Tuesday, May 29, 2007

My Friend Lost a Son

My friend lost a son today.
I just came from my living room with my elbows on my knees, my head between my hands, and tears dropping between my feet. My 2 sons and daughter sleeping peacefully just a few feet away, I was thinking of my friend in a hospital hours away, mourning, in shock, and caring for his two sons and daughter, who just lost a brother, and two of them also injured from the tragic auto accident.
For Memorial Day, my whole family drove, too. We went to the Palo Duro Canyon and hiked up rocky trails, went through caves, walked along steep ridges. We swam in shallow but not transparent water, where a kid is completely hidden from view if he stoops over and dips his head under. And my whole family drove home from our Memorial Day festivities, too.
Additionally, my wife and I made and received several phone calls sweeping us up into the drama of life, some of our own making, and some from the lives of those we love. The dramas of hurt feelings, subtle insecurities, embedded fears, passive-aggressive social manipulations, who-does-what-for-who-and-what-that-means, ego issues and reputation maintenance, while all very real issues (and helpful guideposts) for helping each other know where we need healing in our hearts and more abundant life, just fade to the background and get overshadowed on those days when my friend loses a son.
In light of such tragic clarity, I'm compelled to impatiently and intolerantly give everyone in the world these pieces of blunt and helpful advice, in hopes that they truly are non-negotiable gifts of uncompromising truth that are attainable no matter how much we want to argue otherwise in our less-clear moments (which, sadly, are most of our moments), and also in hopes that I will settle back into being a more grace-full counselor, guide, minister and coach once the exacting impact of this particular day is lost to me, blended into the woodwork of "my past" (which I wish would not happen):
Forgive everyone of everything now.
Never care if you someone else is preferred over you, ever.
Repay evil with kindness every single time you are wronged.
Love everyone. Everyone.
Fight for everyone's heart. Everyone's.
Stop hiding.
Withhold nothing from your spouse, your kids, and your parents.
Stop lying. And stop believing that "not telling the whole truth" isn't lying.
Use every single dollar you ever have stewardship of to bless others.
Say "I love you" way too much.
Show "I love you" way too much.
Be with those you love way too much and poor, rather than away from them a little and rich.
If you must talk, talk about what matters.
Respect everyone. Everyone.
If you don't look at your kids and marvel, figure out what is wrong with you.
Get over yourself and become a "hugger".
Walk slowly through the crowd.
Stop being offendable.
Be still without being asleep.
Be present without having to be noticed.
Notice without having to be reminded.
Say the negative things after you have exhausted everything you can say that is encouraging to anyone.
Find yourself in every single other person's flaws, that you may love them.
Accept suffering as a gift, that you may leave nothing wasted.
Think the best of all people, that you may be a blessing.
Humble yourself constantly, that you may be lifted up, and not by yourself.
Receive anything good at all as undeserved grace, that you may be a lover of God, and a benefit to those closest to you and to all mankind.
Think of my friend, for a longer amount of time than you have right now. Think of him hugging his wife. Think of him next to his daughter's hospital bed. Think of his tears mixing with his other sons tears. He lost a son today. Starting today, and not by choice, he will feel a little bit more compassion for what our Father in Heaven endured in order to love the world and rescue us from ourselves. 
Glorify God by becoming more like Him. We are all driving somewhere with our loved ones today.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A Few Special Days

Me: "Hey, son. Did you know that you have 3 more days of school and then it's summer?"
Shade: "Yes. And the 3 days are special days, too."
- A conversation between me and my oldest son, when I wanted to fuel his excitement about school ending
"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two."
- St. Paul, when faced with the excitement of his life ending
It caught me off guard.
I assumed that Shade would be totally focused on his last day of school, and the freedom represented by leaving Belmar Elementary's doors one final time (at least for 3 months).
But instead, he quickly acknowledged that while he is looking forward to it, he is a little bit more focused - and a little bit more excited - about the special days he has between know and then.
What wisdom. My children are my greatest teachers.
See, Shade just new that exciting things were coming in each of his remaining days at school. He had a field trip to the Zoo planned for Monday, a special lunch out at "the new McDonalds" with his favorite teacher Mrs. Borger on Tuesday, and a special assembly and Awards Ceremony (which is another story) today. While Shade loves to speak of the coming freedom from school, known to him best through the word "summer", he had more impending excitements to consider. And they came first. "Special days," he called them, that resided between now and then.
I couldn't help but hear echoes of the Apostle Paul in the book of Philippians. He longed to experience what my friend Brad has recently called "The Ultimate Healing", known to Christians best through the word "death". He longed for the flesh suit to be discarded, the assaulting war-zone that he exists in to be escaped, and for his eternal reward of perfected union with God, known best to him through the word "salvation", to be ultimately experienced.
But he was torn.
He had "special days" between now and then that he didn't want to miss. "Fruitful labor" that brings such sweet satisfaction to his heart. He had "joy" to deliver to others that could only be delivered to them by him remaining in the flesh (i.e.: not dying yet). Which would he choose if he had the choice? He did not know.
I felt like that sometimes in school, growing up. I always longed for the freedom of summer, but I also wanted to enjoy the "special days" that could only be had by being in the school year. Looking back, it was when I focused on the negative aspects of school (homework, research papers, getting up early, Mrs. Morris' incompetence, Mr. Byrd's militant ways, social struggles) that I would just do nothing but wish for the escape of summer.
But it was when I was focused on the specialness of school (meeting new people, building friendships, soccer games, soccer practice, teammates, getting in shape, drama class, computer lab, being invested in by conscientious teachers, belonging, school spirit) that I would acknowledge the attractiveness and hope that is available to me through the promise of summer, but would soak up everything there was for me in the "special days" between now and then.
I believe this is available to all human beings. The glory and hope of ultimate union with Christ that will come with the follower of Christ's life, but the equally enjoyable and glorious nature of all the "special days" in between this day and that.
Which would you choose? Which do you choose?
Which would I choose? I do not know. I can't wait for the intimacy that I am constantly learning to enjoy in ever-increasing measure to culminate in whatever exciting ways that it will upon my death. But, doggone it, I'm busy enjoying the ever-increasing nature of it, too. And I'm enjoying watching it happen in my wife, and my 3 precious kids, and in the co-workers and Shepherd's I get to work with, and in the other people who God brings into my life! I'm enjoying the idealism, intimacy, and depth that allowing God to forge me into Christ's image brings! I want the struggle of learning how to deliver that to my children better and better, how to let God deliver it to me through my wife and friends. I love this life.
For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Which would I choose?
I'm so glad it's not on us. I am glad I can just enjoy the few "special days" in school with all my heart, living in the present moment, and wringing life out of it...knowing full well that when those are done, "summer" will hit with all it's freedom, life and glory.
Shade loved his trip to the zoo. He had a blast with his special teacher Mrs. Borger. I attended his Awards Ceremony this morning, and he was elated. And I bet his diving into the "joys of school" will not steal one bit of his excitement when he bursts out the doors of Belmar exclaiming, "Summer is here!"
May we all live such rich lives. Abundant lives. Hope-filled lives. Lives of Christ.

Monday, May 21, 2007

A New Level of Humility

"How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me?" - God
"Humility is impossible for the insecure." - Yours Truly
"Humility is impossible for weak." - Yours Truly
"Humility is impossible for those who have something to prove." - Yours Truly
"Humility is impossible for for the fear-full." - Yours Truly
"Humility is impossible for the bitter." - Yours Truly
"Humility is impossible for he who must be acknowledged as right." - Your Truly
"I tell you the truth, unless you change and become [humble] like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." - Jesus Christ
Coming from a religious culture that tied my salvation primarily to 1) believing accurate truth, 2) behaving accurately moral, and 3) and doing the accurate things during "church" has embedded in me the illusion of needing to be right.
Christ's demand for humility has really confronted this illusion. And the more I focus on the practice of Christ's humility, the more peaceful and untouchable it seems my spirit becomes. Interesting thing is, the more peaceful and untouchable my spirit becomes, the deeper I'm allowed to see into my inner being...at which point, I get to see just how deep my insecurities, fears, and weaknesses are embedded.
This is no longer bad news to me, it is merely an objective truth about being human. The commonly perceived "curse" of having the light shone upon our deeper weaknesses and fears is in reality the "blessing" of having those fears and weaknesses penetrated and healed. But, oh, how we avoid the light. And, oh, how we excuse ourselves from allowing this Light of Life from entering in. Either with "productive business" or "slavery to others" and sometimes even with very dutiful and religious works.
What do I gain from being right? From winning an argument? From shielding my insecurities? What, truly, have I gained when I've proved someone else the fool, and vindicated myself? What gift is it when the "fellowship of the moment" hears me and agrees? Or hears someone else and disagrees because of me?
What do I gain when I show myself to be right against my wife about some nuanced detail concerning yesterdays history that was the source of a heated debate this morning? What do I lose when I was mistaken?
Humility steals whatever gain there is to be had from such things, which turns out to always be very little and very worthless anyway. And it replaces it with unspeakable and bottomless blessing and glory. Biblically stated, humility delivers the Kingdom of Heaven and it's transcendent, untouchable, and peaceful ways.
The old song still rings in ears, "Lord, its hard to be humble, when you're perfect in every way." 
That kind of perfection is way overrated. We should stop fighting against humility in order to protect the illusion of it, and instead embrace humility in order to lean ever-more into the real kind...Christ-likeness.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Born Again?

"I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." --  Jesus Christ
The guy he was speaking to, Nicodemus, had no category of religion or spirituality that explained what Jesus meant.
Most of us don't either. Some minimize the idea of being "born again" as an act of baptism in water. Some make it ethereal by saying it is a strictly of the "other world" and not something seen and felt in this one. Some doctrinalize it and preach the exact words very loudly, hoping volume will make up for lack of understanding. Some do all three of these, and it is still a far cry from whatever Jesus was saying.
Our Master said, "You are Israel's teacher and do you not understand these things?"
Humbly, we must respond, yes. We are the teachers we do not understand. We have a general intellectual agreement with the fact that it is true, and most of us have experienced some-sort-of-something, but yes, we do not understand these things.
Our Teacher tries to explain, "Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."
Spirit birthing spirit? Rebirth that is like the wind? Wow. Thanks for clearing that up, Jesus.
I think a key for both Nicodemus and us is to stop trying to "categorize" and instead try to "romanticize". We must embrace (as author Peter Block puts it) idealism, intimacy and depth over efficiency, methodology, and organization. It is quite counter-cultural. But it would be a mistake to dismiss it as unrealistic.
Idealism and realism are often set as opposites (I may have done as much, in this old post:  http://brianmashburn.blogspot.com/2005_06_01_archive.html - you'll have to scroll down to the one entitled 'The Realist's Satisfaction vs. The Idealist's Amazement"). But what if they are not? What if "being idealistic" is a realistic thing to do and be?
The idealism I pursue is Christlikeness in every relationship. This work is by default intimate work. And it can not be done on the surface...it requires depth. Every-increasing depth.
So...Re-birth...it's the thing that Jesus (and therefore, we as a church) are offering to the world. And it is oftentimes as mysterious to us as to the beloved one's that we are peddling it to.
We need to shut off our minds and chunk our structures and allow our heart to come up with new categories with which to explain things. As we go, it will require art (pictures, analogies, visuals, metaphors, poetry) in some form to communicate about it. Sorry, left-brainers, but you have a right-brain, too (underdeveloped and underutilized as they may be)...and you will need to exercise it to grasp the re-birth that Christ wants every human to have. THEN, we want to use your left-brain to organize social structures that have half-a-chance of delivering it to more people.
If we refuse to open our minds to new categories of thinking, how will we understand teachers who say things like, "Rebirth is like the wind"?

The work of rebirth is intimate...and we have a tendency towards being private.
The work of rebirth is continual...and we have a tendency to do something and be done.
The work of rebirth is found communally in dialogue with God and others...but we hate long meetings (be it with God himself or with others).
The work of rebirth... The whole world is set against it. The people of God don't have time to experience it. And even though it is trying to happen to each person in every moment, we are conditioned to miss it, pursuing other "worthy" things. And God help us, those of us who are leaders and teachers in the church are trying to deliver this mysterious, real, life-giving "wind" to others when we don't understand it. Seriously, God help us.
Seriously, God will. God is. We must only be willing. Here is a piece of art that has long captured my imagination while explaining my experience of re-birth. Guess I'll just have to leave it with this for now.
With passion in our hearts, and with ever-increasing understanding, God is having a group of us "leaders and teachers" in Amarillo become social architects, if you will, organizing our "church" into a community of believers who live and deliver re-birth to as many people as will accept.
May God help us.