Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Good People From Fresno

This week we've been hosting a team of high schoolers from Fresno.  They are awesome.

Here a few things I witnessed today, in no particular order.

Someone serenading little Mary and her friend Frances with a song on Ninth Street, accompanied by a ukelele.

Katie, who has a physical disability ( and I use the term loosely in Katie's case), saying the following phrases to people at the barbecue, and completely disarming them with her frank sweetness:

"Will you tell me your story?"
"Can I give you a hug?"
"Jesus loves you!"

A dance-off between myself, Chris, some teens from Ninth Street, and most of the Fresno team, by the back of the van, all the while blaring Michael Jackson songs.

A girl named Angel, who is one, serving Marvin a hamburger and a heaping pile of natural kindness.

Young men who are not just committed to serving God and one another, but happy to do it.

Young women who eat whole burritos, quesadillas, and plates of tacos without leaving a speck of leftovers.  (I was very disappointed that my clean-up services were not required).

A team of people that truly loves one another.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Jesus's Heart

Jesus has asked me into his heart.

His heart is infinite, and in it is every friend, every enemy, and every stranger.

His heart is alive with the green grass of a thousand rolling hills, the brightness of a thousand flickering suns, and it is beating with the very fabric of the universe.

His heart is alive with immeasurable grace, flowing from his pierced side like water from the temple.

His heart is alive, and the source of every song worth singing, every story worth telling, and every laugh worth sharing.

Jesus has asked me into his heart, and it is inside this infinite, living heart that we live, and move, and have our being.

It's better that way. I think he'd be cramped in mine.  

Monday, March 29, 2010


I talked to Turtle today. Anthony, actually. We've known him for a few years now. He has the nickname because he kind of looks turtley. A bit stocky, hispanic, and he always wears a hat. Before I saw him with his hat off, I guessed him to be in his early thirties. One day I saw him without his hat, and I might have guessed mid-forties. He doesn't take his hat off often.

When you're talking to Anthony, you might think he's a bit slow, or a little off in someway, because of the way he talks. He talks a lot, ending a lot of his sentences with a “huh?” or a “right?” or even an “Am I right?” These aren't rhetorical, and he will wait for a “Yeah!” or an “uh-huh” from you before he moves on. If he starts talking to you, you should be prepared to sit tight and listen for quite a while. He moves through a lot of subjects pretty fast, and sometimes it's hard to keep up. But it's worth the ride, and it's often punctuated by a good laugh when he cracks himself up.

Turtle takes care of Crystal. Crystal is probably around 30, and she has a mental disability or perhaps a mental illness of some kind. She's tall for a girl, a little taller than Turtle, with wisps of brown hair that fall from the tangled upsweep of a bun. Turtle can be talking about something very seriously while Crystal randomly puts a bag on his head, or wipes something from his face, and gives herself a giggle. While Turtle stands and talks, not drinking his coffee, Crystal will stroll about, sipping and spilling the hot chocolate that Chris has made for her.

Turtle still talks a lot, but over the last few weeks his talks have gotten just a little more linear. About a month ago after an encounter with the police, he was ordered to begin a recovery program at the Stanislaus Recovery Center. He loves it. He's been faithfully attending his classes every day, and I've noticed a change in his conversation. It's still mostly him talking, but there is an aspect of clarity and self-revelation that wasn't there before. If you stick with him and really listen well, the seemingly tangential wanderings begin to weave themselves back around into something more coherent.

Today he looked a bit preoccupied, and ironically, I had to do a little prying to get him going. I asked him if he was alright. I asked him if there was anything I could be praying with him about. I asked him if there was anything we could do for him. He answered, “Just you're being here is enough,” and began to tell me what was on his mind. Come to think of it, thus far, that's really all I've ever done for Turtle. Marathon listening. Then again, I don't know who else in his life has the time to just let him talk, except maybe Crystal.

I didn't know how long I'd been listening to Anthony, but Chris told me it was at least an hour. Turtle told me all about his recovery program, about his concern for Crystal, about someone who stole from his family, about his adoptive grandmother, about the judge, about the counsellors, about his goal of getting his truck driving license, and a lot about Jesus.

“...and that's why you just need to do the next right thing, huh? Just do the next right thing, right?”

Sometimes an “uh-huh” or a “right” will do, and sometimes an “amen” is just perfect.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

He Really Likes Me.

God doesn't just love you, he likes you.

This is something my youth pastor told me twenty years ago, and I'm still just starting to get it. Tonight, I told a room full of young people the same thing. Each one of them is dealing with a mess of some kind, and the amount of self-esteem in the room could probably fill a tea cup. Each of them will be in some kind of mess or another for the rest of their lives. But it can be a good mess, and they can know they are loved in the midst of it. He knows them. He is with them. He loves them.

I want to know this, too, but I have so many defences against his love. I long for it, yet so often keep it at a safe distance. My prayer of late is that he would completely disarm me. Oddly enough, (though it should have come as no surprise) the most disarming thing can be a good laugh. God knows my deepest pain, and my best joke.

God likes me. What a life-changing concept.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Dave's Bread.

For World Storytelling Day, March 20.  Here’s a story about my friend Dave. It takes place about 20 years before I first met him and he became a huge influence on my life

Dave really needed some bread.

God had really done some incredible stuff in his life. It was just a year ago that he was an addict on the streets of Vancouver. God totally delivered him from all that, like, instantly. He met these people from this group called “Y-Wam”. They prayed for him. He was done with drugs. A friggin' miracle.

So now Dave was doing a school type thing with these Y-Wam guys. It was this course that was 6 months long, and you did all these classes where people talked about God and helped you learn about yourself and community and Jesus. After the class stage, you were supposed to go on a missions trip. Somehow, Dave had got all his money for the first part, but he still needed a lot of dough for the mission trip part.

Dave didn't have any money. But Jesus had helped him quit drugs, among other things, so he must have been able to get him some dough.

“God, you gotta lay some bread on me, Man,” Dave would pray.

And every single dime he found, he counted to God. If he saw a penny on the ground, he'd pick it up and take it to the secretary lady that handled the money.

“I got some more bread for my outreach,” Dave would say, and hand her some change. The money lady would roll her eyes (but not too hard).

This went on for a while. “God, I know you want me to have faith. You just gotta lay some bread on me.”

Dave's Dad didn't really get this Jesus stuff Dave was getting into, but he loved his kid. Dave's Dad was a good guy, but the kind of guy who resented June Carter for “softening up” Johnny Cash. Not really an intuitive type.

Then one day, with the outreach trip coming up fast, Dave got a package in the mail. It was from his Dad. He opened it up, and he was really confused by what he saw. There was a note with it.

Dear Dave,

I was in the grocery store, and I kept thinking of you. I kept going by this aisle and thinking I needed to get this for you. I tried to ignore it, but I kept coming back to this aisle and eventually I had to just buy this for you.

Hope it makes sense.


Dave looked at the note. He checked the other side for some other clue. He re-read it. He looked at what his Dad sent him. He looked at the note again.

“God, I don't get it. What's this mean, Man?” thought Dave.

Dave stared at the package, and the nice, big, white loaf of Wonder Bread.

And God said, “It's a joke!”

The End.

After that, Dave got his dough for the outreach trip.

There Are Days.

There are days that start with singing, somehow followed by confusion and concern.  Then there's different kinds of silences, awkward, peaceful, and the nothing-to-say.  There's embraces that mean, "It's not finished, but we'll get there."  There's a friend to listen.  There's feeling foolish.  There's a party.  There's philosophy.  There's old marines who played bridge with Omar Sharif.  There's wine.  There's extremely goofy dancing.

There are days that start with singing.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sunday Morning.

No light could be seen from inside the cave.  The cold air held the scent of rock and moss and the lingering odour of bitter herbs.  The silence was palpable, hovering in the tomb like a spirit.

A body lay on the stone shelf, its unnatural stillness betraying the illusion of deep sleep that can fall upon the dead.  For all the beautifying shrouds so carefully wrapped around the body, and the precious blossoms placed upon the swaddling cloths, this was a corpse.  His friends had done their best to dress the wounds, in some unreasoning and unspoken hope that even in death they might heal, but the reality remained.  It was gruesome.  He looked as though he had been mauled to death, and the truth was not far from it.  It took hours to dress his wounds, long enough for tears to give way to the quiet business at hand.  Finally, his mother had wiped the blood from his face.  She caressed his pallid brow, placed the last shroud upon his face, and kissed him through the veil.

There was evening and there was morning, and evening and morning.  The third day.

The cold air of night lingered inside the tomb, and the ground was cool to the touch.  All was still, but for the movement of a beetle, and so silent that its footsteps could be heard as it skittered across the wall.

Then, in that silence, a breath.  

Lightening, or something like it, lit the cave for barely a moment, and cast a deep, black shadow beneath the feet of the beetle.  

Another breath.

Air filled the lungs that had sat breathless since Friday as the death shrouds fell from the man’s body.  The man sat up on one elbow and took in another draught of crisp, morning air.  He smiled.  The scent of the cave delighted him, especially the scent of myrrh emanating from his burial shroud.  It reminded him of home.  He stood, and he seemed to be clothed in robes made of light itself.  He turned and looked at the burial shrouds.  He smiled again, noticing the faint imprint his form had left on them.  The shrouds were wrinkled from the absence of his body, and he remembered something his mother had told him about making his bed.  He folded them neatly and placed them on the stone shelf.  The blossoms he arranged in an impromptu bouquet.  The beetle came to inspect them.  He smiled, turned to the sealed mouth of the cave, and walked through it.  

His face welcomed the sun, and his eyes took in every colour of the garden with more vibrancy than he had known in years.  Each sound became more clean and clear, each birdsong more a melody.  The world was alive, and felt as resurrected as Christ himself.  And as he walked from the tomb, in the cool of the day, the stone rolled back from the tomb, seemingly of its own accord, and the morning sun stole into the cave like the dawn of the first day.

He looked, and saw that it was very good.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


The cool water ran over his ears in a rush. He leaned into the gushing stream and felt it flowing over his face, massaging the corners of his mouth, drawing back his hair, and washing through his beard. It filled his ears with the sound of many waters. It sounded familiar. He felt he could almost hear what the water was saying... almost. But the words didn't matter, the voice was speaking Love.

He spread his arms as he planted his feet more firmly among the stones and pebbles, and let the river flow around him. It washed across his chest and over his whole body. He felt a cloud of unknowing washing away with the tide of the river. The questions and uncertainties that had remained for so long were already a hundred feet downstream. This was right. As the river surged on all around him, the path stretched on before his mind's eye. He couldn't see every turn, but he could see the destination. He turned out his hands and embraced all that was around him.

He rose again from the water, his hands outstretched, he closed his eyes. He opened his eyes and looked into the sky, and wondered at what he saw. Space and time unlaced like a parting curtain, like a veil lifted. His heart broke into a race as he gazed at something beyond physical sight. He seemed to see what lay behind all matter and time, into Love itself.

A moment later, to his surprise and delight, there was a bird on his arm. A turtle dove had landed there. He lifted his arm and the bird shifted its feet until it rested on his forefinger, cooing softly. He couldn't help but laugh. He looked up again, and the curtains of the whole sky were drawn back, revealing a sky that defined the colour blue. The tender bird looked up at him, it's brown feathers caught in the breeze, and cocked its head to one side. He felt its eyes and looked back, smiling. Did it nod?

A voice came from the open veil, and it sounded like a whisper, and like the waters rushing past his ears.

You are my beloved Son. In you I am well pleased.

The curtain drew in once again. A breeze gently touched the tears on his cheeks. There was a sudden flurry of wings and a whistle, and the turtle dove was gone.

The words lingered in his ears as he stepped from the water onto the shore, and sat upon a rock.

You are my Son, whom I love. In you I am well pleased.

Monday, March 15, 2010

DTS, Destiny & Other Acronyms

I was finishing high school, and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Well, I had some ideas, but that was all. I knew I was good at a few things, such as acting and creativity, and that I “loved the Lord,” but really didn't know how to integrate these things into a life-calling. There were plenty of options, but few things that really felt right.

In the midst of all this, thank God, was my youth pastor. Jim Nolson was somebody that was a quiet, consistent, listening presence in my life throughout the last few years of high school. I am so thankful on so many levels for him being around. I suppose the biggest impact he ever had on me was when, in the midst of all these options for where to go after high school, he quietly suggested a Discipleship Training School with a group called Youth With A Mission.

Jim and his wife had completed a Discipleship Training School (DTS) just before coming to my church to take on the youth pastoring position. I had heard a bit about “Y-WAM” through him. He told me about the YWAM base in Cambridge, Ontario, where he and Sharon had been. It was a five month missionary training school, and this particular DTS had a focus on the arts. My interest was piqued.

Jim and Sharon took me on the two and a half hour drive to see this YWAM place. I walked around the buildings, learned about their performing arts focus, and took in a performance of 'Toymaker & Son'. It was very well done, better than most “Christian” things I had seen involving the arts. On the ride home, this YWAM place began to be a distinct possibility.

It wasn't too long before I was aiming to attend the September, 1993 school. God had different plans. For whatever reasons, things just didn't seem to be coming together to attend the September school, and my family and I decided that the January, '94 school would be a better option.

It was at the end of October that my family faced a tragedy when my brother Andre died in a car accident. Obviously, this sent us all into a time of uncertainty and grief. As the dates approached for the January school, my parents and I talked about what we wanted to do. We decided to go ahead and send in my application. If I was accepted to the school, I would go. We would leave it in God's hands.

A couple of weeks later, I got a call. I was accepted. I was going.

Days before the school was to begin, we got another call, which went something like this: “Uh... We have to move the school to Dunham, Quebec. It's in the middle of nowhere in the dead of winter. Do you still want to come?” To which I responded, “Um... Okay. Sure.”

I packed up my things, and soon I was settling inside a large, old building on the outskirts of a town whose population was rivalled by the number of staff at the base. The town's size doubled with the presence of the 33 DTS students.

Entertainment was hard to come by. It was an event when we were able to borrow a TV and a VCR to watch a movie. This was a perfect environment to dig into God and into community.

It became a very healing time for me. Having just lost my brother, I was able to experience a closeness and brotherhood with friends that I had never known before. To cross some metaphors, I soaked in and ate up the teaching. I wondered why I'd never heard sermons on the Father heart of God before, or heard anything about how big the Kingdom of God really was.

I turned 20 during my outreach phase in Honduras, while experiencing a completely new culture. I was seeing a much larger world than what I had ever known.

To say that my DTS was life-changing may not be an overstatement, but it was more than just a singularly enriching experience. It was life-altering in that it set about a course of events, and a continuum of relationships, that would shape my character and my destiny.

My DTS led to my coming on staff with YWAM a year later. This in turn led to working with YWAM in Kitchener, and forging a deeper friendship with people like Dave Skene and, of course, the Whitler family. These relationships eventually led me to Modesto, California, pioneering a work here with the Whitlers and later with the Sustars (who I also met during my DTS).

And now, I am in the same position that my youth pastor Jim was in 17 years ago. My life here in Modesto has included co-pastoring the youth group at New Hope church with Chris, and watching kids who were just 12 when I first arrived here become 19 year-old men and women on the starting line of the rest of their lives.

So far, two of those youth group members have done a DTS, and found it as life-altering as my own. As I write, a third, Alexa Blevins, is trying to raise funds for her own DTS. She is hoping to leave in mid-April for England. It's stirring to see someone who has been through all that Alexa has been through coming to the edge of what I'm know will be a great adventure.

So this is where you come in.

I really want Alexa to have this experience. She's an awesome young woman, and this DTS could set the course of her life in a direction that is quite thrilling. She's been diligently working and saving and trying to raise funds for this school, and I want to help her out. If you have just a few dollars and about a minute and a half to spare, please click on the 'Donate' button I'll be posting on the sidebar of my blog. This will take you to New Hope Church's Paypal page, where you can direct your donation to the 'Student Missionary' fund. You can receive a tax-deductible receipt for your gift.

On behalf of both myself and Alexa, thanks. You will be helping to shape someone's destiny.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Authority, Entertainment, & Wisdom

There are three kinds of authority. One is the kind that is earned, though it may or may not be officially recognized. A trade worker has earned authority on a given subject or task through years of training. A grandpa may have earned authority on love through years of living. His words should be revered and taken to heart. His imperfections may still abound, but they have been tempered by a wisdom that has come at some personal cost. He has the authority of a Grandpa.

The second kind of authority may or may not be earned, but it is given. Whether the one receiving this authority is 'worthy' of it is beside the point. A morally repugnant man can be given the authority to be a judge or a police officer. His personal morality has nothing to do with the mantle of authority that has been placed upon him or entrusted to him. A president, a king, a pastor or a priest is given authority at the mercy of God.

When someone of the first kind of authority speaks, he is worth listening to. His words may be imperfect, but he has earned the right to be heard. When someone of the second kind of authority speaks, we may be obligated to listen simply because of the mantle that has been placed upon them, whether they are worthy or not. I can obey the words of a pastor or a police officer, even if their lives do not reflect the truth they are presenting. A cop who is reselling drugs he has seized can still write me a speeding ticket. A pastor who's having an affair with his secretary can still exhort me to love my neighbour.

But the most excellent person of authority is one who has both been granted it and earned it. Like a wise old priest who has never stopped the learning, studying, and living out of the love of God. If a person of authority can exemplify in his or her life a certain integrity in the wearing of their mantle, they are a particularly powerful force. Personal sacrifice of some kind can be seen in their lives, and it gives their authoritative words more gravity.

In our culture, we often get our lines of authority mixed up. Nothing is more annoying than an out-of-touch celebrity giving heavy-handed political or moral advice. We often rally behind the words of a performer, without looking at what they have done, or what they have been given, in order to claim to speak with authority. We mistake entertainers for wise men, and fools for sages.

And then there's the actors. We tend to listen to them too much, too.

Confusing entertainment for news information is nothing new. It was happening before the days of William Randolph Hearst, and will continue past the days of Rush Limbaugh and CNN. Of course, it's always been tantalizing to throw political commentary into that mix. It tends to really get people fired up, and makes a lot of money for the people doing the tantalizing.

Which brings me to the third kind of authority. It's the authority given by the masses. It's the giving over of the mind or will to the authority of celebrity, the authority of the entertainer. It's why we have Paris Hiltons and Perez Hiltons and Glenn Becks and Bill O'Reillys. Few of these people have earned the first kind of authority. Even less have been given the second kind. Yet it seems the authority of the third kind can sometimes be the most powerful. Entertainers take on the guise of political commentators, and the effect of their words upon people and culture can be frightening.

Their words tend to be very polarizing, and are often wrapped in fear-based language. Facts and reason, nuance and thoughtfulness, are cast aside. Intelligent and informed debate have no place. And so we get, as we did today, entertainers such as ___________ saying ridiculous things such as _______________, speaking as authorities on matters in which they have not earned it and have not been given it, except by the authority of the multitude.

The multitude gives them the authority to speak, and the multitude is always wrong.

Meanwhile, the quiet voice of reason is missed by the chanting crowds. While wisdom may call aloud on the street, she cannot rant and scream. She dwells together with prudence, she possesses knowledge and discretion. Her authority is earned, and her mantle worn with grace.

She also reminds me not to become angry or anxious about the latest foolishness preached by the latest fool. This too shall pass, she says, because the multitudes are sand pebbles, and the fool builds his kingdom upon them.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

John Paul & Johnny

Johnny Cash and Pope John Paul II share a common cord in their spiritual gift to the world. It's a deep and powerful connection between the two of them (though to my knowledge they never met), and a message that was given through their very lives.

Johnny Cash lived a dangerous life, and he was saved by a powerful grace. His redemption came largely by the intercession of a powerful woman, June Carter. She stood by his side when no one else could stand to be around him, and told him the things no one else had the guts to tell him. His greatest success came when he found the means to let grace and forgiveness into his life.

He had a long and successful career throughout the 60's and 70's, and well into the 80's, but by the early 90's had become largely ignored by his record company and the public. When Rick Rubin, producer of such artists as Beastie Boys and Red Hot Chili Peppers, approached him about making a bare-bones recording of his favourite songs, Johnny was interested. The two set to recording dozens of songs in Rick Rubin's living room. The first of these recordings became a surprisingly successful album, and was followed up by several more.

Somehow, these simple and deeply honest songs connected in a meaningful way with a group of people for whom “Country music” was a joke. Young people began to love Johnny Cash. By doing something he had always wanted to do, making a collection of songs featuring only himself and his guitar, he had become a father figure to a fatherless generation. By casting aside what was 'cool,' he had become relevant.

During the recording sessions of his second American Recordings album in 1996, Johnny began to feel the effects of what would eventually be misdiagnosed as Shy Drager's syndrome, and later diagnosed as autonomic neuropathy. His illness left him feeling greatly fatigued, and he would have to take frequent breaks during his recording sessions. Often these sessions consisted of Johnny sitting alone in his studio in Tennessee, and recording something for Rick Rubin to listen to and build upon, or vice versa.

There were a total of six albums in the American Recordings series, two of which were released posthumously. There is a significant difference in the quality of his voice between the first and the last of these albums. Because of his illness, his voice faltered. But strangely enough, it also became stronger. In his weakness, the significance of the songs he sung took on a greater strength.

In his youth in Poland, Karol Wojtyla faced Nazi persecution, and fought in his own way to defend the people and culture of his homeland. Later, as a young priest and bishop, he fought again to defend the persecuted against the oppressive hand of communism.

When Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II in 1978, he was considered young for a pope. He was a mere 58 years old. He eventually became the world's most traveled pope, visiting 129 countries throughout his pontificate. He had always been an active and sporting individual, often leading canoeing expeditions and hiking retreats for students when he was still a young priest. (He had been on a kayaking expedition when he found out that he'd been appointed to the office of bishop.)

In 1981, John Paul's life was also saved by the intercession of a powerful woman, when an assassin's gun placed four bullets in his body. Perhaps the greatest miracle, however, was not in the pontiff's life being spared, but in what happened when the pope and the assassin met again just over a year later.

John Paul held the hand that had fired a gun at his heart. The two men developed a friendship that remained. Forgiveness and Love trumped justice and revenge.

In 1984, he held the first 'World Youth Day' for Catholic young people, an event which has been held in various countries every 2 to 3 years ever since. Something in his personality and life's work connected meaningfully with young people. He did not condescend to them, but made them feel like a vital part of the Body of Christ.

He also became a key figure in the downfall of Communism in Europe. He fought relentlessly to uphold the dignity of the forgotten and the oppressed. He upheld a consistent ethic of human life, from the smallest life in the womb, to the sick, to the aged, and even to his enemies.

Soon, he would become the embodiment of his own teachings.

In the early 1990's, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. He pressed on through physical pain and slurred speech, to deliver some of the most important messages of his pontificate. He became a living parable on the dignity of human life.

While John Paul struggled to speak, Johnny struggled to sing. Both of their voices rang loud and true.

Each one became a cultural enigma. There was nothing “cool” about John Paul II, but young people loved him. His life spoke something even more powerful than his words, and gave those words gravity. Eventually, it became “cool” to like Johnny Cash. Before that, and beyond that, there was and is an honest man and his message, informed by a life that sang of grace.

Johnny and John Paul inhabited the messages they brought to the world. When Johnny told a tale of regret and redemption, we believed it because he had lived it as a young man who had become acquainted with his own darkness, and as an old man who had fallen in love with the Light. When John Paul spoke of the dignity of life, we believed it because he had lived it as a young priest defending life against a Nazi regime, and as an aged pope living with a debilitating illness.

Both of these men stand as a testament to the dignity of life, and each one of them has had a profound affect upon my own. Life is rare and glorious. Life is worth sacrifice. Suffering is not the enemy of life. It is its companion, and when it comes to each of us, as it most certainly will, we must not rage against it. We can accept what has come to us, lift our voice, and sing our song in spite of it. Or perhaps, because of it. It is working to draw us closer to the One who made us. Somehow, in the singing of our song, and in the acceptance of our suffering, we can be a witness to a love that is beyond the stuff of earth.

The Master of Life’s been good to me. He has given me strength to face past illnesses, and victory in the face of defeat. He has given me life and joy where others saw oblivion.... Life and love go on. Let the music play.” ~Johnny Cash

"Do not abandon yourselves to despair.  We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song." ~John Paul II

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Locke & Shepard: Further Thoughts.

It's happening!  It's all within Jack, but it's happening.  The man of science is becoming a man of faith.  Faith and reason coalesce into something that's powerful.  Tonight's episode isn't over yet, but Jack's small act of faith tonight is showing it.

Ahh... Love it.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Family Man

I am single. I have chosen to remain single. I am not going to get married. I'm not going to have children of my own.

I am a family man.

I was reminded of this last week. Just before I and the other deacons and elders from my church went away on a retreat, my Dad called me. He told me he'd been thinking of me a lot, and had been struck by the words “family man.” He didn't know what this meant, and didn't “want to sound pentecostal or anything,” but just wondered if that meant anything to me. I told him I was heading off on this retreat, and that I would pray about it.

The retreat consisted mostly of the five of us hanging out, talking together, laughing and praying. We stayed up too late, and I got very little sleep. We sat by the fire and told our stories. The second night, Ken shared a lot about his journey over the last several months since his wife Mary died. As I listened, I was struck by just how much I really loved this man, and how much there is that I admire about him. Kindness and patience, generosity and gentleness, humility and peace. I realized that this is someone I really want to be like.

I also reflected upon the other people I was with, and the group of people that we are all connected with. I have been given a family. The life that I lead is not for me alone. It is for this strange and beautiful family that grace has given me. I don't know if I could love my own relatives any more than I love this group of people.

Each one of these family members is changing me. Discipleship is not a matter of following a program or even of merely “praying and reading the Bible.” It's a matter of sitting with the people I love, and realizing how much there is to admire in each of them. They inspire and draw out the best of who I am, and who God intended me to be.

God himself is a family, with each person of the trinity drawing out the goodness of the other, eternally giving to one another in a holy movement of love and grace. This is what God invites us into. He invites us into a Family.

My life is not my own. It belongs to my Family. I am a Family man.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Hope, Gratitude & Storytelling.

The other night we sat around the fireplace and told stories, stories of personal redemption and of growing into the freedom of Jesus. It was good to be reminded that I am in the middle of that story of redemption and freedom with other people in my life, and in my own. The story of faith that's 20 years old for some is just starting for others. Again I'm reminded simply to be patient and faithful, and to live in hope.

What we look back on in gratefulness, we once looked forward to in hope.

God will do his work, and he's not in a hurry. He's an artist and a storyteller, not an assembly line or a cheap hack. He's still telling my story, and he's still telling yours.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

A Person

"No, we shall not be saved by a formula, but by a Person, and the assurance which he gives us: I am with you!" - Pope John Paul II

Thank-you, Jesus.

That idea is so messy, and so very freeing. It's not up to me. It's not up to a program. It's not about trying to repeat the success of something that came before. I can let go, and let Jesus, the person, do what he does best: Be a friend.

I talk about being a friend in regards to what we as YWAM do here in Modesto, but I seldom think of the fact that this is also what Jesus himself does with me. He's doing for me what I'm attempting to exemplify for the other people in my life. He likes to be with me. He talks to me and listens. He's drawing me to himself, and I'll end up being more like him as I let his friendship change me.

He's with us, he's patient, and he'll finish what he started.


Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Unedited Thoughts on Locke & Shepherd.

Well it's taken me six seasons to do it, but here we are. I'm writing a piece about Lost. I have jumped on the philosophical bandwagon and I'm throwing in my two cents.

We've entered the final season of Lost, and we're beginning to see some answers to mysteries that have been plaguing us since the first episode. I recently started watching season one again on DVD, and I've been reminded of why this is truly great television.

In particular, I've enjoyed meeting Jack Shepherd and John Locke for the first time. Both men arrive on the island, like every other character, in a place of desperation and brokenness. Locke, who has been paralyzed for four years, is feeling worthless and abandoned after being turned away from a walkabout because of his condition. Jack was on the plane with his dead father's casket, fresh out of a debilitating divorce, is going through a similar isolation.  Locke, miraculously, finds that he can walk again. Jack begins to see visions of his father.

As the show progresses, these two characters show themselves to be of seemingly opposing views. “Man of Science, Man of Faith” is the title of one episode. Jack finds himself at odds with Locke's blind faith in “the Island,” and refuses to accept the concept of fate or destiny that Locke seems to find so easy to live with.

Throughout most of the series, I found myself really rooting for Locke. His faith had a surety and confidence that is very appealing. He embraced the Mystery.  But as the series progressed, I saw John making choices based upon his blind faith that seemed questionable at best, and morally irresponsible at worst. It seemed that his faith had led him to become dangerous and unpredictable.

Meanwhile, Jack continued to hold blindly to his empirical view of the world. Only what could be explained logically made sense. Mystery and faith were not just to be tolerated, but rebelled against. Eventually, however, his faith in reason alone brings him to a point of utter brokenness, and complete failure.

It would seem that both of these characters, in their adherence to their flawed belief systems, are incomplete. Interestingly, each of these characters are named for something or someone that seems to contradict their personality.

John Locke, of course, is named after the 17th century philosopher, the father of modern empiricism. Empiricism, in its most essential qualities, asserts the belief that knowledge can only be derived from what is perceived and experienced, emphasizing the importance of scientific knowledge. Hardly the qualities that the John Locke of the island seems to embrace. In fact, these qualities seem to be seen most dramatically in Locke's rival, Jack Shephard, the “man of science.”

Jack Shepherd, the spinal surgeon, seems to embody empiricism and reason. It's intriguing, then, that he is apparently named from a biblical reference. It has recently been revealed that Jack's corresponding number is 23, an obvious allusion to the famous biblical passage from the book of Psalms. It is the passage that begins, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” If this was not enough, it has been revealed that, in at least one reality (!), he has a son named David. David, the psalmist and shepherd.

It would seem that, for most of the other characters on the show, they are carefully named for philosophers or people that give us clues into who they are as a person. Why, then, are these two particular characters, given such ironic names?

Because everything that rises must converge.

In one of the first episodes of season one, we see these two characters in their first true conversation. They are not at odds. They are not enemies. They are at peace. This is how they have always been meant to exist. Pope John Paul II often asserted in his writings that faith and reason are not at odds with each other, but rather, when functioning properly, compliment one another.

Locke, in faith divorced from reason, becomes dangerous and even murderous. Jack, relying on reason alone, becomes pathetic and self-destructive. These two characters, like the philosophies they embody, desperately need one another, and neither one will find peace without the other.

I don't want to make any big predictions, and without spoiling too much for the uninitiated, I can't say too much more about some of the more recent dramatic changes in Locke's character, but I believe that we will need to see these two characters acknowledge their need for one another. Faith and reason must converge. The psalmist and the surgeon must coexist.