Most of the Christmas cards I received in the mail are beautiful.
Then there is the one of my college buddies and general conspirator in mayhem, Timbo, who entitled his “Seasons Beatings.” I placed it next to another card with the classic snow-covered cottage with two beautiful small children and a bible verse. I thought to myself, “this is the spectrum of my friends. And this is why I wonder if I’m crazy.”
In our American Holiday season, we like to just post the beautiful on our Christmas cards. Because beauty to many of us is the absence of imperfections – like what we post on our social media.
My nieces and nephews are beautiful & most certainly super cute – even when they have dirty diapers. But they belong on my brothers’ and sister’s Christmas cards – not my B-Sides. I joked with my roommate that we should do a picture of the two of us with smoking jackets, doing our best impression of the Most Interesting Man in the World…but we were too busy.
When your relationship status is single, it is clearly brought to the surface during the Holidays. During the rest of the year, I respond to the void of the “honey, how was your day” conversation by trying to connect with others – either via coffee, drinks, brunch, dinner, social media, text, phone, walking home, riding the bus/train, etc.
If you are like me, you typically cut through the crap pretty quickly because – let’s just be honest here – I don’t have time for pleasantries. If I ask a friend, “how are you doing?” and get a half-truth answer – then truthfully, is that person really my friend?
Friends are honest. And honestly, honesty is in short supply in a world when we compare our messy internal world to the airbrushed social media world of our “friends.”
I was having brunch on the last Sunday of 2013 with dear, dear friends and we lamented how hard this last year was for us. Throughout the year, I’d walk a couple of blocks over to their place and we’d sit on the porch together and we’d just…lament. The collective crap we and our friends went through was pretty awful. We lamented ours and our friends’ break-ups, breakdowns, separations, divorces, downsizings, deaths, miscarriages, rejections, car crashes, house fires, losses…
…that’s enough. I don’t wanna write any more of those words.
Even writing those words in one LONG run-on sentence on a “holiday greeting” seems like I’m being such a downer. But staring at those words in succession – man-oh-man, each of those has a story.
And they all happened. This year.
Do I just crop them out like I do in social media? Or do I take them for what they are?
Trying to write a Christmas Letter for me this year is like the the smell of a little one’s dirty diaper while taking the extended family Christmas photo. Everyone knows someone really stinks and you breathe through your teeth in your smile to avoid the smell so the world can see how “wonderful” you are.
(Not that this has happened in my family. Ever.)
But when someone names the stink, it somehow is better. Because now, everyone. can. relate. and. is. thankful. you. gave. permission. to. be. honest.
So back to the Christmas Card (which is now post Christmas.)
My hipsters’ hipster ex-roommate has replaced the Holiday Greeting with his top songs of the year for like 15 years now. That usually got me through March as being “with it” when it came to music. But I’m not an audiophile like him. And I was unemployed for half of the year, so I can’t really give you pictures of me looking awesome somewhere beautiful (with the exception of a mountain – to be explained below.)
So, here are a bakers’ dozen of things that got me through 2013 – to endure the stink. Some of them are beautiful, some quirky, some brilliant, others just ordinary. But these, along with Jesus, my friends and family, helped me endure 2013 and not become a triskaidekaphobic.
1. Step Out – Jose Gonzalez. Confession: this song has been on repeat for the last three weeks for me. I love it. I’ve always appreciated his quiet, subtle sound with deep lyrics in songs like “Heartbeats.” Jose reminds me of Paul Simon. But this song, with it’s majestic drum cadence, choral chants, strings…wow. This song is the musical equivalent to mountains, something at which you can just stare and say, “wow.”
2. Climbing Mount Princeton. In July, the old PC2K gang got together again to make mayhem, argue about everything, and leave our mark on another city. We decided more on a state this year, and landed in Aspen and conquered Mount Princeton.
My buddy A said that Colorado left a mountain shaped hole in his heart after living there a few years. I believe it. If it weren’t for family and my love for the city of Chicago, I’d move there in a heartbeat.
Climbing a 14,000 foot mountain isn’t easy, but manageable. We were winded, for sure. But we did it together. It’s hard to believe that these guys I’ve known for nearly half of my life, and I seriously can’t imagine who I would be without them. When we pledged a fraternity and became brothers, I can honestly say I don’t think we knew the depth of influence we would have on one another. Climbing a mountain together is just another chapter in an amazing story of the most unlikely of friends.
3. Yoga. Yes, I said it. This former high school football linebacker is now a dude who practices yoga. I set my alarm for 5 AM to speed walk 28 minutes to the gym in the morning for a 6 AM Yoga class. I’m not a yogi by any means, but this practice has meant as much in my life as Sunday worship this past year. I’ve learned that I’m an embodied soul, and just listening to a person talk at me on Sunday morning hardly equates to growth. Yoga has been a slow process of seeing how stretching, waiting, resting, listening, and balance can bring a deeper strength. It’s been a physical manifestation of a spiritual reality.
(As a side benefit, I’d say yoga is the second biggest reason why I’m finally approaching my college graduation weight and tailoring suits to fit my emerging six pack. The first? Eating right.)
I’m sure somewhere Mark Driscoll is demanding I turn in my man card, but I can still bench press more than him and chop more wood than him any day. [Enter male grunt here.]
4. This video on wealth inequality in the US. Why? Well, let’s just say I have more motivation now to plunder and redistribute wealth and power than I ever have before. In a pragmatic way, I have more insight into why things are the way they are in our country, and how to be an ordinary revolutionary that plunders one kingdom for another.
5. My spiritual director. I don’t know how I would have gotten through the last 4 years without her. Seriously, C has helped me to see presence of Jesus in my life when I couldn’t.
In the wise words of Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.”
6. Caipirinhas on the back porch with M&A. This wonderful-yet-simple drink of lime, sugar, and cachana (we’d substitute vodka ‘cause that’s how we roll in the ghetto HP) reminds me of an old friend tragically killed in a car crash in his native Brazil not long ago. L was a Kellogg student when he introduced them to me 10 years ago at a church young adults retreat, where we stole away and he showed me carefully how to crush the lime not too much to avoid the bitterness of the peel. We drank and laughed deeply as we shared stories of life together. I did the same with M&A this summer.
Before hipsters were crafting cocktails, L invited me to understand his people through the simple craft of making a drink. In a year of much lament, learning how to continue to celebrate the lives of those who have left this world has greater meaning. I celebrated my Kellogg Graduation with a Caipirinha that evening, and thanked the person who planted the first seed of business school in my mind.
7. Georgio Moroder, by Daft Punk. I’ve loved Daft Punk since Bairdo blared them through the speakers of our frat house in the bright light of the late 90’s techno world. Their latest album this summer was amazing. Everyone heard “Get Lucky,” but perhaps most brilliant was the third track, Georgio Moroder, an artful ensemble of story, spoken word, synthesizers, strings, turntables, horns, drums, beat boxing, electric guitars…and I’m sure I’m missing something in here, but I don’t want to analyze and just sit in wonder.
Georgio’s timeless line in the center of the song forms the thesis (of the song, and maybe his own life):
“Once you free your mind about the concept of harmony and of music being correct, you can do whatever you want. So nobody told me what to do, and there was no preconception of what to do.”
Innovation is so often talked about but rarely tried today because everyone plays it so damn safe. We are afraid of making mistakes or getting burned. I get it. I’ve been burned enough now that I’m totally tempted to just play it safe. So we just recycle what’s been done before because of marketability. I get it – I majored in marketing and understand the logic behind all of it. That doesn’t mean I have to like it. I just wish some others would have the courage to try.
And by “others,” I am totally projecting and really mean me.
8. This by Michael Gungor. Gosh this fed my soul when I read it. Because here is someone who captured what mentioned with Daft Punk and nailed why we are so sucky in the Evangelical subculture about being real. (Not all – for one of the most real people I know and am proud to call my friend is K – read her blog.)
After being away from professional ministry for two full years now, Michael gave words to one the largest “push factors” for leaving: Zombie Christianity.
I see this all the time today (see exhibit A) and I cringe. Because more than anything when it comes to living life on this planet, especially in hard years, I need to see the proof of the incarnation – that the Holy Spirit chooses to indwell His people today. Not Christian Zombies who parrot the pastor; but faithful folks who use their own words to describe the living work of God within them and through them.
Perhaps this is why the voices of prophets of today are often those we don’t want to hear – so they escape to the margins and find truth away the acceptance of greater society, and there they find those ideals are greater than their lives.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t without costs.
9. My career coach. I’m just going to say it: Unemployment is a bitch to the soul. J was a gift because she follows Jesus & helped me look at the big picture of where I was going with my career.
Let’s be honest: I’m on my third career in my mid thirties. When employers look at my resume, they must assume I have ADHD. Engineer turned college pastor turned human capital consultant. I’m a man out of my time. As cool as they sound, renaissance men were meant for the renaissance. They might be surely interesting at cocktail conversation, but in today’s world it’s deep subject knowledge that matters most. I can only fake it for so long (like a minute – I’ve never really been good at deception or lying.)
J helped me think backwards from where I want to end my career, and after a long session I realized that I desire to return to the university – but as a professor. But not a research professor. I’m still a teacher on the inside, but I teach as a practitioner. I feel more called to help organizations become healthy than I ever have in my life; but I know that the future in this arena is beyond platitudes, cliches, and cheesy PowerPoint graphics – it’s in real data.
And right now, that doesn’t exist. At least not yet.
Which means I have some time to figure it out along with the rest of the world trying to get ahold of big data.
When you are unemployed, you need to see progress in something. Because you experience rejection. Every day. People don’t get back to you. People avoid talking about it because they don’t want to feel uncomfortable. It’s one thing to be rejected in romantic life, but unemployment can deny you from your God given right to add value to the planet through your calling.
My Fitbit was one coping mechanism for seeing a lack of progress in my job search for a few months. So when I would rock out a 15,000 step day, there was something satisfying about that. And I can almost always put one foot in front of another.
11. John Madden’s eulogy for Pat Summerall. First, it’s a crying shame that this BEAUTIFUL piece has only 5,000 views. THAT’S RIDICULOUS. John’s love for Pat as a deep friend and broadcast partner is worth pondering. “I know Pat is saying right now, ‘John, Brevity, Brevity, Brevity’…one more time I’m gonna talk over you.”
(Maybe I should follow Pat’s advice right now…)
But the line that gets me tearing up every time?
“The criterion for greatness and being the best at what you do, or ever done, is can the history of what you did be written without mentioning your name?”
That’s beautiful. As I grow older, I don’t worry about carving my name on things like I did when I was younger. I just want to help people see things for what they truly are – in all of their wonder.
12. U2’s Peace on Earth. OK, another item on the list not from 2013. Fair enough. But for some asinine reason, we don’t sing sad songs in church. We sing about joy, but part of joy involves lament. Therefore joy becomes just an ideal and a theory, but in practice I know I can’t get to joy unless I walk through lament.
I can’t experience real joy until I sing these words from Bono from the depth of my soul:
Heaven on Earth, we need it now.
I’m sick of all of this hanging around.
I’m sick of sorrow, I’m sick of the pain,
I’m sick of hearing again and again,
That there is going to be Peace on Earth.
Bono wrote the song as a lament for the innocent children who died in a bombing in Ireland. I sang it after news of a tragic suicide this summer.
Sadly, this year was the second self-inflicted death that I’ve grieved. They don’t get easier with age. This one may have been harder because it was linked with the first we weathered 8 years ago. Except I saw my then-students who were grieving their college friend’s death now grieve again in their late twenties, at the same point in life when I was grieving our first loss.
Grieving in youthful naivete is different than when you have been around the block a few years. Because you just think you will bounce back – and you do.
But when the idealism is gone, I’m almost sick of hearing people say things I know are true – and they can sound so cliche.
Like “Peace on Earth.”
But I know it’s true, and I just say the words anyway because I hope eventually they will become true if I just say them over and over again.
And that’s why I need hope.
13. “Hope” by Emily Dickinson. I discovered this poem out of desperation. I’m not at all savvy in poetry, and was fortunate enough to discover this in the nick of time late this fall.
The first verse is enough for this entry:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops – at all
Over time I’m learning the lyrics to the song of my soul. I’m not writing these lyrics; I’m uncovering them – because they’ve always been there. And uncovering leads to disillusioning in the best way possible. The illusion of what I perceived to be the lyrics of reality is replaced with something weightier, something of a far deeper beauty: hope.
The beauty of the Christian faith is hope. I love that in the Spanish language, the verbs “to hope” and “to wait” are the same word: esperar. Because I don’t think I can understand what it means to hope without waiting.
And with that, I’ll wait a few more hours for a new year. And if you made it this far, I hope you are still sane.
Hopeful in 2014,