Carpe Aeternum

Finding the Eternal in the Every Day

There’s Something in my Eye

“I started my day in the usual way, looking through a two by four.” That’s a line form a song by King’s X. It kept popping into mind as my pastor talked about Jesus’ teaching on judging others and how love is the antidote to that. It’s so easy not to see we are judging since it is so part of our “normal” life, our daily routine. In fact, it’s easy to let the two by four become who we are or part of who we are anyway.

Many, many years ago, a Christian comedy group called Isaac Airfreight did a fun bit with this where the kept bonking each others heads every time they turned or moved because of the boards sticking out of their faces. And the best part is that they each blamed the other person for knocking into their board. Again, as we let the judgments become part of who we are, it’s easy to blame others for “making” us judge them. We are so reticent to be wrong that we can’t see that it’s the judgment that is wrong. 

A friend of mine once told me, “My judgments of others are more about me than they are about them.” It’s like the people bonking into our boards. The issue is more about our board than them bumping into them.  We have to look at what’s happening with us when this happens.

Now, with that said, we have to remember that sometimes certain people trigger us more than others. My pastor frequently reminds us of the spiritual warfare against us, the enemy’s attempts to prevent us from growing closer to God. This enemy knows our weaknesses and our greatest hurts. He knows how to launch strategic attacks that trigger me and then offer me the opportunity to hurt you too.

This is why we need to call on Jesus to help us get the two by four out of our eye. Only as this happens can we separate the judgment from ourselves and find freedom. As this happens we can learn to love as Jesus wants us too. And we can gain the vision to discern when we are being hurt and how that can be healed rather than defensively lash back at those who hurt us because they bonk into our two by four. Again, this is another step toward loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. Just like Jesus wants.

Time to Misbehave

Let me start with this disclaimer: In the words of Captain Mal Reynolds, “I aim to misbehave.” So if that bothers you, read no further.

You can accuse me of overreacting but the resent ban on refuges is the worst possible thing that our president could have done. If we as a people, allow this to stand we are in grave danger. As I have made the case in a previous blog, the sacred writings of the Jewish and Christian peoples abound with warning form God to protect those in danger and aid those in need or he will get pissed. Toppling of kingdoms level pissed. For those of you who are God fearing people (Jewish, Christian or Muslim) this should terrify you.

If you are not God fearing people, you should mock those of us who claim to be if we do not react to this. Any inaction on the part of those proclaiming to believe in God is true validation to you that we are nothing but a pile of hypocrites. Or at best a bunch of mindless idiots who have sold our souls for the safety of group think.

I feel the hymn Rise Up O Men of God fits this moment.

Rise up o men of God

in one united throng

bring in the day of brotherhood

and end the night of wrong

We need to rise up. We cannot remain silent when something this egregious happens in our land. The consequences are too dire to stay silent.

Shame on me for not raising this call in the heat of Black Lives Matter, for not screaming louder about Standing Rock. Both of which fall in the same category of what makes God pissed.

But this latest move scares me. Truly scares me. I hope it scares you too.

So much of Jesus’s teachings revolve around caring for those in need. He even states he came to preach good news to the poor and to free captives. If this is not core to what we are doing as people proclaiming to follow him, trying to be like him, then we are taking the name of Christ in vain.

I believe that an approach to God and faith must come from an inclusive place. It must start that all are equally loved by God. If my understanding of Christian theology does not start with Christ dying for everyone, then it falls apart completely. If ALL are loves and ALL have been redeemed, the ALL must mean ALL. Including my Muslim friends and brothers. They cannot be excluded. They cannot be cast out.

Jesus’s directives to are for those in need have no qualifiers. It is not limited to North American Christians. It is to anyone in need. Especially refugees. Even Muslims.

If any of you want to call this nation a Christian nation yet refuse to allow Muslims in, you have ceased to have Christian nation.

In face of this move by our president, I call to you who call on the name of God, in the name of God to push back against this. Our God desires we side with the oppressed. The founders of this nation have provided us the means to prevent our government from trampling us. Use your voice. Use your pen. Use your computer. Let those in power know this cannot stand.

Mario Savio stated my sentiment well.:

  • There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it — that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!

When reading a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, it astounded me as it did him, how little people responded to the actions of Hitler once in power. So much passivity lead to so much anguish. We can’t let the same happen here. If we remain quiet, it will.

Don’t passively let our government perpetuate hatred. Rise up people of God. Proclaim freedom for the captives. Chose brotherhood over oppression. Join me, and misbehave.

Beginnings Suck

Beginnings suck. Once the excitement of trying something new or getting a fresh start wears off, the actual doing of something becomes tedious.

Endless jokes about new years resolutions filled every media for the first week of the year. Most blogs focused on tools to make those resolutions stick. Making changes is important. And doing that at the beginning of the year seems cliché. But planning goals works better when there is a clear starting point. Jan 1 provides a great starting point.

Some coworkers talked me into planning to run a half marathon this year. Huge goal. I agreed. My reasoning followed this path – if I pull this off it would be awesome; if I failed, it would be a truly motivating goal to push me make some significant fitness progress. Progress I desperately need.

It took about two days of researching plans to train for a half marathon for me to realize that I’m not ready for this. At least not ready to run the same days as my coworkers. I have never run 13 miles in my life. The furthers I have run is ten, and that was a long, long time ago. And I have added about 50% to my body weight since then. I need a few more months to get ready.

I currently can’t run the beginning distances of half marathon training program. I need a program to get me in shape enough to start that. So I looked into a 10k training plan. That starts too long too.

My new goal is to follow a 5k training program to get in shape enough to begin the 10k program. At the end of the 10k program, I plan to run a race of that length. After which I can start training for the half, because I will finally be ready for that.

The problem with this plan is that I actually need to lose some weight to be ready to do the 5k program. The first time I ran 1 mile, I felt horrible. My knees and ankles, both of which got pretty beat up playing football. They ache when I run. I know this is aggravated by the fact that I could lose about 70 pounds before I get close to what most doctors call a healthy weight for my height.

So I find myself in this conundrum: I weigh to much to run easily but I need to run to help me lose weight. Thus I must start much slower than I want to get the momentum I need to move forward.

Which brings me back to my main point. Beginnings suck. I like completing things. I occasionally enjoy the doing of things. I almost always hate starting things. Even things I enjoy like writing. Or reading.

There is an old saying that goes, “everyone loves having written, nobody loves writing.” This has to be more true for running. Writing is hard but it rarely hurts. Running is hard and it hurts. Today, I still am in pain from Friday’s run and I really don’t want to do today’s run.

I imagine one day, after I run the half marathon, that I will be glad I had run it. But I am quite sure, that I will not enjoy getting there. Based on the beginning, I am quite sure about being quite sure.

And as I lose weight, I will be glad I put forth the effort.

But for now, I hate myself for setting this goal, because beginnings suck.

Do It Poorly

My pastor made an odd statement. “Anything worth doing, is worth doing poorly.” It surprised me at first. I kept thinking about it until I decided what my response needed to be.

Many people are shocked by such a statement. Others scandalized. Immediately, I fell somewhere in between those. This is not our cultural norm. This is not what I had been taught growing up. “If something is worth doing, it is worth doing well.” Is what I heard. The idea being: “don’t half-ass what you do.”

I have tried to impart this concept to my kids. Do your best at whatever you do. You don’t have to be the best. It’s even okay if you are the worst if you tried to the best of your abilities.

But this path leads to perfectionism and immobilization.

It is easy to slip from doing my best to being the best. Or to constantly question if what you just did really, truly is your best. Once that loop starts you may never finish because you continue to try to improve something and never finish. The first time I tried to right a novel, I rewrote the first chapter twelve times before I realized I would never get to chapter two at this pace.

Knowing that you will never be happy with your results, leads to not even trying. Why start if you can’t finish? Makes sense in most decision making logic.

But the intent of my pastor’s statement falls more to the side of, anything helps.

There is an old tale of a man walking along a beach at low tide, picking up sea stars stranded on the sand and tossing them into the water. Another fellow sees him doing it and the enormity of the task at hand. Thousands of sea stars were stranded. There was no way the first man could save them all. The second man pointed this out, telling the first, “there are too many; you will never make a difference.” The first man picked up another and tossed it into the sea. “Made a difference to that one.”

Often the idea of trying to do something doesn’t seem possible, so it isn’t worth starting. I can’t make a difference in the big picture.

Often, the thought of not being able to do something well or perfectly, prevents us from ever starting.

Sometimes, we just have to suck at something to learn how to do it. We can’t figure out how to do it perfectly before we start or we will never start.

For most people, giving a speech is terrifying. They dread speaking. And the idea that they will probably flounder makes them more scared. The problem is, to get good at speaking, you have to speak. Often. That means, somewhere along the line, you have to give a first speech. And probably suck at it. If speaking is worth doing, you have to do it. You have to start poorly and work your way up.

If cancer research waited for a solution to begin searching for the solution it would never happen. The starting point is ignorance and guesses and certain failure. But starting is crucial to ever having a path to lead to success.

The same is true of any artistic endeavor, athletic challenge and even some business situations.

Sure, you can learn and prepare. You can develop your plan from other people’s successes and failures. But you have to step out and stumble along your own path.

Risk is a value at the core of this. If something matters to you, try it. If you want to see the world become a better place, try creating or perpetuating that change. Even if you fail at it at first.

If it is something worth doing, something that really matters to you, do it. Start poorly. Learn and grow as you continue. Don’t try to get it all figured out perfectly first. Do it now.

Every Breath a Prayer

I have been exploring meditation. Trying to learn to slow myself down and do little more than just breathe a few minutes each morning. Most days, of the days that I do it, I can do about five to ten minutes before it becomes a struggle.. Occasionally I can last a little longer. And some days, I just can’t/won’t even start.

Sometimes this feels like when I was a kid trying to learn to hold my breath longer and longer so I could swim farther underwater.

The days that I meditate tend to go better than the days I don’t. The obvious value is physiological. I slow down my life a little. I slow down my breathing, which slows down my heart. It helps relieve my stress. Less stress, even if for only part of my day is a good thing. Doing this in the morning helps me prevent my stress levels from getting a good running start before my day really gets going. If I start worrying about work problems, or a crowded schedule or something I forgot to get done yesterday right as I get out of bed, then I will feel overwhelmed before I can do anything about resolving any of those problems.

And physiologically I don’t need that. I have enough health issues without compounding them with stress. Without creating new health issues born of stress.

But is it something miraculous about meditation? Perhaps. I do believe in the spiritual realm and the power of spiritual disciplines to make our lives better. I think that part of the value derives from the spiritual act in itself.

Richard Rohr talks about the importance of breathing in the spiritual realm. He explains that the unpronounceable name of God (YHWH) is traditionally expressed as the sounds we make as we breathe. The first syllable equates to an inhale and the second to exhaling. Thus every breath we take is calling upon the name of God. Literally, every breath is a prayer. Our lives depend on God so much that we are repeating his name over and over and over each day.

That means every breath is a cry for God’s mercy and compassion to keep me alive. It is then very much a quiet thanks for that incredible gift.

Scripture gives stories of God breathing into Adam, or the reconstructed bodies in the valley of dry bones. His breathe brings life. The Holy Spirit is referred to in terms of breath, of God or Jesus breathing on people and they receive the inflow of his presence.

The very word inspiration, to breathe in, also means to take in spirit.

For a few minutes everyday, I try to be aware that this is happening, to slow down, calm down and just breathe. In those brief moments I do find peace. I do feel closer to a God that I am calling to every few seconds and who responds to me each time. A conversation that continues when I am not aware of it, even continues as I sleep.

Take a deep breath now and enjoy knowing that you and God are connected.

Gone Fishin’

The sacred writings of my people contain a story about a fisherman who spends all night trying to make a catch. He needs this. Fishing is his profession, his livelihood. This is how he feeds his family, how he makes the money he needs to care for them. The night has been a bust. Exhaustion and discouragement wash over him.

Then some guy ln the shore, a layman, not a professional, tells him to try again, but on the other side of the boat. The fisherman does. He drops his net in the water on the other side of his boat. This time the nets fills up so much he cannot bring his net in.

This is his first encounter with the incarnate God. What would have happened had he not dropped his net again?

For me the idea of trying again when things get difficult is, well difficult. I give up quite easily. I once was known for my perseverance. Not my hallmark any longer. But even at my best, I don’t think I would have fared well in this story.

There gets a point where it becomes obvious nothing is happening here; nothing is going to change. Repeating the process lacks appeal. The old saying surfaces: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Does perseverance equate to insanity? Is giving up really wisdom?

I struggle with this. Never give up shaped much of my life. Only losers surrender. Go down fighting. Don’t be a quitter.

Except, quitting my cola addiction would be a major success.

I have pushed on and fought for many a thing that wasn’t worth it. Some early girlfriends should have been left long before the final breakup. I should have moved on from some jobs before I finally did. But, instead, I stuck with it.

But when things get the level this fisherman dealt with, I would nave stopped. During my long wasteland of unemployment, it got to the point that I submitted resumes because it was the thing you do each day, like taking a shower or using the toilet. I held no hope that anything good would come from it. In fact, using the toilet had more value. This is the closest I can relate to doing what this dude did. There were so many days that I wouldn’t try again.

I know quite a few people who sell for a living. Everything is a bout the next call. So what if the last didn’t go well. Make the next call. They just keep putting the net back in the water, knowing it will payoff.

Is this faith? Is it trust in their product or service? In their ability to make a sale? In the knowledge that they will succeed only about ten percent of the time and trust that it will eventually average out?

Or is it insanity that works?

I’ve been told that you haven’t tried to publish if you haven’t been rejected 35 times. Why 35? why not 36? I don’t know. But for whatever reason that’s the magic number to define actually trying or not. Well, I tried. Over and over.

At what point is putting the net back in the water insanity? At what point is just trying one more sale knowing that I only need one to pay off?

Water drips onto and runs off a rock. The rock is immovable. The water flows off. By the definition of doing things over and over, this is insanity. But, erosion is a long, slow process. That water, given enough time, will change that rock, will wear it away.

Perhaps faith, hope and courage all fall in the crazy side of life. Perhaps quitting is the safest thing. Perhaps society wants us to just fall in line.

Putting my net back in the water feels pointless. Why try again? Why submit another manuscript? Why book another performance?

But what if pointlessness is the point? What if trying again, even if it won’t work, is the whole point. Maybe faith and hope and courage exist in those moments. Maybe they are slowly eroding my fear, my sloth, my depression, lack of life. Maybe a little life seeps back in with each try.

What if putting the net back in the water is the only way to embrace life. What if putting the net back in the water is the only way to engage an incarnate god.

Maybe it takes a little insanity to make life make sense, make it worth living. Maybe giving the finger to failure keeps it at bay.

Try to resuscitate that dream.

Bucket of Crap

I recently attended a friends 50th birthday party, the first of my friends to hit the half century mark. We played a game where each of us contributed a bucket list item by writing it on a card and dropping it in an actual bucket. I contributed my desire to drive the full length of Route 66. The cards were then drawn and we all responded whether we had done that or not. The person with the most achievements won. The winner had accomplished nine of the thirty activities. I had accomplished two.

Bucket lists seem silly to me. The idea that people make a list of things they wish they had done and then try to cram them into their remaining days feels like bad planning. It’s almost like a desperate attempt to prove that they had been here, prove that they had lived.

But realizing that I had only done two of these things made me rethink the concept. Granted, the contributions were other people’s bucket list items so a lot of them didn’t appeal to me; they were not accomplishments I cared about. Many, however, were things I want to experience. I even dreamed for years of doing some of them. My life suddenly felt unlived.

My mom taught me no to brag. Most of my upbringing and my training taught me that as well. I started rethinking that a couple years ago when someone told me to do something worth bragging about and then brag about it. The idea here isn’t to tell everyone how great you are but to do something you are proud of and then tell people that you did it. Things like graduating, or getting married fit this. As does painting a landscape or running a marathon or losing that weight you always wanted to. You did something worth doing, worth bragging about. Share the story.

Don’t mistake this for thinking you will be happy once you do any of these things. This isn’t about finding long term joy through a single a event. It’s about doing things you take pride in.

The idea behind bragging about things worth bragging about is to push yourself to have new stories to tell. Do one awesome thing, then move on to the next one. Don’t stop being awesome. Look for a new opportunities.

I have had bouts of this, stretches where I have accomplished things worth talking about. But I have more stretches where the only thing to truly credit myself with was getting out of bed. Or eating something without wearing most of it. Yes, the majority of my life has been toddler level achievement.

As I approach the half century mark myself, as I am on the short side of the life expectancy chart, I find more urgency to get things done. The deadline gets tighter. I have fewer somedays to do the things that I would like to do someday. If I want to do something I need to get busy doing it.

I need to live while there is life to live.

I don’t know if that equates to a bucket list. It does mean that I need to plan a trip to Arizona. For real. For most of my almost fifty years, I longed to see the Grand Canyon. I don’t want to get to sixty still hoping to do that. Or eighty.

The reality is that I am not guaranteed the rest of my life expectancy. I am not guaranteed tomorrow. I am not guaranteed someday.

Unfortunately, I can’t accomplish everything today either.

I need to find the way to get the most out of today because that is all I really have and then make some solid plans for the future. Set a day to go the Grand Canyon, a real day not someday. Then make the most of each today until that day is the today I get to see it. I hope I have that many todays to work with.

Maybe I find myself trying to prove I lived life, that I enjoyed my days while on this earth. Maybe I represent everything that I mock about bucket lists. Maybe I just need to plan better, just need to plan better.

The scariest part of not chasing dreams is that I don’t want that to be a habit that I pass along to my kids. I want my girls to boldly embrace life, to bravely take risks, to rise to challenges. I fear that my life does not provide an example of how to do that.

Does a bucket list fix that? Or exacerbate that?

I know this, I need to live while I can. I pray that it becomes contagious.

Wrath of a Merciful God

For years various Christians, some claiming to be prophets, have warned of God’s wrath falling on America because of our immorality. We have been very, very naughty and we need to be spanked. You know, in a righteous, not sexy way. No fetish indulgence here.

But is immorality truly the America’s worst sin? If God were to punish us, would that be the reason?

By my reading of scripture, it seems the two things that seem to piss of God more than anything else, and I mean, really piss him off to the degree to bring famine or economic collapse or invasion by enemy armies, that top two does not include immorality.

The things that made God lash out at his chosen people, seem to be idolatry – placing other gods ahead of him, and injustice – not caring for the poor, the needy, the outcast, the destitute. The stories in scripture where God lashes out stem from these.

Scripture teems with calls to care for those with less. Typically this comes as providing food to the hungry, but this has far more manifestations. Those with are expected to share with those without. If you have food and someone doesn’t, share. If you have power and someone else does not, protect them. If you have strength and they are weak, use that strength to help. Freely dispense your wisdom, knowledge and justice.

The real struggle of this roots itself in personal wealth. Conceptually we may agree with this but to actually take my money and give it to someone else is hard. It seems like it’s hard to give away my food. Yet I throw food away. As a nation, we throw out an obscene amount of wasted food. But I feel like I don’t have abundance to share, that my margin is too slim for real generosity.

Fatherhood taught me a lot about justice. It is not making sure that both have the same number of cookies, although that can be part of it. It is holding and comforting the one that has been hurt. It is redirecting the one who has hurt the other. It is teaching them to share and take turns. It is teaching them to help each other.

And, from the place of power and abundance, it is me lifting them to places they can’t get. It is me preparing meals, or providing food. From my excess, I meet their needs.

According to Christian and Jewish scriptures, the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves. This only second to loving God. Basically these two commandments sum up the triggers to God’s ire. When asked, Jesus defined neighbors, he told the parable of the Good Samaritan; his response stood religion and cultural convention on its head.

Jesus wants us to love those we chose to reject, those we despise and deride the most. He expects us to love and serve those we would reject if they tried to help us. As a society, we do not do this. In the wake of the election, it appears that much of our nation is running the opposite direction from this.

If there is any reason for God to kick America’s ass, it is the lack of justice. Racism runs rampant. Poverty continues to grow. LGBTQ people still suffer abuse, hate and violence. My friends of Mexican descent now fear being deported, even if they are citizens. We stand on the brink of repeating the sins of the Nazis by registering Muslims. Collectively we fear helping refugees from war torn countries more than we fear the repercussions of rejecting them.

America used to be the land of opportunity. For everyone. Just like the words on the statue of liberty proclaim, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” Now, America is only the land of opportunity for the privileged.

This is a land of abundance. A land of wealth. A land of power.

And a land of injustice.

We should be terrified that God might call us into account for that imbalance. Many want to call the United States a Christian nation but we are not. A land that so blatantly and arrogantly dismisses those in need and Christ’s teachings about that cannot call themselves his people. That would be taking his name in vain. For those of you who aren’t aware, that’s early on in the list of big bad things not to do. Jesus said we can experience forgiveness to the degree we are ready to dispense it. What if the same is true of mercy?

If it is, we are in a world of hurt.

On Body

I am using this space to share the text of a recent talk I gave at the Wheaton College football chapel. I tailored the idea to them but I think you can find the value in your context as well. Enjoy.

You have a unique opportunity, as Wheaton Thunder football players, to understand scripture in a way that others do not.

We each individually have that opportunity. Your life experiences differ from mine. I grew up without a father. My dad died when I was an infant.  I struggled to understand the verses that referred to God as a father. I had no idea what that was. I needed people with great dad’s to help me get it.

The story of your life, the good and the bad, the up and the down is the story God is telling you and telling the world through you. He has revealed himself to you in ways that he has not to me. That’s why we need to share our lives, our experiences, our revelations of scripture to help each other grow and understand God. Thus we become one body.

Which is the passage that you have a unique opportunity to understand: 1 Corinthians 12

As a Wheaton Thunder football player you have a great opportunity to learn what it means to be the body of Christ.

It’s still early in the season, so you probably aren’t too beat up yet. As the season wears on some of you will be injured. All of you will be nicked up by the time playoffs arrive. You all know what it’s like to be less than 100%.

I spent a lot of time in the training room. By the end of my senior year, if I had not been taped together, I might have fallen apart on the field. I dislocated a shoulder, tore the rotator cuff in the other and I had chronic turf toe.

One part suffers, the whole body suffers. Every athlete gets that.

As a football player you get this on another level. When Paul talks about all parts being needed, the diversity of the body being what makes it work so well. Hands need feet. Eyes need ears. Nose tackles need corners. Quarterbacks need guards. Starters need scout teams. And everyone needs the kickers.

Next man up is a way of life for football players. Someone gets injured, someone else has to step in. There is immediate drop off but as you work together, you grow stronger. The team, the body pulls together. Then that player brings his strengths to improve the whole.

I made the starting lineup because more talented players were injured.

I was usually the smallest guy on the field. That is okay if you’re the fastest. I wasn’t. I had to stand out some other way, find a competitive edge where I could. I became the most clever guy on the field. I disguised my alignment to get defensive players out of position all the time.

I even got an outside linebacker, to chase me thirty yards down field on a streak during a running play. I came up to the line, told him I was about embarrass him so bad the coach would humiliate him in films on Monday after I burned him deep for a touchdown. If he had paid attention to the films he would have known that I wasn’t the deep threat.

Scout teams. When Paul writes about one part saying it is not part of a body because it is not a different part, that applies to you. You are as much a part of this team as the starters. And to the starters, the part about saying you don’t need another part, that refers to the scout team as well. They get little glory and they work their tails off. If not for them, you would not be half of what you are. You succeed because they make you.

As a freshman, football was very disappointing for me. At my high school I was a football god. I was the whole offense. Here, I was just another running back. I was actually 7th on the depth chart. Getting beat up all week in practice and then not dressing for the game demoralized me. I wanted to quit.

Another running back on the scout team, talked me out of it. I stuck around. I am very grateful to this day that I did.

I was part of a body. I am part of  body.

Early on, the team didn’t matter much to me, certain players did, but the team as a whole did not. It took all four years of being here for that to click for me. Being connected to a body finally made sense.

That’s the next, deeper layer of this passage that you as a Wheaton Thunder football player have the unique opportunity to understand. Being part of a body, the body of Christ. Take advantage of that. The people in this room, the people in the locker room are an amazing gift from God to you. Bonds are forming between you that will last your lifetime and that will matter your whole life.

As the first one to arrive for the first team meeting my freshman year, I took a seat in the back. Next guy to enter walked straight up to me. “You must be a freshman too,” he said. “You look as scared as I feel. Can I sit by you?” I shrugged. Best noncommittal decision of my life. He’s still one of my best friends thirty years later.

On the first day of my television announcing class, the professor told us to partner up to prepare our material. I decided on a  pretty girl for my partner. Before I could approach her, our starting defensive tackle grabbed my arm. “We’re both football players,” he said. It never occurred to me that would ever be a criteria for teaming up. I still wasn’t close to most of my teammates, especially the ones that beat me up in practice on a regular basis. AND… Pretty girls! But to him, it was the only criteria.

One team, one body.

My freshman year, as we played Milikin, I watched them run all over us. I decided to do something about that. As the scout team running back, I decided to push my teammates to make the defense better at stopping the run. I refused let the first tackler take me down. At the bottom of the pile I heard lots of threats. I needed to stop making this harder than it had to be or I would end up with a broken leg.

I bore no love to those guys. I avoided them in the dining hall. I wanted nothing to do with them. They were jerks. Then one day I heard someone mocking one of those linebackers. I got up in his face, ready to fight him. How dare he mock my teammate? He may have been a jerk, but he was my jerk and nobody could mess with him when I was around.

Back then, Dr. Root was still known as Roothog and he served as our running back coach. He insisted that we grew closer to Jesus by serving each other. To that purpose he had the running backs clean the mud off our teammates shoes by scraping them with a tongue depressor.

Kneeling in front of someone and scraping mud off their shoes is humiliating. It is harder when the person you are serving is the person who just offered to break your leg a few days before.

One game we got so far ahead that I actually made it into the game. When I came to the sideline, I was grabbed by both armpits, lifted off the ground and dragged to the bench. Our starting running back and one of the starting receivers had plopped me down so they could clean my shoes.

I learned that day that sometimes being served is more humbling than serving.

After that game, in the locker room, I was cornered by one of the starting linebackers that threatened me everyday in practice. He apologize for being a jerk to me. The value I provided to him and the team finally made sense. He thanked me for pushing him, making him stronger.

One body, one team.

As a senior, I lined up at the end of the last day of practice so the team could say goodbye. A freshman whose locker was near mine, thanked me for something I had done at the beginning of the year. I hadn’t remembered it until he mentioned it, but it was one of the most important moments of his season. During orientation week, a group of us seniors decided to crash the ice cream social for the freshmen. Free ice cream, and maybe there were some really cute new girls. I suddenly became aware that Joe was sitting near us but outside the conversation. I asked him to join us. He did. Simple thing. Small thing to me. Huge to him.

It’s easy for us to picture ourselves incarnating Christ when we serve. And with good reason. Scripture teems with calls to help those in need, those with less. We express our role as God’s image when we dispense mercy, hope and love. We become the body of Christ doing the work of God.

But let’s turn this on it’s head. You also incarnate Christ when you are being served. Didn’t Jesus tell us that any time we care for those in need, we are doing it to him as much as we are to the person we served? If we are made in God’s image, are we any less so when we need help as opposed to when we can give help?

Every time you pick a teammate off the ground, you are reminding them of who Jesus is. Every time you are picked up from the ground, you remind your teammate of who Jesus is. Because of this, everything you do, is an act of becoming Christ, revealing Christ, incarnating Christ to each other. Ecclesiastes tells us that a cord of three strands is not easily broken. These moments of bringing Jesus into your everyday helps bond relationships more powerfully than you can imagine.

I told you about how deep my lifelong friendships are with my teammates. It will be the same for you. These guys in this room are the guys you are going to ask to stand up in your wedding. You’re going to call out to them when things are awesome: you got the job, you finished your degree, you got the book contract, you’re having a baby, you got promoted.

They’re also the ones you reach out to when things go bad. You lost your job, you got rejected by the publisher, you didn’t get into the grad program, you had a miscarriage, you’re marriage is on the rocks, your mother died, the diagnosis is scary, your kid attempted suicide. These are likely to be the guys to carry your coffin or you to carry theirs.

The bond you build now, the trust you build now is something you will rely on your whole life.

That’s great for the future. But what does that mean for you tomorrow when you face Kalamazoo?

One of coach’s old sayings was that character is what you do when no one is watching. My corollary to that is that your character is exposed when things go wrong.

I’ve seen your character exposed.

I watched your last game last year, the playoff loss to Whitewater. I saw something there that should strike terror in any opponent who watches the film of that game. I saw a team that never gave up. I saw a team that continued to fight more fiercely as hope faded. I saw a team pull together in extremely trying conditions. I saw a team that bonded in the fire of defeat. You sweated together, you bled together. You fought together. You lost together. You wept together. Key concept here? Together.

When I studied in England, I got to watch the Oxford Bulldogs, an American football club, play a game. Coverage fell apart on one play and they were at each others throats. They never recovered from that. They completely dissolved. There was no together.

But you have mastered together already. And that means Kalamazoo is in a world of hurt. Tomorrow on that field, that guy in front of you, beside you, behind you is your brother. That guy that comes onto the field as you go off is your brother. You are all the body of Christ.

One body. One Team.

My call to you tomorrow, next week, in November: pull together, build each other up, serve each other, defend each other. Incarnate Christ. Remind each other what Jesus looks like. Be the powerful body you are.

Be a team.

Beginner’s Luck

I’ve heard the term beginner’s luck used my entire life, but I’m not sure I’ve experienced it. That instant where someone trying something for the first time enjoys early success. Those who are experienced and expect different results write it off as beginner’s luck. They expect that things will not go well for someone who doesn’t know what they are doing.

What if there is more to beginner’s luck than luck? What if it is more than just a way to write off someone else doing well?

The rock band the Eels have a fun song called “Beginners Luck.” They talk about how life keeps working his way because of luck.

What if beginners luck is more about not knowing the limits? What if it’s more about not knowing what doesn’t work? Or not knowing what you can’t do?

What if it is about the freedom to make mistakes and not worry about it? What could you do if you didn’t have to worry about being wrong or making mistakes? What could you do if no one told you how far you could go?

The Eels’ song is more about embracing love and facing the challenges that life provides. All those things you believe when you are young and free and in love.

But life tends to wear us down. things get in the way. Bills arrive. Jobs require commitments. Bad things happen that derail our dreams. And we fight to maintain status quo. Or perhaps to define a better status quo. We start understanding how things work and what we need to do. We made mistakes and we know how not to make them again. We get better at avoiding other mistakes.

And that experience is a good thing. But we lose the willingness to take risks. We fear messing up.

Nothing sucks the joy out of life like fear.

What if the rock songs that appeal to our youthful exuberance, that call out to our passionate naivety about life are as true as we get older as they were when we were young?  What if love matters more than paying bills? What if passion, connection, intimacy and confidence are the true currency of the world and we’ve been suckered into embracing the American Dream?

I spent a significant time unemployed. I enjoyed it. The hours were awesome. The pay sucked and the benefits were terrible. But I had tons of time to connect with my wife and kids. I was closer to my friends. I sunk significant energy in things I really cared about.

I was living the rock and roll dream. Sure somethings were hard. But now that I am making more money and have great insurance, I miss taking walks with my wife every morning. I long to be able to attend all the school events. Lazy Sunday afternoons where we just hung out and talked seem so far away.

Now, I work too much and sleep too little.

Now I wonder if the Eels song isn’t just fun and nostalgic. What if I sold the truth to buy a lie?

What would have happened if I fought more to keep love first, to value family over all else?

C.S. Lewis once said ,”if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road.” But it seems so far away. It feels like too much work.  Momentum sucks when it moves in the direction you don’t want to go. Swimming against the stream, though exciting when young, just makes me tired now. Even contemplating it makes me tired.

As much as I desire a do over, I hate redoing things. Rewriting grates on me, especially major rework. Yet it is crucial to get what I want.

Can I rewrite life?

What story do I want my life to tell? To be a modern day Sisyphus? Roll my stone to the top of the hill today and then tomorrow and then the day after? IS that the story I want my kids to learn to tell their kids?

Somewhere in life, there is rest. And peace. And joy. And hope. And love.

I used to know where to find it. Back when I was young, beginning, it all made sense. It was all so obvious. I need some beginner’s luck now so I can rediscover the true treasures of life.

Childish Dreams, Childlike Faith

Today, my pastor talked about how much he loves boats. If like in the movie “The Kid” his eight year old self showed up, how disappointed he would be that didn’t own a boat.

There are many things I wanted when I was younger that have fallen by the wayside. Dreams that have stagnated. I’m not the only one. I know this dilemma pervades our society, especially among people my age. Hence the epidemic of mid life crises. Life disappointed us. Or we disappointed ourselves.

I have days where the line from the Weezer song, “Troublemaker” rings true. Most days I dread that it could happen, struggle to find ways to keep it form happening. Then others, it’s slap in the face that it is my reality. “Giving up and growing old and hoping there’s a God.”

Except, I hope that God is merciful and forgiving enough for my not being me.

Part of this stems from a statement a college friend once made. We reminisced about the church we attended after college and all the cool experiences we had there. God worked in some amazing ways there. And a lot of us younger folks were given permission and opportunity to do things for the church and for God. we reveled in it.

It was common for us to be told that God had huge dreams for us. That he intended for us to do great things. And I ate it up.

No one ever warned me that the greatest things I might end up doing might just be the most mundane: caring for a sick child, comforting a mourning friend, holding my wife. Had they, I would likely have ignored them. Great things means great things.World changing things.

With twenty years of experiencing life, my friend questioned the fact that everything we were told God wanted of us was huge. Never the simple. Just the spectacular.

Part of me wonders if he is right. Part of me knows he is, that the small things are often the greatest. That our, maybe just my perspective is warped the American worldview that tells every kid they can be the president and when we get older drives us to more important jobs in order to truly achieve something important rather than doing something simpler.

Is it better to be the CEO or the janitor? Not really, but they are viewed drastically differently. Pretend to be both at your next class reunion and watch how people respond.

So, as I look back at all the amazing, earth shattering things I did not do, it’s easy to be disappointed. Artistically, socially, career advancement-wise, all are pretty flat. nothing spectacular.

Were all those encouragements from when I was younger, all those statements about God’s plans for me, were they wrong? Or did I misinterpret what they meant? Or does God have bigger dreams for me and my life but I have grown too lazy to reach them? Or perhaps just became exhausted because the race was far, far longer than I expected and I burned out all my exuberance in my twenties?

In the movie, “The Gallant Hours” where James Cagney, playing Admiral Halsey confronts one of his pilots. The man wants to be relieved of command of a squadron because he failed his last mission, had too many pilots die. Halsey talks him out of it. He convinces the pilot that he doesn’t have to be great.

“There are no great men, only great challenges that ordinary men are forced by circumstances to meet.”

Will I continue to rise to the circumstances I face? Or will I hide from them? Can I be ordinary and display greatness? Can I be more than me by truly being me in the life I am in? Can I tell this story without begrudging the story I am not telling? Not only do I need to learn to not measure my life against others but to not measure my life against those I imagined.

I think the key to peace is hidden in there somewhere. Maybe some day, I will be wise enough to see it.

That said, what has been taken from me? What have I let fall by the wayside because I did not care to nurture it? What have I given up because it proved difficult? Can I recapture any of that? Or is it gone? Does God still have big dreams for me? Bigger than I have for myself?

Twice, when everything failed to go right, Jesus told Peter to put his net back in the water. Both times he caught so much that his boat almost sunk. Peter, exhausted, had little interest nor hope in dropping his net. Yet he did.

And miracle.

Do I have the courage to try something that is certain to fail? Do I have the faith to try when experience tells me not to? Dare I hope enough  to find courage and faith?

Post Navigation