Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What Had Happened Was...

Yes. I know this blog has been quiet. 
Yes. I know my Twitter feed has been less interactive than usual. 
Yes. I know that Facebook hasn't see my face for a while. 

And here's why: 

Between guest posting like mad during the month of October at other websites, taking on the job of "Interim Pastor" (for lack of a better word) at a local church, and dealing with creative and personal struggles and dead-ends...I've been spent. Worn out. Used up. And not only has my writing suffered for it, but I'm willing to go on record as saying I have not been the best father, husband or even person that I could have been. 

But no more. Because I am tired of going through the motions, but also because I am tired of others suffering due to my slacking. And no offense, but I kind of rank Ashley & Kai a little above those of you who read my blog.

So, my priorities are realigning. My heart, which has been emptied out, is being filled again. My mind, which I have allowed to be cluttered with so much unnecessary junk I feel like I should be on HOARDERS, is being made new. Refreshed.

All I have to do is make it through this holiday season and not...lose it.

2008 was not one of the hardest years of my life, but the final three months most assuredly were. In rapid succession, I lost my dog of 13 years in October, then in November I lost my father (11/8), had a birthday (11/17), and limped through Thanksgiving before making it to December only to deal with what would have been my dad's birthday (12/9), my parents' wedding anniversary (12/22), and then Christmas. Then I had a three-month "break" before Kai was born (3/26).

So, yeah. The holiday season is moderately bittersweet to me.

But I'm trying to find the joy of the season in the smile of Kai as he sees our Christmas tree with the "sparkling stars." I'm trying to not focus on my losses and instead see what gifts I have been given in family and friends. I'm trying to turn away from myself - all the while acknowledging what I am feeling and going through but not letting it dominate me - and instead remember what this season symbolizes, and hold on to that hope. 

What, if anything do you struggle with at this time of year? How have you found that you can cope with your emotions or thoughts during this time of year?

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Advent Menace

The year was 1999. A new millennium was set to begin, the impending terror of Y2K was starting to reach a crescendo, and for millions around the country, it was the culmination of years of patience and anticipation: May 25th would see the release of STAR WARS: THE PHANTOM MENACE. I actually took off work to go to a screening in New Orleans, because this moment was what I felt like I had waited for all of my adult life. Sixteen years had passed since RETURN OF THE JEDI had debuted. For once, I did NOT have to wait for my parents to take me to the theater when a STAR WARS film was playing.

Around 45 minutes into the film, I hit that moment, the moment that has only happened to me before a handful of times while watching a movie. I took my eyes from the screen, checked my watch, and was amazed that three and a half hours hadn't passed already...because it sure felt like time had lost all meaning. THIS was what we'd waited for all these years? George Lucas had 16 years to get this story right, and this was what we got? A CGI story on the trade deficit?

In this season when we reflect upon the coming of Messiah, it's interesting to transpose this idea of remembering how I felt about the rebirth of the STAR WARS saga with Jesus' birth. His birth had been prophesied about and foretold for centuries, yet when He arrived - in a manger, in a corner of an unimportant city - this was not what was expected. Yet unlike what Lucas pulled with STAR WARS, this was the plan.

The passage in Mark 13:24-37 illustrates how Jesus, when speaking about His return, continues the theme regarding how much prophecy had been made - and was continuing to be made - about the coming of the Messiah. The repeated theme of "stay alert - stay awake - be ready" was not given as a warning because Jesus is going to jump out from behind a cloud and yell "GOTCHA!" It's because blepo, the word translated in verse 33 as "take heed," means to express a more intentional, earnest contemplation. To be aware. Or, as the Psalmist said, to "be still and know."

At the human core of waiting and anticipating, we tend to go from the excited to the bland: the energy of a new job quickly settles to a routine. A new romantic relationship fizzles into a routine ("You wanna just go grab some pizza?"). And no matter how much you may love the Christmas season, when the decorations start to go on sale in August, you will eventually become jaded to the sight of them as you enter a store. What was supposed to excite you has become something...routine.

Maybe one of the reasons why all the prophecies people make about the return of Jesus fail is that if we knew that time and date, in many ways we'd anticipate it as the end and not the start. We'd lose the excitement, the joy and love of life and settle into a routine. Of waiting. But not waiting with eager anticipation for what was to come next (much like I did at the outset with the STAR WARS Prequels) but waiting for what we think might come next in the plan. We'd be ready to just wrap things up an move on - but that's not what we're called to do.

"Advent" is translated as "coming" - but what's "nerd cool" is that the verb usage of "Advent" is in the perfect passive participle. This means that when we consider Advent, the coming is perceived at the same time in the past, present, and future. We find Him coming first as a child, then in our hearts, and eventually will be in person again. This means there is never a time when Christ is not with you. John 4:24 states "For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth." Spirit permeates. Even the schlockiest of ghost hunter shows on television often talk about a presence. Here, here, here - all around us.

At its deepest level, Advent is an invitation to give up our search & simply let ourselves be found. To celebrate that coming by being willing to be found. Even the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 speaks to how the father came to the son when we was searching for a way to return.

In this season, more than considering what you are waiting for - presents, family, or a written apology from George Lucas - understand, reflect and meditate on how we already have an answer. He is here. I AM is here.

In the search, in the finding, and in the daily living of our lives, we have already been found. And found loved.

And it's all according to plan.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

New Hope Sermon Notes: Questions of Faith, Week One

NOTE FROM SONNY: Because people have asked, I am posting my sermon notes from the last three weeks here in all their unedited and rambling glory. You can probably fill in the grammatical gaps.  

"Who told you that you were naked?"
"What have you done?"
"Whom shall go for us? Whom shall I send?"
"Have you considered my servant Job?"
"Who do you say that I am?"
"Do you love Me?"

One of Kai's favorite books to read at night is something called "The Going to Bed Book." Creative title, I know. He's been read to from this book for at least two years now, so he has it pretty well memorized. But the other day, while we were walking, for some reason I started quoting from it. The opening line is "The sun has set, not long ago." Now Kai, who has heard this line about 87 billion times, looks up at me like he's just heard this for the first time in his life and says, "Daddy, what means 'not long ago?'"

Keep in mind this kid is two and a half. The questions are only going to get easier from here on out, I'm sure.

So, before I answer him, my train of thought goes something like this: "How do I explain linear time to him? Do I begin with verb tenses? Do I begin with verbs?" So, I did what any respectable, loving parent would do: I told him to look at the squirrel running down the sidewalk. Parenting, like all other forms of magic, is all about the art of misdirection.

"Who told you that you were naked?"
"What have you done?"
"Whom shall go for us? Whom shall I send?"
"Have you considered my servant Job?"
"Who do you say that I am?"
"Do you love Me?"

God does not "squirrel" us, but I have to wonder: when we ask for something, what all else at times might God have to explain to us within the answer to the question we pose? And are we even willing to listen to what might frame the answer to the question we ask, or do we just want the answer to the question? It's like pulling one verse out of Scripture, ignoring the context it is given in, and quoting it without paying attention to what was said before or after it.

We often accuse or set Him up as such, but God is not so much a God of rules as He is a Counselor (which is what His Spirit is referred to as). He asks the questions that make us think, instead of just laying down edicts about our actions. As someone who has been through therapy, I can tell you that for as annoying as those questions can be, they're also what helps us grow and learn. (As opposed to having someone just say "Please just take these drugs and stop talking to me about your mother." Worst. Therapist. Ever.). 

God has a voice. And He doesn't just tell us what to do; He also asks us questions.

"Who told you that you were naked?"
"What have you done?"
"Whom shall go for us? Whom shall I send?"
"Have you considered my servant Job?"
"Who do you say that I am?"
"Do you love Me?"

We can ask questions as well. It's a dialogue. It involves listening, but not just listening.
Question one: what is a question about our faith you have that you feel comfortable in sharing? Not "why do bad things happen to good people" or anything about speaking in tongues, but the day to day, nitty-gritty struggles and questions we have. 

Question two: what is a question, a struggle you have with God? A question which maybe only the two of you know. "Have I truly been forgiven of this? How can I forgive this person? Why did they have to die?" maybe this is a question you have carried and thought about a lot, but have never looked at it. Never seen this question. I can say a lot of stuff out loud - and I typically do when prepping for Sundays - but when I see it, when I am confronted with my words, I rethink and reframe what I say a lot of the time.   Judges 13:18 - "But the angel of the Lord said to him, 'Why do you ask my name, seeing it is Wonderful?'" We may at times ask for things which are beyond our ability to understand. So after God told Samson's father he was to have a child, he kept asking questions, some of which weren't pertinent to the miracle taking place. Because my first thought when a miracle occurs is to offer a goat.

Job 42:6 Job repented of questioning God. Sometimes we think the act of questioning means we have little faith. Or that doubts are a sign of weak character. But consider this: when we question, we're still speaking to and asking God. When we doubt, we're not doubting ourselves, but God. In doing so, we acknowledge that He is there. Compare simply questioning if God knows what He's doing - like what Job did - to trying to take matters into your own hands and prove you know what's best - like what Adam did. Which was a sin of rebellion?

I Corinthians 13:12 - for now we see in a mirror dimly, but then, face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I have also been fully known. In my teenage rebellion questioning phase (which ended day before yesterday) this album meant more to me than I can say.

When Answers Don't Come Easy - Leslie Phillips
I can wait
It's enough to know you can hear me now
Oh I can wait
It's enough to feel so near you now
And when answers don't come easy
I can wait

We sometimes feel like in our faith, we have to have all the answers. We have to have a concrete response to when people ask us something. One of the greatest complaints lobbied against my people in the emergent/emerging movement is that we take truth to be subjective or pliable. While some do - and I don't excuse them for it - the better thing that i think we do is we allow for the tension. We embrace the questions. And we learn - slowly, painfully - to accept the fact we may not have the answer, and that this is in some ways the essence of our faith. Hoping for something unseen. 

Monday, November 07, 2011

You Live Here

I've never seen the movie Hitch in its entirety. Never.

Let's be honest: the thing already airs on basic cable what feels like every nine hours, so if I wanted to watch it, all I'd need to do is sit down, wait for a few episodes of King of Queens to end, then I could catch it. But as it is, my post-Kai-going-to-sleep time is so limited, before I fall asleep at night sitting up on the couch (...what? Don't judge...) I choose to spend my valuable time watching other things.

The other reason that I've not seen this movie is that Hitch suffers from what I term HSSS: Hollywood Soundbite Scene Syndrome. It's an affliction that affects numerous modern films. Films that have HSSS typically have the best or most memorable scenes contained in their trailer, or else they've become so quoted and referenced that you already know the entire plot of the movie without ever seeing the film.

(c) 2005 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

"I'm just expressing myself." 

"This is where you live right here. This is home."

See? I don't have to say anything else, and a number of you immediately know the scene I'm talking about.

What's interesting is that the above exchange seems like a back-and-forth discussion I feel like I have with God a lot of times. Not so much about my dance moves (it's hard to talk about something which does not exist exist; I got no skills on the dance floor), but about my life. I want to express myself. I want to do what I want to do. I want to take my life and make it - well, what seems extreme. Reckless. Untethered. Much like the spasmodic jerking Kevin James thought was his ability to dance. It was offensive to anyone who knows how to dance, as was evidenced by Will Smith's reaction. 

Yes, yes, yes - we all laugh at the scene, but the reality is he thought that - those special, special moves - was what was best. Not with the same innocence a child might think making a pie out of mud could transubstantiate into a blueberry pie, but with an "I know what's best" mentality.

Welcome to sin nature.

Mercifully, after me demonstrating this nature, God has never slapped me across the face and told me to get out. Reality has slapped me across the face, to be sure, but never God. He gently - and sometimes less than subtly - reminds me of where my heart needs to be, and not to let it go bouncing about like a lunatic wherever it wishes, whenever it wishes. This is one of the reasons the words of the hymn "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" just pierce me whenever I hear it:

Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

I want to run. I want to make pizza and use Q-tips (metaphorically speaking). God gives me the freedom to make an utter idiot of myself should I so choose to, but He also gives me the maturity to be able to choose. Not guilt. Not manipulation. Maturity.

I just need to remember that His biding doesn't chafe.