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.

For good or for bad

This morning I’m thinking about power. Power is one of those neutral things that can be used for good or for bad. In this modern world we are surrounded by power. I’m riding a large powered rectangular box consisting of metal and rubber and plastic and upholstery and I’m very grateful this box takes me to work every day. I’m typing on a much smaller rectangle that has its own small power source. We are awash in benign, controlled power sources that do all sorts of good things for us: transportation, heating, cooling, comunication, healing, entertainment, education, food preparation and thousands of other uses.

We also, many of us, possess other kinds of power. I have a kind of power over the people who work for me. I have a different kind of power over the ministries entrusted to me. Yet another kind of power over my dogs. While I often don’t think of it this way, my wife and I both have profound power and influence over each other. There’s another kind of power I have over my children (and, again, they also wield a kind of power over me).

In the context of love-relationships it seems “off” to speak of “power over” others, doesn’t it? But think of it this way: over the weekend we bought a bougainvillia and planted it in a planter out front. I have profound power over that little plant. If I don’t water it and care for it this little plant will not make it. If I exercise good, life-giving power over this plant it will grow tall, perhaps taller than I am.

This is power for good.

The problem is that in many relationships and structures our power is not for good. There’s a tendency in the human heart for rationalization, isn’t there? A slaveholder can convince himself that his slaves would not survive under freedom. An abusive husband can tell his battered wife that he loses his temper “because he cares so much” and, tragically, she can even convince herself to believe him. Abusive church leaders can have the conviction that they are on a mission from God and this justifies bulldozing their flock in service of that mission. National leaders can fall under the intoxicating pull of power, convinced, as P.J. O’Rourke once observed, that the world will be a better place if they run it.

We live in a vast, complicated matrix of power relationships. We are often in submission to these  and sometimes, more often than we might think, we are the ones wielding the power. For good or for bad.

Jesus stepped into a world full of power dynamics. I was just reading Matthew 2 this morning; before Jesus was even two years old a mad king decided he would exercise his power to deliberately thwart the promised Messiah of the people he held power over, and so he killed all the boys two years and younger in the region where Jesus was born. This is the world Jesus grew up in. It’s the world he spoke the Sermon on the Mount into. It’s a world in which he flipped, voluntarily,  the power dynamic such that he submitted to hands that he himself had created, allowing them to torture and pierce and even kill him.

Who does that?

God does that. The path to greatness, to true power, to all authority wielded well and good lies this way.

As his followers we must be the first to see this and act upon it. To give up our power and take up our servanthood.

Perhaps more on this later. I’m still figuring this out.

The election of 2016

Starting out this morning’s journey I have some time to mull. Today I’m mulling over politics and the church.

I’ve been around for a while. I became a Christian in 1983 just about the time the Moral Majority and Religious Right was picking up steam. I had been for the most part politically neutral before this. I remember not liking Carter. By 1984 I was old enough to vote in the presidential election; I loved Reagan and  I enthusiastically voted for his reelection. Throughout the rest of the 80s, 90s, 2000s and 2010s I voted straight ticket Republican,  although I would always vote for each race separately rather than just selecting straight ticket, because I didn’t like thinking of myself as a straight ticket voter.

As just-marrieds my wife and I were thrilled when Bush senior won. We were horrified and disheartened when Bill Clinton won and couldn’t wait to vote against him in 1996, when we voted with as much enthusiasm as we could muster (not much) for Bob Dole, only to see Clinton triumph again. We held our breath for a month in 2000 waiting to see if Bush would win the recounts and were thrilled when he did. We were more thrilled when he won reelection in 2004 and we enthusiastically supported his foreign policy in the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. Though I somehow knew Barak Obama would win in 2008 we were still so disheartened when he won and won again. In general, we always agreed with the guy leading our Republican tribe and always disagreed with the guy leading the Democrat tribe. Always. As American Christians this was the most natural thing to do, we thought. I simply could not get into the head of anyone, certainly not someone of faith, who supported Democrats.

And this brings us to 2016.

2016 was a kidney stone of a year by all measures for our family. We had a lot of deep issues to take care of and pray over. But in the middle of all that there was a presidential campaign and two inexplicable things happened: the first was that a guy named Donald Trump, who had often been a novelty candidate in previous elections, started taking the lead on the Republican side. The second, and far more inexplicable one for me, was that American Christians, at least the white ones, began to enthusiastically endorse the man.

“This can’t be” I naively thought. I heard all the rationalizations: the President isn’t the pastor in chief, God can use anyone. He’s like King Cyrus. he’s really a good man, just look at how great his kids are, etc. None of these came close, in my mind, to justifying a vote for the man, certainly not a vote by a Christian.

The other side of the argument was given with just as much fervency. “You have no choice,” they would say, “the alternative is Her!” After the election I was talking to a Christian friend (who I respect greatly) and he told me with certainty that if Hillary had won all our religious freedom would have been jeopardized.

I could go on for pages. Bottom line, I realized that for some reason I wasn’t able to hear the same music many of my Christian friends were hearing.

I understand the pragmatic vote for a lesser of two evils. I really do. But I’ve never understood the Christian admiration for Donald Trump. And, to be blunt, here’s why I don’t understand it: he is a liar. There’s not even an argument to be mounted against this charge. He has lied on the deepest matters repeatedly to people he should have loved: his first two wives and, by all reports, his current wife. He has betrayed them. He larded his campaign with lies and started out his Presidency lying about the most mundane things.

He is also cruel, and not in some veiled, “refined” Machiavellian way. He treats people who aren’t behonkus-kissingly loyal to him like manure and, like all bullies, he’s not content to just pound them and steal their lunch money, he has to take their dignity too with stupid fifth grade nicknames and cruel jabs on social media.

Not least, and certainly not last but I’m almost to work and need to wrap this up, he is an abuser. This goes hand in hand with his cruelty. He has abused people sexually and economically and he is proud of it.

I never thought I’d say this, but, doggone it, I miss Barak Obama.

The election of 2016 was the final cure for my red team tribalism. I’m de-tribed now, neither red nor blue. Heartbreakingly, the election also served to unmask the white evangelical church for its nationalistic idolatry, its fear of the Other, and its desire for power.

What the election of 2016 didn’t do, thankfully, was destroy my faith in the church. There is a core, a minority perhaps, in the American evangelical movement that saw what I also saw and renounced it. May that tribe increase.

May the Kingdom of God increase.

I voted in 2016 for a third party candidate who had no chance of winning. And the scores of people online who told me I had to pick R or D because we’re locked into a binary choice can go pound sand.

My bus is pulling up to my building now. Looks like it’s going to be a beautiful day.

 

#win

After the 214 deposits me at Northwest Transit Station I catch the 33 for the final leg of my morning journey.

The 33 is a smaller bus with maybe 39 seats on it. Not 40, 39. It has an odd number because one of the rows has a single seat on one side. I call it the introvert’s seat.

I’ve had a stressful morning already and I’m not even at work yet. But I scored the introvert’s seat this morning.

#win

Same boat

Good morning. The bus is taking us on a different route this a.m., trying to nose its way down Jones road as an alternate to taking West to get to 290, now that the HOV bridge is no more. It’s a crazy plan, but it just might work.

It occurs to me that I’m on a bus, but I’m also in a boat. You may know this boat. We may be in the same boat, as a matter of fact.

Do you have too much to do and not enough time to do it? Are you facing problems at work that seem unsolvable? Are you just trying to do your duty well but feeling like you’re not quite making it? Do you feel like you’re less than you should be? In that case, we are in the same boat. Here, have some tea.

I’m really not trying to complain. On a relative scale things are so incredibly good right now; I know this. I’ve just got a few rocks in my shoes and my guess is most everyone else does as well. My little dinghy, bouncing on the waves, is not anything you’d notice. Just a dot on the sea.

There was a time when Jesus was in a boat with his closest followers on a stormy night. His follwers were terrified because of the waves and wind, and justifiably so. Jesus, however, was sleeping. That in itself is amazing; personally, I’m not even able to sleep in a moving car, let alone on a ship in a storm.

We know the story: his disciples were overcome with fear, they woke him up, and he, after gently jabbing them for being afraid, with a word took control of the winds and waves and all was calm. That in itself is awesome and the implications of the power he demonstrated are staggering. But this also stands out to me: I’m pretty sure if the disciples hadn’t woken him up Jesus would have been perfectly content to remain asleep. They were all in the same boat, but he was the only one who wasn’t afraid.

I’d also like to have no fear, and so I remember: We are in the same boat. It’s his boat, a little dot on the vast sea, containing the One who fills all in all and contains in himself vast oceans of peace and rolling waters of justice and righteousness.

Peace, be still.