the answer always reveals itself.

I give you these words with severe trepidation.  Herein is ego suicide.

My collar is a shade of blue these days.  It used to be white you know but I’ve discovered the blue mercifully hides tear stains better.

I used to work for a church, in an office of my own with hours of my making and self-defined goals to be met.  My labor was almost all mental or some mix of spiritual at least.  I spoke publicly and led teams of volunteers to visions of grandeur.  I would get up from my cushioned chair to adjust the thermostat.  I wrote emails and judged by subjective parameters of creativity.  Coworkers were friends and friends felt plentiful.

I felt known by others.

I have a new office now and it’s behind the wheel of a truck.  Vinyl lined seats seep the odorous sweat of foregone drivers and by the end of the heated day I contribute.  The alignment is a bit off but the first turn of the engine in the early morning still seems to wake my senses more than the coffee.  The air blows cold but rules require the engine’s death when not moving so I relish the last waft as I pull up to the first house.

An exchange begins.  I have arrived on time to rid this residence of it’s pests.

I’ve thought of every way possible to make exterminating sexy but I just can’t map it out.  It’s a goal founded in my insecurities anyways.

I crawl into the spaces under people’s homes but in reality I’m just crawling back into my self again, my soul.  I wave a flashlight around concerned about another pair of eyes staring back at me but I think rather I’m looking for some universal truth hidden in the crevices of this house’s old foundation.  The same voice whispers from the shadows beyond, ‘How did you end up here’?  I swallow hard and descend.

Axiom and aphorism are my companions in the deep and the silence. Emerging from each house a small piece of the answer always reveals itself.  I’m getting paid to find bugs, fungus, termites, water but in the meantime I’m finding pieces of myself.  I’m certainly not the man I was before going in.  Perhaps I’m not really inspecting these houses.  I think they are inspecting me instead.

Doctors and lawyers hang well deserved degrees in their home offices as I spray beneath.  I look at the framed papers and they sullenly look back at me.  Should I hang my masters degree from my rearview mirror?  I laugh as I ponder the image but of course this would be impractical so instead I’ll hang if from my heart, my hope and my shadowy dreams.

I don’t feel as known by others now.  I’m here for a service and therefore temporary relationships become rapidly commodified.  I want to be known as more than the ‘bug guy’ but it’s why I’m here so let’s just do this and do it well.

I laud my fellow sojourners.  I praise those among us with the bluest collars.  Here’s a toast to the exterminators, the janitors, the bus drivers, the factory workers, the grocery baggers and those who craft delicately with fingers ablaze.  I salute the caste entirely.  It’s the communal therapy we offer each other in the predawn hours that sharpens the afternoon haze.

Not all who wander are lost but those who are lost certainly do their fair share of wandering. Everyday my ego dies a new death and everyday I am resurrected a new, better man.  Maybe I look better with a blue-collar anyways.  I’ve heard it matches my eyes.

hope after.

So I finalized a divorce last year.  It didn’t make the cover of any magazine and when the summary judgement arrived in the mail it was to no fanfare.  In fact, I thought I would have to make an appearance in court but the county I live in doesn’t require it if all the facts are agreed upon between plaintiff and defendant.  I couldn’t afford a lawyer so I did everything I could by myself which, by the way, is quite the learning curve.  I should at least be a paralegal by now.

It’s been almost a year and a half since she gave me the news.  In the beginning, my heart was ground zero.  I would gather myself at the barricades to watch from out-of-body the wrecked remains of what once was.  Daily and nightly I laid flowers at the feet of memories.  I tried to piece them together to form some of type of narrative that might preserve happily-ever-after or a temporary sanity but to no avail.  As hours turned to days which turned to weeks and months, it was time and not a story that assuaged my broken heart.

For me, the devastation of separation and divorce wasn’t in loss of property or even mutual relationships, although I mourn such things.  It wasn’t even in the cultural stigma associated with being a pastor on staff at a church and having a failed marriage, although I fully explored the contours of such stigma.  For me, the devastation of separation and divorce were incarnated in a funeral that couldn’t quite happen.  There was no one or nothing to say with definitive finality, “good-bye”.  Normalcy was like a teasing desert mirage and my thirst for catharsis, or at least answers, went unquenched.

A lot of blogs, books and people mean well.  They say marriage is hard and you have to work at it and by God it is and by God you do.

But divorce…

Was I the drunk driver or was I in oncoming traffic?  How did this mess occur…I’m trying to piece it together now but it’s fuzzy.  Was I the victim or the perpetrator or was I…both?  I’ve spent the last year and a half investigating myself, trying to separate fact from fiction.

Being left, separated from someone I’ve known for so long forced a despairing or rather, a flattening.  My ideas of God, commitment, happiness, community, eternity, objectivity were no longer safe.  In the subsequent months of separation I chose to pursue and know only that which I could touch, taste and feel.  Despite making choices that my religious traditions had taught against, I still prayed that grace would find me somewhere in the margins and the sleepless nights.

Time has mercifully passed and what I’ve emerged into these days is far less a forced optimism based on [fill-in-the-blank] circumstances or cognitive-behavioral therapy.  Rather and in contrast to optimism, I find myself in a decently sized hope.  A hope that my value as a person is so intrinsic, so expected by the universe that negotiating my worth doesn’t depend on a full social schedule or esteemed vocation.

There is hope after because I look up and Orion’s belt still hangs in the midnight sky.  There is hope after as I look around and name those encamped but imperfect guardian angels like Tracey, Rachel, Blake and Jonathan.  I look down and there is my adoring black lab, Lacey who looks back up after 7 long, crazy years…a sneaky gray creeping down both our beards now.

I recently heard someone say “write to let people know they’re not alone”, so here is to that glorious merit.  The answers to God, commitment, happiness, community, eternity, objectivity remain elusive but not impenetrable.  Such things reveal themselves in the consistent, undeserved graces of others and the long drives to nowhere.  You are not alone.  If you are on the precipice of divorce, in the midst of separation or just even haunted by some deep anxiety, you are not alone.

There are so many subsequent facets of the human condition that I have discovered via my own anxieties but are nowhere near new to life or those around and before me.  So here then I offer the words of Christian Wiman from ‘My Bright Abyss‘, musing his poetic theology from a cancer-stricken body to offer me solace and conclusion:

“What you must realize , what you must come to praise, is the fact that there is no right way that is going to become apparent to you once and for all.  The most blinding illumination that strikes and perhaps radically changes your life will be so attenuated and obscured by doubts and dailiness that you may one day come to suspect the truth of that moment at all.  The calling that seemed so clear will be lost in echoes of questionings and indecision; the church that seems to save you will fester with egos, complacencies, banalities; the deepest love of your life will work itself out like a thorn in your heart until all you can think of is plucking it out.  Wisdom is accepting the truth of this.  Courage is persisting with life in spite of it.  And faith is finding yourself, in the deepest part of your soul, in the very heart of who you are, moved to praise it.”

In this I remind myself once again, that there is hope before, hope during and hope after.

thoughts from an island.

I am at Seabrook Island and St. Christopher’s for a brief respite.  The sun continued its perpetual resurrection this morning.  It rose from it’s grave to kiss every storied grain of sand with warm lips.  The salty moisture captured in these earthly kernels is temporarily offered up as a sacrifice to the sun’s embrace until, of course, the sun grants reprieve this holy evening.  Perhaps a storm will haste this process.

Seagull, Ocean, Seabrook Island

Here, the feathered clouds are white backdrops for the simple shapes of bird wings.  Butterflies roam and nestle in flowered perches.  Deer graze lazily at the forests edge by daylight or moonlight.

The constant wind caresses everything.  It reforms the dunes in ancient ways.  It caps the ocean’s waves and causes the reeds to become like a conductor’s baton.

In this symphony the seagulls are French horns, the steady waves drone in the low end of an orchestral organ and children playing in the distance ring bells with their laughter.

Dolphin, Ocean, Seabrook Island

It’s not silent on this island.  It’s never silent.  The sun, the wind, nature’s orchestra pull my thoughts out and threaten a cacophony that has become dangerously normal to my life.  I am like these waves: coming, going, crashing…coming, going, crashing…I am never silent.

The voice of God is upon these waters; the God of glory thunders.

I’m writing from the screened porch of this cottage.  It feels safe in here somehow as if the elements are exposed to me but not in reciprocation.  There is still much more exploring of this island to do but I start with the interior.  I drift in and out of my head rhythmically with these waves, this wind, these leaves and those birds.  The pages of my mind turn backward and forward.  The non-silence thankfully brings meaning.

Storm, Ocean, Seabrook Island

There is something very unambiguous here.  Equivocation is my normal coping mechanism but such defenses seem unnecessary, even useless.  This cottage and this island demand nothing of me except to just exist.  Both simply beckon and house a sense of being.  I’m not a human ‘doing’ here; I am a human ‘being’ here.  I will soon return to a world of expectation but for a brief moment I can sense the beauty within.

I’ve always struggled with self-identification.  Richard Rohr says the dilemma to my personality type is that I’m trapped in myself; I live as if I wasn’t in my own body and in my own soul, but were standing alongside and watching myself perform.  He says that one of my tasks is to listen more frequently and carefully to the voice of my own feelings instead of doing what promises recognition from the outside.  I’m grateful for Rohr’s insights into what feels like a consistent theme.

Revelation sits on the watery horizon and I am in pursuit of her, not knowing what secrets she holds about me nor for me.  Fortunately, she is not very elusive on Seabrook, here at St. Christophers.  Instead, like her sister the mystic Sophia, she is rapt and rich and everywhere.  I am beholden to nothing and everything all at once.  Sadness and joy are medicinal tools; this island is a surgeon and I am a patient.   I pursue.

Bike, Beach, Shells, Ocean, Seabrook Island

Have you ever felt so absolutely overwhelmed by something, anything that you want to vomit?  As if throwing up is the only appropriate response to nervousness, excitement, fear, danger, exhaustion or perhaps laughing so hard?  In contended loneliness, I vomit thoughts about myself, God, this world.   Even so now in response to the non-silence.  I am both fearful to share such things and am compelled all at once.  I hope to leave equivocation on this island but am also resolved to leave it regardless of wherever I am.

I came here a bit restless but when I leave this screened-in porch or this beach or these haunted woods, perhaps I will leave rested.  I came a bit arrogant, perhaps leaving a bit more humble.  I came a bit destitute, perhaps leaving a bit richer.

I’m going to go exploring a little more now and with a greater sense of contentment.  I’m unplugging again.  Back to the island…

Deer, Woods, Beach, Ocean, Seabrook Island

never be afraid of missing out because it’s good right here.

Last week, two friends of mine, Blake and Jonathan had birthdays. I’m not that great at giving gifts. I didn’t know what exactly to get them so I took the opportunity to write them each a letter briefly expounding on my thoughts and feelings toward them. It was pretty cathartic for me and I couldn’t manage to write either letter without crying. It felt so good actually that I’ve decided to make this a regular practice for others in my life. Why should I wait once a year to let someone know how important they are to me?

The two previously mentioned friends are almost identical personality wise. They are outgoing, responsive, warm, friendly, talkative, enthusiastic and compassionate just to name a few character traits. At times they are everything I want to be. A hug or a compliment from one of them feels wonderful and I find myself able to easily open up to them.

I’m always jealous of the way they tell stories. The recall is always detailed, animated and ripe with emotion. The characters they encounter are resurrected in vocal inflections, furrowed eyebrows or wry smiles.

In another corner of the personality spectrum I reside quite contentedly. On my best days I’m intentional, confident, aggressive in the right ways and right things. Perhaps in another life a four star general even. On my worst days I’m self-centered, touchy, negative, unsociable and critical. It’s ironic then how I’ve never been afraid to receive feedback from someone. For example, I solicited a friend recently to share her thoughts on some of the darker qualities of my personality and she shared this: ” I can say that you are stubborn, moody, and have the ability to make me feel like I don’t know what I’m talking about….you’re also a smart ass.”

She failed to mention that I’m not that great at telling stories either…

I get to be on staff at Renovatus and at last week’s staff meeting Pastor Jonathan gave a talk on leadership that has actually haunted me ever since. He explored some differences between secure and insecure leaders. Good grief it was brilliant. One of those differences being that insecure leaders look to others for cues, always reacting. Secure leaders are proactive, always initiating. To make that concrete he offered this practical tip: give others the thing you need.

While his talk didn’t specifically incorporate language on friendship, I realized last week that there is a huge difference between secure and insecure friends. An insecure friend in this regard is one who is constantly taking. An insecure friend will naturally gravitate towards the commoditization of a relationship. It’s not covenantal but contractual. Insecure friendship (if I can call it that?) will be based more on what is offered by the other and not the self.

All friendships have conditions, spoken or unspoken, overt or subtle. All relationships have conditions. Knowing such things helps to successfully define, cultivate and navigate meaningful growth. Not knowing (or paying attention to) such things can jeopardize the crazy friendship dance.

I need friends. We all need them. The day-to-day is impossible without them. Car accidents, broken hearts, births and deaths aren’t always explainable but they are survivable because of hugs, kisses, presence and promises. Give others the thing you need.

Selfishness isn’t learned. It’s innate. I want Locke’s tabula rasa to be true of all things but when confronted by my own selfishness, this epistemological theory falters. Insecure friendship starts and stays with what I need/want. Secure friendship may start with such things but never stays there.

Secure friendship moves comfortably between what I need to what you need to what we both need:

  • Your presence.
  • To never be afraid of missing out because it’s good right here.
  • Celebrating life’s minutiae.
  • Laughter.
  • Brief embarrassments followed by nurturing hugs.
  • Knowing glances.
  • Walking away sometimes.
  • Dancing.
  • Giving away what you need because that’s more important.

In solidarity, friendships are established. We are who we are and comfort in this idea is freedom from comparison and other such nonsense. I’m learning such things despite how hard-headed I can be. Selfishness just doesn’t jive in healthy relationships. The best marriages are the best friendships.

The ingredients to secure friendship? Bless and be blessed. Give and be given to. Know another and be known. Risk yourself and be worth risking for. Give what you need and it will be given back to you.

I’m not that great at these things. In fact it’s my insecurities that prompted these thoughts in the first place. However, if my personality grants me any favor it’s in persistence and I think true friendship is worth the pursuit. Perhaps the above ingredients will enhance my story telling skills a bit more in the process.

christians can have funny pastimes.

Christians can have funny pastimes.  We like to form coalitions and high councils, often centered around the diagnosis of culture as biblical or not.  Some of us like to play referee between the sacred and secular, the profound and profane, the already and the not yet.  Unfortunately this habit can become doubly dangerous when the cultural diagnosis is followed by a strict biblical antidote.

For example, a simple dose of Genesis 1-3 is all you need to recover any obvious confusion over gender roles.  Recently, Owen Strachan, Executive Director of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, made such a prescription when he wrote about a Sesame Street episode as an “assault” on our “Protestant worldview” which “is subtly but directly overturning long-held conceptions of manhood”.  Although I would gladly respond to Strachan’s piece, Micah Murray did an astoundingly beautiful job with his post, Boys and Dolls: A Father’s Response and I would highly encourage you to read it.

I really don’t mind the coffee shop conversations surrounding complementarianism, egalitarianism and gender roles that plague the evangelical blogosphere.  These conversations can potentially provoke the evolution of loving others as equally as we love ourselves, a distinctive characteristic of God’s kingdom.  Let the woman OR man oppressed by gender stereotypes say ‘Amen’.

What I really do mind about these councils, coalitions and blogs is the incessant need to constantly ‘recover’ all things as biblical or not.  Remember Jeff Foxworthy’s ‘You Might Be A Redneck’ jokes?  If you’re blowing the whistle on Sesame Street, then you might be reformed.  If you can’t watch one of the greatest children’s television shows ever without appealing to a ‘biblical’ definition of manhood or womanhood, then you might be reformed.

Whistle blowing isn’t a new pastime by the way.  Building a biblical framework for everything from dinosaurs to politics has gone on for several hundred years.

Sola Scriptura is one of the pillars of reformation thought.  It essentially states that the Bible alone contains all that is necessary for salvation and holiness or right living.  This doctrine or idea was basically born from a resistance to ecclesial excesses like indulgences and penance, which were being increasingly taught and cultivated within the Catholic Church.

Enter the greatest whistle-blower of all, Martin Luther, who believed that all scripture pointed to Christ and that anytime traditions or teachings conflict with scripture then tradition must be rejected.  Luther sought a balance between the authority of tradition and the revelation of the Spirit, by which some began to claim authority that went beyond scripture.  To Luther, that balance was found in the authority of scripture as a test for all claims of revelation be they past traditions or future assertions…including those coffee shop conversations.

However well intentioned the reformers were in developing dogma such as sola scripture, it was still made as reactionary to the misinterpretations of the Catholic Church.  I would point out that fighting heterodoxy (or bad teaching) doesn’t necessarily culminate in orthodoxy (right teaching).

Because of this, I take issue with the statement that ‘Scripture alone is sufficient for all matters of faith and practice’.  If I believed that, then of course I would feel compelled to diagnose something as biblical or not.  Luther’s legacy continues as men like Strachan use the bible to test gender roles.  However, the need to preserve and protect the Bible is never more evident in those who are afraid of losing something…

Perhaps the greatest danger of all is in making holy scriptures the fourth member of the Godhead.  Salvation is a gift from a loving God who sent His Son as the incarnate Word and who said of himself, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”  Bibliolatry isn’t the only conclusion to sola scriptura but it is a possible and real conclusion.

Justo Gonzalez writes, “the church established the canon…but the gospel established the church, and the authority of scripture is not in the canon, but in the gospel.”  I would never doubt or deny the sufficiency of scripture for both describing our salvation and making plain the salvation history of God but when exactly did the litmus test for something as potentially cultural as gender roles become Genesis 1-3?

Another great theologian, John Wesley, didn’t explicitly propagate a ‘quadrilateral’ for theological authority but he did employ four sources in reaching conclusions to truth.  These sources were scripture, tradition, reason and experience.

Wesley believed that our ideas about God affect our beliefs of God which affect our actions toward God.  Most importantly, these ideas are never formed in a vacuum.  He ironically approached a more Catholic theological attitude of prima scriptura, a paradigm that acknowledges the interpretation of truth as equally important to the truth itself, perhaps even holy itself.  Scripture will interpret us as we interpret it but why approach this holy process with such dogmatic rigor?

Christians always seem to get into battles with each other when we try to set scripture against experience or scripture against reason.  In one corner is Rachel Held Evans and in the other corner is Mark Driscoll.  What we have here is a false choice.  It’s a dichotomy that would confuse us.  Our imaginations are often forced into boxes that fail to justify in any sense the greatness and mystery that is God’s voice.

Are gender roles going to change over time?  Yes and expectedly in the direction of redemption.  May all who are captive be set free.

So what exactly is ‘biblical’ then and when is it appropriate to make that categorization?

I have this image of a Christ whose usual pastime is to walk with his friends, eating with them and engaging them physically, emotionally and intellectually.  We approach scripture with the same anticipation and expectation of hearing the voice of Christ as his friends did.  There is no fear here.  Here there is no need to assign roles according to gender.  There is only holy wonder, holy laughter.  Coalitions and councils give way to community as we leave our diagnoses behind.

the tribal gods love this god-talk.

Maybe it’s just the business I’m in.  Every industry has its vernacular, it’s jargon.  Kenneth Cole talks about fashion and likely, profit margins.  Apple talks about plastic and glass and China.  Barack Obama is talking about the State of the Union, so I get it.

The thing is in my business I’m supposed to talk about God.  I mean that’s pretty ambitious, right?  I kind of understand talking to God (capital G) because in a long way not a one of us need a degree or a history or a pedigree to do that.  Little kids do it, elderly folks do it and even atheists unwittingly do it sometimes.  I even think it happens without us realizing it.

Talking to this higher power (as perhaps you use a different name to identify he/she/it) can be, ought to be simple and as plain as breathing.  If it’s any more than that I have likely complicated the matter.

It’s in the talking about God that I’m starting to run into a wall.  We of the cloth/the robe/the suit or any uniform serving to demarcate our sacred insights make it our business to talk about this God with such luminescence.  How is it that our insights, our authority into these matters are often rooted in acquiescence to a particular moral code or social construct rather than a quest for truth, goodness and beauty?  To speak for and about this supreme power the Tibetan monk, the protestant pastor, muslim cleric or jewish rabbi will all resort to the same tactics and tools.  We scan the landscape for popular ways to talk about God and then refashion those ways to restate the same cultural mores and values.  There are no good questions anymore, only answers.

We all eventually become Job’s friends and shoot universal truths from the hip, our listeners more our targets rather than our fellow sojourners.  The tribal gods love this god-talk wrapped in its mysterious and magisterial jargon.  We’re still doing our rain dances.

Human language is both gift and curse.  It is beautiful God-gift from above in the ways that noun and verb frame a continuum for the human experience and condition.  ‘Loneliness’ is just a word but how universal a word it is.  Words capture our joys, aches and pains for the next generation to know they were never alone.  Words help us not to forget.

Human language is curse in that our imaginations can sometimes be bounded by it.  At times I am scared to even talk about a thing because I feel like once I do I am wrapping it up in my periphery.  What is infinite quickly becomes finite as it passes through my lips.  This is why I won’t talk about all my dreams because the moment I do the images fade like distant stars and my optimism is choked by reality.

Yet there is still pleasure to be had.  I’m grateful for my pastor, Jonathan Martin, who instead is constantly provoking my optimism with eyes wide open.  He tweets, “The sea in us is vast & tumultuous, but full of treasures. The beauty we see in others is lost at sea if we do not excavate-that is, speak” and “The joy of being human is not just in beholding beautiful things around you, but in the naming of them. I’m applying for Adam’s job.

Recently, someone in a well-intentioned but equally pompous manner told me that “God has a plan for my life”.  While I don’t entirely disagree with this notion I don’t mind telling you that I’m not wrestling with the plan.  The plan is far more fluid than some of us would like to think anyways.  I’m wrestling with the God behind the plan.  I am at sea, having left the island.  I am both excavating and being excavated.  The old tactics and tools don’t work out here anymore.

The pope just resigned and ardent catholic theologian Stephen Colbert satirically, almost angrily tweets, “It’s Ash Wednesday– and we all know what the pope gave up for Lent!”  Could I love the poet Colbert anymore?  The pope, however, isn’t just giving up his seat.  He’s identifying what some of us might have suspected for some time.  He is at sea with the rest of us.

The challenge of Lent isn’t to give up something you like.  Don’t reduce it to that.  It’s to create the space and time to rediscover truth, goodness and beauty.  It’s to anticipate ultimate beauty really.  I’m becoming increasingly convinced that theology is thus art and graffiti speaks wisdom.  I’m allowing myself to know, find and even name God in new ways.  I have a paddle and all I know to say right now is that I’m soaked from the sea spray, burnt from the blazing sun and happier than I’ve ever been.

No rain dance required either.