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.

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…and God is still good.

Has life ever felt like one brand new experience after another, some experiences you have asked for and some that you haven’t?

Personally, I think that we are often prepared only for those enterprises in life that are familiar and rote.  Rarely are we prepared for those experiences and times that hurt, that would offer us growth as a person.

A recent example is an outdoor adventure involving refugee kids from a local community here in Charlotte.  Our church partnered with Camp Canaan to bus in about 50 kids to experience a sand island in the Catawba River, complete with hiking, soccer and a zip-line.

Camp Canaan, Refugees, Birchcroft, Renovatus

As I approached this zip-line with its platform approaching the lower canopy of leaves, I already began to feel a little shaky.  The wooden planks forming this veranda in the sky seemed to me to be a bit too small.  Yet, what better motivation for a new adventure than watching 6 year olds scale this ladder of wood and bark, leaving only their fear behind to taunt me upward too.

I was the adult there.  As in, I have responsibilities like…breathing and…my legs…but that didn’t stop me (or my pride rather) from tracing the steps of many brave souls gone before.  Maybe the platform was about 30 feet up but then again, it could have been 100 feet up.  It didn’t matter because I was there and people are watching and I may not ever be here again.

So I climbed…

…and God is still good.  But what makes Him good isn’t my understanding of the word “good” because I often ascribe a definition of goodness that would benefit my current state of being, or doing or thinking…

…and I climbed…

…because you see I have a rather small definition of goodness.  This definition of God’s goodness generally revolves around me getting something positive or feeling a certain way.  The inverse of this small definition, or rather, the risk of this small definition is that if things aren’t going my way or if don’t feel a certain way then perhaps God isn’t quite as good as I think He should be…

…and I stood on the edge of that platform…

…realizing that the problem for me isn’t that the Lord is good but that I often put Him in a box of ‘goodness’ that is just too small…kind of like the platform I was standing on.

“God, you are good while I’m here on the ground.  You are good while gravity is my friend and while I’m looking up instead of looking down.  God, you are good when I have a bed to sleep in, clothes to wear, family and friends to love.”

There’s only one way off this platform that allows me to keep my dignity.  Of course that’s just my pride talking because I can climb back down.  The deeper issue is that there is only one way off this platform that lets me leave all the questions behind…questions like, ‘what if I had just jumped’ or ‘what does it feel like to fly’?

Shaking, nervous, scared, unknown…God is still good.  There’s only way to know that goodness and leave the questions behind: to trust Him and jump.  The Lord was good way down there on the ground, safe and comforted.  Up here…my definition of goodness has to expand.

There’s only way to know that God is still good despite the hurt, pain, confusion or anger and that is to trust His goodness in spite of it.  There’s only one way off this platform that redeems every aching, scary step up to it and that is to let go and jump.

“God, you are good while I am way up here on this platform.  You are good while gravity is vengeful and while I’m looking down instead of looking up.  God, you are good when I don’t have a bed to sleep in, naked and ashamed having lost all family or friends.”

God, you are good and we leap…

…and we laugh, breath taken, loving deeply this wind in our hair and this view so magnificent and we laugh…

…because You are still good, so very good to us.  Not because we jumped but because that’s just who You are.  A different experience, another stretch, a bigger definition and the box I’ve kept You and my heart in is slowly crumbling.

Hey, look back there…do you see that?  That platform isn’t quite as high anymore.

Camp Canaan, Refugees, Birchcroft, Renovatus

A Birchcroft kid coming down after the long zip!

it’s not you, it’s me.

The first time I got dumped was in the second grade.  Back in those days, relationships often began with the phrase, “I like you.  Do you like me?”  On the flip side of that, when someone declares they don’t like you anymore, there isn’t a question to follow.  It is more or less a statement of fact.  A crushing and painful statement of fact.  Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t the type to get real choosy either.  If I even caught a hint of the phrase “Do you like me” drifting from a girl’s mouth, whether it was intended for me or not, the word “Yes!” came gushing from my lips.  This first time I was “let go” came from wearing glasses to school one day (or at least that’s what I think).  She liked me before the ocular handicap, why not after?  Anyways, when I heard she hit up a New Kids on the Block concert with the new beau, I was done.  All this before the 3rd grade.  Who’s bitter anyways, right?  Definitely, not me.

Rejection has been and will continue to play a role in our lives.  It’s part of being human.  Recently, I’ve ended up courting these strange emotions once again in trying to rent out our home.  Since Amy wants to go back to school, we’ve negotiated several ways to be fiscally tighter, deciding to reap the rewards down the road instead.  This has led to putting our home up for rent.  It seems like a good idea in this market and if all plays out well, we’ll eventually move into a place that’s much less expensive while retaining a good financial asset.  The thing is, when you put your home out there for rent or for sale, you really kind of put yourself out there.  Your home represents a lot about yourself: how it’s decorated can speak volumes about subconscious desires of comfort and hope.  The work we do to afford that home is another testament.  How we spend money speaks to our values, beliefs and priorities.  Our home is our kingdom and opening that kingdom up to complete strangers can be intimidating.

So when I let this young interested couple enter that kingdom, I was initially hesitant.  Their good looks and convincing back-story was appealing but I knew from all the internet literature I had just started reading that this was business, and business means business, you know what I mean?  How then did this risk of rejection come in?  Why wasn’t I more stone-faced?  Honestly, I didn’t see it sneak up on me.  I was supposed to be the one doing the rejecting, writing the denial letters (not that I derive some joy from that) but there was a sense of power in having that choice to make.  Having bought their story, we crossed the emotional border and went out on a limb to declare our intent to rent to this couple.  I had crossed that sacred line where my emotions painted a picture of financial utopia.  Why didn’t I see it coming…the back and forth via e-mails, the quick calls from references, the urgency to make a decision.  Then, the hammer dropped: “We’ve decided to go with the other home.”

I thought I had prepared myself for this moment…I hadn’t.  I knew these people for all of 48 hours and yet they had affected me!  I was angry at myself for allowing the power of the moment to sweep me up.  Here was that familiar feeling, that old bitter enemy of ‘rejection’ dictating how I’m supposed to feel or not feel.  You know what I mean, right?  Where you retrace your steps and ask, “What did I do wrong” or “What could I have said differently?”  We’ve all been there.  In fact, the more you lead and the more you open up to others, the more you deal with rejection.  It comes in all shapes and sizes and for as many reasons as there are stars in the sky.  So how do I deal with it?  By not stopping!  Stopping would be too easy.  I still want to rent this house and that means rejection is a possible but potential risk.  In my calling, I still want to lead people and that means rejection is an imminent but necessary risk.  It’s because the goals are worth it…you are worth it.  What I’m learning is that rejection doesn’t necessarily lead to the second choice, it can lead to the better choice.

Some folks won’t like your product.  Some folks won’t like your message.  Maybe they shouldn’t like it.  Then again, maybe they should.  We all have the power to walk away from something.  It’s how we walk away that counts.  The temptation is to detach yourself, to minimize the risk of rejection.  Instead, try the opposite: put yourself out there because if no one else likes your product, you still do.  If no one else believes your message, you still do.

Just for the sake of perspective, here is the story of the One who knew rejection for you and I.  His is the most compelling of all:

Isaiah 53:2-6 The Message

 The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling,
a scrubby plant in a parched field.
There was nothing attractive about him,
nothing to cause us to take a second look.
He was looked down on and passed over,
a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.
One look at him and people turned away.
We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
that God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him,
that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through his bruises we get healed.
We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.
We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way.
And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong,
on him, on him.

the greatest challenge to your leadership.

Ever-challenging decisions are the hallmark of your upward mobility in leadership.  Know two things: (1) Leadership is influence and (2) you have influence.  In fact, its greater and more important than you could gather.  If you would see your influence grow (and more positively at that) then you would choose to make some hard decisions.  So, imagine with me, we are in the landscape of your life and there is desert in the distance, some mountains and streams, rainy days and snowy nights.  I smell the dank aroma of mud but also the sweet nectar of honeysuckle.  This variety in climate is an image of good days and bad days, easy times and hard times and the greatest challenges to your influence.

Upon climbing that mountain, swimming upstream or trekking through the dry, dangerous desert something becomes glaringly apparent.  This is no longer about your ability or inability, it’s about your guts, your instincts and your resolute tenacity.  You see, the greatest challenge to your leadership isn’t on the horizon and it will not be waiting for you in the bad days more than the good.  It isn’t about social demographics, personality tests, race, education or hierarchies.  Taking a step beyond that, the greatest challenge to your influence has nothing to do with opportunity granted or lost.

So let’s now rephrase the question to get at the heart of the matter.  The greatest challenge to your leadership is not a “what” it’s a “who” and that ‘who’…is you.  I don’t know if Dr. Seuss himself could have said that better.  When trudging through the mud, battling the loneliness or when climbing the mountain top amidst its breathtaking views it’s still…you.  You see, it’s always been you.  It’s been the sum of your attitude, your hopes, dreams and fears.  It’s been the good, the bad and the ugly all rolled into that person you love the most.  Heeding or not heeding the calling on your life could lead to a presidential podium, an opulent office or digging through greasy garbage.  This is unfair sometimes, unreal sometimes yet it’s life and it’s your life and you have a calling.  There is the echo of the voice within as deep calls to deep.

The Creator of the universe is issuing that call whether you know it or like it.  Barack Obama, Charlie Sheen and Ellen DeGeneres all have a call on their life.  God loves them and would see their influence “re-created” for and after His heart.  Listen well: God has a “chosen people” who are also a “sent people” and you are one of them.  Where would you find the greatest challenge to your influence in this ebb and flow of life?  This isn’t a how to list or a 20-question quiz to discover yourself.  It’s ownership time.  Look in the mirror, perhaps darkly at first but look long and hard enough for why your influence isn’t turning this world on its ear.  The greatest challenge to your leadership is yourself.  What are going to do about it?