Category Archives: Forging a New Path

The World is Watching: but what is it seeing? (and do we care?)

19jxqlI read a quote not long ago by the author Rachel Held Evans from her recent book Searching for Sunday. It said this:

So many people fit right into church until… the divorce, the diagnosis, the miscarriage, the depression, someone comes out, someone asks a question, an uncomfortable truth is spoken out loud. And what they find is when they bring their pain or their doubt or their uncomfortable truth to church, someone immediately grabs it out of their hands to try to fix it, to try to make it go away. Bible verses are quoted. Assurances are given. Plans with ten steps and measurable results are made. With good intentions tinged with fear, Christians scour their inventory for a cure.
But, there is a difference between curing and healing, and I believe the church is called to the slow and difficult work of healing. We are called to enter one another’s pain, anoint it as holy, and stick around no matter the outcome. The thing about healing, as opposed to curing, is that it is relational. It takes time. It is inefficient, like a meandering river. Rarely does healing follow a straight or well-lit path. Rarely does it conform to our expectations or resolve in a timely manner. Walking with someone through grief, or through the process of reconciliation, requires patience, presence, and a willingness to wander, to take the scenic route.

This got me thinking. In the past, I’ve been accused of this odd thing called “hypergrace”, of going overboard in such hot button areas as “acceptance” and “inclusion”. And at first, it was an accusation I backpedaled from. For longer than I care to admit.

But now? Now I gladly welcome the accusation.

Yes, I practice hypergrace: I take this whole “love thy neighbor” thing seriously.

My overriding motivation for this is the feeling that there should be one place, one place, where all of us who are sick, wounded, hurt, grieved, addicted, neglected, alone, bullied, unwanted, or unloved, should feel safe, heard, cared for, and made holy.

That place is in God’s house.
But here’s the rub…

The Old Testament made clear that God’s house was the tabernacle, then the temple, which today would mean the church building, the synagogue, the worship center. But, on this side of the cross, Jesus has taken this so much further.

On this side of the cross, we have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer [we] who live, but it is Christ who lives in [us] (Gal 2:2). Further, the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Rom 5:5(b)). All of that (and many more) means this: God’s house is now inside of us. Scripture calls this “indwelling.”

Just as on the sermon on the mount, Christ narrowed the gap and eliminated any misperceived wiggle room on what the people of Israel knew of the law, so too is He doing the same now, with us, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. There’s no wiggle room in the greatest commandment. No “love others when…” No “love others if…” No “love others as long as…”

It’s love others. Period.

Evans went on to write:

 But, the modern-day church doesn’t like to wander or wait. The modern-day church likes results. Convinced the gospel is a product we’ve got to sell to an increasingly shrinking market, we like our people to function as walking advertisements: happy, put-together, finished – proof that this Jesus stuff works! ‘The world is watching,’ Christians like to say, ‘so let’s be on our best behavior and quickly hide the mess. Let’s throw up some before-and-after shots and roll the flashy footage of our miracle product blanching out every sign of dirt, hiding every sign of disease.
But, if the world is watching, we might as well tell the truth. And the truth is the church doesn’t offer a cure. It doesn’t offer a quick fix. The church offers death and resurrection. The church offers the messy, inconvenient, gut-wrenching, never-ending work of healing and reconciliation. The church offers grace.

As she says, “the world is watching”. And though we may think, I’m not concerned by what the world thinks, I’m not concerned about how I’m perceived, it reminds me of a scene from The Newsroom I watched not too long ago between the main character, Will McAvoy, and a member of the Occupy Wall Street movement that he’d belittled on prime time only the day before (caution: language):

Will:  Your movement sucks, Shelly.
Shelly:  I’m sure it looks that way from the outside.
Will (with an exasperated sigh):  And right there is your problem, ’cause who the f**k cares what it looks like from the inside?

Yes, I can hear it now; Jesus cares what it looks like from the inside. But, Jesus also cares that “the inside” should include everyone. And isn’t it our role as His followers to make “the inside” so appealing that no one wants to be left outside? Let me ask a question: How’s that been working for us so far? Personally, I believe it’s been a role we’ve failed at. Miserably. For hundreds of years. And isn’t the definition of insanity to do something over and over again in hopes of a different result?

Maybe it’s time for an entirely new conversation. Maybe even an entirely different course of action.

Maybe, instead of telling people what they need, we should ask them what they need. Get down in the muck—into their muck—hip deep, armed with only a shovel and a compassionate heart. To get our hands dirty in this messy, long, intentional, heart-wringing, gut-wrenching process called relationship. To be invited in, instead of feeling the need to bust the door down with a cross and a Bible.

What would it actually be like? Invited to share in these burdens of grief, pain, hurt, or anger: These things that all of us feel, that the world feels, that they live, that they experience? Would it be a surprise to find that many of these things have been caused by us? By believers? By religion? Often through our own misguided sense of need, or fear, or ego?

Only when our faces are sweat soaked and filthy, our hands calloused and bloody with the back breaking work of intentional relationship, will we even know if the world is ready for anything that we may have to offer.

Yes, Jesus cares what it looks like from the inside. But He also cares what the inside of the world looks like. And wouldn’t it be more effective, more real, more authentic, to dive in and change the world from the inside out?

Though it may be more effective, it won’t be a quick fix, and I think that’s our biggest fear if we turn and face the world. It’s not an easy “say this prayer” theology. And it certainly isn’t as simple as “love the sinner, hate the sin”. It was never intended to be. Jesus never said that anyway.

What Jesus gave us was good news of great joy. At least it should be. But I’m not seeing a lot of “good” in our message, or a lot of “joy” in its delivery, or in our walking it out.

I suppose the question comes down to this: What will we receive for our actions here on earth, and for the relationships we choose to form in the world? Matthew 25:21? Or, John 11:35?

I know my answer, but I invite you to wrestle with yours.

AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER: These Threads of Faith

Evolve - smallPREORDER These Threads of Faith: A journey of finding my way back to God HERE! Available in e-book starting August 30

This is easily the most difficult thing I have ever written…

This was the thought that kept cropping up as I was writing the first drafts for what would eventually become this book. I also came to embrace the oxymoronic quality of that sentiment, “easily the most difficult.”

These pages aren’t filled with a random array of made-up characters. This is me. These are my thoughts, my experiences, and my feelings, written under the umbrella of God’s story. This is authentic and real stuff here, and being this transparent has definitely been a challenge.

Let’s face it, none of us have our s**t together. I’ve raised my share of hell in the past. But, this is not some “I’m not perfect, I’m just forgiven” bumper sticker ideology that I’m spewing (and which I can’t stand anyway). Being a Christ follower has simply become a vital part of who I am, and at this point in my life, I can’t imagine what or who I might be without Him. And no, it’s not a case that I would be off-the-rails crazy or down-the-cesspool evil. It’s more like I can’t imagine who I would be without my wife, or my kids, or the friends I have coffee with every Saturday morning. My relationship with Christ is one that I value and cherish, one that I’ve learned and grown from, and one that I’ve come to honor and respect.

But how do I put all that into words? Into something that someone else may read, and say, “Yeah, me too,” which is my ultimate goal in writing this book? Why would I bother to put so much of myself out there, laying bare a few of my more personal stories, opening myself up for criticism and judgment by attempting to explain myself, my journey, and my beliefs?

Well, one answer came from the most unlikely of places, summed up by an uncredited meme I saw on Facebook: I don’t share my thoughts because I think it will change the minds of those who think differently. I share my thoughts to show the people who already think like me that they’re not alone.

This book is my attempt to share my thoughts, to tell you that you’re not alone, to possibly give you an answer to an unasked question by giving you an understanding of who I am, why I believe as I do, and how I identify with this banner I live under called Christianity. All in the hope that it might help you understand yourself a little better, your beliefs, and, above all, these amazing things called faith and grace that we so often miss through the convoluted haze of religion.

Fair warning, though: It also may open up an entirely new Pandora’s box of other questions!

I can’t help but think that might be a good thing.

PREORDER These Threads of Faith: A journey of finding my way back to God HERE

My Story: an excerpt

WorshipHere is a bit from my upcoming book.
My 2nd nonfiction and my own testimonial,
which, maddeningly, I still haven’t settled on a title.
Nevertheless, it’s set to be released at the end of this month.
So, for now, enjoy!
~~~~~~

The greatest testimony we can give, the greatest gospel we can offer, is the example and narrative of our own lives. Our prayer should be that, within our testimony, those with whom we share our stories can feel a sense of empathy, a kinship, and maybe just an ounce of the same compassion Jesus felt time and time again. After all, He willingly gave His life to tell the greatest story of all.

 And, He came to graft our stories into His. Yes, we have a chapter in the greatest story ever told, if only we choose to tell it.

What about you?
Do you want to be included? Continue reading My Story: an excerpt

Welcome to Your Midlife Crisis. Here’s your Complimentary Wine…

want-haveSo, I seem to be having this feeling, ever since…oh, my mid-forties, that I am “missing out” on something. That I need to be doing something “different”, something “new”, even though I have no earthly clue what I may be missing out on, or what that new and different thing is.

Compounding this issue is the feeling that I may not be missing out on anything. That I might, in fact, only be wasting my time in pursuit of these new and different things at the expense of all the great stuff I have before me now (a great family, a good, flexible job, a fledgling writing career, just to name a few).

Then it hits me this morning: This must be what that thing everyone (okay, mostly men) talk about as being a “mid-life crisis”. And suddenly this makes perfect sense to me.

No, I don’t care to go out and run up our credit cards or blow our savings on some hot Italian sports car, or loud, American motorcycle. No, I don’t feel the need to sow my wild oats with some sweet young thing from the coffee shop down the street. But I can see, especially at the (supposedly) midpoint of my life, just how easy it is to look back on the first half and wonder if I’ve done all that the younger me had dreams of accomplishing.

The answer, of course, is a hearty, no.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not disappointed. Not in the least. Well, not entirely. I’m just being realistic. Honestly, I can’t even remember half of the “dreams” I may have had in my twenties, at the tail end of my college career, about to be unleashed into the wild jungles of an unsuspecting world. In fact, once out into this mysterious place called “the real world”, most of the stuff I delved into I failed at! Miserably!! Relationships. Jobs. Life in general.

That’s not a sob story; that’s just the way it was. And actually, looking back on it now, I view it not so much as failing, but as finding a whole bunch of stuff I didn’t want to do, didn’t want to be, didn’t want to dream. It was clarifying. Therapeutic.

Well, that may be stretching it a bit, but the one thing I did get right was finding the love of my life. And she helped me find my way to peace, and to contentment, and, ultimately, to God. You know…so there’s that.

Reading back through the first half of this post you’d hardly think I had found anything resembling peace and contentment though. But I think there’s a difference between contentment and fulfillment. There’s a difference between peace and rest. Like Paul, I have “learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11), but I doubt even Paul was content in every second of every day in every place. There’s the living at peace in the way things are, and there’s the little niggling in the back of your mind at the way thinks might be…if only…

Still, I don’t want to spend too much time living in “If Only” Land, thank you very much. I don’t think dwelling there does anything more than rob me of the joy found by living in the moment: The sight of my wife coming in all aglow from a morning run; the feel of my daughter’s first hug in the morning; the laughter of my son over some joke between he and his friends; the taste of red wine during an orange sunset; and lately, the sound of the TV turning off when the political rhetoric becomes too much.

Do I have everything I need? Ultimately, yes, because there is huge, gaping difference between “need” and “want”. I may have a lot of “wants”, and probably always will, but for today, I have everything I need–even in mid life–and, for some reason, I needed to remind myself of that today.

But for now, there’s going to be an awesome sunset tonight, so I’m off to get a good bottle of Pinot.  Talk to y’all soon.