Category Archives: The Ordinary

Shepherds and the Ghetto

The 1st century Shepherd, no longer the esteemed wealth acquiring job producer of 1k years previous, now the lowest rung of the Palestinian caste ladder; the dirty labor class. They weren’t considered cute and adorable as our Christmas pageants parade them in burlap, they were detestable, high in stench, assumingly deeply sinful and dirty. Having no social status it is they who receive the esteemed invitation to a Manger. Why not the religious leaders? Why not the powerful elite? Why not the educated do-gooders?

From it’s infancy, the life and teachings of Jesus have had a prejudice towards the marginalized, the outsider, the looked down upon, the lost, the broken, the poor, the laborers, the dirty, the deeply sinful . . . the shepherd-types. If this is you, know that the Jesus of the Manger has an unyielding affection for you despite the prejudices of this world. If this isn’t you, the Manger tells you to humble yourself and remember you used to be. No one is immune to the unquenchable affection of the Creator when He enters into His Creation and starts making announcements.


The Manger is a ghetto, we are taught to go around them, not to them or in them. But nowhere, nobody and nothing is forgotten at the Manger. It all matters in a beautiful Creation. Find your ghetto, and love their today. It is the love of the Manger that announces hope and brings peace on earth. The invitation is open . . .

 

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

Life seems to be mostly Unintended

You could be my unintended
Choice to live my life extended
You should be the one, I’ll always love

I’ll be there as soon as I can
But I’m busy mending broken
Pieces of the life, I had before

So, how’s it workin’ for you?  Do you have the life you intended?  Do you have the job you intended?  Do you have the partner you intended?  Do you have the body you intended?  Do you live where you intended?  Have you traveled where you intended?  Have you accomplished by now what you intended?  Has it all gone exactly as you intended?  I’m going to guess  . . . not exactly.

About 16 years ago I was studying the geographic, political and religious conflicts  in Palestine and went on an intended pilgrimage.  A few friends and I snuck out of our room in Bethlehem at about 1:00 a.m. with the intention of a little exploring and adventure.  What we didn’t know is that as a Palestinian territory the power was cut at night and the further we walked, the darker it got and we quickly became lost.  We didn’t know the streets, we didn’t know our way back and fear immediately began to creep in.  Our intentions for adventure turned into silent terror, we wondered to ourselves how the night would turn out.  The street we pursued got more and more narrow and it led to an opening we decided to push through.  As we passed through we looked in the distance and saw flickerings of light in the countryside, they were the fires of modern day shepherds/bedouins beyond the traditional site of the birth of Jesus.  We had wandered in the dark upon the courtyard of the Church of the Nativity.  We sat down in hushed silence and didn’t talk to one another, rather we received the moment for what it was.  Our intentions were for adventure, what we encountered were the unintended consequences of a vision of THE adventure, the night God became man and decided to live amongst us.  Life is full of unintended consequences.

Is our personal narrative meant to be intended?  Isn’t that part of the poetic mess we call our life?  Our lives are a mosaic of unintended consequences: the good, the bad and the ugly.  The trick may not be at all to accomplish our original intentions but to roll with the punches of our unintentions.  Life is about embracing the beauty of the now, not in the lament of the broken pieces of fallen intentions.  Live in the now, live in your unintentions and breath deeply of the beauty that is your real life, unintended as it may be.

If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken.” (2 Corinthians 4)

Here’s the thing about Dreams . . .

“Oh, my life is changing everyday,
In every possible way.
And oh, my dreams, it’s never quite as it seems,
Never quite as it seems.”

Here’s the thing about Dreams . . . they may or may not come true.  The reaching, the striving and the yearning, I think that’s just part of the human story.  Beauty and suffering are often companions along the same path, it’s just a matter of making friends with both travel-mates.  In my 41 year old mind now, I understand that journey matters.  The process of trying matters, it’s where some of the beauty is.  Failing is not so much about the fact you didn’t end up where you intended, it’s about the fact that you had the guts to give it a go in the first place.  Every time you try, every time you get up after you’ve been knocked down, every time you have the courage to give it a go . . . well in a way you’ve already won.

A lot of people talk about dreaming, but life has a way of beating that out of you.  I struggle with a cynical mind and a realist’s perspective often, I don’t get cajoled in with the flowery talk.  I’m slow to get in the water, but when I’m in, I’m all the way in.  At 41, I have no clearer understanding of who I am and what I’m supposed to be doing than what I did when I was 21.  I just try a lot slower now ;-).

But I haven’t let setbacks, unmet goals, unrealized dreams, shattered hopes or disappointing outcomes despair my next attempt.  If there is breath in the lungs, there is yet another day to keep trying.  I suppose this is my dark way of saying to you (and really to me), please keep trying.  Don’t give up, don’t give in to despair.  Get up because getting up is it’s own reward.  You don’t know if a stone has been rolled away, you don’t know if the opportunity you’ve longed for is at your doorstep, you don’t know if all your hard work will finally pay off.  But you have to try, you have to get up.  Make a choice today/tonight, to try again.  Don’t give up, dreams are worth whatever shreds of hope you have left.  It is not just a human story, it’s your story.  Live it.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore, Dream, Discover.

–Mark Twain

 

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.