Friday, September 28, 2007

God/dog. Dog/God. The Sequel.

[NOTE: wow. It literally was over a year ago that I wrote the first of these. Man. How time flies...]

From my standpoint and limited perspective and understanding of heaven from this side of eternity…I think not only could forever be somewhat dull without animals, but we may miss out on a lot of what God shows us about ourselves without them around to help in the illustration. This is just an example about why I think dogs make for great spiritual object lessons, and for the value that I – as Adam’s descendant – see in being a caretaker of these critters.

Today’s subject: Maggie.

Ashley can attest to the fact that I’ve gotten much better about not referring to Maggie as “her dog,” especially since we got married and moved to Miami. However, she still thinks that I only call Maggie “her dog” when she acts “bad” (like, going outside to eat grass only to regurgitate it on the carpet that was JUST cleaned), but that’s not the case – in my mind, I call Maggie “her dog” because of the context of who raised her. Anyone who’s ever seen Maggie and me interact knows that there is a love between us that is just amazing, and she’s very much “MY dog” based on that.

I type all this only to say that it makes me laugh a little – and a little sad – when Maggie acts like she doesn’t trust me.

Maggie HATES going anywhere in a car. She will pace and whine in the backseat the second that the car sets off and is in motion. She is horrible in the way that she acts and continues this tirade whenever the car has to start and stop numerous times, such as if, say, the car is in traffic and gets caught by lights or behind other vehicles. It’s not so much the rocking motion that the car produces, but it’s the fact that we’re not GOING anywhere. However, if the ride is smooth and there’s no stopping and starting involved (such as when we make it out onto the highway after driving in the city), she’s fine. She’ll start to watch the world moving by outside the window, and because she feels so safe and secure (especially since she can see me & Ashley – dad & mom – driving or sitting in the front seat), the little punk will fall fast asleep and not whimper or cry once. She’ll snore, as a matter of fact. And as long as the car is moving along smoothly, she won’t say a word. But God help us if we have to pull off somewhere along the way. Any interruption to the smooth ride causes her to think the world is starting to end.

Once we get to wherever our destination is, once the car comes to a complete stop and she sees US starting to get ready to move, she will again start to stir in the backseat – pacing and crying, but this time with anticipation. She will start to get crazy excited, smiling as only a dog can smile, forgetting all about the “trauma” of the journey. “Trauma” is in quotes, because from my point of view, the journey wasn’t traumatic at all. I just saw it as the path we had to go on. Maggie will also get so excited that she’s at the end of her journey, that she will seriously forget about me, the one who got her from Point A to Point B – all she wants to do is get out into the world. – well, she’ll forget about me until it’s time to eat or go to the bathroom. Then, when the necessities are needed, it’s time to go crying to daddy again.

[Starting to see the parallel to, say, you or me here…?]


When Ashley was in graduate school, Maggie spent a good deal of time living away from her and living instead with Ashley’s mom. Maggie well remembers where Ashley’s mom’s house is, because she starts to recognize – purely by instinct – any time we’re driving there and we get about three to four blocks away from her house. Maggie goes insane in the backseat of the car, because she’s headed to a location that she knows, someplace familiar to her. She might’ve hated the idea of going on this journey – so much so to the point that she’d try to sabotage the trip to a degree by either getting sick in the backseat (knowing we’d have to stop to clean it up – and before you ask, yes she is both that smart AND that manipulative) or complaining a lot during the journey, both in an attempt to get me so frustrated that I’d stop the path we’re on and turn around to go home – but the joy of getting where she was headed completely overshadows the pain of going there.

Now, here’s the kicker: even though Maggie remembers this as a good place to be (plus, she’s so thankful that the journey is OVER), she also remembers that she was “left” here. Because of this, once we open the door and let the caged beastie out into the world, she will honestly try to dig her paws into the concrete outside the house to keep from going in, for – I suppose – fear that I’m just going to dump her here because I’m so frustrated after the journey of getting to this place.

I know where I’m leading her, and I know that it’s a safe place – a place to rest, and a place with treats for her. I also know that I’m not going to abandon her here. However, she doesn’t believe that. She sees this house, a place she’s familiar with, and she thinks that she’s going to be left behind. She doesn’t take into account that fact that – hello! – I am standing right there with her. As a matter of fact, were it not for me guiding her into the house, she would just run free with reckless abandon, probably headed out into the traffic.

There have been times that I have been led by God to go back someplace I don’t want to go – either to go physically or emotionally – someplace that hurts, and, like Maggie, I fail to notice that He is with me on the journey there.

There have been periods during my walk that I have left God to go frolic or play in the traffic – but He never left me. There have been NUMEROUS times that I have been on this journey and hated the experience of getting to wherever I am supposed to go – so much so that I have even tried to sabotage the experience by being lazy (never reading the Bible or talking to God or others He has placed in my life), complaining a lot, or ignoring God (just as Maggie is keen to do to me, especially when I say the word “no.”).

And, just like Maggie, I will be so thankful when the journey is over – that the long ride with all the starts and stops that made me complain and whine about the path is done with, that the smooth ride that I took for granted a lot of the time during the ride was for my own edification. I’ll be so gratified to see that the journey is “over” – only to find that God has one…more…place…in mind for me to go.

The difference and the challenge I’m learning is to actually let Him guide me, and to trust in Him. Me? I neither want to return to vomit or to folly.

‘Cause both of ‘em are gross.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

"Houston, we have a delay on the launchpad..."

So, my speaking engagement at Mosaic has been bumped by a week, to me now being the speaker the first weekend in October.

Just gives me an extra week to -- you know -- freak. :)

Honestly, I'm not nervous in the least bit. Which, this morning, I was trying to figure out WHY, when it hit me: maybe I'm NOT supposed to be nervous. Yeah, the honor/yoke of being the mouthpiece for God in this setting comes with it a set of serious responsibilities - but ultimately? The topic/idea/theme (whatever you want to call it) has been stinging my brain and soul for the last few weeks...so I know it's divinely inspired. And, I have enough faith that if I stood up and quacked like a duck for an hour, God could somehow still use that.

I mean, look how spiritually messed up some of those kids at the 706 wound up being after my influence for the last few years... :)

And truthfully, I feel...comfortable. Not complacent, but...at ease. Comfortable about speaking, comfortable about the responsibility, comfortable about...all of it.


This all but cements that whole "calling" thing, don't it?

Friday, September 21, 2007

24 + 9 + 30 + 11 = raised eyebrows

Time for two big revelations.

The first has been reported elsewhere. Not that this directly affects my life in any way because - you know - he and I are such good friends, but the announced return of Tony Almeida to FOX's series 24 has pretty much caused me to either be REALLY excited about this twist, or to start looking for the trampoline or pogo stick the producers are using to constantly jump over this specific shark of a show. I mean, I loved the first half of last season of 24, but I'm starting to wonder of the Lost guys have it all figured out right with a set beginning-middle-end in sight for a TV series. 24's not lost its full steam, but there were some major stumbles last year that they need to overcome.

Now. With the obligatory geek stuff now out of the way - the other big announcement?

On Sunday, September 30, I will be stepping out of the role of Associate Youth Pastor/Volunteer Staff Associate (or whatever title Bryan wants to assign me this week ) and into the role of -- well, minister at Mosaic Church here in Miami. Kevin, the REAL pastor there, will be out of town that Sunday, and he's asked me to step in and speak that morning.

So. For all the times I ask God to show me what I'm supposed to do with my life...for all the times I ask for guidance and clarity on "am I actually really called to the ministry"...for all the times I start to get frustrated, depressed, and moody over the holding pattern my life feels to be in...looks like it's time yet again for God to pull those shenanigans in my life that make me smile and laugh at myself in that He really DOES want to give me the best, what I ask for, and clarity and guidance in my walk on this planet.

And yes. Plans are afoot to record the sermon, either in audio and/or video format. So, I might just get YouTubed. Just a warning.

...and an invitation to anyone who wants to attend...

Friday, September 07, 2007

MICRO-MYTHBUSTING: A miniature missive

What can I say? The subject line is apparently alliterative just for fun.

ANYWAY -- the latest in the theological thought email trail (WHAT is UP with my rhyming/alliteration today?!?) is quoted below. Granted, this is in NO way as deep, meaningful or insightful as the first email exchange -- and this is due thanks to the
Univision Presidential Debate Forum that the University of Miami is hosting that has had me getting an average of, like, four hours of sleep a night. For the last week. Working from 7:00 am until 2:00 am for three consecutive days WILL wear you out.

On to the fun; the original question, as quoted below:

...I am working on this week's talk/Myth as we speak - ³If I Follow Jesus, He Will Nvr Give Me MORE Than I Can Handle²I believe rather sometimes He gives us the Gift of TOO MUCH to teach us to LET GO...LEAN on OTHERS...and take a LEAP of Faith towards HIM

And my response (Mosaic Miami? Shane Claiborne? Two institutions that are rocking my world and redefining my thoughts, both of whom have influenced sharply my response below):

Thanks for the kind words, cap'n. Kinda makes ya think I might actually BE cut out for this "ministry" stuff after all, don't it?

Quick thoughts re: this week's topic (ask BR as to why I've been so slammed this week -- I've been working with the US Secret Service on campus - I actually have gov't credentials and clearances now)

- Psalm 104:14-15. THAT is what God has granted us. We often talk in the metatextual about the life that God gives us, but how many times do we actually look at...life. The world around us as what we've been given as a gift and a challenge to sustain and maintain.

- God tends to mock what we think of as our strengths by instead using our weaknesses as how and where to drive the point home. Not mock in a "dude, you suck" way, but in the lesson -- the HARD lesson -- that parents often let their children go through and the kids think the parents are mocking or making fun of them by letting them suffer. Look at Paul - 2 Corinthians 2 - might it just be that instead of always looking at the situation as "I'm getting more than I can handle," we should look at whatever is thrown our way as a challenge to our weaknesses to (a) keep us humble (Paul could have boasted, but instead was reminded of his feet of clay) and (b) God has ALWAYS used the foolish things of the world (servant, not a leader; the gift of the widow versus the millions given with no heart) to drive the point home.

- when you and I have coversations with God and he begins to show you the life you are meant to live, it will TERRIFY you. It should terrify you. Give all you have to the poor? Leave your family? Not that everyone is called to take these actions, but if you ARE called to take up your cross, it should be uncomfortable. It's a symbol of death -- which is never comfortable for the dying or for the family it leaves behind -- and it's a symbol of life -- ask any mother who's ever given birth if new life is "comfortable." :)

- think about it like this: ultimately, we as Christians are narcissists. More often than not, we walk into church (or go out into the world) and it's all about us worshipping God, when in fact it should be more about God using the worshipper.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

MTYHBUSTING: Miami style

Okay -- time for a quick aside before I start commenting on how God's not only just radically freaking altering everything in my life from the ground up (and how I believe seminaries everywhere should stop worrying so much about theology and start teaching sociology) but opportunities for my life I though long dead and gone are just...blossoming everywhere (the first jaw dropping moment? September 30. Expect a big announcement soon).

So, anyway -- back when I was living in Athens, there was this little church called Compass that I was peripherally involved with for a few years (and that statement should elicit a few snickers form some readers). Compass has just started a new series called MYTHBUSTERS that is -- duh -- busting a few myths about faith, grace, and who this "Jesus" guy really is. Again, because just only so often I would open my big mouth and offer my .02, I on occassion would get asked for my expert opinion and insight regarding certain topics. Then, after we got finished talking about such topics (probably either The Lord of the Rings or Batman), we'd get into the spiritual stuff.

Case in point: I received an email late last week, which is quoted below for your benefit:

Miss you bro...especially with this week's topic If I Follow Jesus, I CAN'T GO DOWNTOWN

Working on talk - thought about you...would love a little "caffeinated" Sonny rant about now (maybe that's just my hearts cry for a good cup of joe)..Anyhow - the approach...

Downtown - synonomous - SINNERS
Therefore If I Follow Jesus, I can't be caught dead or alive down there -

alive...can't be up to ANY GOOD
Dead...wrong place to die right b4 I go see Jesus, right

If I Follow Jesus, there's a set of dos & don'ts/rules & regs/policy manual - dress, beverage choices, dating partners, music, got to go to CFA - the Christian fast food joint, etc.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE OTHER legalISMS THAT HAVE SHAPED YOURS & MY WONDERFUL CHURCH UPBRINGINGS????

If I Follow Jesus, there's the Black hats & White hats - Do Gooders - Do Badders - Sinners & the Saints - Righteous & unjust - those going to Heaven and those going to HELL

If we're going to BUST THIS MYTH - we've got to change the way we think about:
GOD - Was God a Legalist?
Genesis - Sin not God caused Rules
CHURCH - Whose It For?
JESUS - Who Did He Hang Out With?
ME - Where's My Downtown and am I really willing to go there, hang out, build relationships, and become Salt and Light?

You like...love your thoughts/rants on any of the above (especially the> legalISMS...)

And then, for good times, my answer is quoted below:

Sorry for the delay in a reply. So, this AM, it's you, me, and some coffee.

Before we fly headlong into the busting of somelegalisms, let's just go with the the obvious arallel: lepers.

Yes, while there are some people who don't go downtown because they're afraid they'll catch some communicable disease from going into a bar or diner late at night or from the homeless person asking for food on the street corner, that's not what I'm referring to. Let's look at Jesus for a minute.

To me, the higher-ups in the church(Scribes/Pharisees) couldn't really condemn Jesus for healing, even for healing on the Sabbath. I mean, let's be honest -- even at their worst, these men were servants of God (and their own egos, but that's another story), and as such, acts that honor God were to be revered and celebrated...but on THEIR terms. The healings that Jesus performed and the people that He spoke to --- it was because He TOUCHED them that made them unclean. I'm pretty sure that every lame person who walked again and blind person who saw again caught a cold at one time after their healing. It wasn't that Jesus cured them forever of everything - it was that He met them at that time and in that place and went to where they were because the church at that time was unwilling - but not unable - to do so. He touched their lives by being who He was called to be. Not with a protest sign of "I heal thee and now here's a tract" nor did he make a spectacle of it - it was always those around Him who drew attention to His actions, because they were pure, motivated out of love and not judgment.

Take Zaccheus (sp? It IS 7 in the AM) - after Christ changed His life, nothing in the Bible indicates hestopped being a tax collector. In fact, it explicitly states that from that moment on, he was an HONEST tax collector, changed in his ways and still interactingwith the people he had interacted with before, but now with a purpose, a promise, and the charity of Christ in his heart.

NOTHING in the Bible tells me that after I am redeemed, that if I am to follow Jesus, I have to put myself in a tower or silo and only insulate myselfwith people who think/look/act like me. As a matter of fact (a) we call those people "cultists," and (b) biology -- and numerous redneck jokes -- warn us ofthe dangers of "inbreeding" with the same family. Look at Uga, the bulldog. Fear of bringing in another, UNCLEAN bloodline to the existing family structure for breeding purposes has resulted in his shortened lifespan, because -- according to the American Kennel Association, the legalistic dog (not God) pharisees -- a bloodline must be of a certain percentage PURE and untainted from other bulldogs in order for the lineage to remain unbroken.

Last time I looked around, the world was broken. We're all already there and "unclean," and no amount of separation from the world can clean us. The Bible kind of compels us to do the exact opposite and --wait; what was that commandment? -- go INTO the world.

When I die, I'd rather have died BEING the church than simply SAYING I was part of the church.

[Understand that all of this has been typed WITHOUT the aid of a cup of coffee. Think about how this would sound caffeinated :) ]

The legalisms -- the yoke the church tried to burden us with by giving us a set of not even rules but prescribed condemnations and judgments held against others simply based on our PERCEPTION of who they were and how they lived -- this yoke again might parallel to the one Jesus told us to shrug off and exchange for His yoke. And loving is SO much easier than hating. It doesn't drain you.

I love how Mother Theresa actually told everyone,"Stay where you are -- find your own Calcutta. Find the sick, the suffering, the lonely, right there where you are -- in your own homes and in your own families, in your work places and schools." Or, in a more simple way, Steve Camp (yeah - the CCM singer; how's THAT for an old -school shout-out) said "Don't tell them Jesus loves them until you're ready to love them too." Salt is a great seasoning agent, but a chef can kill the taste of something by oversalting food. Light is amazing, but it can be used to blind. The movie SAVED has a AMAZING scene where one character throws - literally throws - a Bible in anger at another character while creaming at her "I am FULL of Christ's love!" Then, the character who was hit by the Bible picks it up and hands it back to her, telling her"This...this is not a weapon."

...whew. Hope that all that text above helps in some way. I should be relatively free today, so if you need to email me back for some other points/clarification -- feel free to.

Peace.
-Sonny