19 December 2006

Faith and conviction

Hebrews 11:1
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

I've been in Hebrews for at least a year now. Lately I've been dwelling on chapter eleven, verse one. I had kind of a neat experience with it this morning as I prayerfully dissected it. Here's a little musing with it:
Now faith equates to guarantees/the "it will get dones"/the natural ends of things desired/longed for/important/expected/deeply appreciated/wanted, the inner dialog of God with me on the things in my life that need action regarding things that are not perceptible/perhaps yet to be created or imagined.

The word "conviction" is the one that caught my attention. I suppose I struggle with the definition of faith because I see it as a means of making a wish come true, and for many the dreams never come true. It offers possibilities and life robs us. We scratch our heads. How does one live a truthful life when the experience counters the Word? We are often told to pretend. If you pretend or work hard enough, the experience will catch up. In reality, we are told it's not the experience that offends, it is the emotion. The line of reasoning is that because you feel a disconnect between the Word and your life, it is the feeling that is wrong. Sometimes this is accurate, but it doesn't move us anywhere. Sometimes resigning ourselves to the disconnect and pretending is as much idolatry as anything else we falsely attribute as God.

I guess what seemed freeing to me this morning was the cosmic sense of conviction. Faith does have a component of wish and desire, but there is also this dialog, conversation, sometimes lecture between you and God that is negotiating life, behavior, attitude. It speaks of lust in terms of imagination and love in the language of a stranger's touch. It flows through the context and culture and provides ground to stand on. Faith is in the midst of this dialog. For me, faith was a billy club to get what I want from God. I would distance myself and strike away. Funny thing is, He wouldn't budge. I could point to this verse until I was blue in the face and it didn't matter. I had neglected the love and dialog which is really what faith is all about...

17 December 2006

Planes and doors

I was talking with a guy recently who makes parts for most of the single prop planes in the world. We were talking about stress. Some time ago his company seemed to have cut corners on parts that had the potential of killing people. He had gone through a very dark season and came out on the other side. As we talked about it, one of the lessons he had learned was not to assert too much meaning in an event. "At the end of the day, what was, was. You go home and have to get beyond it."

The last three weeks we have been celebrating Advent at church. Each week associates loosely with some of the fruit of the Spirit. Joy and peace went well. They were pleasant, attractive, something we all wanted more of and were willing to help others achieve more of in their lives. I suspect pondering love this week will lack controversy as well. It's foundational and nourishes like water. But, hope... Now hope is controversial. Hope is dangerous. It builds on expectations and we are often unable to control them. Hope connects biologically when a women turns 41 and articulates that fear that started at 29. To hope in a baby at this age risks the deepest disappointment imaginable. The circumstance and experience testify against her. Hope connects to us emotionally through the millions and millions of thoughts we have accumulated on something. We have existentially birthed a life in our mind and reality never had a chance of keeping up. If you add years or decades, it can be unbearable; it can cripple and embitter. When you get to an age when experience contradicts hope, it's a desert of parchedness. Each step testifies to the risk hope posed and someone has to be the example of a hope never attained. Some speak of contentment in that situation. When unpacked, they are pretending. Rather than transformation, they have conformed to the circumstance as best they can. They try to cast the dream away, but it's like swimming against the current. You will never have enough strength to beat the river.

I was reading in Parker Palmer last night the idea that we should not resist closed doors. He personifies way in our lives and sees closed doors as beneficial and open ones. The way is made of our strengths and limitations. We must learn from each. He draws a picture of a person desperately knocking on a closed door. The world is small. The scenery never changes. The limitations and circumstances continue to chisel and shape the reality. But if I turn around, the world is actually a limitless number of open doors and the one behind me is the only closed. I picture that closed door as having blood and bone chips in it, tears mixed with saliva, slivers missing, but the integrity of the door is relentless.

Two perspectives. Interestingly, we are very good at asserting meaning to all of this. Usually translated as "I'm a f-up!" or "God's a f-up!" As I read in Proverbs about hope deferred, God doesn't talk about His responsibility. It just sounds like, "what is, is..."
Wealth gained hastily will dwindle,
but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
Whoever despises the word brings destruction on himself,
but he who reveres the commandment will be rewarded.
Hope is risky partially because it will reveal depths of our identity. Depths of our theology. God...

11 December 2006


Saturday was my mom's birthday. It is also my best friend from college's oldest son's birthday. I've always thought that connection was special. Saturday, coincidentally, I was at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I found myself being refreshed and very open to how art can touch us. I've never much cared for Jackson Pollack or even Picasso for that matter. But on Saturday I could understand how they will live as classics. They stirred me. I'm not sure how or what it means, but I could sense it in my spirit. Lord move...

Forgiveness as journey

This morning I was praying the Lord's Prayer and made a connection with forgiveness that was new. I had always read the part about forgiveness as a formula, "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us." It went like this, "I will forgive others, because that is how You have acted toward me." With the louder subtext being, "If you want forgiveness you had better forgive!"

As I was praying about it, the Lord was saying, "You can't participate in something you are unfamiliar with. If you understand forgiveness as it manifests from you to others, you will be awed as it is erupting between me and you." It was as if words like forgiveness, repentance, grace, love, were not capable of being contained in a single instance or mapped out with perfection. They were relational elements from God to us, us to others, and as our capacities and appreciation grows, the paths and understandings do as well.

The message this morning was that it was impossible to live the forgiveness of God in my life if my life was not one of forgiveness. Even a small attitude change or intentional release of forgiveness in my heart opened realities that couldn't have been explored just moments before. Clarity and understanding of past forgiveness from the Lord was better. It was not a carrot/stick approach, it was an existential reality. The possibilities of forgiveness only come by actively participating in it.

10 December 2006

Woke up startled

I woke up startled from my afternoon nap today. I hate to wake up from a nap when twilight has succumbed to darkness. It's disorienting. I hate it so much that even when darkness is hours and hours away I wake up every ten to fifteen minutes to check. Or maybe that's the crazy Dutch guilt in not taking the opportunity to scrub the bathroom floor and instead sleeping? So while I love naps, generally they aren't worth the effort. Today I decided to take one anyway.

I dreamed that my grandma had called. I was amazed to hear her wonderful voice (she never calls - of the depression age where writing is more economical) and just then the phone dialed a family I knew from college. Just as I connected spiritual or emotionally, the phone dialed again. On and on and on and on the same pattern of disorientation, connection, and then another connection. Until there was this concert of voices on a single conference call. All of them talking over one another (I don't think they realized the others were on the line). They were not pulling or guilting or doing anything other than being who they were. There was no manipulation or coercion it was a huge sampling of the important relationships of my life occupying the same segment of time. Some seemed to have concerns they wanted to tell me. Others were as shocked to be on the line with me as I was. It was reach-out-america gone wild.

As I was processing all of this the cell phone rang in my dream again (after my grandma's voice, it had done all the calling) and as the phone moved from my ear to hand, the alarm buzzed, I stirred, and it was past twilight on a Sunday evening. Today. Do you ever have a moment after a dream, when you recognize there was substantive profundity, but just aren't sure what to do with it? That's where I've been since.

I think this dream was a gift. There seems to be so much that is unresolved in my life. Really, that is how life works. If it resolved, this would be one of the biggest curses I could imagine. We live as if there are at least a few more days ahead, we develop routines, some even cultivate deep lives in God and with others. Part of the psychology is "a little more time." From desire unfulfilled to have having three grandparents still alive in my 30's, but living 3,000 miles away, there is much unresolved in my life. A niece and nephew far away, and sisters and parents at a distance. When no one is around on a Sunday afternoon my thoughts don't center on career path, car, or vacation, thankfully they are person-oriented. Mostly it's calls I know I should make, elements of gratitude I should take, people I should touch. Instead of a mental experience of possibilities, trajectories, and dots that never connect. For some reason I think the dots should connect and I tend to hold life hostage until I can find a way to make it happen. Some times it is quite a tenacious stance (affording me moments of thought and contemplation that are so precious) and many times it's cowardice (just pick up the phone). If I just connected a dot here or there without the ultimate figured out, I would probably have a pretty amazing life...

27 November 2006


Yesterday was amazing in that four different sources and a sleepless night have reinvigorated community as a core I need to engage differently, more holistically. It started with Blue Like Jazz. Don Miller was talking about the single life and how he felt he was on the verge of going insane when he lived alone for too long. He had been living a life where he was the center, the main character of a movie, and anything that didn't fit neatly into that picture was suspect or obliterated. He was encouraged to live with other men by his pastor and talked about the process of moving from selfishness to community. It was not easy, perhaps a more formidable enemy than even drugs is the addiction of self. I found his words to be intuitive and describe much of my anxiety. My world is pretty small and I've surrendered much of it to frustration in not being married. So, life is beyond me and my emotion.

The second source was a book from an ultra-liberal Quaker named Parker Palmer. I don't know if he would see himself as ultra-liberal, but it seems to illustrate him somewhat accurately. In his book Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, he had a similar revelation as Miller. He became convinced that his world was tiny, that he was living by "oughts" imposed by others in a vacuum, and wanted to know the work he was formed to do. I'm still early in the book, but his idea of community and vocation really clicked. His definition of vocation is great, "...something I can't not do, for reasons I'm unable to explain to anyone else and don't fully understand myself but that are nonetheless compelling." So, vocation and community become elements of the mystery God wants to include in my life.

The third source was the gnawing sense that in loosing myself I would gain what I'm looking for. All around me are reminders of how my world is based on me. I think it could be considerably worst, but still my thoughts are almost exclusively on me. So I couldn't get to sleep and at one toss, felt compelled to pick up a book by Roxburgh and Romanuk called The Missional Leader: Equipping Your Church to Reach a Changing World. And in the introduction, again God was teaching me:
God is about a big purpose in and for the whole of creation. The church has been called into life to be both the means of this mission and a foretaste of where God is inviting all creation to go. Just as its Lord is a mission-shaped God, so the community of God's people exists, not for themselves but for the sake of the work. Mission is therfore not a program or project some people in the church do from time to time... the church's very nature is to be God's missionary people...

... A missional church is a community of God's people who live into the imagination that they are, by their very nature, God's missionary people living as a demonstration of what God plans to do in and for all of creation in Jesus Christ.

This summer I had the privilege of attending a conference Alan Roxburgh led in Idaho and have been changed deeply. When you read the above missional understanding, you have to picture a determined, fit, Canadian spitting these words in intentional cadence and throwing in a few expletives because of his great passion. So, the church's work is fundamentally not self preservation, but dying to itself, to the work that mirrors God's passion for the world. Not much room for me to complain about music or format. And a compulsion to engage strongly.

The forth insight actually came earlier that morning, but I didn't catch it fully them. My pastor was talking about not being able to put church on or turn it off when he gets home at night. The phrase that caught me was, "This is who we are, not just what we do!" So, the realignment of the movie and the main character becomes essential.

None of this was particularly new. As I've gotten older, I find my propensity for selfishness to go up. I find the cycles between realizing that much of my frustration is my perspective and coming to joy to be elongated. With age comes experience in hopelessness that wasn't there before. I always wonder why I keep coming back here. When I'm at the joy side, I can't imagine going back and yet I have. Over and over again. I guess I use marriage as an indication of God's love for me and as the carrot (really mostly stick) that He holds above me to whip me into shape. It seems unattainable, a law of percentages, a game of winners and losers where no one is accountable. But, things shift if that one thing is not the source of identity (or idolatry). Things shift dramatically...

24 November 2006

Happy after Thanksgiving

The day after Thanksgiving offers promise. So the holidays are fully upon us, ready or not. I should be able to get a lot of work done today, but don't really feel like it. In some ways I feel spent in my career. I'm relatively young so that's not a good sign. But sometimes I am jazzed. Leading an organization toward something, anything, beyond where it currently is, takes so much energy. The momentum is away from you and it takes concerted perseverance to create minor currents that start to facilitate change. You orchestrate and hope to not manipulate. You have dead weight in some staff that torques you and have to develop emotional discipline. Blood can be smelled by your staff and so there tends to be accumulations of poor behavior that can crescendo. Ironically, you're the only one who feels it because you're the lightening rod that caused it. If you don't keep your list of offenses and frustrations short, you will blow. Your message will be curtailed to everyone to, "This organization is terrible, everywhere I look is brokenness..." In most cases you're not saying a word, but it's spoken loudly.

It's not all bad. Actually, it is very, very good. I think the problem is that the fruit is so esoteric and can take years to see. Perhaps good leadership requires counter-intuitive measures because it is in the negative issues and consequences that the extent of required change becomes visible. It is often the negative issues, the outcroppings of rock in the water, that hurt the most. These outcropping are often under the water and responsible for the odd current patterns you were trying to figure out. I suspect two things happen over time with this outcropping phenomena for a good leader. First, they start to pick up where the outcroppings are by being attentive to the currents and thereby mitigate some pain in change by making wiser choices. They also realize that as the current is renegotiated these outcroppings become much more vulnerable to erosion. It can be possible to outlive even the strongest and hardest detractor if the momentum shifts and their place remains the same.

Road race afterglow

Dear Lord,

Thanks for the Road Race yesterday. Please be with the runners today and provide health after the rain and hypothermia. Please be with those who received nourishment through us. Please move mysteriously in their lives. Thank you for the ones who lingered to talk about their pain. Thank you for the ones who were too proud to take free stuff with little to no strings attached. May the intersection of your Holy Spirit's work and Case Mountain connect strongly in the peoples' lives that we crossed yesterday. Lord, we pray your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. May disciples find themselves in Jesus.

In Jesus' name, amen.

23 November 2006


Though in a spiritual sense today was quite outstanding, personally it has sucked. The same day lived for the better part of 20 years. Do those who have what their hearts' desire feel this way? Doesn't matter, just thinking such a thought is sin. Can the clay call the potter evil? Not a positive course. Perhaps Hebrews is unpacking this phenomena when it's talking about "today" and "Sabbath rest?" For it is in this context that the power of God's word is described as piercing spirit and soul and discerning thoughts and intentions. It is active and sharp. There is no justification for our emotion; no place to stand detached from responsibility. No place to sit and get consolation because your pain just is. There's someone who is always more justified, you're always better off than many. You can never be good enough for God to move, and He always has a card to call if He chooses. Perhaps in this reality, when your chest tightens, you can't stand to see what's in the mirror, and you can taste the bile mixed with desperation, perhaps irrationally peace can be found. Grace in spite of repentance? Or do we always have to work for God's love? I'm so ticked about my circumstances that I seem quite comfortable forfeiting peace. I'm so angry that I view God as the door keeper to my happiness and He's really f-ing up the job. Oh, foolish man... while it is still called "today"...