A Difficult Splendor (3)

Rim people. That’s what we called them. As we walked from the truck toward the edge, there were folks standing along the North Rim. They had no intent on going over the edge; they were content to stay on the rim, look at the grandeur and snap some photos. That’s where we felt we’d been living for some time, on the metaphorical rim - in our lives as men, in our jobs, marriages, friendships…no real challenge or risk, just a placid existence, marked by the initial twinges of Thoreau’s quiet desperation. Thanks be to God, we had the wherewithal to notice those twinges for what they were…and they scared us. Let enough of that desperation that’s quiet accumulate in your heart and you wake up one morning with clogged arteries of the soul. You can be successful, hardworking, have a great family and drive a Harley on the weekends with your buddies, but beneath that…you’re hollow…nothing inside. Death’s not far behind that, literally or figuratively.

We strode in front of a few men and received nods of affirmation…and envy. In fact, one older man spoke to us with his eyes: “Please, knock me unconscious and put me in your pack…for God’s sake, take we with you.” We quickly noticed his wife and heard her eyes: “Take your pied piper backpacks and keep movin’ boys. I know my husband has wanted to cut the bloody cord for years…but it ain’t gonna’ happen. Life’s just fine…here on the rim.” And then it was as if the man’s eyes hurriedly interrupted her: “Guys, don’t listen to her eyes…”

It reminded me of something I read concerning one Native American tribe’s insistence that after a certain age, the young men must not make eye contact with the mothers or women of that tribe. There’s just too much that can pass between the female and male eyes…there’s the mothering thing, the sexual thing…stuff that can turn a man to salt, or at least, mush. When I pulled out of my driveway to make this trip, I waved to the family, but tried to avoid the eyes of my wife. Look in her eyes too long and you’ll pull the car back in the garage, get out, and say, “Aw, I can make this trip another day.” You’ve got to remind yourself they’re in God’s hands, kiss ‘em and hug ‘em good, and then drive away. You’ll be a better man, husband, and father when you return. And she knows it. She may not like it, but she knows it. If you’re a man, then you know what I mean. If you’re a woman, then you probably don’t like it…but you know it too.

Listen to Bly on this one: "Initiation asks the son to move his love energy away from the attractive mother to the relatively unattractive serpent father. All that is ashes work. When a man enters this stage he regards Descent as a holy thing, he increases his tolerance for ashes...learns to shudder, and follows the voice of the old mole below the ground." I believe, for many men, this "initiation" happens time and again throughout life; at least, the opportunity presents itself. It's a chance to go over the rim. But you have to step away from the "attractive mother"...and that's hard. You have to regard Descent (going over the rim) as a "holy thing." We had heard the old mole calling...and so we began our Descent...

A Difficult Splendor (2)

The forest road had us in the grip of Ponderosa pines. We cranked up Van Halen’s “Jump” to inspire our approach. As we avoided washouts and fallen logs, an almost sexual longing was growing inside us to break from these trees and lay eyes on what we’d come to see. And all of a sudden, we did. The pines just stopped being there. David Lee’s voice was turned down…and then off. And the cab of the pickup might as well have held three seven year olds just walking through the gates at DisneyLand. But the mice and castles here were beyond anything Walt ever had in mind.

We parked the truck beside a line of other offroad vehicles. Their model names and accompanying decals spoke volumes – Four Runner, Cherokee, Wrangler, Black Diamond, La Sportiva, Camelback. We were here. The north rim of the Grand Canyon. A place that for months had only been a line on the map was now the ground beneath our truck. We got out and just stood there, silenced and humbled. I’ve only had a few moments like that in my life - the moment my wife-to-be stepped around the corner and I saw her in her wedding gown for the first time and the moments when I cut the umbilical cords on our three kids and released them into this world. These were liminal moments - from the Latin limin, meaning threshold; something was about to be crossed, don’t proceed too quickly, savor the time, kairos. And like those other moments, this one found me wetting myself - my cheeks, not my pants.

Months earlier the decision had been made – let’s do the Grand Canyon. We applied for the appropriate permits and began doing trail research, befriending the stair-master, and rechecking our life insurance. We had been friends for almost ten years and many of those had been filled with annual backpacking trips. We started off as novices, buying gear we didn’t need (zero degree bags in Arkansas) and living the polar opposite of the go-light principle (packs full of glass jars of Smuckers jelly). Snapshots from some of our first forays into the wild would reveal guys renting tents, not setting them up before the trip, and then learning to set them up during equivalents of the biblical flood; cotton clothes left like breadcrumbs along the trail because they were soaked and five times heavier than usual (forgive us, gods of leave no trace); and crossing mad hatter swollen rivers up to our chests while repeating the 23rd Psalm and whimpering, “Mama.” Golden days, man. Golden days.

On some subconscious level, I’m sure we were aware that our lives were about to change in some dramatic ways and we needed the EPIC trip; the one you tell you kids about at the dinner table and weep over in the wee small hours of the morning. We wanted to be alone, so we chose the north rim as our entrance point. We had no desire to hike the Bright Angel trail alongside folks in flip-flops with plaid shorts. We wanted solitude, risk, challenge; somewhere and something to taunt us with, “So you boys think you can stay on for eight seconds?”

I had been reading Edward Abbey for years and my copy of Desert Solitaire was ragged and torn. I could imagine the Grand Canyon being just the thing ole' Cactus Ed would’ve encouraged me to do, after he’d ExLaxed my beans, pushed me off a cliff or put a rattler in my sleeping bag or something. I can almost hear him preaching the gospel of…

“Cutting the bloody cord…the delirious exhilaration of independence, a rebirth backward in time and into primeval liberty, into freedom in the most simple, literal, primitive meaning of the word, the only meaning that really counts.”

That’s what we needed and wanted; at least it’s what I wanted. Cut the bloody cord.

At the time, I was the senior pastor of a Southern Baptist church. Senior at the age of thirty-three; yeah, I’m afraid I was made a king too soon. You can do it, and some guys do, but the problem is not many people trust you when you’re that age. I betcha’ Jesus had that same frustration. We had television broadcasts, screens, lights, cameras, the show and the crowd. We were the place to be in town. We had stopped wearing suits and ties and brought in drums and Braveheart clips. But Jesus was right; you can gain the whole show, yet lose your soul, not to mention your mind. I had been there almost three years and realized that someone on the chessboard couldn’t move – the king. Checkmate.

In that particular church culture, folks loved for you to talk about being “born again.” In fact, most of ‘em wanted me to talk about it even more than I did. But any talk of being reborn bloodily backwards into liberty and who-hee! there was sure to be a hush in the sanctuary as hose-n-hair ladies blushed and their husbands called an emergency committee meeting immediately after the service. The church fathers would firmly prescribe a pastoral Sabbath: “Look, Pastor, you need to de-stress, take some time off and then come back refreshed. And orthodox. Please.” Now don’t hear bashing in those words; the person who didn’t fit in the picture anymore was me, not them. I hadn’t screamed Abbey’s words aloud from the pulpit, but I’d sure felt them for months in my blood constricting wing tips. And so I figured I'd beat them to the punch; I decided to encourage myself to take a pastoral Sabbath...and I accepted my invitation. Stress, says Sam Keen, is a good indicator you’re living someone else’s life. Dear God, did I need to de-stress. A week in the Grand Canyon? Count me in! When I left I planned on "coming" back, but I knew, even then, I'd never be able to "go" back to the castle. Cut the bloody cord, indeed!

A Difficult Splendor (1)

Pilgrims take pilgrimages. Mecca. Jerusalem. Rome. These are mythic places that for centuries have been the destination of many a traveler. Their very names evoke something of the sacred. Pilgrims know that the phrase “the journey is as important as the destination” is far more than some New Age mantra; it is truth. It is a chance to be swallowed up by something bigger and more grand than yourself. Somewhat like Jonah experienced in the belly of the whale. And while you’re on it (or in it) profound changes occur. Hopefully you put away some childish things and rediscover some of the childlike. And then all of a sudden, you’re spewed back onto the dry land of normalcy to live the rest of your life with the taste of the sea on your lips and the imprint of the whale on your heart.
What is the American equivalent of Mecca? Jerusalem? Rome? My vote goes to the Grand Canyon. While a few might see it as an oversized hole in the ground, many more view it as a place of breathtaking beauty and grandeur; please remove your hiking boots, you’re on holy ground. I have read of people seeing it for the first time and being moved to tears or even kneeling to kiss the ground. I am blessed to have several best friends in my life. Two of them, and me, took a week in October of 2002 to meet the challenge of intentionally descending into the belly of the whale and having it spit us out four days later. We had tackled trails and hills before, but nothing as daunting as the Grand.
Many things were going on in our individual lives at the time. So, on some level, we knew this was a life pilgrimage; at least we do now. You see, we had to take this journey, an intentional stepping-out-of-time in order to still our hearts to find its rhythm, quiet our minds to decide what we believe and care for our souls because no one else would. We each needed to wrestle with some angels by a river somewhere and not let go until they blessed us. Or wounded us. We needed to be swallowed up by something larger than our lives. Something Grand. Somewhere Grand.
We emerged four days later. To the outside observer, we looked pretty much the same. But to someone who would take the time to pause, smell, and feel, we were radically different men than when we descended. We left some things in the canyon. We also picked some things up. When we stepped back up over the rim, some things had the clarity of the Arizona sky; I've never seen blue like that before. And some things were just beginning to struggle for life; seeds had been planted deep below. We limped back to the pickup with new names.
The title of this beginning-post is “A Difficult Splendor.” If “splendor” is a stumbling word for you, then substitute the word “grace.” There is a splendor to our lives now that did not come easy. No, it’s not some arrogant splendor. Many days it feels more like a burden than a gift. We awoke one day in our thirties and forties in a dark wood and we took the road less traveled, right over the edge. And it’s made all the difference. I may bump into my friends’ stories but I won’t tell them, except where they intersect my own. There’s enough daylight left for them to tell their stories and they’re much better weavers than me anyway. I'll conclude this one with a few words from Buechner; he sums it up well.

When we are on a journey, what is real is not so much the role we play, the mask we wear, in the place that we are leaving, and not even the roles we will soon be called on to play when we get to the place where we are going. Instead, what becomes increasingly real as we travel along is something much closer to the actual face that lies behind all the masks and that gives a kind of relative unity to all the different parts that our life demands that we play. In other words, travel can be a very unmasking experience, bringing us suddenly face to face with ourselves - as when we are gazing out of a train window at the endless line of telegraph poles whipping by, and we find that part of what we are looking at is our own reflection.
And it can be unmasking in another way too, I think, because when we are moving through that no-man’s land, that everyman’s land, between worlds, there is no one around to hold us to any particular form of conduct or even to look to us to behave in a way consistent with the way that we have usually behaved in the past. And the result of this is that to an extraordinary extent we are free to do whatever we like, and the result of this is that what you do is apt to be a more accurate definition than usual of who you really are.
-Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat

Some folks...

"That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real, you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand." - The Velveteen Rabbit

"There is no greater love than this - that a man would lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends...the world will hate you...They will do all these things to you as my disciples because they do not know the one who sent me." - Jesus
John 15 (Phillips)

There will always be people who just don't understand. That sentence is hard to type because I realize it sounds awfully close to boasting and swaggering. But I type it anyway. I sat with a wise friend yesterday who said, "John, some folks just don't understand...they haven't heard the voice of love...the voice of greater love." I am thankful for this friend.

I've been wrestling with some feelings lately and I've really been trying to listen to what God has for me in those emotions. My friend's words gave some needed clarity to this angst. I've been bumping into people who just don't understand. I've felt ugly in their eyes. My life and faith these days looks, well...shabby. I feel like my hair is being loved off, figuratively speaking. In my case, I've let it grow, literally speaking. And that represents a wildness I feel God has called me to. But some folks don't like it. My eyes are dropping out. God is teaching me, forcing me somedays, to see with the eyes of my heart. And my friends, that's a different kind of seeing...or listening...same thing really. I'm loose in the joints. Kurt Vonnegut said people don't come to church to hear preachments; they come to daydream about God. You gotta be loose to daydream. None of this feels very good, but I realize it's the path of becoming Real. If that sounds boasty and swaggery, it's not meant to. Trust me, I haven't been swaggering around the last week or so; it's felt more like crawling.

The one whose love is greater is beckoning me further and further into Real. He calls me "friend" and "child" and "beloved." He also calls me "John" - which means "beloved" so that works out lovely. This may be the last post of this velveteen thread; maybe, maybe not. I've needed to be reminded by friends who understand and people who don't, that Real is letting JESUS love you for a long, long time. And that it hurts...sometimes. And that there will be days when I'll feel ugly in the eyes of others. And it's o.k. to feel that, but I must return to the truth that "these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly." Boast and Swagger Christianity (BaSC) isn't going anywhere; it's been around for a long, long time. Some folks just don't understand. But maybe, just maybe some of those folks might one day chase a rabbit, a hairy, droopy-eyed, loose-jointed, shabby-as-all-get-out rabbit. And if they do, I pray my tracks will point them to Greater Love...the one who has loved us for a long, long time. The one who makes us REAL.

It takes a long time...

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"
"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doens't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby." - The Velveteen Rabbit

"You must go on growing in me and I will grow in you...When a woman gives birth to a child, she certainly knows pain when her time comes. Yet as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers her agony for joy that a man has been born into the world. Now you are going through pain, but I shall see you again and your hearts will thrill with joy - the joy that no one can take away from you - and on that day you will not ask me any questions." - Jesus
John 15 and 16 (Phillips)

Becoming Real takes a long time. I read an advertisement in our paper yesterday for a new church start up. A sermon series was being promoted and this was the tagline: Find your life's purpose in 30 days. 30 days? Wow. Now I'm sure that the series was four Sundays worth of scripture and reflections on focusing in on purpose and passion and other "p" words. But the way we frame thoughts like this...30 days? It speaks to our resistance to "a long time."

Boast and Swagger Christianity (BaSC) is wound up. Now there's a statement. It's diametrically opposed to "bit by bit." And I believe this one is subtle.

I was driving home last night from a gathering of friends. I feel at odds with someone who was there and I sat quietly through the entire time, not offering anything; basically, shut down. There is some anger there, but as we know, anger just means you've been hurt. As I drove home, it was amazing how the voices of "John, you should really be past this kind of thinking/behavior by now...I mean, come on, you've been doing this Jesus-thing for thirty-something years...you really should..." I hate that voice.

Allow me to be the poster child for "it takes a long time." BasC is, many times, a reaction to SHAME. That old shame pops us and says, "By now, you really should be..." You know what? I'm becoming. A work in progress. An old chunk of coal that's gonna be a diamond someday. All that stuff that country music has figured out quite well. I think it was Kierkegaard who said, "And now, by the grace of God, I will become what I am." Soren would have made a heck of a country singer. BaSC believes we've got it all figured out and we should be able to get it right and when the apostle Paul says, "I have not arrived," BaSC just smiles and keeps reading.

This Jesus-stuff is going to take a long time. Letting him love me, letting people around me love me, realizing that pain and hurt is a part of this path...that takes a while. Like waiting on a baby. Rilke said, "Gestation...everything is gestation." And Jesus, in John 15/16, says the same thing and equates the end result with the word JOY. Put Jesus and the Skin Horse together and you have JOY being defined as having your hair loved off, droopy eyes, loose joints, and an overall shabbiness to your life.

Bit by bit Christianity in a world full of express check out lines, no wait emergency rooms, instant messaging, lightning fast DSL, drive through dinner in a box...and finding your life's purpose in 30 days. "It doesn't often happen to people who break easily or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept." Following Jesus takes a courage this world knows nothing of...

Does it hurt?

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful."
- The Velveteen Rabbit

If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own. But because you do not belong to the world and I have chosen you out of it, the world will hate you...If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you as well...I am telling you this now so that your faith in me may not be shaken. They will excommunicate you from their synagogues. Yes, the time is coming when a man who kills you will think he is thereby serving God! - Jesus
John 15-16 (Phillips)

Boast and Swagger Christianity (BaSC) has a hard time admitting that sometimes...it hurts. This seems to find expression in one of two ways: 1) either it hurts but I'm going to act like it doesn't (denial) or 2) there is a way to avoid the hurt, so if I find that it hurts, then I don't have enough faith, didn't pray adequately over it, or I've stepped outside the anointing or something (some twisted form of sado-triumphalism). Take your pick and you have the same result - someone smiling and swaggering through life, while dying inside.

Jesus, and the Skin Horse, both of whom are always truthful, remind us that sometimes...it's going to hurt. Skin Horse says it in a velveteeny kind of way; Jesus, however, comes right out in his Messiah-self and says, "They're gonna hate you." And not only are they going to hate you, they'll persecute you, excommunicate you, and they might even try and kill you. Not that it's surprising or anything, but the THEY in John's verses refers to...well, who else would throw you out of the synagogue? Yep, you got it - religious, church-going, tithing, moral majority, synagogue-key-holding, fully-devoted-followers BaSC.

We act sometimes like THE WORLD is this big, scary, adulterous booger-bear we've got to watch out for. My friends, I don't think the world cares. The one's who'll hurt you are those with all the trappings of the faith..but alas, they've gotten the course before the heart. Sometimes...following Jesus...hurts. And I mean really hurts. Why can't we accept that? BaSC holds that if I can just keep all my relationships a-tip-toe, follow God's plan for my finances, raise my kids like spiritual champions, keep the needs of my wife in the front of my mind, be in my place on Sunday, give toward the new building or the new charity-for-the-year, and volunteer to bake the communion bread, then surely goodness and mercy, I ought to be able to avoid the pain of life. The rub comes when I've done all those things, kept the letter of the law, if you will, and I still get hurt...or my wife does, or my kids do, or my friend gets cancer or loses his job or loses her marriage or loses his church. Then what do you do? That's right - either "praise the blues away" or ask that million dollar question: Who sinned here, this man or his parents?

Sometimes...following Jesus...HURTS. Instead of Christ calling for the bride one of these days and finding her spotless and varicose-vein free and everything where it should be (like that pomegranated-gal in Song of Songs), I believe that the bride will come dragging down the aisle, breathless, limping, bloodied, bruised, and beaten. She'll (we'll) barely have the strength to stand on our own, but the Father will be waiting at the entry way to let us take his strong, right arm and escort us toward the Son. The bride will have persevered to the end, the bride will have long-suffered, she'll (we'll) have been persecuted because they persecuted him...the bride may look more like those folks walking around after the Battle of Agincourt than the lovely Julia Roberts.

Sometimes...following Jesus...HURTS. Sometimes, you parents will disown you; father will turn against son and mother against daughter. Sometimes, your best friend will betray you. Sometimes, you'll train up your child in the way he or she should go, and when they're old, they won't give a rat's rear about the faith of their fathers or mothers. Sometimes, your pastor will start wondering about your theology and the books you've been reading and he'll tell two friends, who'll tell two friends, and so on, and so on. Sometimes, you'll ask, seek, knock, and then ask, seek, and knock again, only to hear the chirping of crickets, see the blessing on others' lives, and get the door slammed in your face. Sometimes...following Jesus...HURTS. But these are not signs of faithlessness, or fickleness, or a willingness to have your ears tickled, or incorrect prayer-form, or any of the common BaSC responses to pain in our lives. No, these just may be signs of our belovededness...and the reality that we're becoming more and more REAL with each passing day. Why can't we just say it hurts sometimes? What can't we cry with one another and say, "Dammit - this doesn't make a lick of sense"? Why do we prefer porcelain or sterling-silver-plated crosses...to the old rugged one?

What is REAL?

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day..."Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real." - The Velveteen Rabbit

"and every man who really loves me will himself be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and make myself known to him." - John 14 (Phillips)

It seems to me that Boast and Swagger Christianity (BaSC) is all about having "things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle." Maybe that's being a part of the next big thing or the next big buzz or being a part of a cutting-edge church plant or leading a group of the new monastics or having your books published by some underground, emergent group or being the leader of a huge denomination or being the up-and-coming voice for the new generation or doing apologetics in the worst sense of the word (using the Word as a sword, instead of a light) or having attended all the conferences put on by "whoever" and now "getting it" or doing house church and sharing common meals or being a liturgical-ancient-future person who loves candles and despises praise choruses or having fish decals on your car or ONLY listening to contemporary Christian radio or being a part of a 24/7 ministry or........the list goes on and on and on. The idea being that there's something about how I'm made or what I'm doing that makes me real, or valid, or Christian, or something.

The wisdom of Skin Horse surfaces here and reminds us that being REAL is a thing that happens to you; you don't make it happen. And this "thing" that happens to you is being loved by a child, or a parent, or a friend, or a spouse, or Jesus, for a long, long time...and then you become Real.

I believe that being REAL is letting Jesus love you for a long, long time. Not because of what you're doing for him, or what you're involved in, or for any other reason. And that, my two-or-three gathered-together readers, is why we prefer BaSc. To think that someone, especially Jesus for that matter, could or would love us just for being us is, well...unbelievable. What if it were true that the only thing Jesus wanted was to love you in this life and the next? What if he didn't want you to start churches, engage in door-to-door witnessing, write books, attend conferences, or go the church on Sundays (and Wednesday nights, for some of you)? All those things are fine and dandy and he wouldn't mind if you did them...but what if you didn't have to?
What if he just wants to love you?

Now let me throw a banana peel on the floor. What if Jesus just wants to love you and he wants to love you through other people? What if being REAL means letting other people love you for a long, long time? Do we really let our spouses love us? Do we really let our children love us? How about our friends? Parents? To really let flesh and blood love us is something we don't do very well...especially us biblely-types. John's gospel tells us that Jesus wants to make himself known to us. How does Jesus usually make himself known to you? So far, in my life, it's been by way of...people. You see, we do pretty well at loving others...but what about letting others love us? That means opening ourselves up, letting people in, allowing them to get close, sharing our hearts with them. Everyone talks about wanting that these days, but that is a narrow way...and few find it.

A Gentle Response to Boast and Swagger Christianity

Alcoholics Anonymous has a saying about getting sick and tired of being sick and tired...I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired. And so I feel I must speak. My comments are specific to what I see as passing for faith these days. I say "passes" because it seems to get by; like getting Cs instead of As.

The prevailing picture of faith nowadays seems to be Boast and Swagger. Now you might immediately think I'm talking about some power-tied, Republican, James Dobsonesque version of following Jesus; I am, but I'm not. I see it just as much in the "left" as in the "right" these days. Just who or what is this snake in the grass I'm trying to draw attention to? I'll start small and hope this post grows.

Boast and Swagger Christianity (BaSC)...makes following Jesus, what I call being REAL, difficult. I fully believe that being a disciple of Jesus, or a follower-of-the-Way, is hard...but it need not be difficult. BaSC says there is something I can do to make myself acceptable in the eyes of God. I know, I know...the BaSC horse has been beaten to death in the recent past...folks desperately running through the streets at night, carrying lanterns, breathlessly screaming no more legalism; we're free in Christ! But what started out as a filled-with-fear-and-wonder sprint has quickly slowed to a...boast and swagger - Hey, look at us...we're free in Christ...sure wish you could 'get it'...maybe you will one day...maybe.

These words from The Velveteen Rabbit - "He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else."

The quote above describes Skin Horse. I'm going to try and be Skin Horse for awhile. I'm not wise, but I have seen a long succession of church folk, faith folk, faithy-church folk, and churchy-faith folk...and I've seen much boasting and swaggering over the years...but I don't and haven't seen much REAL. As this post continues, I'll draw some from John's gospel as well as the story mentioned earlier, The Velveteen Rabbit. Maybe you're sick and tired of being sick and tired too? Or maybe you just want something that's real...really real, not kinda real? Or maybe you know what I'm talking about, that Boast and Swagger stuff? And you know in your gut that it's not why Jesus did his thing, but it just seems so big and pervasive and popular. Well, come along with me and maybe we'll figure some stuff out along the way. But no boasting and swaggering allowed; the plan is to saunter - "to walk about in a leisurely manner."

Gifts of the Magi

I had appointments yesterday with three authors; some brainstorming regarding book ideas. As I drove away from the last meeting, the sensation was strong that the time spent with them was about much more than books. They brought gifts with them from afar...

Wise-man #1 reminded me how important it is to have like-minded people around you. This is not assembling a bunch of folks who think exactly the way you do; rather, it's working with and being with people who hold a certain common ground of soul. We can waste an inordinate amount of time in relationships and projects due to the reality that the like-minded aspect is missing. This was a golden gift.

Wise-man #2 reminded me of the importance of narrative. He works with students and is always watching, especially in group settings, for what keeps their heads up and alert and what causes them to immediately look for something else to do. He said, "If somebody's telling a story...they've got 'em." 'Once upon a time" still has this pied-piper power on us all. This gift had the aroma of frankincense.

Wise-man #3 reminded me that staying true to your own Jesus path will inevitably bring you into conflict with other people. We want to believe that listening to the voice of Christ will bring about a big group of folks, holding hands and humming "we shall overcome"...I'm not so sure. It's amazing how many times the phrase "and a division arose because of him" surfaces in the gospels. Listening to and then following the whispers of Jesus is not for the faint of heart - "men will hate you...and throw you out of the synagogue." A myrrh-like gift, this was.

These older souls, wise-men, postmodern magi, brought these gifts to me. I wasn't the christ-child or anything; however, I did feel like a child while with them. And I watched as "they departed into their own country another way"...