Always running

We’re flying down 290, it’s a beautiful morning, and I’m burdened with the knick knacks and spider bites of life.

I’m in a tough spot at work with a project that is significantly overdue.

I stayed up till nearly midnight last night deploying another project that is also significantly overdue.

Why can’t I catch up?

I think this feeling is common to humanity. Seems we’re always running somewhere: either chasing after something we can’t quite catch or being chased by something that’s gaining ground on us.

I had a moment a little over a year ago. It was an important moment. It happened, as a matter of fact, at high velocity 30,000 feet over the Atlantic.  I was headed to Eastern Europe for non-work activities; what I had left behind was a project that was struggling and a sharp encounter with my boss that had put me in the pit of anxiety.

I’d spent a day shifting gears, leaving the pile at work behind to fester while I prepared for some new challenges in the upcoming week and started the comfortable but still tiring grind of a modern intercontinental journey.

It was late. I was sitting in my seat and the anxiety was as heavy as the darkness around me. Then, in a moment, the burden was gone. Gone. This has only happened to me one or two other times in my life. It was almost as if a Voice had said “Bill, it’s going to be alright, and all of it will be alright.” It was the peace that passes understanding.

And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
Mark 4:39 ESV

It was kind of like that. And everything did turn out alright and better than alright.

I’m running against the wind right now. So I say to my soul, remember. Remember.

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
Psalms 46:10‭-‬11 ESV

Bigger fish to fry

I’ve been thinking recently about past controversies in the theological circles I run in. The worship wars, the Calvinist vs Arminian debates, “emerging” vs “emergent” (remember that one?), and so on.

Many of these are still going on, and others are being cooked up all the time. If you’re incensed because someone used the phrase “reckless love” in a worship song, for example, you’re still in these battles.

I’ve been in them too. Case in point, over the past fifteen years or so I inched closer to Calvinism though I never fully embraced it. For various reasons I’m now crab-walking away from that brink as fast as I can, but that’s a post for another time (and, no, my pigeonholing friends, I’m not an “arminian” either).

Things have changed. The few topics I raised above, and many others, are important and deserve to be worked out fearfully and respectfully. But they seem, to me at least, to be mainly side shows these days.

Bigger questions are looming now. For example, what is the future of the evangelical church in America? Have we learned from our unholy alliances or are we going to double down? Will the church become a leading force for good and needed change? Will we continue to automatically dismiss certain concepts, such as “justice”, as being aligned with theological liberalism? Will it continue to be impossible to blame ourselves for anything because we are GOOD PEOPLE?

A few days after the resurrection Peter and some of the disciples decided to go fishing. It’s unclear why; they may have been hungry, they might have needed some money, or maybe it’s because that’s what they always used to do. When in doubt, catch a trout.

You know the story. They didn’t catch a thing until the Lord showed up on the shore and told them to cast their nets on the other side. Then the catch came.

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” John 21:9‭-‬10 ESV

They had gone back to what they always did. Jesus showed up to, among other things, remind them that there were now bigger fish to fry. The old pursuits weren’t the main thing anymore.

I think we’re in a moment like this, and have been for a long while. In John 21 Jesus connects love for him with love for the sheep that he has entrusted to us. This echoes the greatest commandment, doesn’t it? Love God and love your neighbors.

“Feed my sheep” surely does mean to feed the people in our care (our neighbors) with the truth. But what’s needed is the whole truth, not just those truths and semi-truths that are comforting and convenient (such as “We’re GOOD PEOPLE”).

“Feed my sheep” is not an other-worldly command. It often means literal feeding. It means valuing and advocating for justice,  turning the other cheek, giving of ourselves, going the extra mile, giving up our treasures.

I wonder if, while we claim to be rich and whole, we’re sick and broken and poor.

We’ve wasted a lot of time on small distractions. There are bigger fish to fry.

“You’ve lost the plot”

This John Pavlovitz article from last January is still very relevant.

White Evangelicals, This is Why People Are Through With You

An excerpt from the article:

 








 

 










 





It’s a painful read. Truth hurts.

Pressing on

I started writing a post this morning about all the things about myself that drive me crazy. I’m not the person I want to be.

Thankfully, I’ve abandoned that self-indulgent bit of navel-gazing for the time being.

This is better:

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:13‭-‬14 ESV

Isn’t that good? There’s so much wisdom in that passage! Still, it’s the straining forward that wipes me out. Seriously. It’s really easy to lose sight of the prize.

We have an upward call. Up. Higher. Further up and further in.

I have a call on my life. Many calls, actually. God has called me to be a husband and a father and to sacrifice for my family. He’s called me to be his son, growing in relationship to him. He’s called me to spread the great news about Jesus to others and to be his ambassador at work and on campus and in my neighborhood. He’s specifically called me to make disciples of Jesus among the college students that surround us in this part of town. All of these calls lead upward.

Gravity pulls me downward. That’s why all of these calls are often  a strain and require pressing on. It’s hard.

Gravity isn’t hard. The downward calls on my life are easy, really.

I don’t have to “press on” toward being depressed or “strain forward” toward feeling resentments and anger. I don’t have to strive to be lazy or dig deep to work up some despair. There’s no great effort expended in saying the wrong thing or missing the mark. It’s no trouble at all to ignore my neighbors and lock myself in my fortress each night.

God calls us upward. We are downward people. That’s why it’s a miracle when we find ourselves pressing on.

Christ, as always, leads in leading us upward. I think it’s meaningful that the most heart-wrenching scene in the gospel narrative is of Jesus, already torn and bleeding, carrying his cross to Golgotha. He was taking a machete to the wild, untamed jungle of sin that bars the way to the upward call of God, opening the way by the tearing open of his own flesh.

He strained forward. He pressed on toward the goal, the prize, the upward call of his Father.

Because he did, now so can we.

Making good time

The bus seems to be making good time this morning, at least so far. Since I was late getting to the park and ride, that’s a good thing. I’m still recovering from a busy weekend and getting up this morning was none too easy.

So we’re making good time.

That’s a peculiar phrase, isn’t it? “Making good time.” I’ve never actually  made time. It is a gift that comes at me moment by moment. Additionally, as a gift, I think it’s always good.

But i often spoil this gift. I let an hour of it go bad last night surfing YouTube, for example. Another 45 seconds turning good time into bad was spent cursing the bathroom scale this morning.

I’ve often heard people say “I don’t have enough time.” I’ve said that plenty of times myself. It’s a misnomer, of course; we all have precisely the same amount of hours in each day as anyone else does. We have the same amount of time each day that Jesus had in each of his days: 24 hours. 1,440 minutes. 86,400 seconds.

This time is not ours by right, either. It is given to us. What will we make of it?

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. – Ephesians 5:‬15‭-‬17 ESV

The days are evil, because evil people like me spend the time we have in bad ways. We make bad time.

Turning a blind eye upon the one in need

Inventing wickedness in thought and deed

Destroying lives with careless words

and sticks and stones and knives and swords

Use the gift well.

the right bus

First post in a while written while not sitting on a bus. I’m at home, with a few spare minutes before we head off to church.

There was another mass shooting at a high school on Friday. More rationalization today about our violent culture.

There was more froth and whataboutism on facebook this morning about Trump. More rationalization.

It’s amazing how many busses I’m not riding on these days. I’m not on the Republican and Religious Right bus anymore, for example.

Heard a series of great teachings at a College retreat I attended this weekend. Russell Minick, dear friend, wise counselor and also my daughter-in-law’s dad, hammered home a great truth: Jesus is right.

Jesus is Lord.

I am on Jesus’ bus. I am working to make that the only bus I ride.

Twitter and towers

Among the better decisions I’ve made this year has been to get off of Twitter. I gave it up for Lent, but once Easter came and went I realized that the best move might be to remain in the twitterless Lenten Lands for a while longer.

I have no beef with Twitter. I follow good, smart people (well, good and smart people plus the President who I also follow for some dumb reason) and I have learned a great deal and had my thoughts sharpened and even changed through the content of the tweets and threads I’ve read and with which I’ve interacted. It was fun; while I never had a large following, one of my tweets was actually liked by Lin Manuel Miranda, which was definitely a highlight.

The problem isn’t Twitter. It is me. As an active user I found myself in spare and not so spare moments scrolling scrolling, scrolling, searching, searching, searching.

Why is that? I think it’s because I live and participate in a culture that fears silence; a culture that reveres activity and controversy and hot-takes and making a name for oneself.

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” – Genesis 11:4 ESV

Comparing social media and the Tower of Babel; kind of a stretch, right? Possibly. But perhaps not.

To be honest, one of the draws to social media for me is the technological fascination with the platforms themselves, and the promise of things that are truly good: connection, interaction, mutual support, creativity, community. These are good things. Just like building a city and a tower is a good thing, in itself. God isn’t against ambitious construction projects.

The Tower of Babel was somehow seen by those who built it as a protection against solitude and disconnection, “lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole Earth.” Desiring to be connected and together is a good thing as well.

Unfortunately it is the human condition to take good things and twist them, to attempt to take the reins of our lives from the hands of our Creator, to make a name for ourselves. It’s the human condition to desire independence from our God and to run from his face, avoiding the silences and the solitude where he is, desiring autonomy in theory but then just clumping ourselves together in our tribes, allowing ourselves to be under the boot of the loud and the strong and the ruthless while declaring ourselves free; free to be at war with the other tribes with whom we go to battle, stick and stone and tooth and claw.

Dispersing the people, confusing their language, and leaving the Tower of Babel an empty husk was, like all of God’s actions, wise and good, though we may not understand it com poll letely. It would do us well to study it and learn from it.

I’m not sure how long I’ll be off Twitter. But I’m learning to love the new silences and unoccupied moments in my day.

All out of juicy fruit

I’m in a season of frustration. Have you ever been there?

Nothing is all that bad, really. I’m not suffering, I’m not destitute, I am, actually, blessed beyond measure. I know this.

I’m just in a phase where I desperately need a win. Spiritually and physically and vocationally.

The poison is this: I’ve chosen the bad path of allowing my mind to marinate in the resentments I feel toward those I perceive as either standing in my way, not pulling their own weight, or not focused on the goal.

That’s an ugly place to be, mentally and spiritually.

I’m not sure how to pull out of this dive. So instead I think I’ll heap hot coals on my head.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
1 Corinthians 13:4‭-‬8a ESV

I’ve been to a number of weddings where that passage has been read. I’ve even been the one reading it. I think that’s great. A wedding is a  very appropriate place to talk about love. But I also wonder why we so often read this passage where it’s so easy to hear. It’s easy to love at a wedding.

My bitter soul is raising all kinds of objections to this passage right now. I don’t want to love. I want to strike. I want to fire. I want to rant. I want to chew gum and kick behonkus and I’m all out of juicy fruit at the moment.

Love is not irritable or resentful. I’m doomed.

I need grace and mercy more than I need my circumstances to change. I need repentance more than I need rest. I need a heart full of love more than I need the people “causing my problems” to shape up or ship out.

I’ll leave this here. I’m in turmoil, though few would see it. I’m spoiled as well, as anyone familiar with my life circumstances knows. I’m tempted daily toward fight or flight without precisely knowing who to fight or what I should flee from.

Why so downcast, O my soul? Best to keep soldiering on.

Love is patient.

Closed doors and Hempstead Highway

The HOV is blocked by a stalled bus, so we’ll be taking Hempstead in. Nice.

Being blocked is part of life. Unless you’re sitting still all the time, you’re going to have obstacles at times  between where you’re at and where you’re wanting to be.

Sometimes the way is impassable. What do you do? What are your options?

Some people plot their spiritual course relying on the Urim and Thummim of what I call Open door/Closed door theology. “Look for the open door”. Sometimes they add the modifier “when God closes a door, He opens a window.”

It’s not ridiculous to think this way. There are solid Biblical examples: Paul’s closed door to Asia and open door to Macedonia, for example. However, Paul didn’t approach his situation by simply saying “closed door, must stop.” In fact, if you read the applicable text in Acts 16, there is no mention of contrary circumstances standing in Paul’s way at all. It was the Holy Spirit who forbade him and his team to speak in Asia, and the context suggests they were striving mightily to do so, because they had to be forbidden again by the spirit of Jesus (Acts 16:6-10).

This is one reason among many why setting your path based upon whether there are obstacles in your way, or “closed doors” if you like,  can be both a cop out and a good way to miss out on the better plan. Sure, sometimes the Lord Himself is the obstacle and in that case the path is clearer. Sometimes, as in Paul’s case, the Lord really does open another door.

But sometimes he wants us to bull through the obstacle. Sometimes he wants us to sit and wait by the obstacle. Sometimes we have to take a detour. And sometimes he has other plans entirely.

Sometimes when God closes a door, he doesn’t open a window. He wants you inside when the building collapses. – Jared Wilson

Read Scripture and watch the main characters struggle and strive to get where God is taking them. Take the aforementioned Paul, for example. One might consider being stoned with rocks, dragged out of a city and left for dead to be a “closed door.” But it wasn’t. See Acts 14:19-23 and this old post of mine.

The HOV lane is a “closed door” this morning, but I’m still supposed to go to work. So my bus will crawl down Hempstead highway to get to the Transit Center, and I’ll pick up the 33 there and be on my way. I’ll get where I’m supposed to go, a little later than I would have liked, and that’s OK.

Turning around and going back home to get in bed because I hit a “closed door” was never an option.