Category Archives: Culture

Give us Free

July 4th, Independence Day, is a really big deal in my native America, as it should be.   Our founding people (men, women and children), the original American entrepreneurs, risked all to come to these colonies and live out the creation of a new dream called ‘America’.   July 4, 1776 at a meeting of the Continental Congress, the Declaration of Independence was adopted making the 13 American colonies a new nation and no longer a part of the British Empire.  This is our national heritage and it’s a rich and proud one.  Our story is one of radical independent thinking, visionary architects of a new and free society, democratic representation, activists of equality and laborers of justice.  This dream of a new society, fueled by a sense of destiny and the protestant work ethic, is the heritage we celebrate today.   It was Revolutionary thinking and doing.

There is a reality though, like any start-up idea, that the 1.0 version is not the totally developed thought or best practice and it’s okay to lament that.  There was a dream, an ideal, but the movement was stuck in the perspective of the time.  “All men are created equal” with rights to vote only applied to white, land-owning men in 1789 for the first election.   Allowing non-whites and women to vote came in hard fought after amendments to the original idea years later.   Additionally shameful is that the revolutionary way forward to build a new economy happened on the backs of cheap and free labor, slavery largely to African-Americans is our heritage.  The rise of the agricultural, industrial and trade industry of early-America does not happen without this free labor, of men and women not seen as ‘created equal’ and thus cruely and inhumanely treated.  Our rise to being a world super power is both an economic reality and a human travesty.  The American Dream is not realized until “Give us Free”, all of us.

In today’s world, we yet wrestle with racial and gender equality.   We are still working out the great American Dream into a free reality.  Present day abolitionists have made us acutely aware of the incredible proliferation today of young girls and boys caught in the violent cycle of human sex trafficking.  Where is their, “Give us Free” within American borders?  Until all of us are free, we are not free to stop working at the ideals of the American Dream.

I am a white, educated, middle-class male in modern America and I am fully aware of the privilege that comes with that and that others don’t get that same ‘benefit of the doubt’.  I have a responsibility to speak, influence and act in my role to empower “Give us Free” to keep making progress.  Racism and Sexism are not a thing of the past, they are alive and well in today’s America.  I celebrate today my freedom to choose to involve my voice and action into the liberation of others, particularly those left on the margins.  Freedom is a really big idea, and it’s worth dying for . . . for all of us  “Give us Free”, all of us.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” – Galatians 5:1

Fathering not for the faint of heart

fathering

Fathering in 2016 is not for the faint of heart.  One week ago today, 49 innocent children of other dads were fatally gunned down on that fateful night in an Orlando nightclub.  On the day of each one of their births, that was not the dream the fathers had the first time they held their babies in their arms.  I’m not sure a lot of dads talk about this, but I can say that most dads when they hold their newborns for the first time (aside from stark fear), get bonded to a commitment of sheltering, providing, strengthening and dreaming big for their little nugget.  We hope for the best, we don’t envision nightclub massacres as young adults.  For those of us who didn’t have kids in that space last week, our kids lived the trauma through the stories and images of the news-feeds.  None of us immune to a society at war, violence is our cultural tapestry.  This is fathering in 2016.

I’m not interested in gun rights or laws, that’s a reaction to protect physical bodies, I’m interested in a higher virtue.  How do we protect our kid’s young hearts and minds against such trauma?  This is not the only one, it was just the next one.  How do we raise young men to cherish and protect the value and virtue of women when they are exposed and entrapped to the lies of pornography the moment they discover the power of the internet?   How do we protect the self worth and original beauty of our daughters in a world of insecure selfies begging comments of adoration, celebrity idol-worship and the photo-shop wonders of multi-billion dollar beauty industry?  Hey Dads, we are not the only ones who want to shape our kid’s minds and hearts.  There’s a lot of money out there shooting to own them, it’s profitable to these systemic evils to enslave them for a long life of consumerism to their goods and services.  This is fathering in 2016.

What’s my advice after 20 years of such fathering, here’s my take:

  1. Be present – You have a powerful voice and presence in your kid’s life, own it.  Don’t leave a chasm of space physically or emotionally for something or someone else to fill, it’s yours first, embody it in the life of your child.
  2. Love their Mom – If you are still together, show your son what loving, cherishing and serving a woman looks like.  If you are not together, honor that relationship in front of them.  Negotiate time well and keep your personal remarks to yourself.  It’s their Mom, honor that for them no matter how painful it is for you.
  3. Choose your words – your words have the power to build up, your words have the power to tear down.  Don’t misuse your power.  Be a man, have the strength to choose your words wisely.  Any fool can fly off the handle dispersing poison.  Embrace wisdom instead, you carry power to change a reality with your words.
  4. Grow up – You’re a Dad, you did adult things to bring another human into the world, you are not a child.  Grow up.  It’s not about you, walk out into your adult-self with confidence and a freedom to be the adult you always wish someone would be for you.  Your future is wide open with opportunity, don’t retreat back, grow up into it.
  5. Don’t give up – You’re not perfect, Dad.  You may have already broken my advice commandments 1-4 already today, welcome to the vulnerability of your humanity.  But in this moment, in the remainder of this day, don’t give up.  Your kids will hold out hope until the day you die that you will be the Dad they always dreamed of and you still have today.  They believe in you; I’m begging you for you to believe in you.  They need you, don’t give up on your best self.

Fathering in 2016 is not for the faint of heart, leadership is not for cowards.  It’s time to show-up, Dad’s.  The future depends on it.

The Helical model of the universe and Ordinary Community

The Disclaimer:  I am not a scientist, I’m not an astrophysicist, I’m not a rocket scientist.  At best I’m a theologian or contemplative, at worst I’m just a dude.  I’m reflecting on this from my perspective, I’m not making truth claims or posting theories based on expert knowledge.  I know it’s just an attempt to illustrate a point and doesn’t in fact capture the entire picture of the galactic plane.  Ok? . . . ok.

The Video:  I find this video model fascinating for it’s contrast to our normal two dimensional understanding of how our universe revolves around the sun.  Most of us get our imagery from 2D posters on our junior high science classroom of a ‘heliocentric’ (sun centered) universe which was a great advancement from the ancient days of a ‘geocentric’ (earth centered) understanding of the universe.  There was a day when we literally thought and understood that the world revolved around us.  That came from a time in Greek thought where philosophy ruled the day.  Our starting point for reflection, contemplation and search for truth started with ourselves.  So naturally, the world came to be about us.

It was the advancement of science that began to tell a different story.  That the experience of gravity on earth did not mean that in fact then the earth was the center of gravity in the universe.  Rather, it was far more complex than that.  Rotation, axis and orbit can explain for the phenomenons we observe on earth and that it is the sun that is in fact the center of the big idea and the planets, systems and stars have a relational tie to it.  Science helped us see that the world is in fact not about us, that we have a part to play in a much larger drama and we should have some humility and responsibility about that galactic relationship.

Philosophy to Science to now Technology.  This video builds on the 2D heliocentric idea of the universe by taking it another step and illustrating that the better understanding of movement around the sun is to see it as ‘vortex’ motion of being intertwined amidst the solar winds as we orbit around the sun.  The 3D model shown here is the ‘helical’ model.  It invites us to understand the intertwining motion as even a more complex relationship we have at the ‘Macro’ level of how our universe works and then pushes us to reflect upon how we see this same design in our ‘Micro’ level life and creation all around us.  To me, it’s fascinating.

The Community Idea:  Again, I’m not a scientist, it just interests me for it’s perspective and it’s revelation of truths.  I highly value knowledge because it informs my real life.  What I am an expert in is ‘community’.  I’ve given my life and study to it for a couple decades now.  My dissertation was on the loss of community in the American landscape and suggestions on how we might find our way again in it.  I have often reflected and asserted that community is best understood as well as a ‘gravitational pull’.  Community gets centered around something that pulls people together.  Books, football, school, fashion, movies, coffee, wine, beer, lifestyles, interests, religion etc.  The strength and longevity of the community depends upon the nature of the gravitational center.  If a community forms around the celebration of the Winter Olympics, then it will be experienced once every 4 years and will cease after the closing ceremonies.  If the community forms around biological family bonds, then barring relational scars, it goes from birth to death and we are in a vortex with each other for every event in between.

I do believe that community is a vortex of relational pull towards one another.  Our lives can be intertwined in a very complex relationship and the longer the community is in that vortex, the stronger the relational pull.  As a relational universe, the proximity increases, the gravity increases and the community gets closer and more intertwined as it moves together on a time continuum we call ‘life’.

14 years ago, my wife and I experimented by starting a spiritual community in our home with the stated assumption that the center of our gravitational pull would be Jesus and the Scriptures.  The person of Jesus, his teachings, his life and his Spirit would be what we would organize our lives around and then let those things pull us together. We live individual, family and American suburban lives but we would confront that reality by choosing ‘community’ as our faith model.  We didn’t want individual faith, we wanted a shared story.  Ordinary Community was the result.  This is what we call ‘church’.

Over the years, this gravitational pull has exponentially increased.  The intertwining of our lives is a great contrast to the world’s ideals around us of a consumer lifestyle based on ‘avoiding boredom’ and individual wants.  The pull into spiritual community has redefined family for us.  We have a much larger network of brothers, sisters, spiritual cousins, aunts, uncles etc.  Our kids only know ‘community’ as their gravitational center.  This all may sound cultish, but it is the language of our Patriarch, that Jesus guy.  (Cults are defined by hoarding resources, we give away 100% of our shared resources, again that Jesus guy told us to)  Our lives are a moving vortex with one another as we spiral around Jesus and His Scriptures towards a more realized experience of Christian spiritual maturity.  Our hope is that as we do that then we love our neighbors better, love our enemies better, serve our world better, experience wholeness/peace/joy better and in fact live in the truth of what our entire universe is all about.  That we are eternal souls: created by God, resurrected by Jesus and called into a Spirit-filled life story together.  That our lives have context with each other and the world all around us.  Community is a messy vortex of intertwined motion, we spiral through life together and we wouldn’t want it any other way.

I love my gravity community.  #OCC4Life

The Art of Misfitting

As the playwright George Bernard Shaw once put it: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants

From the time we are born, we are taught to conform and fit in.  There is a script in American culture that is already written and success is perceived as following the script.  Sit quietly in your big-box education setting where it is teacher and test oriented as opposed to centered on actual learning and experience.  Place your hope in achieving within a numerical grading system so that you can attend the college of your choice in which you hand over the raising of your offspring to a system of big university business that is designed to enslave you to debt for decades to come with no actual guarantee of gainful employment, let alone meaningful work.  Our young adults are riddled with quarter-life crises of ‘what if’s?’, ‘how did I get here?’ and ‘is this all there is?’.  We raise a generation of conformists as if our present reality is worth sustaining?

I call B.S.  Progress, reformation, change, development, evolution and the dream for a new tomorrow does not come from the center of the box.  Everything in the system is designed to sustain the system.  It is the free thinkers, the practitioners, the dreamers, the doers, the prophets, the revolutionaries, the starters, the pioneers . . . the troublemakers and misfits that push ahead into danger and then beckon others to follow.  It is the misfits that mark the trees for others to follow their road-maps for creating a new future.

You will not win an award for being a misfit or a free thinker who asks a lot of questions.  You will not get a t-shirt or a promotion.  You are more likely to be tarred, feathered and drug behind a wagon before anyone throws a parade in your honor.  Your reward has to be the wind in your hair, the taste of saltwater at the bow of the ship and the wonder of the unknown and the adventure.  Being a misfit is an art and you have to love your art for you, not for others to legitimize it for you.  If you are fortunate and blessed as I have been, you will find other misfits along your journey who will for at least a fleeting moment make you think that you are not crazy and it is in that moment that you experience genuine community.  Not the corporate buzz-word of contrived and pseudo community, I mean the actual thing.  It is a human sense of connection with others that is deeper than corporate buzz-words and t-shirt slogans, it is the cry of the heart for a kind of primal belonging that makes your soul satisfied.  The box can’t offer that.

So what is the art of misfitting?  It is staying in the game long enough to find your art, ask your questions and push out into the territories you long to explore.  If you are disappointing others who find your quest for something real to be unreasonable, well then, welcome to the island of misfit toys.  This is where true community begins.  Pull up a chair, cheers to your art of misfitting.

Why I fired myself as a Pastor

The vocation of pastor(s) has been replaced by the strategies of religious entrepreneurs with business plans.
Eugene H. Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir

youre-fired

About 15 years ago I made a conscious decision that if I wanted to be taken seriously by a skeptical and cynical culture for the faith that I feel so strongly about, I couldn’t do it from a vocational role that was a stumbling block to that conversation.  When I was in graduate school (aka Seminary), I took a course in Anthropology where we got back to the basics of human communication and how culture messages work.  For anyone to be heard, they must have an ‘acceptable role’ within that culture so that people understood their place first, then their message.  If missionaries were going to go to a foreign land, they couldn’t come with their western labels such as ‘pastor’, they needed to take on a role that culture would accept like doctor, teacher or engineer.

I applied this same teaching and understanding to the cynical postmodern world. If people’s biggest barrier to understanding the true Christ was the hypocrisy of church leadership and/or the mismanagement of money and spiritual power, then why not do what I could to remove it.  If I was who I claimed to be, I would be able to do it without an office, position or budget.  So 15 years ago I fired myself as a pastor and have sought vocational roles within my culture that make sense to anyone (i.e. teacher, administrator, manager).  To say that this journey has been a painful and confusing one would be an understatement.  I have had very few if any models to learn from, I’ve largely tried to figure it out on my own and have found solace in many friends/sojourners along the way trying to figure out the same path.

To go along with the anthropological reasoning, the more I read and was taught about the successful tactics of pastoring or growing churches in the American landscape, the more I felt less comfortable in my own skin.  It is difficult for me to marry the core teachings of Jesus with the tenets of the American consumer and corporate culture.  In fact, at their core, I find them at complete odds with one another.  I could not and still cannot figure a way to allow them to sit in the same room or barter at the same table.  They both want to be king and there is only one King.  One or the other will reckon your allegiance, I want to tread very carefully in that arena.  You can only serve one master.

Christian community is not about money, power, position or titles.  It’s not about a particular place or a particular time or event in the week.  Christian community is most basically about a life that is organized around the teachings of a Jesus who said to love God and love neighbor (it’s not more complicated than that).  It is possible that this can be done without a budget, campaign, crusade, conference, seminar, workshop or infomercial Jesus.  But it’s not possible without a complete abandoning to your own selfish ambitions and having them replaced with the King’s orders.  This is the truth whether you pastor vocationally or not.  I believe God has called me to this sometimes painful and confusing journey, but it’s not really for me to figure out.  My job is to follow.

I have a bachelors, masters and doctorate degree in a vocational field I don’t work in.  On the surface, that is pure foolishness.  And it would be with the exception that I sucked the marrow out of each of those learning experiences to help mold and shape me into the person and leader I am today.  Spirituality is not a job, it’s a lifestyle.  When spirituality is no longer your job, you are free to love and serve and live as you truly believe.  It is that freedom over the past 15 years that I would not exchange for anything, they are my King’s orders to follow.

Being Serious about Syria

syria

There is so much emotion, rhetoric and opinion regarding the emerging American military surge to action in Syria and the ongoing human tragedy of their Civil War.  I am not an expert in political foreign policy nor Syrian domestic struggles, though I do understand it’s history. From a political perspective, my leaning is libertarian and to the Constitution our historic leaders have argued for from the beginning.  Declarations of War are not to be taken lightly, they are to be approved only by the checks and balances of the legislative branch and not to be declared unilaterally from the executive.  Our government is designed to make these kinds of decisions within the counsel of the many, not with power in the one.  Executive police actions, in the so-called name of ‘democracy’, outside our borders, in my humble opinion is both unconstitutional and a faulty goal.

My bend is towards the American Christian response to this and other tragedies around the world which reveal a naive and simplistic view of human suffering and the narratives of the Ancient Scriptures.

Time magazine posted this article: “Some Evangelicals See Biblical Prophecy In Syrian Crises”.  I am not at all a fan of Christian fanaticism, nor the narrow interpretation of ancient texts for direct application to American foreign policy as the arm of God in so-called ‘last days’.  I do resonate strongly with what Brueggemann says here:

Walter Brueggemann, professor emeritus of Columbia Theological Seminary and an expert on the book of Isaiah, tells TIME the interpretation of Isaiah 17 as a reference to the current conflict is absurd. “You cannot read the Bible that way. It is an ancient poem about an ancient context,” he said. “If we are going to contemporize it with such an easy connection then we have to learn to read the text against the United States as well because the United States now plays the role of Babylon and all those ancient superpowers. We have to tread very gently about making such silly connections.”

A better interpretation of the passage, Bruggemann explains, would be that all nations are answerable to the God of justice, even  nations like Syria and Babylon. “No nation has high moral ground,” he says. “That is a bite against every exceptionalism, including American exceptionalism.”

I’m a libertarian so I don’t condone an executive unilateral call to the exercise of American military might.  I’m a pacifist so I’m against the use of violence in all cases as the means for peace and prosperity.  I’m not a fundamentalist nor a literalist in my approach to the Ancient Scriptures so I don’t see logical connection between today’s world events and so-called last-days prophecies.  When I read the Scriptures, I don’t see judgments against my ‘enemies’, I see accountability and a call for all of us to act powerfully in self-denial of our lustful urges, to seek peace with all and find the grace and mercy to suffer with others.
The suffering and tragedy happening within the Syrian people is more than I can cope with humanly. I can’t even begin to imagine what they are going through. I hold that evil exists and our world is utterly broken.  I also hold that this is not the end and that even now hope is planted within the blood-soaked soil of a land torn apart.  My response then is to call upon the God of the Scriptures for grace and mercy for my Syrian brothers and sisters.  To boldly ask that same God, “How long oh Lord?  How long must your people suffer?”
For the people and the peace of Syria today, I pray . . .

Adventure for the Rest of Us

longwayround

Been re-watching “Long way Round” with my wife and trying to get in touch with what I like about it so much.  It’s not the motor bikes, truth is I’ve only ever ridden 4 wheelers and motor-skooters, never really been on or around motorcycles.  It’s not Mongolia, Siberia or the Road of Bones in Russia; I’ve traveled all around the world and those areas don’t appeal to me much at all.  I think it’s the sense of freedom and discovery that comes with adventuring off on a path you don’t know how it will end.  I can admire these 2 elites who undoubtedly with Ewan McGregor’s and Charlie Boorman’s network and pocket-book could raise the money needed and take the time off from their day jobs for such a trip.  4 months to travel east via motor-bike from London to New York, a noble adventure.

So what about adventure for the rest of us?  Most of us cannot afford the time or money for such a trip, but yet something in us screams adventure.  Are we wired for our lives of comfort and routine, or are we wired for something more primal?  If I was born 200, 300 ,400 or 1000 years ago, I may have lived in adventure but longed for comforts.  Today I live in suburban comforts of A/C, comfy beds, TV, running water and functioning cars but long for adventure.  Perhaps it is contentment for what we already have that is the hardest reality to accept.  Most certainly some are wired for routine and predictability, others have a thirst for what is beyond the horizon.

There is a time and a place for the stability that comes with being temperate.  There is wisdom and noble duty in being a provider for one’s family, regardless of the nature of the job.  I’ve never really had a career in the American sense of the term, I’ve done what I had to do to fulfill purposes that were not my own and I’m glad I listened to that voice.  I went a road less traveled and it certainly has had it’s pitfalls and adventures, but within it I’ve learned a lot about the beauty of the ordinary and the gift of providing stability.  My wife has taught me a lot in these life values and I’ve grown away from more immature ways of being and leading.  I’m learning to embrace what it means to find most of the marrow of life in the Ordinary.

My natural bend is to adventure, to pioneer, to create, to travel on, to mark trails, to tackle obstacles, to discover new and wonder what is beyond.  So much of our suburban lives wrap us up in cocoons we long to shed.  There is adventure around me in the Ordinary I know I am missing so I am asking for clearer eyes to see.  I don’t want to miss it, life is too short to be another cog in the mythology of the American Dream.  The manic rat-race is not a way to freedom of the soul, its a yoke of burden.  Adventure beckons in many roads less traveled and it’s not just for the cultural elites.  Freedom is accessible for all, I’m on the search for those roads for the rest of us.  I suspect they are planted in the Ordinary paths of life.

Take Care Now

Aren’t you, like me, hoping that some person, thing, or event will come along to give you that final feeling of inner well-being you desire? Don’t you often hope: ‘May this book, idea, course, trip, job, country or relationship fulfill my deepest desire.’ But as long as you are waiting for that mysterious moment you will go on running helter-skelter, always anxious and restless, always lustful and angry, never fully satisfied. You know that this is the compulsiveness that keeps us going and busy, but at the same time makes us wonder whether we are getting anywhere in the long run. This is the way to spiritual exhaustion and burn-out. This is the way to spiritual death. -Henri Nouwen

stress

Wisdom and modern psychology says that taking care of yourself looks like this—

  1. Get an adequate amount of sleep
  2. Exercise regularly
  3. Maintain a healthy diet
  4. Nurture meaningful relationships
  5. Allow for leisure time

History says that to ignore the list above puts you on the course of a train wreck waiting to happen.  I’ve been there, I know, and I fear I’m heading there again.  I’m trying to heed my own advice but not doing so well with it.  There are a lot of things in my life i have no control over, however these 5 things for the most part I do, with the exception of #1.  Insomnia wakes me up around 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. and doesn’t allow me to go back to sleep.  Though I think if I did 2-5 well that #1 would fall into place as it has in the past.

In my early 30’s, I lost 2 of my best friends and their deaths act as a gift to me to tell me that life is short and fleeting so create meaning in the here and now.  Nothing is guaranteed, life doesn’t owe you anything.  We live in a culture that is obsessed with the future, obsessed with future goals, obsessed for more and not content in the beauty of now. In ancient cultures, their orientation was towards the past, they understood who they were and what gave the present meaning by remembering where they came from.  In western culture, we don’t live in the meaning of now because contentment is wrapped up in unattained goals in the future.  Always wanting more without taking the time and sitting in the beauty of now.  I say this a lot, but our present western culture is full of crap.

You can take care of yourself because ancient wisdom says we have value to care for now, we are quite worth it. Life and the meaning you are looking for is what is in front of you right now . . . today . . . this breath . . . these relationships . . . this ordinary moment.  So, take care now.

Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn #adiscipline

 

 

You were cold as the blood through your bones
And the light which led us from our chosen homes
Well I was lost

And now I sleep
Sleep the hours and that I can’t weep
When all I knew was steeped in blackened holes
I was lost

Keep the earth below my feet
For all my sweat, my blood runs weak
Let me learn from where I have been
Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn
Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn

And I was still
I was under your spell
When I was told by Jesus all was well
So all must be well

Just give me time
You know your desires and mine
So wrap my flesh in ivy and in twine
For I must be well

Keep the earth below my feet
For all my sweat, my blood runs weak
Let me learn from where I have been
Oh keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn
Oh keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn

Keep the earth below my feet
For all my sweat, my blood runs weak
Let me learn from where I have been
Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn
Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn

-Mumford and Sons

Because life is about learning and serving, not consuming.  Peace to your service in this world.