Tuesday, January 27, 2015

double down dog


is anyone else ever embarrassed to be a part of this culture, or is it just me?

i'm just imagining trying to explain this to Marley, our little girl we pray for and support in hondoras. i was in honduras.  i remember meeting Maria, who got up at 4 in the morning to start making little flour tortillas in her 2-room "house" so that she can sell them on the street for a cent or two a piece. what would Maria say if i showed her this advertisement?

what is wrong with us?

not that i'm beyond this, believe me.  i can binge with the best of them, and my excessive personality has put me in situations that i'm sure i would be quite ashamed of in my more "balanced" moments. but at a moment like this, when i see the whole world and think of all of God's children, i wonder about the injustice of my excessive comfort, and what i can do about it.  i'm not trying to be preachy here, or tell you not to enjoy your double extreme bacon-ater with 4 extra beef patties or whatever, but simply wondering about my own role in the great imbalance.  and for some reason, this advertisement this morning shook me from my sleepy complicity.

Monday, January 26, 2015

jackson's tenth birthday

wait...what?  ten?  seriously?  i feel like i just wrote these words.  turns out that was five years ago.  half his life ago.  how the flippin' flip did that happen?

however the wide and wild world of science and time want to explain it away, the truth is that it happened.  somehow, our oldest son has been beating out his own heartbeat in this crazy world for ten full years.  the last week and a half have been more or less dedicated to celebrating the insane reality of that with grandparents and cakes and presents and special meals and phone calls from singing aunts, uncles and cousins, just to name some of the festivities.  it's been fun.

and it's all been for jack.  our budding little artist, who loves sketching so much that he wanted his mother to make him a sketchbook birthday cake, which she artfully obliged, as you can see below.

i love birthdays for lots of reasons, but primary among them is that they give you the chance to pause the relentless racing pace of time and acknowledge what the breakneck speed of the rest of the year often doesn't give you the chance to: the deep, profound, gut-wrenching, ever-growing love you have for your beloveds.

and so i have.  i love this young man, all 10 years of him.  he is full of life and hope and innocence.  he loves sugar with an unmatched passion.  and his love affair with mustard has already been well documented (and celebrated).  he is such a sensitive and compassionate kid, feeling the hurt and pain of others deeply.  where he has begun to taste more of the brokenness of life which childhood shields us from, my heart has broken along with his.  where the simplest of things bring tears to his eyes, my heart weeps, too, because of my inability to protect him from hurt, from disappointment, from all the sharp edges lying everywhere in this broken world.  still, with ten years under his belt, i can do nothing but celebrate 3,600-some days that God has given him so far, because they've been full of wonder and discovery and adventure and dreams and dares and dancing (lots of dancing).  he has been given time to learn, to build, to draw, to collect dead bugs and eat copious amounts of yellow condiments.  in short, he has lived these first ten years really well, and i am so dang proud of him that i can't really contain it.  i have to find some little space on this world wide web and shout it out the best i know how:  love, love  LOVE!  i love this little man with every bit of my being.  and i can't wait for the next ten, just to see how this gift of life gets lived in deeper and brighter and wilder ways.  happy birthday, jackson.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

the awesome around us

in an article entitled "almighty God in the age of exaggeration," which was written by Megan Hill and appeared in the november 2014 edition of 'christianity today,' this quote is expressed and defended:
"if everything is awesome, then nothing is."

the defense offered is that only God is truly awesome (eliciting terrible awe) and therefore the word (as well as other adjectives, punctuation marks and emoticons) ought to be reserved for the God who alone is holy.

this, in my humble opinion, is bologna. old, slimy, slightly sour bologna.
"say to God, 'how awesome are your             works!'" - psalm 66:3

the truth is, the poet recognizes that it is not merely the self or substance of God which may elicit a holy sense of awe (or even righteous fear, as isaiah could attest to), but also the works of God; that is, the things that God has done and is doing.

like what?  what could the psalmist possibly be talking about?  well maybe another poem from the collection could shed some light on this.  you know it well, i'm willing to venture, and we call it psalm 19, which begins like this "the heavens (sky) declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of God's hands."  the skies proclaim what?  the works of God, the very same ones which psalm 66 said are, quite plainly, awesome.

you see, david, surrounded by sheep crap and the constant threat of predators, would sometimes be caught off guard by the way the entire western sky would turn the color of hot embers, shining brightly with a burn of glory reflected in the eye of every stinking sheep.  and david would catch his breath and, under it, mutter, "that. is. awesome....God did this.  wow.  holy crap."  and sometimes he would even write about it.  or sing about it.  or, when he was pretty sure that no one was looking, he might dance like a madman until the sheep got nervous, because life is just too stinking awesome to sit with your hands folded in quiet prayer all the time.  and sometimes, when there had been six or seven gray days in a row, with a chill in the air hanging over the mostly sepia-brown landscape, the memory of that orange-lit sky would come blazing back into his mind and his heart and it would be enough to kindle a bit of hope.

and that is awesome.

i'm sorry Megan Hill, but my language affords me far too few words with which to tell of the works of God.

like when i see the way a flag whips and snaps and curls and furls in the wind....

or when i hear the guitar aching and arching and yearning in pearl jam's yellow ledbetter...

or when i small bacon, popping and hissing...

or when i see my children smile in authentic and innocent joy, pure and untainted...

or when i hear patty griffin's voice raise to an urgent desperate plea, with a hint of heaven's glory in it...

or when i get out of bed and discover that i have feet to walk on, lungs to fill with air, and a heart, however many times it has needed mending, to feel with...

or when i consider the vastness of the universe, or the intricacy of a spider's web...

or when a baby is born...

or when the sun rises, again...

or when my wife touches me with a tender love that both knows and accepts me...

or when my faith is enough to believe that despite the messes i make, i am loved beyond my ability to really believe it, and that this love, in the end, just might be enough to save me from my broken self (lord i believe....help my unbelief!)...

or when i remember that no two snowflakes are the same...

or when nick drake's lonesome baritone stokes the dying embers in my soul into new life...

or when the aroma of brewing coffee fills my nostrils and somehow smacks the pleasure center of my brain with its earthy-black magic...

when all of this, and so, so much more....

then all i can say is:


you know why?  because God created a world with music and coffee and pleasure centers and sunsets and love and eyes (and other things) that reflect the glory of God's awesomeness.  these are the works of God's hands, and we are God's workmanship, created and crafted with care by a creative God.  and that, my friends, is beyond awesome.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

my happy mistake

it's the middle of january.  red and green have been packed away in boxes and replaced by january white or even the pink hearts of saint valentine.  just this weekend we finished the epic efforts required to put away the christmas decorations (i'm thinking of hiring a moving company to do this next year...there are that many boxes), but i had previously de-christmased my office back at the end of december, getting ready for the new year.  i have several nativity scenes which get placed around my office during december, so i wrapped up all the wise men in white tissue paper, and made sure the sheep were properly packed away, joining joseph, mary, and the tiny newborn Jesus and the rest of the ensemble in a cardboard and newspaper hibernation, until next year.

at least that was the plan.

but a couple of days ago, as i was doing office-ish things in my office, i noticed something that i had missed.  peering out at me from under the light of my lamp were the holy plastic parents, with their motionless mangered messiah lying quietly.  just outside the inner circle was the rest of the cast - the standing shepherd, shouldering a lamb, the trio of travelers from the east, and an assortment of animals.  i somehow forgot the whole thing.

christmas has now gone.  heck, epiphany is even in the rear view mirror at this point.  but this one visual vestige remains.  my first reaction upon seeing it was a blend of surprise that i somehow overlooked the whole colorful menagerie, along with exasperation that i was going to have to retrieve a box that's been labelled, taped, and packed away for the year.  but the annoyance quickly faded into a realization of truth: though it is packed away, christmas hasn't really gone anywhere.

at least it shouldn't have.  the illogic of incarnation - that God-of-all should choose helplessness, diaper rash, smelly fisherman, and (most of all) love - should still shock my system, lest i too quickly move onto other things.

maybe the nativity needs to stay out this year.  perhaps as i'm preparing my annual statistical reports for the denomination, i need to glance up and get a glimpse of Emmanuel - God with us.  maybe as i'm maneuvering my way through meetings, i need to be reminded of the magnificent light who has shone in the darkness.

and so i am pleased with my happy mistake.  i am keeping one eye on the creche, a perpetual view of my only hope, my guiding purpose, a love so amazing, so divine, so life-giving, so shocking, so uncontainable.  may my forgotten nativity continue to shake me with its ridiculous claims throughout the year, because, truth be told, everyday is incarnation day.  if only i will notice.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

suitable shelves

there are a few things i'm not that bad at doing.  i can beat box.  i can talk steelers football.  i can tell a pretty tall tale.  see, i've got skills.  and i didn't even mention that i can eat a whole box of cinnamon toast crunch in one sitting. 

i've got mad skills.  but carpentry isn't one of them.  

which is why i'm fairly happy that i was able to build these shelves for jackson's room without a)losing a digit or b)destroying a load-bearing wall.  i had to cut and sand and build and pre-treat and paint and hang them, which is a considerable amount of verbs with which i prefer to remain unfamiliar.  however, i did it, and while they aren't perfect or even very good, i daresay that they are approaching the 'suitable' range, which is a major win for this beatboxing, cinnamon toast crunch-eating, tall tale-telling steelers fan.  

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

my new toy

i love getting toys for Christmas.  here is a lego vw bus i got which i had a blast building, and will now display in my office.  the doors open, it has an awesome looking engine (in the back of course), an accelerator, brake pedal and gear shift, plus great living accommodations with a sink, chairs, bed, table, drawers, a mirror, and more.  it even has the center section in the roof that lifts up for ventilation, and a roof rack.

i love getting books and music, and even a shirt or two for Christmas, but nothing beats getting a toy.  makes you feel like a kid again, and makes it much easier to remember to have that childlike joy and wonder, not just at Christmas, but all the time.  Jesus said something about that being the best way to enter the kingdom of heaven. maybe because he knew that when we let down our pretenses and our defenses enough to play and dream and enjoy this incredible world, we will truly begin to experience it the way it was created to be experienced.  with holy laughter.  and imagination.

Monday, January 05, 2015

for life.

yeah, they lost.  it happens.  two teams play; one has to win and one has to lose.  that's just the way it goes.  i could choose to mope and complain and be a complete grouch about it, or i can choose to celebrate what i love about athletics, competition, football, and the pittsburgh steelers.  i choose the latter.

it was a great season, however up and down.  it was a crazy roller coaster ride, with more thrills than chills, and i, for one, am happy to have ridden it.

it was interesting to have an nfl game late on saturday night.  i am normally in bed by around 10pm on saturday nights, with plenty to think about as i prepare to lead worship the next morning.  but this weekend i tired to have every t crossed and i dotted before the 8:15pm kickoff.  as soon as the final whistle blew, and the season came to an end, i was already mentally preparing for worship in the morning, and by the time sunday morning came around, and i was about the work of proclaiming Good News into the dark places, the significance of a football game, even one involving a team i love so dearly, fell into proper perspective.  it's only a game.  a beautiful, broken, game, played by real people with real lives.  and so i congratulate the men who are pittsburgh steelers, and all the women and men who are a part of the organization.  to you all i say: great job this year.  i am proud to be a part of it, even if only as a fan.  hold your heads up high, and don't forget what is really important in life.  i will be rooting for you all through the off-season, the draft, ota's and into training camp.  and more importantly, i will be rooting for you as human beings, to live abundantly, and to love deeply...for life.  no matter what.   here we go, steelers, here we go!