“when the young man heard this, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Matt. 19:2)

And it now that you hear the mic drop! And It’s almost as if we are back in the same parable of the Rich Fool with a twist now, yet with even more clarity to the rich, young ruler; to the rich fool; and to us in America; who like it or not, share in their bewilderment like a deer in the headlights in the extraction of what Jesus is truly saying to us here. We surmise, I thought we were supposed to save our life instead of lose it. Oh, wait a minute; perhaps it’s the other way around. Ok, I’m confused. Can I get a hug? Could it be that it is plain as the nose on our face? Oh I know, I know. We have all kinds of legitimate rebuttals to the demands or application to us, in that after all, everybody knows we have to build a retirement; it takes a ton to “make it” in this world; the baby needs a new pair of shoes, and “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” kind of stuff. And I truly get it, painfully so. However, Jesus doesn’t mix words here, and he doesn’t stutter when he reminds us:

Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matt. 19:24 ESV)

I think a further explanation of what he means is explained where he says in Matthews’ gospel that:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Matt. 6:24 ESV)

Eureka!

Money as a God

Now we see the real problem here starting to surface, and it is this: Money functions very much like a god and in fact is god-like in that it gives us the ability to do amazing things that we couldn’t otherwise do without it. The Fab Four also said it can’t buy you love, but there are a lot of butt-ugly hombres with tons of money that would beg to differ! And after all, the juxtaposition is that the pursuit of Christ is about abundant life here, but the real payoff is in another one. Dissimilarly, the pursuit of money is all about life here and now.  And I’d be the first to admit that we do need some of it in the hear and now, and increasingly more of it, because we are constantly “another day older and deeper in debt” simply trying to keep the lights on, put food on the table, and find some personal tranquility and enjoyment this side of heaven in world gone buck-ass crazy! Calgon, take me away! Calgon for dudes of course.

And of course now the quest for things keeps growing exponentially over the years. It now includes internet for our homes; unlimited data for our multi-phone plans; security systems; surround sound; dance lessons; football cleats and season tickets; investments; multiple streams of income; yearly vacations, and weekends spent on pleasure and entertainment that truly knows no bounds. And if we have enough left over, we might throw a dog, or a church, or a charity a bone or two. After all, this is beneficial once the tax man cometh! But of course also, we end up finding out that the chasing after this so called “dream” is an insatiable, never-ending story and expedition; and simply never, ever enough. Like the gangsta-rich John D. Rockefeller, who was asked how much money it would take to make him happy, to which he said, “Just a little bit more”, it sounds very much like Jesus is right. Life really does not consist in building bigger barns and having abundant possessions, for the simple reason that it ends up consuming us like it’s pawn in an endeavor that is never achieved, and that really doesn’t deliver the goods in order to find the rest for the restlessness deep inside of us. We are searching, but not finding in this lonely game we play. And like the foolish quest for bigger and bigger barns in the parable, we wake up and find we never really lived; and in the end, our life is finally required of us. Is this not the quandary of fools if Jesus words are the way, the truth and the real life?  Do we believe it anymore?

Again, the apostle Peter writes,

For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of lifeis not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (I John 2:16-17 ESV)

And isn’t this pride of life tangled up in the web of the love of money that contributes to our nose stuck up in the air towards the “have-nots” to which most of us “know not” anything about, where Paul writes, and your grandmother repeated it,

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs”. (I Timothy 6:10 ESV)

And again, from the writer of Hebrews we are told,

“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have… “

(Hebrews 13:5a ESV)

Christian Compartmentalism

So the question for us is this: Are we as Christians not consumed the same as everyone else with the love of money over and above Jesus commission to have it lose it’s luster and grip in our lives in some notable fashion? Have we had compartmentalization Christianity so woven into the fabric of our feeble faith in the American church now to the point that our business life, and the life of me and my things is so detached from our life on the narrow path that the world rightly questions what our true allegiances are?

As a person who has studied the scriptures in both an academic, personal and vocational setting together for the last 26 years of my life, I have searched high and low and cannot come up with any possible way of sidestepping the fact that we are to live “openhanded” towards our brothers and sisters and those outside the faith, even at the expense of our comfortable retirement, as well as to bring the news of grace to every tribe, tongue and nation with good news and good works as the very quintessence of who we as a people are to be. And if this is so, why are we so caught up in the “pomp and circumstance” of church gatherings and so much less in the nitty-gritty of the world right outside our door begging for our change? Do we even know what it’s like (Everlast)? For goodness sakes, we have churches that span city-blocks on every corner, and yet the widow and fatherless, and the poor and needy; like Jesus, can’t find a room in our mega-church inn’s. As a result, the so-called discipleship product of people we are spitting out our church mills have bought in to the overconsumption model we’ve been selling “hook, line and sinker”, and most I encounter still look out relentlessly for # 1 at all costs, and who also have very little left for the vulnerable that got caught up in a social-Darwinian nightmare that has left them finally “high and dry”.  It is indeed the road less traveled; and the world looks, yawns, and then says, its “much ado about nothing” as I supposed.

Of course we’ve looked at a few verses today to try and prove a point, but I have found that most Christian people seem to like other verses better than these I’ve outlined briefly here today. For instance, we like the parable of the shrewd businessman, the book of Proverbs is our true gospel, and we’re very keen on the parable of the talents. In fact, the only other verse beyond John 3:16 we can quote is “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. (II Thes. 3:10 ESV)  Ah, the Holy Grail! And though context should always be king, and the whole of scripture should speak over isolated verses; nonethless, like the candy man, we can mix them all together and make it all sound good, plausible and of course good for the self-centered palate. Oh to be sure the scriptures are not against wealth, and God calls many to excel in business; but the overarching message of the body of scriptures unanimously teaches that we are blessed in order to be a blessing. And like Spiderman’s Uncle reminds him in the movie starring Toby McGuire of some years back, “With great power comes great responsibility”.  And Paul gives us a good idea of what that responsibility might entail for those who have the great privilege of wealth God gives them the power to make where he writes,

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, [19] thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (I Timothy 6:17-19 ESV)

So evidently, life is not about bigger barns yall. This is no doubt something that the rich fool did not consider. The rich young ruler then considered it and found it wanting apparently. And for the rest of us, perhaps we feel that it simply does not apply so we lay our Hall Pass down! Meanwhile, in case you were wondering, until we do apply it, no one is really listening to our endless and all too predictable yapping. In fact, it’s rather kind like an annoying dripping faucet. Everyone can hear it, but no one can turn it off!

Selah

An Afterword for your further Contemplation:

“Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God. ‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not?  Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose,a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD? “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness,to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Isaiah 58 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 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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