The Test of Time

0227201818The last few weekends have been a reminder to me of just how important true friendships are.

A few weekends ago, a friend and his wife were traveling through town and we met up for breakfast. While we talk frequently, we don’t get to see each other more than a few times per year, if that. It’s always nice to have face to face time with friends.

While we were at breakfast, I realized that I’ve known this guy for nearly half of my life. That’s a good deal of time. We talk frequently on the phone and have supported each other through some difficult times in our lives.

This past weekend, I and two other friends from seminary surprised another one of our friends for his birthday by flying out and spending the weekend together celebrating. We spent hours just talking, catching up, and laughing. We took part in a new pastime (for us) of axe throwing.

Looking back over these few weeks and these experiences, I couldn’t help but smile with gratitude at the blessings of good friendships. When you’ve experienced loss in your life, you realize even more just how important these kinds of relationships can be.

I have friends who have called these “hide the body” kinds of relationships. These are friends you can call in a pinch and know that they’ll be there to support you no matter what.

Life hardly affords me the time and money to do everything that I would like to do. Even my travel out to Iowa for the weekend was steeped in delays and cancellations with the airlines. It’s not always easy to coordinate schedules in the midst of raising children and working.

But what’s the alternative? I’ve had conversations with some who are just a little older than me who have little to no meaningful relationships in their lives. They keep mostly to themselves and when crisis comes, they find themselves in a pinch, struggling to make it.

I met the guys I was with last weekend nearly twelve years ago. We were just starting out in seminary in a program that took us away from our family for a number of weeks every year. We were all working in full-time vocational ministry.

What’s interesting to me is that the moment we got together, we didn’t miss a beat. We just started talking about the things that were on our hearts, the things that we are passionate about and the conversation flowed as much as the coffee did.

Not all friendships can stand the test of time. People grow apart, interests change, focuses change. I saw this in my early years out of high school and college when I would see people with whom I’d graduated and realize that we really had nothing to talk about apart from reminiscing about the good old days. That’s not to say that reminiscing is a bad thing, but if it’s all we’ve got, our conversation can grow stale after a few minutes.

I’m not sure when the next time will be when I see these guys again. I know that we all felt like it needs to happen more often than it does. I think we also realized that making time for things like this, for people with whom we connect, is important. When you realize the value of something that you have, if you’re smart, you begin to treat it with the value it has.

I’m tired

sisyphusI don’t know how I’m going to make it through the next nine months. I’m not sure I can take this for that long.

I’m tired of adults acting like middle schoolers or, even worse, pre-schoolers. I’m tired of feeling like people are verbally speaking the equivalent of sticking their tongues out at each other.

I’m tired of how easily offended people have become. No one knows how to take a joke. No one even knows how to smile. We’ve lost the ability to actually laugh at ourselves. While we can still laugh at others, it seems we’re offended when those laughs might be at our expense.

I’m tired of our inability to converse. We’ve lost the ability to have civil conversations with one another, especially when we don’t agree. So, if we struggle with civil conversing, we certainly struggle with civil discourse. We can’t disagree well with each other.

I’m tired of us all turning into our opinions and issues. “If you don’t like what I believe, then you obviously don’t like me.” That’s the message that we are sending every single time that we are offended when someone tells us that they have differing beliefs than we do.

I’m tired of backbiting. I’m tired of our inability to be brave enough to tell someone to their face that they ticked us off. Instead, we’re content to tell everybody else but the one who has ticked us off.

But God…

When we’re tired, at whatever, no matter what it is, there’s an answer. We can most likely grow tired when we’re trying to tackle things in our own strength and power. But Jesus told us we should consider otherwise, especially when we’re tired.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

I may be tired, but I can bring that weariness and those burdens to Jesus, and he will give me rest. That doesn’t mean that it all goes away. The struggle is real and it will continue, but I don’t have to carry it on my own.

Yes, it’s going to feel like a REALLY LONG nine months for a lot of us, but we can engage differently. If we’re tired of how everyone else acts, we can’t change them, but we can change us and the way that we behave and react.

That’s my vow, regardless of how others act, as tiring as they can be, I’m going to do my best not to be that tiring for people. If I believe that Jesus can really take my burdens, I’d better act like it.

The State of Things

I woke up this morning, in the wee small hours of the morning, and found my mind racing as it does often when this scenario plays out. If I’ve got a lot going on, it’s not unusual for me to find myself preoccupied by deep thoughts about what’s been happening during my days.

It’s been a strange week for me and there have been a number of things consuming my thoughts. One of my closest cousins lost her mother-in-law in a tragic accident. The details around the accident and some of the back story have caused me pause even more and I’ve spent more than a few minutes not just thinking but praying on it since I got the news.

The governor of my great state declared a state of emergency leading up to a rally causing the extremes on both sides of the political arena to react. Reactions had me scratching my head because it may have been the first time that people very close to me were getting caught up in the fray and getting hyped up about something that seemed perfectly reasonable to me.

This week, I got back to one of my loves: StrengthsFinders. Years ago, I went through training as a Strengths Communicator and I enjoy having one on one conversations with those who go through the assessment. In the busyness of life, I haven’t had as many opportunities to spend in conversations with others about it, but this week I was privileged to do it once again. It’s inspired me to schedule a seminar where I can present an overview to those who are interested along with some of the ministry partners that I work with.

I had dinner last night with some old friends. They’re friends that I still see separately, but it was the first time that we had all been together in a long time. One of those friends felt a burning desire to “get the band back together” and scheduled this dinner. It was great to catch up, to share about life, and to laugh a lot about some of the things that we all experienced together.

Funny thing is, this week seems fairly normal to me. My weeks are generally full of highs and lows, of both the heavy and the fun. I don’t know if it’s just me and life as a pastor or if this is pretty typical of everyone, but it can honestly get exhausting. The emotional toll that this kind of roller coaster can take on a person if they don’t find time to step away is excessive.

So what do I do? I choose to spend the day subbing for my middle child’s fifth grade class. Not exactly relaxing, but it’s an opportunity that I won’t always have, and one that I definitely want to seize.

Through it all, I’m reminded of the tagline of the faith community that I lead: where life and faith meet. Through the ups and downs, the highs and lows, one of the most important question that people ask is, “How do I get by?” Just because I’m a pastor doesn’t make me exempt from that question. The juxtaposition of life and faith is where I live and while it can feel like a jolt to the system and somewhat harsh at times, I don’t think there’s any other place that I would rather be.

 

When A Legend Dies

Rush In Concert At The Nokia TheatreLast week, one of the greatest drummers of all time passed away. While he didn’t make any huge humanitarian contributions to the world nor did he make any medical advancements, he made an impact on the lives of many socially awkward youth across the decades that he wrote and played music with his band.

As an aspiring musician in middle school, I was introduced to the music of Rush through my brother. As the younger brother, pretty much everything my older brother did for a time was cool to me. It was even cooler when I saw some of his friends donning the band’s T-shirts as they maneuvered their way through those awkward teenage years. All I knew is that this music didn’t fit neatly into a category. It wasn’t Top 40. It wasn’t metal. It resided within a realm that was outside of norms with lyrics that were far deeper than most of what was being played on the radio.

Having been indoctrinated to CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) as a kid, my first foray into “Secular” music felt much like other forays that I would eventually experience, dangerous and risky but so exciting. To begin to open myself up to music outside the concentrated bubble that I had found myself in for years was more than just a new experience.

As I continued deeper down the rabbit hole that was Rush and their music, I found more kindred spirits among their fans. Eventually, in college, I found my way to see them in concert. On the brink of my 21st birthday, I dissed my brother and my best friend to instead treat myself and my girlfriend at the time to a concert at the Spectrum in Philadelphia.

I honestly don’t remember it as much as I would like to remember it, not because I had drank too much or taken some kind of mind-altering drugs, but just because that’s what ends up happening when I experience something so new and mysterious for the first time. There was so much to take in that I feel like I probably missed half of it because I was putting too much pressure on myself to drink in the moment.

Years later, Rush remained on my radar, churning out music, reinventing themselves, but their earlier music had made a significant mark on some of the most memorable years of my life. Funny, the music that has been indelibly tattooed on my brain isn’t the greatest of their catalog but rather hit me at a significant emotional and spiritual moment in my life. It was the music and the moment colliding at that time that left the mark and listening to that music today transports me to another time and place, a time that seems far less complicated than today.

It’s funny how someone that you don’t know personally can have such an impact. It’s not so much what they did but what they represented. The death of Neil Peart meant more than just the end of an era for a band, it meant the death of a part of my youth. It symbolized my mortality, standing there as a poignant reminder that, in the words of Peart himself, “We are only immortal for a limited time.” While that doesn’t speak to my faith and belief regarding what lurks beyond death, it seemed a true statement for the moment in which I found myself last week.

Neil Peart and Rush represented youth to me, but so much more. Dreams. Aspirations. Change. Discoveries. These things and so much more. Within those notes and within those lyrics a new world was found. So losing a piece of that felt as if I was losing a piece of myself.

Days later, having immersed myself once again in their music, having watched countless videos of the band and documentaries about them, it’s as if I’m still grieving a family member. Again, that’s weird considering that statement comes from someone who has experienced a significant amount of loss. Just like pictures of deceased family members can transport you to the place and time the picture was taken, so music can do the same. As I close my eyes and let the sonic movements wash over me, I am transported to the first time I hear these notes, where I was, what I was doing, who I was at that moment.

Eventually, the initial shock of loss is normalized, the freshness wears off. While the impact remains, life moves on. We maneuver through the waves to find ourselves once again sailing through the waters of life.

And so, I continue on, hearing songs as if for the first time. I smile as I think about who I’ve become. Once upon a time, decades ago, these same notes hit me differently. An era has ended but there will always be that indelible mark, an almost everlasting reminder of what was. We’ll always have the music.

 

Don’t Blink

160610-zimmerman-bueller-tease_c2of7pI watched the skinny legs of my almost thirteen year old walk through the early morning haze as he made his way to the middle school gym. Morning isn’t his thing. Not really my thing either, but I’ve been forced to live in a world where it needs to be my thing in order to be productive and get more done.

As I watched him walk away from the car, waiting long enough to make sure that the door he pulled on was unlocked and he wasn’t stuck outside, I remembered a picture that Facebook had just showed me the day before. Eight years ago. A little fun run for kids at our church. Just weeks after the birth of my daughter.

There he stood, in that picture, straight up in almost military attention. Not sure where he came up with the pose as our family can’t really be considered a military family. Of course, what happens in that mind is certainly beyond me. I’m pretty sure he’s been smarter than me since he was five, which doesn’t say much for me, but I’m willing to concede.

If you listened closely, you could almost hear Jim Croce crooning away as he sang, “If I could save time in a bottle….” These moments are fleeting. We’ve reached that stage as parents where life is a blur. School. Meetings. Sports. Field trips. There are so many things to try to keep track of that it’s hard just to know how. It’s not like someone hands you a manual that gives you blow-by-blow instructions or troubleshooting options. Not sure exactly what the instructions might be for troubleshooting the passage of time.

I can’t think of a Fall where I wasn’t fairly introspective, this one is no different. The changing of seasons is almost palpable, in the smells, in the colors, it’s in the air. Being such a visual person, it seems that I almost need to live somewhere that I can visibly see the changing of seasons, to serve as a reminder to me that time is passing.

I always marveled at the time vacuum that is experienced in casinos. No windows. No clocks. You step in and lose time, only to find, hours later, that a chunk of your day has been sucked away from you. I think there are other places where this can happen, places where the climate never changes, where it’s sunny all year long (or rainy all year long too, I guess).

As I move into the home stretch when my son will become a teenager, the changing of seasons and time in general remind me not to blink. In the immortal words of Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” How that quote resounds deeper and louder as time marches on.

Losing your parents has a way of sharing you up, if you are paying attention. It makes you think about what you missed, what you wished you had that you never did. It’s a wake up call to reassess and adjust the way that you parent. That’s pretty much what it did for me.

I try to give my kids opportunities that I never had, not to live vicariously through them but instead to broaden their horizons. I sometimes may accentuate that they’ve got those opportunities more than I really should, but oh well.

I try to get them all one on one as often as I can, sneaking off to do simple and mundane things, for it’s the simple and mundane things that really make up life. As much as we might like to live in the big moments, it’s the small moments in life that seem to have made the biggest impact on me, the ones that I remember all these years later.

I’m doing my best to take advantage of those small moments, accentuating them. That’s not to say that we don’t have any big moments, but I’m lowering my expectations on them, knowing that the impact they have may be long-lasting, but probably not as long-lasting as the small moments.

The old cliche that no one ever got to their deathbed and thought, “I should have worked more” is still true. Time doesn’t slow down, so we had better do our best to lasso it while we can. We can lament its passing or we can do what we can with the time that we have before us. When we live into the simple moments of life, I think we begin to seize them in a way that allows for grace to weave itself through those moments.

Here’s to not blinking and seizing the moments we have before us.

Something Like A Collision

car collisionThe other night, I was driving home from the hospital. I had just gone to visit a friend who has been struggling with health issues lately. Visits like that are always helpful to put things in perspective for my own life.

On the drive home, I was fairly pensive, pondering the existential questions of life as I drove up Interstate 95. My phone buzzed as a message came in from another friend asking whether I had a minute to chat. After my talk-to-text affirmative response, I spent some time on the phone with him hearing about the challenges that he is facing in his life within his own family.

When I hung up the phone with him, my mind raced to a handful of other friends and acquaintances whose lives have been a bit of a challenge lately. Marriages on the rocks. Childrearing challenges. Sickness. Crises of faith. It was a little overwhelming for me to consider.

My mind wandered to this church planting journey that I am on. I thought about the name of this church we are starting, The Branch. Our tagline has been, “Where life and faith meet.” I couldn’t help but think that sometimes that meeting of life and faith meet feels more like an abrupt collision than a cordial meeting.

Years ago, a mentor reminded me that when you embrace a name for yourself as a church, you had better be prepared to embrace all that comes in that name. I couldn’t help but hear his words as I thought about life and faith meeting. I’ve known from the start that this collision of life and faith would be messy.

I’ve never been one to tolerate giving messages or advice that I am not following myself. To think that any kind of meeting of what can sometimes feel like diametrically opposed things like life and faith would be a walk in the park would be naive, in my opinion. Collisions rarely are tidy.

But that’s the thing, as I thought about it, the reason why I am doing what I am doing. I’ve grown weary of encountering people who are hurting who run from the church rather than running towards it. I’ve grown weary of the stories of people forming opinions about Jesus based on his imperfect followers. I’ve grown weary of church sometimes looking more like an insider’s club that suspiciously eyes outsiders for fear of what they might have brought with them. I’ve grown weary of church sometimes looking more like a retirement home for the already convinced rather than a hospital for the sick who are desperately in need of attention.

Different. Everyone wants to be different, to establish themselves within their own uniqueness. I guess we’ve embraced that same notion. We want to be different. We want to be a place where life and faith meet so that God can break down barriers to his grace. So, when we begin to see barriers being broken down, I guess you could say that we can begin to measure ourselves against our goal.

I’ve been in a handful of accidents in my lifetime, nothing tremendously horrible (thankfully), but enough to know that collisions rarely leave us without a mark. Even if there is no physical evidence of a collision, it generally impacts us mentally.

I fully expect that the more and more we see life and faith meet, collide even, we will be impacted by those meetings, those collisions. We won’t be the same, and frankly, I think that’s what we’re going for.

 

Reflections On Another Trip Around the Sun

Yesterday was my birthday. It was fairly anti-climactic. Save for the excitement of my children (at least a few of them) to open the gifts they had gotten for me, a few friends I saw throughout the day suggesting they sing to me, countless texts and phone calls, and a barrage of greetings on social media, it felt pretty much like any other day.

Once you hit a certain age, birthdays seem to become inconsequential. One day I’ll hit the age when I wake up in the morning and find myself grateful that I’m still breathing. Right now, I’m in the throes of life when waking up with one less ache than the day before is an accomplishment.

Looking back over the year, a lot has happened. I’m off on my own, trying to get a church off the ground as we move towards launching in September. God has continued to humble me through my children, my experiences, and the many people who have shared their lives with me.

While the lives of so many influential people cross my path via news articles, books, movies, musicals, and countless other medium, the question I continue to reflect on is, “What difference have I made?” Am I significant? Have I really made a difference?

I’m growing to understand more every day that setting out to change the world can be somewhat of a lofty goal, but setting out to change myself and to allow myself to be changed is a far more attainable goal.

That doesn’t mean I’m an underachiever like Bart Simpson, it just means that I’m doing the best to influence what I can and walk away from what I can’t. To be honest, I’ve always joked about grandparents when I’ve seen the, reach that age where they just don’t give a #$% anymore. You know, they back out of the driveway and don’t even care if cars are coming either way. They’re going for it whether or not you’re ready for them.

I’m not saying that’s where I am….yet, but I think I’m well on my way.

Life is far too short to deal with people who are perpetually unhappy and unsatisfied. I’ve spent far too much time in the past trying to appease these people, especially within the church. I’m convinced now that if Jesus himself, or even Peter, Paul, or one of the other apostles themselves came back, they wouldn’t be able to please them either.

The gravitational pull of each and every one of us in our depravity and sin is to live our lives completely for us and no one else. That pull extends into the church and creates toxic environments where everyone’s trying to get their way, kind of like a preschool playground.

So, I’m doing my best to be a little less selfish today than I was yesterday, and to be thinking about others. In the process, I’ve rediscovered what that looks like and how it makes me feel. I’ve realized that it’s far from easy, but it sure seems to make everything a little easier.

One more trip around the sun. Older? Yes. Wiser? I hope so.

Still pushing forward. I am grateful for the opportunities that God has afforded me and even more grateful for those who surround me. My family continues to help me grow, in love and life. God continues to stretch me in ways I would never stretch myself. My community of friends is a source of strength, challenge, and hope. Hope because I begin to see just what can happen when we give ourselves to community. It’s costly, yes, but it also provides us with benefits that are priceless.

Here’s to tripping around the sun one more time!

Simpling

As I stood in the shower the other day, trying my best to wake up and prepare myself for the day, I reached towards the shelf for my soap. I had done it so many times before that one would think I would try to do it with my eyes closed. But I knew better.

You know, there’s a method to the madness, especially as the sleep drains from my body and I feel signs of life begin to spread. Wash. Rinse. Wash. Rinse. Hair. Body. Beard. There was something for each.

As I went through the process of grabbing the body wash, then the shampoo, then the beard wash, I snickered to myself. How did I get here? How had my shower life become so complicated such that I needed at least three different bottles on that shelf. And that’s a cutback considering that my shampoo is one of those two in one, shampoo and conditioner together.

If this is my shower routine, I thought, how complicated is the rest of my life?

It’s always ironic to me to consider that the very things that we have created to “simplify” our life have actually complicated it. Smartphones are supposed to make life easier, but when we are in the market for a new one, let’s make sure that they can have as many apps open at the same time as possible for maximum efficiency.

Not to mention the size of those phones. We went from those big, honking, throw them over your shoulder cell phones back in the 80s and 90s, down to the Razr and iPhone, back to the iPhone and Galaxy phones that seem to have slowly expanded in size to be a mini-mini-tablet.

If there’s anything the last few years have taught me, it’s to know and be willing to admit my limitations. In that knowledge and acknowledgement, there is also an effort to simplify. I call it simpling.

For example, I know that even though I am a people person, having more than two or three meetings in a day will wipe me out. If I try to push much beyond that, I’m not giving the best of who I am to anyway, let alone my family when I walk through the door at the end of the day. While I could pack my day full of meetings, my efficiency level will be considerably diminished. So, what’s the point?

So, I’m just trying to begin the process of simpling. The beauty of simpling, to me, is that it doesn’t necessarily have to mean that at the end of the day, there is a whole list of things that remain undone. If I put my best foot forward and step towards the tasks and places where I can be most effective, I can also identify tasks and places where others can be most effective.

Chances are, they might have not yet figured out how to be on purpose. They may be struggling to find some tasks to do and some places where they fit. I can do them a favor by pointing them in the right direction to find things that will align with who they are and what they do. It’s not to keep them “busy” but to keep them efficient and effective.

There are certainly days when I come home and wonder just how efficient and effective I’ve been. I don’t always get it right, but it’s a journey, a marathon, not a sprint. The name of the game is Adjust, and adjust I do, as often as I need to.

Perfectionists beware. This will be a hard journey for you. Me, I’m an activator, so my mantra is, “Ready! Fire! Aim!” I don’t have to be perfect, just moving in the right direction.

It’s not a resolution, just a principle. Hoping that the new path towards simpling will lead to more efficiency and better piece of mind.

 

Where Life and Faith Meet

The Branch Logo (4000 x 4000)I’m within weeks of launching out into one of the biggest adventures of my life. After being in full-time vocational ministry for the last fourteen and a half years, my wife and I are being sent out of our church to start another church in the next town.

I’ve been on a journey of growing and learning since I started in ministry all those years ago. I came into ministry through the back door, never having been to seminary when I started. Along the way, I got my seminary degree and learned through the School of Hard Knocks. I’ve been fortunate to have had some patient and gracious people along the way who put up with this Enneagram 8’s challenging ways.

I grew up in the church in the home of a pastor. I was at the church every time the doors were open and it really caused me to try to understand just what I was doing there.

My crisis of faith came in my sophomore year of college. I wanted to compartmentalize my life, keeping things separate in their nice and neat containers. But anyone who’s tried that knows that it rarely works and rarely lasts long.

I came out of that time like something from a crucible, a little more refined than I had been before. I had moved from living a secondhand faith to beginning the journey that moved me towards embracing a faith of my own.

In retrospect, that was probably the beginning of the journey that is finally coming to culmination in the weeks ahead. Twenty some odd years of trying to understand just how to live in that place where life and faith meet. How do I embrace my faith and live in the tension that culture and this world can sometimes (often?) provide?

I’ve not always been the easiest person to lead. There has been a restlessness in me since my engineering days (the career I left to come into full-time ministry). But part of the reason was because I’ve always felt this tension, this in between place in which I live as I embrace faith and yet walk and live in a world that can be so hostile towards those who do.

Compartmentalization isn’t really the way faith is supposed to work. Over and over, as I read through the Bible, I don’t see things that would indicate that faith should be relegated to one day a week. If we want to take seriously the words that Jesus said, we can’t put our Bibles on the shelf and dust them off on Sunday mornings or, worse yet, Christmas and Easter. Life and faith meet in the everyday moments that we live.

This is at the heart of this journey that I am on. The community that God has called me to be a part of is one where life and faith meet. It isn’t a place where we put that faith on the shelf for the times when we need it, because if we are honest, we need it every moment of every day.

This past week, I’ve had a firsthand experience of that. This week is a continuation of it. I will be a part of two funerals this week. One of those funerals is for someone who lived a good, long life. The other funeral is for someone who struggled and whose life was cut short by tragedy. But life and faith met in both of these lives.

As I met with families, sat in hospital waiting rooms, drove in my car, I wrestled in prayer, kind of like Jacob did with that angel in the Bible. To say that I’m walking with a limp afterwards would be appropriate. When we wrestle with God, it should change us. But we don’t always come out with satisfactory answers, and I really don’t think we are always supposed to, although we sure would like to have those answers.

In the midst of the collision of life and faith, pat answers don’t cut it. Explaining to a son why his father’s life was snuffed out can’t be done, at least not in my book. The Bible is a guidebook, a story of God’s redeeming love and just how that love intersects. In many ways, it’s a picture of the place where life and faith meet.

This will be an adventure, but more than that, it’s a calling. It’s a calling that’s probably been there for longer than I’d like to admit. It’s a calling that I needed to prepare for, and it’s not just the past five or ten or fifteen years that have been preparing me. It’s a calling that I’ve been being prepared for my whole life. God has been shaping and forming me to embark on this journey.

I’ve rarely met people who feel that they are completely ready and prepared for what is ahead of them. I find myself in the same boat, and that’s the way I think it’s supposed to be. If I felt like I could do this all in my own strength, where would faith be, where would my reliance lie? I wouldn’t be relying on God and I probably wouldn’t be dreaming big enough since I’ve always said that we need to dream dreams that are big enough that only God can accomplish them.

Here is what I do know. I know that the place where life and faith meet is a place that many people seem to be searching for. I know that this place is a place that needs to be defined by values.

So, here are some of the values that I’m discovering in this place.

When life and faith meet, there is unity not uniformity.

When life and faith meet, not every question has an answer.

When life and faith meet, relationships take priority over preferences.

When life and faith meet, Jesus meets us where we are but doesn’t leave us there.

When life and faith meet, we are brought to places of discomfort for the comfort of others.

When life and faith meet, ministry and service are not reserved for the “paid professionals.”

When life and faith meet, it can get messy, so we need grace.

I’ll be sure to let you know what I’m discovering along the way.

 

The Legion of Decency

People who know me well know that I’m a bit of a cinephile, a film buff. Although I’m not completely sure where my love of film came from, I know that I’ve passed it on to my kids, for better or worse. I may or may not have been a little more liberal in my permission of what my kids have seen than my own parents were for me.

The other evening, my boys and I were watching Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Unprompted, my oldest announces to me, “These filmmakers are better Christian filmmakers than Christian filmmakers are. People playing God and paying the price.”

It was a moment of pride for me. He’s obviously picked up on my disdain for sanitized storytelling in the form of the Christian market. I’m convinced that Christians have a tendency to whitewash things and offer storybook versions of reality rather than embracing the difficulties and challenges of life. I’m all into fantastic storytelling, but when those fantasies are depicted as reality, I struggle.

Maybe it’s because I’ve had some challenges in my life. Maybe it’s because I like to call the elephants out in the room. Maybe it’s because I’m tired of false prophets portraying the Christian life as easy and full of rainbows and unicorns. Whatever it is, I’m tired of that sanitized storytelling.

When I was a teenager, I was a big Stephen King fan. My fandom has been tempered in my adulthood, mostly because I haven’t had the bandwidth to read very many 500+ page books. His book “On Writing” made an impression on me in my own writing and how I look at art. He comes to a place in that book where he speaks of the Legion of Decency and how some writers, for the sake of said league, sanitize their dialogue at the sacrifice of realism. In fact, he writes, “The point is to let each character speak freely, without regard to what the Legion of Decency or the Christian Ladies’ Reading Circle may approve of. To do otherwise would be cowardly as well as dishonest….”

When I read those words, something clicked within me and I realized why I had struggled with so much of what had been labeled “Christian fiction” or “Christian film.” While I struggled with the storytelling a little, I struggled more with the lack of three dimensional characters. As King says, when your character hits his thumb with a hammer, he probably doesn’t shout, “Oh, sugar!” There may be certain characters that do, but if we’re honest, that’s not really being honest.

I’m not advocating for letting kids watch movies with objectionable material just because those films let their characters be true. Parents can choose what’s appropriate for their kids to watch. As my mom always used to say, I don’t have to subject myself to that kind of language.

I agree, Mom, but I also don’t have to pretend that language doesn’t exist. Sometimes people swear. Sometimes those people happen to be Christian, too.

I recently read a book, a tribute to Madeleine L’Engle. It was such a fascinating read to me because people just didn’t know what to do with her. To Christians, she was too secular. To secularists, she was too Christian. She wasn’t a fan of the line between sacred and secular and so she chose to not adhere to that line. She blurred that line, not in an irreverent way, but in a real and honest sort of way. Her faith came through in her books, but she didn’t sacrifice her characters or her storytelling simply because of her faith.

I guess that’s kind of the heart of what frustrates me. Can’t we just have storytellers who happen to be Christians? Can’t we have musicians who happen to love Jesus? Why do we have to throw the Christian label on everything so that it can be approved by the Legion of Decency?

Frankly, the Legion of Decency has never done me any favors. It didn’t change the fact that my mom got cancer that killed her and my dad died of a broken heart, both literally and figuratively. It didn’t change the fact that my heart was impacted by a virus I had when I was in high school. It didn’t change the fact that one of my best friends lost his little boy at six months to cancer or that a relative delivered their first child stillborn. So, whether the Legion of Decency likes it or not, I honestly say that those things all suck.

That’s why I hold on to hope in something other than what I see around me. But just because I have that hope doesn’t mean that I have to sanitize everything else. The less sanitized that we admit things are, the more awesome that hope comes across. And I really think that hope is awesome, something far beyond anything I could conjure up on my own, and if we’re really honest, the story of how we gain that hope might fly in the face of the Legion of Decency.