Saturday, December 24, 2011

DecembeREALLY?

Emotionally, December always feels mixed to me. In years past, I've felt everything from utter peace when I would sit outside of my parents' house and listen to the snow falling (if you've never tried listening to snow - trust me: it's amazing) to feeling loss, depression, anxiety...you name it.

This year, God apparently decided to up the emotional ante and kick my mind and heart to eleven. And true to type, I fought accepting everything offered to me - due in part to a misplaced sense of self-worth - until I felt more than heard God say "You know, sometimes I do just want to bless you." 

So, in chronological order, here are the (thus far) ways in which God is attempting to get me to at least listen to if not speak in a new love language:

DECEMBER 10: If you happened to miss the proceeding month's-worth of Facebook updates and Tweets of mine, let me sum it up for thus: I was published in a for-real, honest-to-God book. And the fact that the paperback version of the book I was published in about being a stay-at-home dad (The Myth of Mr. Mom) was available for purchase the day after what would have been my dad's birthday...beauty. Sheer beauty.

DECEMBER 12: The phone rang. While this in and of itself was not a great shock, the voice on the other end of the phone was. The voice in question belonging to none other than Steve Taylor. Yes. That Steve Taylor. He of Chagall Guevara fame. He who was and remains one of the single greatest influences on my life. Period. Of all time. And the fact that one of my heroes, mentors (by distance) and a man whose work I admire and respect called me (as part of that whole "backers" plan from Blue Like Jazz)...beauty. Sheer beauty.

DECEMBER 17: Ashley and I have been making do in a one-car house for almost a year and a half now. While this has led to some - ahem - tense discussions regarding time management, we have been managing okay. This was due in part to her having a moped to drive back and forth to work. But then...the moped was stolen. From our house. So, when her dad came to visit, he got us our Christmas present: a car. A new car. An amazing, high-safety-rated car. And the fact that Kai can now ride in comfort in a car that isn't pushing 140,000 miles and is over twelve years old...beauty. Sheer beauty.

DECEMBER 19: ...and as it now turns out, we will NEED two cars. In a move which falls square under the umbrella of "shock and awe," I was offered and accepted the position of part-time Interim Youth Pastor at St. Andrews Baptist Church here in Columbia. 

Which means I can remain a stay-at-home dad (hello, book).

Which means I can be a mentor and influence the lives of these kids (hello, Steve).

Which means I have closed a loop in my heart which has remained open for far too long.

And the fact that God is choosing to use my broken, imperfect, "not a licensed or ordained minister" self in this way...

Beauty. Sheer beauty.

  

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

From One Word to One Theme 2011





It started with a "simple" enough idea from my friend Alece.


At the risk of grossly oversimplifying her plan, the idea was to pray about finding the one word that would define, shape, and structure your year in 2011. 


And so, I felt like God showed me a word in Hebrew which I needed to focus on: shalam


The word itself has a number of meanings, including to be in a covenant of peace; to be at peace; to be complete; to be sound; and to make whole or good, restore, to make compensation.


And I wrote about what God was teaching me about this word and how it was impacting my life here...and here...and here...and here...and here...and here...and here...and here...


So, of course, the manner in which I thought this word would be defined and lived out in me has wound up being nothing like what God had panned. Ain't that just always the way?


Whereas I thought it meant I would be granted something, I have instead been shown where I could give. 


Whereas I thought it meant I would finally lay down portions of my past, I was shown the aspects I had been holding on to and needed to release and deal with before I could gain peace.


Whereas I thought it meant the year might be sound and stable, I have been rocked, challenged and broken like never before.


Whereas I thought things might be given to me to "make up" to me for what I had lost, I learned (okay: re-learned) that those things which are of the greatest value are the ones you sometimes have to fit for and earn.


So, my shalam felt more "SHAZAM" in the way it was delivered to me; namely, hitting my like a bolt out of the sky. (Yes, that was an old 1950s comic book reference. Captain Marvel is one of my favorite four-color characters of all time, and it's rare I get to utilize him with a spiritual twist. Let me have this one, okay?) But to be honest, I wouldn't have had it any other way. 


In fact, I'm almost embarrassed at how "simple" I thought this might be at the outset. And I am thankful, blessed, humbled, and honored at how much this word and this journey have taught me. And I can't wait to see how it continues today out in my life, heart, and mind. 


 ...and makes what I think is supposed to be my One Word for 2012 both frightening and invigorating. And just a tad cheesy.


But that's another post for another year.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Come As A Child

Do you know what I have observed as the most effective ministerial tool in church, regardless of the denomination, affiliation, or style of worship? Puppets. Because once kids are called down front for the children's sermon, whether you are a parent (praying silently under your breath that your kid stays still and quiet or doesn't pass gas loudly) or not, every eye is transfixed on the felt missionaries of the Gospel at the front of the church.
Puppets available from www.puppetville.com

Maybe it's because we have a Jim Henson-induced nostalgic twinge in our hearts when the show begins. Or maybe it's because the message is so simple that it resonates at a deeper level than all the rest of the service before or after the puppet show. 

...which is why I always hate to follow the things when I speak. It's like they're the ultimate opening act.

I know that I often fall into the trap of "how do I package this message" when I am preparing to preach. It's not that I believe that I should deliver my message by rote with no passion or vocal inflection, nor that I should obsess over working on making it a production complete with trendy and hip backgrounds, music, fonts, and clothes worn by me. But why do we - I - try to at times make things far more difficult and complex than they need to be? Am I truly trying to say what the Spirit has laid upon my heart, or am I trying to hyper-intellectualize my lesson, fearing that if I boil it down it will seem too simple?

Since this is a seasonal-appropriate example to give: go watch A Charlie Brown Christmas. Not only will you probably sit there in silence as you watch it (now contrast that with how many times you allow yourself to be distracted/intentionally distract yourself in church), but when you get to that scene...and you know the scene I'm talking about...

You'll remember what Christmas is all about.

And maybe, just maybe, what church is all about.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

i 2 (eye)

Yes, that is a very dated reference to a Michael W. Smith album, one of the only two that I can stomach. This post is inspired by the words given by my good friend Christina Whitehouse-Suggs this past Sunday. Really, if you're not following her on Twitter or reading her blog, you're cheating yourself.

So let's talk pedestals for a moment, shall we?



Image from
http://photo-dictionary.com
I used to put people on pedestals. A lot. I was the one who would ape Wayne and Garth in my heart and think "I'm not worthy! I'm not worthy!" when I would consider placing myself on their level. Youth ministry? No way am I as good as X. Speaking in church? Please; X has me beat. As a classroom teacher? I am not even worthy to dust the erasers of X.

And I'm kidding myself when I refer to my pedestaling in the past tense; today, if you were to pick three random people whose blogs I read and put my name in with theirs as someone who is a good writer, I would get all "aw, shucks"-ish and wave my hand dismissing your compliment. Part of this comes from growing up in the South, and being force-fed politeness. Part of this comes from growing up in church, and being force-fed humility. And to be honest, a large part of it extends from an at-times low sense of self-esteem.

However, we have an inherent drive in our hearts to worship something, as well as an ill-placed desire in our hearts to BE worshipped. And in there lies part of the true danger of pedestals.

When we place someone on a pedestal - mentors, teachers, pastors, writers, Joss Whedon - we put them in the position of forcing them to have to "come down" to our level at some point. Most of the time, they know that "level" is both literal and figurative in where we need to be in order to interact with us. Yet we keep trying to put them back up where we believe they belong, because we feel far more comfortable in looking up than in looking them in the eye. As an equal.

When we allow ourselves be placed on a pedestal, although whatever genuine humility we possess may try to stop it, there's something inside us that enjoys the sensation of rising above. Of being considered good. Better. Inspiring.

But no matter what your pedestal is made of - concrete, cement, lies - at some point, something will cause you to fall. The ground will shake. The foundation will crack. And your pedestal, and your ego, will come tumbling, with the danger of taking down the people who were gathered around looking up at you.

Only One that I know of was worthy to be lifted up, and we put Him there: first to crucify Him, and later to celebrate His resurrection and the forgiveness of our sins. And even though we try at times to put Him back up - putting Him "in His place," so to speak - He came down. And He continues to come down, time and again, to interact with us. To look us in the eyes. To let us touch His side. To feel His hands.

To call us beloved.

Who do you have placed on a pedestal?

Monday, December 05, 2011

An Exercise in Prayer


All parents hope for the best and dream big dreams for their kids. I'm certain that based on the aptitudes he has already shown, Kai has the talent and ability to be a philosopher, writer, actor, scientist, super hero, chef, geologist, and engineer. All at the same time. 

However, based on his sleep patterns, he's undoubtedly going to be a farmer. This kid has the inability to sleep in. And as such, it has caused me and Ashley no small amount of frustration and short tempers with each other due to our sleep deprivation, physical, mental and emotional exhaustion during the day, and has created some of the most amazing dark circles, wrinkles and grey hair on me. 

As part of our attempt the keep this monster corralled during the still-dark-hours of the morning, we put a baby gate up leading into his room so that he can't escape and go eat an entire box of Special K while waiting on us to rouse from the dead. But because this is a new and - as I can surmise from the amount of tears he sheds - traumatic experience for him, we take turns sitting outside the gate for a while to reassure him that mommy and daddy have not defected to North Korea and left him all alone. During my last turn at Kaisitting, I took the opportunity to sit on the floor in the dark and quiet and just...be. Still. Relaxed(ish). 

I think the last time I did this was in 2007. In Athens. 

And while I was sitting there, I decided to take the opportunity to actually pray. 

Now, I have to confess: I'm one of those "pray without ceasing" kind of people who prays to God in 140 characters or less while on the go. I rarely if ever take time to sit and bask in the stillness of life, despite how much I know that it grounds me and connects me. I rarely if ever have any consistency about letting myself hear something other than the sound of my own voice echoing in my prayers. I do hear/feel nudges of conviction and moments of the Spirit moving in and through me, but taking time to reflect and meditate feels as much a luxury to me as buying non-generic label groceries would be.

But this morning, I was reminded how physical our prayer life can and should be. There is nothing in the world wrong with having a continual dialogue with God, but we should not do so at the expense of taking time to ground and connect with - well, the ground. We are both physical and spiritual in nature, and as such, we should feed both portions in our prayer and faith life. Because to be honest, while I was sitting there letting myself just be, I felt more in tune with God than I do when I offer up my half-prayers throughout the day. And this practice of intentional meditation (on Scripture), intentional quiet, and intentional listening is something I need to do a lot more of. 

And next time, maybe I can do more than JUST pray that Kai would go back to sleep.