Archive for the 'Spiritual Disciplines' Category

Palm Sunday: Mixed messages

Whenever I think of Palm Sunday, I often wonder how I should really feel – because, in all of the Christian Holy Days, it’s the one that sends the most mixed messages. And as we follow Jesus’ story in Luke 19:28-48, my stomach should continue to feel unsettled at Jesus’ response to public praise.

At this point in the story, Jesus has achieved rockstar status. He’s built his media platform. He’s got millions of followers – real ones, not just instagram or twitter followers. He’s got groupies. He’s even got haters.

So we do our best to model this in our worship today. In most traditions, worshipers enter the sanctuary with palm fronds to raise during worship in the same manner as the millions who did so as Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem.

We often sing a song with the word “Hosanna” to align ourselves with the crowd as Jesus would be riding on a colt. It aligns with the story – and we might hear (as I did this morning) about the rocks crying out about the glory of God.

I find all of this ironic. When we look deeper at the symbolism, we see that Jesus intended the mixed messages to mix up our souls, to give dissonance that would cause us to question.

First of all, Jesus is riding in on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Luke mentions this five times in the passage – so you’d think that the repetition would be significant, right? The people who heard “Hosanna” (meaning “save us now”) sung in their presence didn’t ride colts – they rode war horses, stallions.

This is like a modern day equivalent of Jesus riding into a cosmopolitan church on an old John Deere tractor wearing shit-kickers, bib-overalls, and a sporting a dip of chewing tobacco (and not ironically like some hipster – Jesus did come from a podunk village north of cosmopolitan Jerusalem)

Second, this is during Passover, when the city is PACKED with people. One historian says 2.7 million people descended from all over to visit – that’s like the entire city of Chicago descending on Jerusalem. And this city is occupied by Roman soldiers, who have already crucified an entire village of people at a time for threatening the power of the Roman Empire.

Third, the crowd of millions is chanting “SAVE US!” It wasn’t just because the Pharisees were jealous of Jesus that they shushed him – it’s because this was ripe for revolt. The Pharisees would later try to show Jesus was leading a revolt against Rome by asking him the famed question, “Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” This is a power play through a political question – and a set up in a public sphere to expose Jesus as aligning with zealots to get him arrested.

Many like to focus on Jesus’ “triumphal entry” as the place where we enter into worship. And then, even then, it is poignant to look at Jesus’ response to this production unfolding around him. Remember, there are millions of people worshiping Jesus at this moment, singing Hosanna, and saying “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

But he doesn’t receive their worship as genuine.

He weeps.

Why?

Because even by taking on an identity of a lowly servant, complete with shit-kickers and bib-overalls, Jesus intends to help the millions know the character of his revolution: humble, others-focused, self-sacrificial love.

He knows they don’t get it. He knows they view power differently than him.

The establishment is still anchored in looking at the ways of doing religion, and has thus anchored everyone else in responding in kind. It views power as platform, as followers, as likes, and tries to use public spheres to see who aligns with who in order to win allies to the cause.

Perhaps things haven’t changed as much as we’d like to think they have.

Jesus then prophesies the future for Jerusalem – that in 70 AD, Roman Soldiers would destroy the temple under and kill 1.1 million Jews, and enslave 97,000, according to Josephus. He writes,

“The slaughter within was even more dreadful than the spectacle from without. Men and women, old and young, insurgents and priests, those who fought and those who entreated mercy, were hewn down in indiscriminate carnage. The number of the slain exceeded that of the slayers. The legionaries had to clamber over heaps of dead to carry on the work of extermination.”

This is why Jesus wept. It’s why he says, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes…because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

And get this – as a calculated response, motivated by righteous anger, Jesus turns over the tables and drives out those who intertwine consumerism with worship.

This is why I feel mixed messages at Palm Sunday. We repeat history every year we mix consumerism with worship when we sing songs to the glowing screen and smoke machine and stoke the social media platforms to drive click traffic.

Because when consumerism mixes with worship, we won’t know what will bring us peace.

In their powerful book, Renovation of the Church, Kent Carlson and Mike Leuken write of their own megachurch journey and when they had their epiphany on recognizing the time of God’s coming among them.

“Attracting people to church based on their consumer demands is in direct and irredeemable conflict with inviting people, in Jesus’ words, to lose their lives in order to find them. It slowly began to dawn on us that our method of attracting people was forming them in ways contrary to the way of Christ…In order to help people follow Christ more fully, we would have to work against the very methods we were using to attract people to our church. As person after person shared at this retreat, we slowly began to realize that, to be faithful to the gospel of Jesus, consumerism was not a force to be harnessed but rather an antibiblical value system that had to be prophetically challenged.”

We’re often charged with the euphoria of Hosanna. American Evangelicalism has moved in the last 40 years to become fully intertwined with consumerism. But it’s sobering to remember that the screams of Hosanna prompted Jesus to see the future screams of death of thousands of thousands and weep.

On one hand, I’m left to wonder what would happen if Jesus were to show up in church on Sunday.  How would he respond to the mixed messages of our church today?

On the other hand, I can’t think of a better posture to enter Holy Week. Is my worship genuine? As I enter into Holy Week, will I find myself among the few faithful women who remain by Jesus’ side at the end?

Lent Reflections: The Unsettling Smell of LaGuardia

New York City, New York: It’s been a year since I was last in New York – but hardly feels like it was that long ago. The flood of memories come back as the smell of LaGuardia fills my nostrils: excitement and anticipation; fear and terror.

I have a love-hate relationship with New York. When I was traveling for consulting, I had an intense 6 weeks in Manhattan in February-March of 2012 during the navy seals version of my consulting career: mergers and acquisitions. This was the deal that was in the public headlines, that was the reason why people went into consulting, and was an amazing opportunity. It was even a good ethical decision by the C-Suite. It was (on paper) the dream job.

But I barely kept my head above water in that deal. Stepping off the plane at LaGuardia, the smell just filled my nostrils and I wondered, “What is going to go wrong this week?”

Then I returned last year in 2014 to New York to volunteer staff a conference here – for Believers in Business, where the best MBA students talk about how God can shape their endeavors to shape the world’s most influential companies. It had to have been the most thought provoking teaching I’d heard that year, but it started out with far from intrigue and more like sheer terror. I lost my wallet on the plane.

Read that again: I lost my wallet on the plane.

In New York City.

Alone.

I get nervous maybe once a year. Fear is not one of the negative emotions that I experience often. (Since it is Lent, I’ll confess that anger is more my cup of tea…which is actually more like a double shot of whiskey)

But honestly, I’m beyond unsettled. I’m terrified.

And that smell of LaGuardia is not helping. So after thankfully having my cell phone to connect with a friend, I got $30 to ride a shuttle to get to the bank, to get $200 in walk-around money, and then land at my Hotel for the conference.  I’m a really, really lucky guy.

(And Southwest mailed me back my wallet in a week. Can you say, “loyal customer for life?”)

So when I get off the plane today, a year later, I check my pants pocket AT LEAST 10 times. My wallet that I once lost is still there.

And so is that God-awful smell of LaGuardia. It fills my nostrils as I walk through the familiar terminal and the flood of memories returns. Ugh. My stomach is unsettled.

Before Lent began I watched one last movie: Up In The Air. I watched this before I landed in consulting, and found it incredibly intriguing. I haven’t watched it since I switched from campus minister to consultant.

Upon rewatching it, and no longer traveling for work, it brought up so many mixed memories of life on the road (or up in the air.) What is so intriguing to me about the movie is seeing George Clooney unsettled. His life is all figured out, he’s on the motivational speaker circuit, and he’s the coolest of the cool kids sporting his salt and pepper, and of course he’s from a small town in Wisconsin…

And through a plot twist that NONE OF US see coming, he’s unsettled. We are no longer seeing the coolest of the cool kids. We see a frail, unsettled man whose comforts no longer comfort him. The anticipation of the moment he has wanted most in his life, the 10,000,000 mile club…exposes his frailty.

I think Lent in it’s purest form is unsettling. I went to a more traditional Ash Wednesday service, where ashes are placed on my forehead. It’s unsettling to listen to a sermon that starts with the saying, ,”Today we remember that someday we are going to die.”

Whenever I see ashes on the forehead on this day, I’m unsettled. Because it’s awkward. It’s weird. It’s not normal. I don’t wanna think about dying today.

And when I’ve given up Facebook and meat and alcohol in non-social settings, that craving is unsettling. Because I know I want it. I really really do. The fix of seeing others air-brushed lives, or the satisfaction of a steak, or chicken, or ribs, a juicy burger from Fatso’s, or…God all of those sound good right now…with a beer…New Glarus Spotted Cow…maybe I’ll be just like a good Wisconsinite and have Friday night fish here in New York and the local wheat beer on tap…

But that is the point. When Jesus “set his face to Jerusalem” it wasn’t to settle me – it was to invite me to the unsettling way of the Cross. That his self-sacrificing, others-focused love is not only what he has for me, but what he calls me to.

This is why I have a love-hate relationship with Lent. When I remove my creature comforts, the smell of LaGuardia pales in comparison to the stench of my sin – my inability to carry out that self-sacrificing, others-centered love. And I know the Gospel takes away my sin. More on that on Resurrection Sunday.

But today, I’ll be reminded of the Ash on my forehead and think about confession.

And feel OK being unsettled. Because today’s bright sadness will usher in a new day tomorrow.

Lenten Reflection: Peeling Paint. Bureaucracy. Nasal Blockage. Carefully Taught. Bathroom Tours. Rent Free.

In past lenten seasons, I’ve given up meat, facebook, and other sorts of things.

For me, Lent has been a journey.  At first, it was repenting of past preconceived notions of lent that were just caricatures.  And then, it was learning that depriving myself of things was an opportunity for me to hunger for such things to be filled by Jesus.  Now I’ve looked at it as an act of following Jesus, who walked in the shoes of humanity, and specifically of Israel. He went for forty days in the desert and had the opportunity and power to do everything that Satan tempted him to do, but chose not to.

When Jesus was hungry in the desert, and was told the plain fact by Satan that if he wanted, he could just turn the bread into stones.  You know, Satan was “tempting” Jesus by just stating the plain-old-reality that he could do that. It was true.

But Jesus chose the path of restraint.  Just because he could have done it, that doesn’t give him the justification to do it.

And the same is true for me.

So this year for Lent, I’ve chosen to restrain myself from watching TV and movies in non-social settings.  I want to order the role of television and film narratives to create community in my life, not draw me away from it by creating an escape fantasy world.  I mean, watching the freakshow of Jersey Shore with my roommate isn’t really creating community.  It’s watching a freakshow and saying, “wow, I can’t believe they are that screwed up.”  That is good for my ego, but it certainly isn’t good for my soul.

I’ve also given up Facebook.  This one is just a good discipline for me in general, because I want to have the surprise and delight of hearing people’s stories from their hearts in person, not online. I want real intimacy with others – not the appearance of it.

And this week, it opened up some great doors.  I’m taking Frederich Beuchner’s advice to “Listen to my life” that I’ve done in previous blog posts.  So here is a reflection (based on time I may be tempted to spend doing other things) because I’m more sensitive to listening to my life and hearing God’s voice within.

*

Ash Wednesday

I’m in Cincinnati on my first client visit with my boss.  I love my boss.  She is fantastically gifted and so good at her job.  I love hearing how she responds to the real needs of our clients and helping them get what they really, really want.

I wanna be as good as her someday.

The account manager and myself decide to go to a Ash Wednesday Catholic Mass to receive the ashes and be reminded that that we are nothing but little dust bunnies: We came from dust, and we’ll return to dust.

We walk into a downtown sanctuary, a beautiful building. Ornate churches still help me awe and wonder at the glory of God.  The former architect in me looks at the space and wonders with amazement how art can capture the both the unspoken groans and dreams of our souls, and kneeling in a sanctuary puts us in the proper posture to meet the Lord.

But it’s sad, because as I raise my head and get up from my knees I see the paint chipping near the clerestory on the walls.  The first part of my career from working in facilities tells me that there isn’t enough money in the budget to fix it.  Which probably means there may not be a lot of butts in the pews in mass on Saturdays and Sundays.

My coworker acknowledges it as well, and as a Notre Dame Alum, he wonders aloud about the future of the Catholic church. We are intimately aware of compensation and benefits because of our work, and let’s just say ministry is a hard market to get good talent in.  I know that first hand.

Sometimes I wonder about the future of the church as well. I know all the stats about the incoming generations of young people, and spent nearly 10,000 hours of face time helping college students at Northwestern.  There are times when I wonder if I were to have children, how they would know church?

I fly home and help open up the scriptures for my small group, teaching them to observe and ask questions of Jesus’ story, trying to figure out what it meant as it’s original listeners would have heard it. As we open the first chapter of the gospel of Mark, we see how so many were preparing for Jesus.  We ask the question, “What does it mean for us to prepare the way for Jesus in our lives today?”

As our stories unfold of transition and confusion, we pray for each other and realize the reality of ashes in our lives – that ashes are a simple reminder of that our world is broken, and sometimes burned, and our only hope as Christians is to prepare the way for Jesus to announce a new way is coming, a fresh sign of something greater – that our Heavenly Father loves us, and is pleased with us, and sometimes that means he loves us enough to kick us into a desert time for 40 days (like Lent) to know that we can trust him to take care of us because he really, really loves us.

Hello Lent. Thank-you sir, may I have another?

* *

Thursday: 

I’m still working on my MBA – I was fortunate enough to convince an employer of paying me an MBA salary without actually having an MBA.  And I did that without even taking the class on negotiations.  🙂

I’m taking what might be the most interesting class I’ve had in B-School – Organizational Design.  This professor has taught at Kellogg since 1974.  So when someone has been teaching at the same institution for nearly 40 years, you listen.

Today is a somber class.  We talk about how the intent of a good organizational design can later become the cancer of bureaucracy. He walks us though the steps of how companies die – and someone who has been teaching for nearly 40 years in an institution like Kellogg, you know this man has seen at least a thing or two about how the best of intentions lead to colossal failure.  He talks about “the rage” company that everyone was trying to be for the past 40 years…and shows where they are today.  It’s not pretty.  It’s like listening to an all-star lineup that got old, fat, slow, and ugly (not unlike Jersey Shore, or the paint chipping on the walls of the Cincinnati sanctuary).

And while we’d like to talk about other factors, most companies fail because they are confined to the view of success that got them to where they were.

Their success created blinders that ultimately led to their failure.

I reflect on the churches and ministries I’ve seen in my life, and I cry on the inside.  Because when someone foretells tragedy of places you’ve loved, but are powerless to stop it, the only appropriate response is tears.  Just because I can do something, doesn’t mean I should.

At the end of class on the drive home I pray, not because I’m holy, but because I know I need to trust that God is good.

Lent works. Again.

* * *

Friday:

I visit a nasal and sinus specialist.  How in the world can a stuffed up nose be spiritual?

I used to snore.  Really loud.  So bad that I have sleep apnea and wear a sexy mask to sleep in.  But I wonder if constant congestion is what I have to settle for as my lot in life.  So the combination of a friend who raved about a specialist with some new insurance, led to a visit to a nasal and sinus specialist.

I find out I have a deviated septum, and 90% of one nostril is blocked.  This is why I snore.  This is why I have sleep apnea.  This is why I have my sexy sleep mask.  And now I will be taking a drug cocktail that rivals senior citizens for the next 10 days that hopefully gets rid of any infection that we can determine if I need surgery.

Maybe admitting I have a problem is the first step to a solution.  Maybe settling for something in life isn’t really what we were intended for – but settling is certainly easier than admitting the extent of the problem.  Maybe the good news is that I found out my everyday bad news can be changed.

More to come.

* * * *

Saturday:

In the last couple of years, I’ve developed the habit of taking my parents to a show for their Christmas gift.  They have so much stuff in their house that I don’t know what to give them anymore, and since our family has lived there since we moved from Chicago in 1962, I there’s going to be a lot of stuff to clean up when we leave that home.

I figure a date and a musical with me is about as good as it gets, so why not give them that? 🙂

We go to a fancy restaurant.  More importantly, we have extended time to talk and reconnect.  We talk about my life transitions – from ministry back to the marketplace, changing churches, and look at what is in store for the future.  We talk about the next generation – my six nephews and nieces, and the two new arrivals that will be with us in April.  It’s a happy time in our family, enjoying the present and expectant for the future.

We see South Pacific – and at first, I’m honestly not impressed.  But then I reflect on the score and apply the good principles of inductive bible study and ask the question what it meant at that time to it’s listeners in 1949, over 60 years ago.  I’m particularly entranced by a song, “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” and realize how revolutionary it was in race relations at that time in history, in the pre-civil rights movement in the early 50’s.  Maybe songs like this led to people seeing each other as God saw them, made in his image, and our diversity reflecting God’s diversity.

Maybe I need to learn to look more deeply at things beyond the surface.  Maybe art is the means through which we are able to display the reality of our world, both past and present, in a way that can be swallowed.

* * * * *

Sunday: 

I take my parents to breakfast, and before we head to church we do a little family history lesson.  My family’s roots have been in Chicago for over five generations. Though I was raised in rural Wisconsin, this city is the home of my family.

My great great grandfather, George Bilhorn, built a church at North and Kedzie while his brother toured with DL Moody, the great evangelist.  The original church dedication pictures have North Avenue as a gravel road.  Yes – a gravel road that was “out of town” in the 19th century, if you can believe it.

When I was a boy, we came down after George’s last remaining son, Oliver, died and our family came for his funeral.  I read up a little on him, and am amazed that I live so close to his residence for his entire life, and am oddly similar in some respects.

But when you are a boy, and you come to the funeral of an uncle-you’ve-never-met for reasons-you-don’t-know, and you are in the hood of Chicago, you aren’t exactly interested in the back story.

You’re more concerned with playing your video games and baseball.  At least I was.

The church was signed over to a Puerto Rican congregation for $1 when Ollie died in 1994.  Nearly two decades later, my father and I walk in the door and announce ourselves as the great and great great grandsons of George Bilhorn, and nephews of ol’ Ollie Bilhorn.  They know us instantly and we are given an instant tour and greeted by all in the church, welcomed and told that “this is your house.”

My house…and I’ve never really been emotionally present there before.  This is grace and hospitality at work.  Two white guys, father and son, walk into a group of Puerto Ricans…this sounds like the start of a bad racist joke, but it’s the new reality of what happens when God invades earth.

One elder proudly displays all of the work that has been done on the church.  We even get a tour of the bathroom!  (Because it’s really important…I’ve prayed many prayers there…)

And by the way – none of the paint is peeling.

My Spanish is weak, but what I can hear in prayer is sincere thanks to Jesus for taking care of them.  I see AWANA signs all over the place, and flash back to my childhood.  Across the hall I see a disinterested boy in Sunday School, and flash back to when I was that disinterested in that same church at his age, rather playing video games or baseball. I say a quick prayer for him, so he can understand God’s gentle care for him involves being in a desert sometimes.

I smile and walk out, realizing that I’m part of a tradition in my family.  Thank God Oliver wasn’t “carefully taught,” and learned how to discern the spirit of God working in a community not like his that needed a facility to facilitate God’s work.

* * * * * *

We go to my new church, where we were given the facility for $0 rent for the first two years.  Apparently, ol’ Uncle Ollie had co-conspirators in Jesus’ revolutionary plot to bring heaven to earth in the west side of Chicago.

I see two of my former students, K & M, get baptized.  I flash back to our time together on campus at NU, and how we talked of their lives and in the Scriptures.  I’m so thankful that I had a front row seat for God’s work in their lives.  Baptism as the public proclamation of their personal decision to follow Jesus reminds me that my work in ministry at NU wasn’t in vain.  It’s fruit that lasts.

The seeds of words from myself and others spoken to them about their identities as new creations, that the old is gone and the new has come, has blossomed into real fruit.  When they experienced Jesus transforming their lives, and in the lives of their friends around them, they have been forever changed.  And their children’s lives will be different from theirs, being carefully taught that they are loved by their earthly Father and Mother and their heavenly father.

I hear their stories and get choked up.  I’m so proud of them. They inspire me.

I’m reminded that the good news is that lives can be changed, and that statistics of youth leaving the church can be damn lies when they damn us to be overwhelmed to inaction.

The fresh wind of the spirit that is symbolized by baptism is what allows for stale institutions with peeling paint to become vibrant, loving communities that meet in buildings on someone else’s dollar.  It’s in these communities where we speak words of blessing to one another, enabling them to hear God afresh in their lives rather than filled with some cliche from film or bad reality TV.  And it’s that same Spirit that drove Jesus immediately after he was told how much he was loved by God; because the wilderness has a way of helping us know that we need to trust God will really take care of us, to experience his love more deeply.

* * * * * * *

Why would I watch movies when, if I merely listen to my life, I realize the drama here is better than anything I can find on Netflix?

Lent works.  At least it did this week.

Stay tuned.

Advent: Waiting = Hoping | Esperar

Hello long lost blog. Remember me?

During Advent, I’m trying to get my blog back. If anything, I’ve realized during my sabbatical my enjoyment of writing, and getting to the point of needing to write again.  So sitting and looking over the shores of Northwestern University, staring at the waves crashing over the on the rocks, I thought I would remix a past entry on waiting.

Why waiting? Slowing life on my sabbatical has accented certain aspects of life – namely, a need for reflection.  The only way that happens is when I slow down.  But slowing down requires waiting.  And as you’ll see below, waiting and I have a complicated relationship.

What I love about Advent is it is a season of preparation.  Advent typically amplifies my existing disposition – of either cynical groaning, or delightful anticipation.  It surfaces what is going on in my soul.  Perhaps it’s why sabbatical has been so significant – it’s helped me ponder anew what lies beneath.

I wrote this a few years back, but I thought I would bring it back for good measure. Enjoy.

I’m at the airport while writing this. I’m waiting.

Waiting bothers me; I’m really bad at it. I’m slightly better at blogging than waiting, which isn’t much to say about my blogging prowess.

In what seems like a previous life, I used to work as a construction project manager. I told big burly men with power tools what to do and where to go. And because of my white hard hat said I was in charge, they listened to me. And if they weren’t working on the job, and it wasn’t break, they were waiting.

In construction, waiting is the enemy. Waiting was what holds up a project from completion. And that will get you fired. So everyone knows you need to look busy when the white hard hat is on the construction site.

I studied project management theories to talk about waiting as the enemy so I could sound smarter. In one theory, the critical path was the set of successive activities that must be completed in order for the project to be completed in the duration promised to the client. Another theory views that critical path as the primary constraint to the completion of the project – so when you apply more workers or resources to the critical path, the constraint was released and the burden of the critical path was no longer on that set of activities.

Sounds smart, doesn’t it?

It did to big burly men with power tools and executive clients in suits who signed my paycheck, so it was smart enough for me. To them, I was a smart, highly productive machine.

I believed them.

So I thought about more ways to make my waiting “more productive.” One summer I took the train because it was cheaper, better than sitting in Chicago construction traffic, and I could do more work on the train than I could in the car. I was an gadget & technology maven so I bought a PDA that helped me do all my stuff and I needed to do. I’d crack open the laptop and work on the train.

Then I was really productive because I conquered the enemy, waiting. I ruled.

But here in the airport, I’m on standby. I don’t rule anymore; I’m ruled by the airline people wearing cheesy uniforms. I’m subject to their authority.

I hope they don’t make me one of them. I’d look awful in those uniforms.

I don’t know what flight I’ll be on, let alone when I’ll be arriving at my destination. Really, I’m blogging now because I can’t stand the waiting and being ruled by the cheesy uniformed people.

Now I’m hungry. Waiting makes me more aware of being hungry, because I’m not busy with anything else. Being on standby, I’m able to familiarize myself with the O’Hare Airport cuisine. I look at the menu prices. Maybe that I’m not that hungry.

The intercom system tells me that the terror threat level is orange. Should I be nervous? Hasn’t the threat level been orange since they introduced the system in 2002?

Cheese. Hungry. Orange. Mmmm…what are my favorite orange cheesy foods? Mmmm…Cheetos. I love Cheetos. But at overpriced O’Hare I think the orange fingers just aren’t worth it.

These are the kinds of thoughts I have while waiting. Do you see why I don’t like waiting?

A woman next to me is speaking in Spanish. I’m trying to hear what she is saying, but it’s been entirely too long since I sat in Spanish class in high school. The flight attendant tells us the flight is delayed in both Spanish and English. She speaks more slowly, and I can hear her say “lo siento, tienen esperar,” ‘I’m sorry, you have to wait.’

Esperar – to wait. Interestingly enough, “esperar” also means “to hope” in Spanish.

What does waiting have to do with hoping? What does hoping have to do with waiting? Why are they nearly the same word in one of the most spoken languages on the planet?

Maybe waiting is like hunger. My craving for food reminds me that food does indeed exist. I’ve had food before – and it is good. And the hunger I feel reminds me of the times I’ve really enjoyed food – with my family and friends. And I hope I will have it again someday.

Waiting does something to me. It makes me realize that much of my life is filled with doing things that distract me from facing the all too difficult and sometimes shallow self that can be covered by my busyness.  Waiting is a furnace that burns off the chaff and allows a refiners fire to shape us.

At the same time, Proverbs tells us that hope differed makes the heart sick; waiting too long makes hope become dream, dream to become legend, legend to become myth, and myth to be forgotten.  When is it appropriate to give up hope for our dreams? Do we keep waiting in hope, or do we move on to something else?

How do I hope while I wait? How do I wait while I hope?

 

Writing & Procrastination

I’m procrastinating by writing this blog entry.

Part of it is out of guilt – the last time I actually wrote something was for the LOST finale – that was 5 months ago.  Gads.

Writing is one of those things that is quite therapeutic for me; one of my friends told me she appreciated my honesty in writing, because it says the things that people think in their heads but don’t necessarily want to put on a page. I think it’s my own version of therapy – getting the words I wish I could say out in front of me so they lose their power over me.

Since my last blog entry, I’ve been learning a lot.  Summer was an absolute blur – Accounting and Business Strategy were wonderful classes…except they were not meant to be taken for any sane person working full time.  Of course, we all know my sanity is slightly questionable…

I have two classes again this quarter – Microeconomics, and Leading the Mission Driven Enterprise.  I love both – I just wish I had more time to study.  I know some folks aren’t really into this stuff…but I do enjoy it.

Except when I’m procrastinating.

What I love is that I’m learning in a way that is different from any way I’ve learned before; that might sound weird, but business school just makes you think differently than engineering. Different from seminary classes.  Different from literature.

And I need time to think about this.

Which is why I’m writing again; writing is often my therapy of trying to make some sense of a life that I feel like moves faster and faster.  I try to sit at the end of each day and ask God to show me what I missed that he was trying to say to me.  I do the equivalent of the “highlight” reel of the day, and ask God to show me more of what he wanted me to see so I don’t miss it.  Evangelical Christians talk so often of a relationship with God…but most of our “relationship” is defined by information acquisition (learning about God) and rarely conversation on what God is actually doing in our lives, and asking him the deepest questions and longings of our hearts.

What has this done?  As I age, I realize I can see farther down the road than I used to – that this behavior will lead to that, that this thought leads to something else…it’s weird.  My students say something and I’m instantly transported to another time when I heard the same words, and realize that they are walking down someone else’s path…both for good and not so good. I can’t explain it well quite yet.

What I know is that I need more time to write.

I’m going to out myself here and say I’m procrastinating.  And in the spirit of confession, here are my best strategies for procrastination.  I’d love to hear if you use any of these:

1. Denial.  I’m not really busy.  I just look like it.

1a. Playing with my calendar.  Thinking about what I will do when makes me feel so productive, and reinforces denial.

2. Cleaning. My roommate knows that when all the dishes are done, the range is spotless, the counters smell like orange cleaner, the laundry is done, the bed is made, the floors are mopped, the closet is reorganized, and I clean behind the toilet.  Yep, Andy’s avoiding something.  But I was so productive in my procrastination.

3. Referring to myself in the 3rd person.  Do you ever do this? Andy does.  He does when he’s trying to remove himself from his situation and sound very objective.  Going clinical on yourself is a great way to reinforce denial (see 1)

4. Emptying every form of communication I have.  Email. Texts. Junkmail. Facebook? Confession: I don’t often reply to facebook messages.  I can only handle so many.  If you want to get ahold of me, email me.

5. Reorganizing my task list.  Yes – want to feel productive and not really being productive.

5a. Planning HOW I will get my task list done.  Going back to fiddling with calendar (see 1a).

6. Writing. Writing is my therapy of trying to work out meaning.  But it is so hard to work out meaning in life when margins are so small.  In economic terms, I’m moving dangerously past marginal cost and dipping into profit reserves.

When I daydream, I continually go back to screenplay or novel I want to write…a story of five very different men who meet in college, travel their separate ways, and continually return together yearly and slowly become more like each other.  I want people to write the books that we aren’t writing because we (really, I) are (am) too busy…

…procrastinating.

Sigh. Time to get back to Microeconomics.

A Pair of Jacks and a King: Reflections on LOST, 24, Failure and Friendship

Tonight is the Series Finale of LOST.  For six seasons, over 121 episodes, 87 hours, 5225 minutes, it’s come to tonight’s epic two-and-a-half hour finale.  Jack Shepard (the character the on whom women crush like they are tweens once again), has volunteered to be the candidate who will ultimately either save the island or die trying.  (Probably both, actually.  At least in one dimension of reality.)

In a couple of weeks, Jack Bauer (the character whom men crush on like boys over their first ballplayer’s autograph) will exit stage right as as well after eight seasons of 24.  I know the show has gotten formulaic – Jack is the president’s right hand man, tortures someone in the process, loses someone he loves deeply, but saves the world from World War 3.  We wonder how he could ever do another season.

I’m honestly sad.  I never really watched television regularly until I returned from Cairo nearly three years ago and needed some therapy from the horrific poverty in which I lived.  (How watching 24 is therapeutic is probably strange for most folks…but it is so addictive that I think I just needed a hit of sorts.)

I kinda hope both Jacks die tragically on screen, because they will basically die to me.  They will only be memories, but great companions in a difficult season of life that I sensed, like LOST and 24, has finally come to an end.  And they’ve reminded me about important things about failure.

For the last three years, probably the three most difficult of my life, I’ve actually come to trust these two Jacks in my hand as more than just a pair of cards waiting for the flop and river of life.  The flavors of their characters are so wonderful and complex.  I’d compare them to my favorite coffees, but that would be woefully inadequate.

Jack Bauer is the bad boy who does what’s right and never gives up…and waits for redemption.  In the beginning of this season, one of the sketchy informants comes to him and says, “You’re Jack Bauer – you’re the guy who always does the right thing.”  It’s why we love him.  Doing what was right has been very costly, but he did it anyway.

But Bauer is no angel – he’s really a bad boy. Does he do what is right? Do the ends justify the means? This is the dramatic tension of 24. For some reason, we have come not only to love a man who tortures his enemies, but implicitly trust him.  Why do we trust Jack Bauer? Because he’s experienced such epic losses, we want him to win in the end.  We want him to receive justice – that though he has done wrong, his rights outweigh his wrongs and have come at such selfless sacrifice that want him to know his job is done and he’s finished.

Jack Shepard is the good boy who does what’s wrong and finally falls short…and waits for redemption.  Of all the characters in LOST, he’s the one whose flaws are most clear to me.  He was always the good boy – the one who never really failed at anything.  Even when his marriage fell apart, it still wasn’t enough to break him.

It was when Shepard finally left the island, at the end of his rope with a god-awful bushy beard and brandy-breath that he hit rock bottom and said, “We have to go back to the island.”  This man of reason, who had been living by calculated reason his entire life, had no reason for explaining why going back to the island made any sense whatsoever.  Except that this man of science just “felt it” and was slowly becoming a man of faith.

Failure drove him to transformation.

I was recently captivated by JK Rowling’s commencement address at Harvard in 2008 where she spoke on failure. Kind of a downer of a topic for a commencement address, and something that most graduates of Harvard and other prestigious universities never really experience.  But the fringe benefits of failure placed Rowling in a place where she could truly write in a way that connected with the human experience in ways that few have achieved in our world.

Both Jack Bauer and Jack Shepard have had epic fails. The last three years, they’ve comforted me in the midst of my failures – and reminded me that failure is the crucible for transformation.  Jack Bauer lost his wife and one lover and yet another lover this season.  He has done awful things to people.  But he never, ever has given up doing what is right.  He shot and killed two of his partners and friends – because he chose to do what was right over what was popular.

Jack Shepard picked up the pieces after two bad decisions and hopes that the third time is the charm (as we will find out tonight.)  In an alternate reality, he realized he was becoming his father and has changed to reach out to his son to understand him as he was never understood by his own father.

But both of these Jacks remind me that redemption is something for which I long.  I want to make things right. As I’ve watched them, and reflected over time on these tragic heroes, I’ve realized redemption and making things right often comes counterintuitively.  It doesn’t come through what wrongs we make right. It comes when we finally let go of both our wrongs and how we’ve been wronged in order to receive and give grace.

Grace gives us peace of heart and mind, because we realize we are in greater need of a gracious King to come and trump anything we could ever conjure up ourselves.  That peace allows us to experience joy and authentically love others – in ways that our need to be powerful (like Jack Bauer) and right (like Jack Shepard) could never fully meet.

Mountains, Gandalf, I want to see mountains again!

I’m sitting in what might be one of the coolest coffee shops I’ve ever been in in Boulder, CO – The Cup. Best of several different worlds converge here: good fair trade coffee, sassy service, awesome music, great fun atmosphere, university students gallore, and…mountains.

I mean, here’s what happened today that just validated why this place is awesome: I came in all disheveled from spending three days backcountry camping in Rocky Mountain National Park, looking all Colorado & all, and I grab a cup and the cashier says, “if you want to sink shower here, no one will be worried dude.”

Nice.

If you are ever looking for an amazing vacation to see all of the beauty and wonder of creation, just one word: Colorado. I got in late on Friday to visit my long-time friend from college, and we crashed Pikes Peak on Saturday and then climbed Mount Rosa on Sunday.  Monday I tooled around Old Colorado City and found another great haunt to perch in and read for a little while.

Then I caught the tram to Denver, rented a car, and headed to Boulder to catch up with two friends from college who have been here for the last five (!) years.

Boulder is a great town…think Madison or Austin but a little more chill and a lot healthier. And more tatts. Seriously – this place is wonderful. When Drew and Kim told me about it, I didn’t believe it at first…but it’s gorgeous.

Other interesting thing about Colorado: Most people who live here aren’t from here.

After three days of being in Rocky Mountain National Park, camping and sitting and just taking in beautiful vista after vista, I feel restored. I forget this about myself sometimes, but getting out in seeing the beauty of creation just brings something to my soul that I can’t put into words. I breathe deeply, gaze out into the horizon, and am in awe of how amazing this planet is.

My mom said once my eyes turn bluer when I’m outside.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting back to what gives me life.

Bilbo was right – “Mountains, Galdalf, I want to see mountains again!”

I think I’m already ready for another adventure.


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