People, Pain, and Deconstruction

Friday night we watched, Bridge to Terabithia. It’s about the awkward friendship of two fifth graders, Leslie – a girl, and Jess – a boy.

Leslie’s joy is the first thing to infect her neighbor and soon to be best friend. She was from an artistic family who told stories, wrote books, and slopped bright paint on their living room walls as they danced. Jess is the only son of a working class couple scraping together whatever they can to make ends meet for their five children. His family are faithful church attendees. They have the stern faces and serious demeanor to prove it. Leslie, on the other hand, had never been to church before and seemed to be captivated by the entire experience of it. 

Out of all the high’s and low’s of their story, this in my opinion, is the most compelling scene.

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=swcEExbjVMQ

“You have to believe it and you hate it. I don’t have to believe it and I love it.” 

How does that sit with you?

Who do you most identify with in this scene?
– May Belle – certain of a harsh God who’s purpose is to damn people to hell
– Jess – confused as he reconsiders what he’s always accepted as truth
– Leslie – free to embrace the beauty of Jesus without the baggage of dogma

Why do you think that is?  

Whenever I watch this scene I long for the freedom Leslie exudes. I love the simple way she embraces the beauty of Jesus without all the baggage of dogma. 

But I see myself in both of the other characters too. As a young adult I was so certain about things…I felt I had to be. I was so sure about certain doctrines that Jesus and grace got lost in it all. Then about ten years ago I started going through a time of deconstruction myself. I don’t think I was necessarily wrong about all the things I thought, believed, and taught. I just look back and see somethings that were out of focus and other areas that were incomplete. 

God seems to use two primary tools to help us grow. 
1. People – ‘Leslie characters’ in our own lives. If we’re paying attention God seems to bring them into our lives to give us a clearer picture of Him. Some of them stay in our lives for a long time and others only for a season. 
2. Pain – My friend Larry calls, ‘disorienting dilemmas.’ These are experiences and events that rock us to our foundation. They can help us challenge things we’ve always accepted and distill what we believe.   

Who in your life is calling you to live more fully?

Are you in a place where it feels like your belief system is getting in the way of knowing God more completely?

Do you tend to embrace disorienting dilemmas or bury them?

Do you have someone to share that with?

Does it feel like you’ve laid claim to your own beliefs, or more like you’re living a second hand faith of your parents or pastors?

My Favorite Veteran

Since my father’s passing in 1978, I have been fortunate to have a number of men invest in me and fill that role. Lee Furse was the last man to do that. Ironically he was the same age and served in the same branch of the military as my dad. I took this photo of him on Veteran’s Day 2009.

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Lee was more than a regular in my coffee shop, he was the patriarch. He would take his seat at the large oval table in the middle of the shop and others were drawn to him. Some people would stop in just because they saw his car parked out front. And though he would never tell you, he was successful at everything he put his hand to. He flew over 100 missions off an aircraft carrier in the South Pacific during World War II. He was an engineer. He was the plant manager of Buick City. And he was a devoted husband and father. 

I loved the days that he would outstay the other regulars and I could have time with him alone. Unlike other veterans I knew, Lee had grown occustomed to talking about his military experiences. He was able to pull back the curtain on things I always wanted to know from my dad. Lee was gracious, funloving, kind, and a real American hero.

Letting Others In

Tip of the Iceberg

This image makes me think of our lives. There’s the part that people see, that we promote on Facebook and Instagram, the image we craft and protect. That which is above the surface is only just a small segment of the whole at best, and a total projection at worst. There’s a lot about us that people don’t see.

I’ve been asking a lot of questions this week. Today’s maybe the most important.

Who knows what lurks beneath the surface of your life?

* If you got really bad news from your doctor, where would you turn?
* If you did the worst thing imaginable, who could you share that with?
* Who would you call if you felt like you were having a crisis of faith?
* If you were worried about the choices your child was making, what would you do?
* Who could you talk to if you thought your marriage was in trouble?
* If you were offered your dream job, who would celebrate with you?

I am fortunate to have a few in addition to my wife. I have them not because I’m anybody special. I have them because they are loving, trustworthy, wise, and I believe God has placed them in my life to speak into my life. There are people like that in your circle too. Not everyone in your circle but certainly one or two.

I also have people who know what’s beneath the surface because at some point or another I took the risk of sharing one or several of the things above. I fought off the idea that they will betray me like someone else did, or that I’d be bothering them with it, or disappointing them, or what they would think…and said it.

The questions I’ve asked this week are all good to think about and answer honestly, but lasting change comes when we let someone else in on the answers.

Maundy Thursday Memories

Today is what some call Holy Thursday, Great Thursday, and Maundy Thursday. It is the day the Christian church commemorates the Last Supper when Jesus shared the Passover meal with his disciples on the night before he was crucified.

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Today confronts me with how much I’m like those men in that borrowed room. I often don’t get what Jesus is up to. I drop the ball. I charge off ahead of him and at times lag behind him. I fail him. I’m not aware of His presence in my midst as much as I should be.

Today also brings two other important things to mind. First it is the second anniversary of my friend Greg’s death. It was sudden, tragic, and left a hole in our hearts and in our small community. He left a legacy of smiles, harassment, loving others, cheering them on, humor, failure, redemption, intensity, service, and running. I don’t know how many times I’ve thought and written about what a great friend he was to me…and many others. I didn’t deserve him. He was gracious when I was too busy to hang out. He consistently checked in on me when I left the ministry. He wanted the best for me and would do anything I asked. I miss him. But I think I miss the chance to respond to his kindness even more.

The other thing that happened on this day was when my friend Joel burst into our living room and washed my feet in front of my family. The church he was serving in had a tradition of having a foot washing service every Maundy Thursday night. We had talked earlier that day about what a challenge it was. I knew he didn’t really want to go and participate. I knew I didn’t either and was glad I didn’t have to. And then I forgot about it until all of a sudden the front door was thrown open. In he came sloshing a basin full of water while juggling a bar of soap and a towel. “Since Jesus did this for his friends, I want to do this for you.” That’s all he said. I sat motionless other than moving my feet at his direction. My children’s eyes unglued from the tv and were fixed upon Joel. We were all stunned. Humbled. Amazed. It was one of those moments that you never forget. It was one of those gifts you can never repay.

God has used many of people in my life but today I specifically thank God for Greg and Joel. Two men who are as imperfect as me yet were willing to be the presence of Jesus many times in my life. They showed me pictures of a different kingdom. They gave me glimpses into a reality that exists right in the middle of the world we’re living in.

Huddled Masses

The other night some of my class mates and I visited a church service. It is called Theophilus. One of my professors is the pastor there. They share space with an Episcopal congregation on the SE side of Portland. Each week, things began with dinner at 5pm. Round tables were set in a large communal room of the church. I ended up at a table with two high school guys, three of my friends from GFU, and two young women early in their careers.

Olivia was the most talkative. She is a graphic artist who had moved to Portland from San Diego. We began to joke with her about the weather…leaving year around temperatures in the 70’s, beaches and blue skies to go to the wet and often dreary Pacific Northwest. After the initial levity, Olivia told us that she made her decision very intentionally. In fact the climate was the very reason she moved here. “In southern California people are outside all the time and when it gets dark you really can’t find anyone. You wander around wondering, ‘Where is everybody?’ I wanted to come to a place where people huddle together when it gets dark and cold.”

I don’t think I was the only one at the table stunned by her assessment. It was quite amazing that someone from a place many of us dream of living – desires community and connection more warmth and sunshine. Olivia saw possibilities where many of us only see hassles.

When I get home next week the sun will go down earlier, the temperature will have dropped, and the rain will soon turn to snow. I’m not looking forward to it but I hope my random encounter will help me look at winter differently this year.

  • Hopefully I will complain a lot less.
  • Hopefully I will remember that seasons of life can grow as dark and cold as the seasons of the year.
  • Hopefully I will see the dark and cold as an opportunity to huddle together with people rather than as an excuse to stay alone.

Chernobyl: Tragedy, Anniversary, Memories

Today is the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl tragedy. 1986 I was 24 years old and Ukraine was just a far away corner of the USSR. But last summer I had the opportunity to travel to Kiev, got to know some of its people and visited the Chernobyl museum among other things.

Our tour guide at the museum skillfully guided us through the exhibits and imagery. There were city signs hanging from the ceiling. As you entered you see the white signs with black letters that are similar to our “Welcome to…” signs. But when you are inside the museum and turn around the signs are black with white letters and red slashes through them. He explained these were all the cities, towns and villages that do not exist any more. They and their people are completely gone.

We stopped at a case that had two newspapers. One was the soviet paper. It was from April 29, three days later. On page three there was a small paragraph that said there was an accident at Chernobyl but they had it under control. Next to it was the New York Times from April 27, the day after. Its front page highlighted the disaster. The guide said while there were other forces at work (economic and political) this was the beginning of the end for the Soviet Union. The people realized that the government did not care about them.

There was a monitor that displayed how the radioactive cloud drifted.

Mostly I will remember a woman named Galina that we had dinner with. She lost her husband because of the meltdown
and continues to care for her daughter who was effected by the radiation. She told us her story of struggle, loss and faith. It can be found here.

Today I am reminded of what happens when we can attach faces to things. It brings disaster close to home. It keeps us from making sweeping generalizations. It gives us pause before we pronounce judgement on a people or issue or cause. Today I am reminded of how easy it is to forget or dismiss the tragedies that happen far away from us, but how they become part of us when we attach faces to them.

Maundy Thursday

Today is Maundy Thursday, the day on which Christians commemorate Christ’s Last Supper. But do you remember what happened before the meal? Jesus took off his outer garment, wrapped a towel around his waist, filled a basin with water and washed the disciples feet. Then when he was finished he said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:15)

I have had two experiences with foot washing. The first was when I was the wash-er. I was at a retreat with a group of high school students. At the conclusion of our last session I had them remove their shoes and socks and I washed their feet. I look back on that moment as one of the fondest times in youth ministry.

My other experience was much more difficult. I was the wash-ee. My friend Joel and I had met for lunch on Maundy Thursday. One of our topics of discussion was the foot washing service that would take place at his church that night. He was not looking forward to it. I tried to be encouraging but secretly was happier that it was him and not me. After lunch we went our separate ways. That evening I was sitting in our living room watching tv with my family. All of a sudden, Joel came through the front door came unannounced carrying a tub of water, soap and a towel. He didn’t greet anyone but rather went directly to me. As he knelt…putting his items on the floor…he said, “Jesus washed the feet of his friends and I want to wash your feet.”

We were all stunned. The tv was clicked off. My children watched this gift of love and friendship unfold. We all sat in a holy silence with the music of splashing water playing as a background score.

Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche Communities said, “To wash the feet of a brother or sister in Christ, to allow someone to wash our feet, is a sign that together we want to follow Jesus, to take the downward path, to find Jesus’ presence in the poor and the weak.”

When I think of Maundy Thursday that’s what I think of…a group of students who allowed me such a privilege and a good friend who showed me Jesus.

Not, Don’t, Won’t or Am, Do, Will

I was at a party the other night and I met some new people. The conversation started out well as one couple asked me about going back to school, the adjustments and eventually the degree I’m pursuing. The wife grew up in a very religious community full of churches, Christian colleges, and a couple seminaries which led to, “What kind of seminary is it?”

Because of what I assumed about the culture of her youth, I attempted to distinguish what George Fox was by describing what it was not. A few comments made sense but then I quickly and completely lost them. The glazed look followed by loss of eye contact was the sure sign. I don’t know why I did that but I know I’ll never do that again.

Articulating our beliefs by what we don’t believe, defining ourselves by who we aren’t, and explaining our mission by making clear what it isn’t – is a bad idea whether your motivation is to protect, include or win an argument.

  • It is a bad strategy because its a conversation ender. If I met you and my entire tone highlighted what I’m against, why would you offer what you believe? Conversations are give and take, speaking and listening. Very few people would put their positions out there for fear of landing on my list and become someone else I don’t agree with. They may start to listen but soon they will withhold their opinions and be looking for an out.
  • It is a poor testimony to our God and faith. Consistently speaking out of the negative makes me sound angry, cynical and judgmental. (BTW – Those are not fruits of the Spirit) Jesus engaged people with questions which opened them to hear what he had to offer: Life. Paul looked for common ground (Acts 17, 1 Cor. 9) in order to share the gospel = GOOD news.
  • It is a weak stance because most people expect more from us. Most of my friends are not looking for more things to avoid. They are looking for a compelling reason to live. Jesus offers that and commissions us to be salt and light, mixing in adding flavor and illumination. If this Jesus we claim to follow is ‘all that’ our words and life should point to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self control.

I close with a few things I’m pondering this morning…

Do my neighbors and co-workers know more about what I stand for or what I stand against?

Would my friends describe me as someone is for something or against something?

Does my family know what/who we believe in or just what/who we don’t believe in?

p.s. Jesus used both negative and positive language. In Mark 10:45 he said, “[I] did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Maybe that’s a good ratio for us: 2/3’s of who we are to 1/3 who we aren’t.

PCP: Poland, Coffee and Purpose

I don’t usually post on Sunday but this morning I have some extra time. We have a special speaker in this weekend, a missionary from Poland. Outside the church world the idea of meeting a missionary may seem odd…like a bridge to a former time…a time of colonization, coercion and stripping people groups of their native culture. But these missionaries (and many others) are very different than that image.

These missionaries are connecting with people, and people with God, by starting coffee houses all over Poland. Last night they shared the story of their journey and showed us some photos and videos you can see on their web site. One was the night of a grand opening, a night they crammed 200 people in their 50 person shop. Their shops are gathering places for knitting groups, english classes, celebrations and education about coffee.

I left the gathering last night pensive. I thought back to the excitement of buying a coffee shop, relocating Rublev’s and dreaming of the possibilities. Then I’d flash forward to my current thoughts and feelings about the coffee shop. They are not as warm, idealistic or compelling. That saddened me.

We have a different ownership structure now. We have multiple voices shaping the culture. We have great people sharing the work load. Those are all good things. That’s why this morning I know I need to rediscover or redefine my role with Rublev’s. I still believe something happens when you hand someone a cup of coffee, sit across the table from them and share conversation. I still believe these are holy acts wired deeply and directly into the human heart. I still believe a cafe can be a sacred space where God moves and heals and connects and works. I still believe there is purpose for me in Flushing.

So………does anybody want to meet for coffee this week or discuss a book or have a Bible study or knit or talk about how in-over-our-head we are in ministry?

I know a great place.

Holding An Acorn but Wanting An Oak

I have a number of symbolic tokens and trinkets around my house; stones, photos, links of rope, etc. This acorn is one of my favorites. It sits on the edge of my mantle and I look at it multiple times a day.  It was given to me by my very best friend. There weren’t many words exchanged when she handed it to me but in that gesture I understood, “Let this be a reminder that all good things, all worthy pursuits and everything that stands strong in the long run starts small and takes a long time.” That is a beautiful, poetic and true statement…its just not fun to live out.

Whether it is your educational track, your vocational journey, your life of faith or your love relationship – waiting stinks. And currently I feel like I’ve hit the grand slam of waiting. I’m waiting in all four areas above. I was talking to someone about this the other day and he asked the question, “So are you just marking time until you can move away?” [BTW ‘marking time’ is a military term for mindlessly marching in place] He didn’t say it in a condemning way so it made me think…Am I…I could be…that’s one way to wait…that’s the temptation isn’t it?

But I really don’t want to wait that way, do you? Life is happening all around us. Opportunities are knocking on our doors. The gift of today has been giving to us so we can grow, learn, get healthier, heal, prepare, become and mature. When ‘someday’ comes I want to be at my best and ready, don’t you?

I don’t have an prescription for us to follow. We’re still holding an acorn and wanting an oak. But maybe that image will help us to remember there is a lot of dirt, rain, sun, wind, storms, pressure and time before one becomes the other. Maybe the one thing I would suggest would be to go out today and find something to put on your mantle that symbolizes that.