Monthly Archives: March 2017

Jesus and the dirty whores

So Jesus was hanging out one day in the town square and he met this dirty frigging whore. I mean, she was a loose woman whose legs were open more often than Walmart.

She burned through five husbands, no doubt because she was schtupping other guys while she was married. And, in fact, she wasn’t married to the guy she was currently schtupping. All of which goes to prove that she was a frigging harlot. A tart. A slut. A loose woman. Someone you don’t want to be around lest he steal your innocent, helpless husband by dangling her dirty, dirty lady parts in front of him.

The dirty whore was so disliked by the upright people that she went to get her water out of the well in the middle of the day when it was hot because all the other ladies knew she was a dirty, dirty whore.

So Jesus, seeing the dirty whore at the well, asked her for a drink of water.

They got talking and he told her that she’d been married five times and she was schtupping a guy now that was wasn’t married to. And then she told him that she was a dirty whore and that she’d better straighten up so she could be eligible to have her sins forgiven. Then he want down the road and they brought him another dirty whore and she they’d caught her schtupping a guy she wasn’t married to and that she had to be killed. So Jesus took a big rock and bashed in her big, ugly dirty whore head.

Well, not really.

Jesus spoke with tenderness to the woman at the well–in fact, he told her all about herself in a way that moved her so much that she ran into town–into the place where she was disliked enough that she went to the well in the heat of the day–and told everyone about him. He called this filthy whore–one of the children he came to reconcile with God–“dear woman.”

And the other woman, the adulteress, Jesus said that the first one who didn’t have sin had the right to kill her. There was only one person there who fit that description and he deliberately chose not to kill her. At the end, after all the men slinked away–perhaps because Jesus was writing their sins in the sand–it was just him and the dirty whore, another one of the children of God he came to reconile.

He deliberately chose to tell her he didn’t condemn her and that he wanted her to try to do better.

The person you see in this may not be a dirty whore, but they’re flawed and loved, too.

You’re probably not a dirty whore. But maybe you’re a guy who looks a little to long at the ladies in yoga pants. Or maybe you’re the woman who’s a little doubtful about your abilities and worth and so you overcompensate in your relationships with others. Or maybe you can’t stand stupid people. Or perhaps you’re a little too hard on people who don’t deliver as much as you could in their position.

Maybe you try really hard but can’t get over disliking the gays or the Republicans or the people who remind you of that one really abusive relationship you were in, even though those new people haven’t really abused you.

Jesus came to reconcile people like that, too. In fact, if you made a list of the worst things you’ve ever done, starting with the very worst–that’s the guy or woman Jesus came to reconcile with. And he asks us to try to do the same with each other*. He knows we won’t make it. He knew I’d be off my mark Friday afternoon.

He cares about that because I affected people he loves. But he’s not going to condemn me for it. He’s going to dust me off and ask me to do my best to do better. Not because he’ll condemn me if I don’t, but because if I can do better it’ll be easier on the people he loves–including me.

 

The message of Jesus should be the easiest message in the world to preach. It’s about love and divine companionship. And no one wants to be alone. And everyone wants to be loved. It’s not because people like me (and maybe you) get in the way. 

The world is the world and it’s better when we can face it together. It’s just really hard to see past the dirty whores and self-righteous schmucks to see valued and valuable children of God.

* — For the record, this doesn’t mean you have to go be besties with people who abuse you.

Advertisements

How to keep your head when all about you are losing theirs

I haven’t always been the, ummm, paragon of emotional stability you see in front of you today.

No, really, it’s true. I have been known to get a little, you know, umm, emotionally involved from time to time when things are intense.

Not me, but a reasonable facsimile thereof

And through my adult life, I’ve asked people who keep their heads when all logic and friggin intelligence indicate that injustice has been done and since summary executions are illegal, universal justice demands that righteous anger be vented.

Without exception the response starts with a shrug, then a blankish look followed by the words, “I just do it.”

You may recognize those words from a Nike ad campaign. Just do it. Be like Mike. Just freaking do it. Just like Mike.

Except Mike didn’t just do it. No one just does it. The people who just do it–the Michael Jordans of the world don’t just walk onto the field and dominate the game.

They’ve been working at it for decades. They started as kids by getting on teams and practicing, then playing games. As they grew they continued to practice and play games, foregoing other things to continue to work on it.

Before Michael Jordan made any of his amazing championship-building shots, he’d made (and missed) thousands of others. He’d praticed forever, working on shots when nothing was on the line.

If that’s what Just do it means, then that’s a valid answer.

Most people don’t just gain inner peace. They have to work on it. They have to practice it.

I’m doing Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction right now. Meditating. I start the day with a 45-minute full body meditation that’s effectively practice to reset myself. I breathe deep and consider parts of my body and when thoughts interrupt, as they inevitably do, I gently push them away in favor of what I want to do.

Then, when the shit hits the fan, I can do what I’ve practiced. I can gently push away my emotional reactions–doubt, fear, anger, whatever–I can gently push them away in favor of what I want to do.

It’s not perfect. I’ve only been at it a couple weeks. MJ didn’t start beating the NBA after a couple weeks. And while his failures along the way may have stuck with him and bothered him, he built on them rather than using them to bludgeon himself.

It’s a good model.

Just do it–exactly as Michael Jordan did. You practice until it becomes second-nature, then you do your best.

And if you keep at it and you’re kind to yourself about your set backs, you’ll just do it, too.

It’s just going to take time.


It’s a matter of trust; yes, it’s always been a matter of trust

 

 

I suck at trust.

Last week, I wrote of an imaginary discussion with Jesus, in which I asked for something–peace. Jesus regarded me for a moment, then nodded slightly, and said that he would grant me my wish, but that it would be difficult and take me to places I didn’t want to go.

I really don’t want to write about trust.

But as the great neurosurgeon, race-car driver, rock star Buckaroo Banzai once wisely said, “No matter where you go, there you are.” (Confucius may have said it first.)

So one of the things I need to do in order to find that peace is trust. I mean, like really, really trust. Trust that no matter what, God has things in place and it’s gonna work out. Like the leap of faith in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

I hate leaps of faith. I hate putting myself in the position where I have to trust in things I can’t influence.

 

Too often, I’m the Indiana Jones at the beginning of this scene. The one who realizes the truth and can’t bring himself to take the leap–to step forward into the abyss. This scene is the perfect illustration of what God asks.

I know all of the Bible verses around this. I know about Jesus telling us to ask God to give us our daily bread. I know Romans 8:28 (We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them). I know the verse in Luke about how if my kids asked for a fish, I wouldn’t give him a snake and God is way better at this provision thing than I am.

I know all this stuff. And yet here I am, on the edge of the abyss, putzing around. Wishing I hadn’t done the things I’d done to get me here. Looking around for the secret passage that allows me not have to take that step into nothing.

Have I mentioned that I hate leaps of faith?

In this scene, Indy is compelled to go forward, not just for his own fortune and glory, but because his father has been shot and he needs to retrieve the Holy Grail to save his life. In other words, if he doesn’t take the step forward, it’s about more than just him.

I’ve been looking for that other way out for far too long. I’ve wished I hadn’t gotten here. Begged for a secret staircase or a ladder or a sudden plot twist to pull me back from where I am. I don’t want to take this step, for me or for others.

But no matter where you go, there you are.

I have to leap. Not because God commands me to under penalty of his mighty, mighty wrath. Not because I am a dirty, dirty sinner.

But that’s the way to where I want to go. And the things I seek can only be obtained via trust. Starting with a trust in a Father I have proclaimed to believe in for decades now.

In the movie, it’s easy. Indy steps forward and the miracle occurs. He retrieves the cup and saves his father and he rides off into the distance, having vanquished his fear.

This ain’t a movie. Where I live, that step needs to happen every day.

I suppose, however, it gets easier each time you take it.

So this is me…


The one thing

Remember in City Slickers when the walking piece of old shoe leather played by Jack Palance–the guy who famously said “I crap bigger’n you.”–held up his index finger and said that was the secret of life?

“One thing,” he rasped.

“What’s the one thing?” Billy Crystal’s character asked.

“That’s what you have to find out,” he said before doing fifty one-armed push-ups and biting the head off a rabid coyote.

I’ve been thinking about stuff like the one thing a lot lately. Maybe it’s because I’m old. Maybe it’s because in a lot of ways, life’s pretty good and I have the luxury to do that. Maybe it’s because some things have happened lately to push my mind toward what passes for deep thoughts for me.

But I’ve been thinking about the one thing. I used to think that thing was building a career and life and being a good parent and driving a nice car. Then I thought it was helping the kids learn how to put themselves in a position to be successful and to work out and get buff. More recently, it’s been to do the job well enough to make the issues go away and make sure my son gets through his dream program at college.

I once drove the same car Magnum, PI did. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the Ferrari. It wasn’t a convertible, ether.

Those are all valid, laudable goals.

But they aren’t the one thing.

There’s a philosophical game people play when they try to figure out what they would tell their younger selves if they could go back in time.

If I could do that, I think I’d tell myself more than anything to relax. That I’m not saving babies. That life is important, but every little thing in life isn’t. That people are resilient and if you don’t do what they want, odds are pretty good they’ll get over it.

That love isn’t predicated on performance.

We live in a performance culture. Sprinkles are for winners. Coffee is for closers. Because only one thing counts in life, jack–get them to sign on the line which is dotted.

Coffee’s for closers. Now *that’s* motivation. I need my coffee.

And there’s a place for that, too. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do because you have to do it.

But you also have to breathe, because without the breathing, you can drive an $80,000 BMW, you can wear a watch that costs more than my car, and it means nothing to you. You don’t breathe and someone else wears your watch.

If you understand that you aren’t your accomplishments or your failures–that you exist separate from them, then you’re closer to the one thing.

The more I think about it, and I’ve thought about it a lot lately, I think the one thing is that you don’t have to go anywhere to find the one thing. The one thing is maybe realizing that you’re already there. That the things that you want, that you really, really want, you already have. When you realize that, the rest is a lot easier.

That as long as the one thing is outside you, you’re going to look for it, lust for it, even maybe sell your soul for it, and that means you can’t do the things that are really important.

Maybe the one thing is, to quote the great Buckaroo Banzai, “remember, no matter where you go, there you are.”

 


Enough

As a former parent, and a child of a parent, I understand that many times the word enough isn’t a tranquil word. As a child, this word was a command delivered from high atop the parental mountain of obedience, a warning that, as the man said, violence is going to ensue.

If you touch your brother, violence is going to ensue.

As a parent, I recognize it as a plea. It was a plea given strongly, as if it weren’t a plea. But it was a plea–to hold on to that last shred of sanity while those two little monsters who seemed so angelic fifteen minutes ago greedily grab for the last shred of your sanity, as if it were a mere trinket.

My kids are grown and out of the house now, mostly.

Now it’s a goal. To find enough.

Don’t mistake it…I’m not looking to amass more stuff until I have enough. It’s a state of mind I seek.

We don’t do enough well in this culture. If you deliver 10 units in 5 days now, then you should be a able to do 11 or 12 units in maybe 4 days later. And then more in less time the time after that. If you won last year, you need to go for the repeat or the threepeat or the fourpeat or whatever…

The features on the phone I bought a couple years ago, the ones that seemed so cool when I got it, are now the very reasons I want to get rid of this boat anchor and find something that isn’t so (annoyed sigh) 2015.

My baseball team is coming off consecutive post-season appearances for only the second time in franchise history this year, but there’s a sense if they don’t make it three in a row, and go deep into October, what’s the point?

As much as I’d like to root for the Mets all the way to Halloween, I’m getting so I don’t want more.

I want enough.

I mean mindset. I want enough. I want to deliver enough. I want to have enough. Mostly I want to be enough.

We spend so much time worrying about being enough. And if those worries stopped at the shores of our being, that would be bad enough. But they don’t. I find–and I’m not alone in this, I think–that when I worry about my not being enough, those worries inevitably splash over onto other people. And they don’t smell like victory champagne.

Maybe it’s an age thing. Maybe when you’re younger and you have kids you need to worry about building things and expanding. About winning.

Don’t get me wrong–winning is awesome. I like to win just as well as the next guy. But maybe winning isn’t a goal. Maybe winning is a byproduct. Maybe you obtain that byproduct by not worrying about hitting the next number. Maybe it’s by just deciding on enough.


I’ll tell you want I want, what I really, really want

I’m involved in a new thing at church (details below, if you’re so inclined), and during one of the meetings, the leader said that if we embarked upon this journey, we would face spiritual warfare–we would be attacked.

I’m not sure about all that. I don’t think there’s a guy in red jammies trying to trip me up. I think like all things in the Bible, there’s a level of fact involved in the truth, and those facts exceed our understanding. Satan might be a force trying to displace God or the self-accusatory part within ourselves. Or something else.

But my views of Satan are a different topic for a different day.

Obligatory Miroslav Satan picture.

Things have been bumpy lately. Again. And not just for me. That’s how I know it’s not just me being a candy ass. And I had a bit of a wake-up call this week. The kind of wake-up call where you sit in a chair and ask yourself, “Self, what’s really important to you? What do you really want?”

As I went to the meeting for the church thing, we did an exercise where we were to imagine sitting with Jesus and having Jesus ask us what we want from him.  No schtick. Nothing about Powerball or the Jets finally hiring a competent front office. Without thinking, if Jesus asked you want you wanted, what would you say?

Obligatory Jets-fan-whining image.

For me, it was easy.  Make it stop. Please. Dammit! Make it %$&*ing stop. And not just for me.

The next part of the exercise was to imagine us asking Jesus what he wanted from us. My initial response to that was a good one–valid and everything. Trust me.

Trust me, by the way, sucks because it’s hard and it sort of indicates that it’s not going to stop.

But I thought on it more yesterday afternoon, and that’s not what Jesus said at all. What Jesus really said, was “No, Chris. That’s not what you want. What do you really want?”

And there I was, left without pretense. Without the snarky, self-assured comeback. I was caught. I couldn’t get away from this moment. I had no choice but to answer truthfully. Because there’s something deeper than make it stop.

“I want peace. I want peace for myself. People I love who are hurting and could use that peace, just as sure as they could use the oxygen in their next breath. I want it for them, too.”

The Jesus I imagine–he doesn’t look like Jeffrey Hunger or Jim Caviezel, in fact I don’t know what he looks like–he smiled. And he radiated that peace just for a heartbeat. And then he was happy, in a sappy, Hollywood sort of way.

Jeffrey Hunter’s version of Jesus looks a little like a Klingon in this picture. Ironic, that.

“I’m pleased with your response,” I imagined him saying. “It’s not gonna be easy, you know. Finding this peace. It’s gonna be hard and uncomfortable. You’re gonna have to do things that you aren’t used to doing, like letting go of all the crap you’ve piled on top of that peace because you think it’s more important.”

He paused, and smiled again.

“That’s idolatry, you know. Not sacrificing your kids on some altar for a carved telephone pole. No one does that any more, at least not around here. What they do is sacrifice themselves on the altar of what they think their lives ought to be. And you need to not do that.”

I said nothing–kind of unique for me.

“Are you sure this is what you want?”

I nodded, though I wasn’t sure, not really.

“Okay, then your wish will be granted. But to get there you have to let go and let me guide you. And that, my friend, is going to be hard for you. Will you try?”

Will I try?

I guess we’ll find out.

And now…the rest of the story.

I’m involved in a ministry called Kairos–a prison ministry. We go into the prison the last week of April to love people who’ve done bad things, but are still God’s children. Many of these people haven’t been loved in any real way since before they went in. They don’t receive mail and things we take for granted, like an Oreo cookie, are foreign to them.

If you’re so inclined, please pray for the entire team, as well as Bob and Jim, the team members on the table I’m part of. And for participant #5. I don’t know who he is yet, but he needs love.

If you’re interested in helping out in more tangible ways than that, please let me know in the comments and we can connect offline.


Cynicism, pain, God, and other people

 

My wife and I went to see The Princess Bride last night. Of all the lines in that movie, the one that seem to ring the truest are Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.

It’s a full contact sport. And if you want to go to the God place about it, that’s to be expected. The world is fallen because of sin and only Jesus can ultimately make things right by offering us both perfect justice and perfect mercy. But it’s freaking hard.

Of all the issues I had with Left Behind, the biggest wasn’t the cardboard characters or the stale dialog. It was that once the characters said The Prayer, everything changed. Things got easy. Self-righteous rage, off-color angry rants, selfishness born of hurt, lust at the sight of an attractive woman. Those struggles disappeared for those characters. They became paragons of virtue and class, even when the world went to hell.

In the Left Behind world, this is functionally the same as a picture of oatmeal.

In the Left Behind world, this is functionally the same as a picture of oatmeal.

In the Left Behind world, this makes me a horrible, horrible Christian.

I think it also makes me pretty much light everyone else. Because life is pain, we all spend seasons in a giant vat of shit. And that’s not okay. But it’s how things work. And since none of us have the power to make the vat go away, the best we can maybe do is stand next to the person whose vat it is and tell them they aren’t alone.

 I try to do that. Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes I fail spectacularly.

And that’s all I have.

Octavia Spencer (The Shack) isn’t going to come and clarify the world for me. Morgan Freeman isn’t going to lecture me about parting my soup and magic tricks and make all this stuff fit together. George Burns isn’t going to do whatever he did in that John Denver movie I didn’t go see because even then I was cynical.

The trick to God, isn’t in the finding him, but in the looking for him. Faith isn’t knowledge. Faith is doing your best to believe in the unlikely even when the evidence proves its unlikeliness. It’s knowing that failure is inevitable, but it’s not the last word. It’s understanding that sometimes you’ll wind up on the losing side, even if you’re convinced it’s the wrong one.

This, you may say, is cynicism. Defeat-ism.

Maybe it is. Maybe I just make it all too hard.

But I don’t think I loving God is going to invite a guy back to the site where his daughter was murdered to reach into his heart and fix it. I think a loving God is going to send people into that guy’s path to help him see love. And give that guy the time to do the hard work of fitting all of it together.