Eyes Blinded

It was pretty easy to ignore. I mean, why not, right? I could simply just not pay attention. I could simply just not read, watch, listen….But then, what would be the point? I lived overseas, and really, could have completely turned a blind eye to the happenings in my passport country (the country I was born in). And, with everything that has happened in the last 12 years, some say that would have been wise. But would it?

I didn’t want to forget about my family and friends who were still there. I didn’t want to forget that that was the country that I was from. And, I didn’t want to get rid of that part of my identity. It was part of who I was and am today. Just like being a son, husband and father. It’s a part of my story. So, I made my homepage a news feed that collected stories from all over the world, making the world headlines the top of the page, the States-my passport country- second and then onto other headlines, science, sports, entertainment, etc. It continues to be my homepage. I stay on top of not only the news internationally, but cultural changes and shifts here in the States. Even though we have moved back, I desire to stay abreast as to what’s going on.

My desire is for my world to get bigger, as I mentioned in the last post.  It’s no secret that racism is alive and growing here in the States. Since Charlottesville, I have read social media posts as they flurried about, watched reactions, listened to interviews, etc. Though there were several of the people I interacted with that were willing to take what has been  happening head on and engage with it, there have been as many people that wanted to stop reading, hearing and watching about all the “bad news” and “negativity” that was going on.

Yet when negative and bad and hard are the reality, what do we do? We could turn a blind eye toward it, never talk about it, stopping our conversations with the weather and never engage passed that. We could. We could say “it isn’t that bad” or “it’s just the media going crazy” and pretend like it is no big deal. And, our world and perspective of Christ can remain small. But why?

Admitting that it is hard, that what is happening is chaotic, that the racial tension and divide is bad, is not allowing that reality to govern us or even have power over us. It is admitting that there is massive brokenness in this world, dark sin, incredible hurt, and pain. Lots of pain. We are allowing ourselves to not only see, but to also feel. We are allowing the realities of the brokenness of this world effect us. And yes, in many cases it won’t feel good, nice, pleasant or even comfortable. Pain isn’t comfortable. And yet, neither is love. With love comes pain. Letting our guard down, opening our eyes and seeing, isn’t just about seeing all the pain, it’s also allowing others to feel for us, love us,  Jesus to love us. It’s allowing  Jesus to care for our deepest wounds, and for us to show love by caring for someone else’s deepest wounds as well.

There are mammoth wounds and hurt in this world, and we cannot become part of the solution unless we are willing to face those realities.  We cannot entertain others love without also entertaining their pain. Henri Nouwen once wrote that our hearts need to have the room to show hospitality to others. That our hearts should be living rooms, welcoming other people with their stories of joy and loss, happiness and woundedness. This is, after all, what Jesus has done and continues to do for us. He didn’t ignore me, and I am so very thankful. Perhaps when we open our blinded eyes to the world and allow ourselves to see the pain, only then can we truly love. Perhaps when we see and address the anguish God sees with race against race or rich against poor, can we then show the love Jesus had for us as well. Perhaps the first step, is removing the blinders.

be blessed today

 

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Heads Buried

When I was a youth pastor, I cast the vision and mission of the youth ministry as “Developing students into mature disciples who are passionately pursuing their world for Christ.” I thought it was pretty savvy for a twenty something youth pastor who thought he knew it all. I think I saw then, in that Millennial group, that they were a force to be reckoned with and desired to see them be world changers. And they are.

“Their world” was defined as their school, group of friends, family, community, etc. It was theirs. If at some point their world was broadened on a mission trip to another state or another country, then the mission still stood. It’s just that their world grew on those trips. Or, if it was diving into their broken homes, families and relationships and realizing that there was a hope outside of that dysfunction, then their world grew. It was about growing their world and empowering them with the courage to change it for the better.

Skip ahead a few years, a few cities, countries and continents, and here I am in Oregon. My commute is 45 minutes to Portland every morning. At my exit, there are homeless communities on either side of the exit ramp. They have tents, tarps, carts and what not to survive. They hold up signs as I wait for the light to turn left and head towards my street. Once there, the amount of homeless, pushers, dealers, prostitutes and what not continue, up and down the street where I work. I often find a few homeless sleeping under the awning of my building. I am more aware now of what goes on in the shadows, in the sunlight and in the back alleys of this world than I was 15 years ago. And so are my children.

And yet, though I can see those things, there are others who I have spoken with, others who live in Portland, have traveled those roads and streets, and yet have never seen those tents. They’ve never seen the tarps, carts, barefooted prostitutes walking with her pimp and dealer down the street to get a coke at McDonald’s. They have never seen those people and situations, though they’ve lived in Portland most of their lives. And I ask, “How? How can others not see?” And, before I put myself on too high a pedestal, Jesus puts me in my place and clearly asks me,  “How is it you can’t see more?

I write a lot about awareness, self awareness, awareness of God around us, awareness of others, and just being aware. The reason is because when we allow ourselves to become more aware of the hurt and pain in our own souls, the hurt and pain and suffering of others around us, aware that we are different than others and others have different perspectives than we do, aware of our own actions and their affects both positive and negative….this is when we grow. This is when our worlds become bigger. This is when we can begin to see Jesus in others and the need for Jesus in our world. Our worlds become…bigger, richer, fuller, more painful, more beautiful and larger than our imaginations. With that comes great reward. With that comes great responsibility. But it all starts with humility in allowing our eyes to see what is right in front of us. Allowing, in humility, to let our guard down, tear down our walls to see what is on the other side. The answer may be more death and decay. It may be. And, simultaneously,  the answer will always be more Jesus.

more to come

be blessed today

The Hard

It’s been hot here. It was forecast to hit 110 Fahrenheit a few weeks ago (not normal), but smoke from wildfires across the state as well as up into Canada, helped keep the sun’s heat down to a mere 108. We escaped to the coast. Down to the southern corner in a little cove of, well, serenity. We went camping. Iris and I where avid backpackers in college, but that wasn’t possible in Russia. And in Mongolia, we did a fair bit of camping in yurts. All of our backpacking gear we left here, and we have been slowly upgrading it to newer items. We’ve also been exploring this whole world of car camping. It’s been a lot of fun, and hopefully, I’ll get to take the kids backpacking soon, maybe next Spring.

I digress.

This little cove of serenity I was talking about… The tide went in and out over 8 and  half feet at some points. We found “hidden” coves where we had to use a rope to climb down to the momentarily exposed beaches (perhaps a kayak or two are needed in the future). One morning, early, when the fog hadn’t fully left the inlet, and the kids and Iris were asleep, I took my coffee and went for a walk to the beach. The water was out a good 100 meters or so as it was the point of lowest tide. I explored. I explored tree trunks that had been there for years, slowly succumbing to the sea. I saw mollusks, crabs and other creatures that were exposed for such a brief time.

And then  I saw veins of hard rock that ran straight up the cliffs and the whole width of the bay. These veins of hard rock were anywhere from a few inches to 2-3 feet high, creating ridges, like you would see in driftwood. The softer, porous rock had eroded away much sooner, and mollusks had attached themselves to these hardened veins. It was…incredible. I so enjoy the early morning thoughts and reflections that come…just like Jesus was standing next to me, drinking a cup of coffee and just waiting there, patiently with me.

This bay was scarred. Scarred and marked from centuries, maybe millennia, of continual thrashing by the waves. The pic above is my oldest walking in one of those scars.And yet, those scars are one of the most beautiful things about that cove. In some of these pocks and holes made by erosion, are where the hermit crabs hid, the anemones, starfish and sea urchins had attached themselves. It’s where the cove really came to life to be honest.

This season that Iris and I have been walking through, we have posed the question “why does it always have to be the hard things?” I’m not sure if you have ever felt that way, but it seems as though we are constantly doing the hard. I know that’s not true. One thing I’ve learned is that when I start using extreme terms (like always, never, every time, constantly, etc.), that is a sign I’m not seeing things objectively. I am caught in a rut and can’t see out to see the bigger picture of it all.

And, another thing I have learned, is that in the hard, that is when we are formed and molded the most. That’s where I learn, that’s where I give pause, reflect, lean into community, lean into Christ….pray…the most. Yes, those things also happen in times of great rejoicing and in times of great calm. But, they most often happen when I’m being tossed and turned by the waves and situations of life. It sucks. I won’t sugar coat it. And for those of you who have gone through it, I think you would agree. And each time, it takes me a while, to finally come to a point of allowing it to happen and allowing God to show me why, as opposed to me trying to figure it out like it was some trigonometry math problem.

I’m not sure where you are in that process, but perhaps this brings you hope. Perhaps it lets you know that you are not alone and you’re not the only person to walk this road. Or, maybe it brought a bit of perspective. Either way, one take away for me…..the beauty is in the scars.

be blessed today

When We Stop To Listen…

I enjoy hearing stories. They may not have the happy ending where everything is tied up in a nice little bow. They may be painful, hard, even uncomfortable to listen to sometimes. But stories, people’s stories, are fascinating to me. And everybody has one. It doesn’t matter how dull or boring you think your life has been, you still have a story. A narrative that runs from your family history, your earliest memories all through the course of time until this moment we’re in.

One of the most interesting parts of this, is that often times as I am listening to someone’s story, it’s as if I become more and more engaged. I learn things about them that allow me to make connections. Cognitive connections of thought in regards to why they live in a certain place, have a certain kind of job, even why they have a certain color of hair. But there are also emotional and human connections where I can identify with parts of their story-similar situations, similar feelings, similar memories-that make them more, well, human.

We’ve all been there. It’s the reason why we like to watch comedies (what’s funny is we can identify with the comedian in a certain way) and/or dramas (same reason). And when we make that connection, we feel valued, heard, acknowledged, respected, not alone. Maybe even loved.

Last week a friend from college was passing through Portland. I was able to contact her and make a plan to get lunch. It’s been, oh, I don’t know, 16 years or so, but thought it would be great to catch up since we’ve been overseas for so long. We met, got lunch and we walked around the college campus she used to work at. We talked about culture, politics, Jesus, Portland, faith and memories of college so long ago. It was good, really good. And, amazingly, I learned something. Her job, at a different campus, deals with sex crimes, seeking  where there is wrong doing and passionately pursuing respect and reconciliation. I listened. I learned. I learned about issues and fears that I don’t have being a white American male. I learned about issues we push for but in the end end up hurting so many people. I learned about how we think we are being Jesus to those around us, but end up doing more harm than good. And I learned about her story as well. There were things I never knew about her 16 years ago, but now, I see why some of these things are such great passions of hers. And, I learned a little more about myself in how I act, relate and engage with different demographics of people.

The guys I work with who are in recovery, giving up a life they knew and taking on fairly humbling jobs to get their life in order, teach me things everyday. So do the mentally disabled, current drug addicts and homeless people that walk into my store everyday. There are those around us on a daily basis who may not even know Jesus, but have so much to teach us if we are willing to learn. When we stop, acknowledge who they are, and hear their story, it’s amazing how much we can learn about life, ourselves…and yes, how much we can learn about Jesus from someone who doesn’t even believe in Him.  I pray we all learn more about Jesus and ourselves this day.

…more to come…

be blessed today

 

take posture of learner, I learned something, humility, etc

Living Life in 3D

Those hot summer nights. I remember them clearly. The sun shining way into the evening, the last glimmer of sunlight and the moon shining in it’s fullness at the same time. Then, as it gets darker, the fireflies come out to play, and then the stars. Oh the stars. Growing up in the middle of farming country had some perks, and one of them was little light pollution. The first time I really, and I mean really, encountered the stars was on a backpacking trip in Glacier National Park in Montana here in the States. There were no city lights at all, and the stars were almost as plentiful as rain drops in a downpour. They were…something bigger….something…..more. More than I had once thought. Something grander than I had once believed.

The path of self discovery. It’s incredibly important for each and everyone of us to travel down. And, as I mentioned in an earlier post, we can’t just stop there. Though many often do, this simply leads to a one sided, one dimensional outlook on life-simply who we are. That may not sound so simple. And it’s not. We are incredibly complex. Which is why we must keep going. Going…past the point of self discovery, to the realm of self awareness. Understanding how others experience and the wake we may be leaving, is key to growth and maturity. It’s when we begin to become less self focused and more focused on those around us. Even the “other.” The ones we swear we are nothing like. Perhaps we could consider this two dimensional. And, for a mature adult, this could be the stopping point.

For me, self discovery is where I had stopped for awhile. That is until I realized for the first time, the massive wake I was leaving behind me. And I could have stopped there. Working on me and my behavior, trying to reach out to the other, or at least become more tolerant of the other. And I do continually try to learn more about my wake. But God continued to invite further. The path from this point on, just like the path up to this point, was uncharted, unknown and scary.

Looking up at the stars, that feeling of bigness, and that I am a part of that bigness, is something that invites us into it. And that is where our lives become, for lack of a better descriptor, three dimensional. It’s when we’ve gone from understanding who we are, and how others experience us, to understanding who we are IN Christ.

I have met so many people, followers of Jesus, that have no idea who they are in Christ. This key part helps us to see that we are a part of something much bigger and grander than ourselves. That we are a part of a much larger narrative, a story that is being written as we live, that God continually invites us into. We are more valuable than we could ever imagine, we are more precious than we could ever dream. I remember once hearing an interview with J. K. Rowling, the creator and author of Harry Potter. She said, “I always knew how the story would end.”She goes on to say that it was the story leading up to that end that was what brought her enjoyment and life.

And I believe Christ is the same with us. We are a part of a grand story. Each day, each moment in that presence of Christ, is another opportunity of learning about who we are from the One who created us. Who puts the very breath in our lungs. Why we are wired or gifted or skilled a certain way. Looking back on the life lived already and seeing how God used us through those things, and seeing we are a part of something much greater. Though we may seem insignificant, He desires us to be very intricate parts of it. We need to be reminded of those things from time to time. I hope you are.

be blessed today

 

Getting Caught in the Wake

Oh, that feeling. I hate it. Man, I hate it. It doesn’t matter if the person is small, big, girl, boy, old, young. It doesn’t matter whether or not they are in a position over you or under you at work. It is still uncomfortable. Walking on egg shells. It’s just not fun.

One of the biggest issues in the American Church today, is our lack of self awareness. Or put differently, our lack of understanding how we are experienced by others. This doesn’t just come in our personal interaction with people on a moment by moment or daily basis. But it also comes in our actions and verbiage towards “the other.” “The Others” are other people with differing views, perspectives, faith, theologies and lifestyles than us. In many cases, we may even just naturally assume that everyone else agrees with us or is just like us. Especially if we are part of the same faith community.

I am just as guilty of this as anyone else. I have made (and still do, I’m sure) blanket statements, stereotypes, and rash, harsh judgements. I can be arrogant, or perhaps my self confidence can come across as arrogance. I’ve made mention before that I am a tall, large, white male. This can cause intimidation, fear, feelings of frustration and/or being inferior in others around me. Whether I am trying to bring about these feelings or not, the truth is that simply who I am and how I act can bring about those feelings. A few years ago, I probably would have scoffed at that last sentence, but I have become much more aware of my wake.

 

Last post, I started a dialogue about self discovery. I really do feel this is an important step in our growth as people and especially as followers of Jesus. As we begin to walk down that road of self discovery, we could end up in a place of great growth. But we need humility. Self discovery, if carried long enough and is added with humility, will bring about self awarenesssocial-icons-01

Self awareness is when we begin to understand the wake that we are leaving behind us. Just as a speed boat cruising along at top speed will leave a tremendous wake, so do our actions. There’s a reason why marina’s have a “no wake” policy. If a boat is racing through the marina, it can cause a lot of damage to the docks, the other boats and even the shoreline. Our wake has an impact on those around us. And often times, it is hard for us to see our wake. It’s hard for us to see or understand how others are experiencing us. This is a key area of growth for us as people, let alone as people who are trying to follow Jesus a little better everyday.

I have people who I trust, who I have given the freedom to call me out on my stuff and to call me out when my wake is leaving a path of destruction. I tell them very clearly that I may not respond well to them initially, but I do want them to call me out on it. Why? Because if they don’t, and everyone else is walking on egg shells, who will speak out? And, how will I know what destruction I am leaving if no one speaks out? The Holy Spirit is there to reveal those things to us, to convict us. I don’t know about you, but many times I am too blind to see the Spirit or to busy and self focused to hear Him.

Self awareness, how others experience us, the wake we leave behind us are just another aspect of this journey of self discovery. And yes, just like finding ourselves (how we’re wired, skilled, likes and dislikes) is important, this is where many stop and dare go no further. They don’t dare continue to walk this path of self discovery. Yet, that’s exactly what God desires us to do…..the next part of the journey….

more to come…

be blessed today

 

The Pit

There’s a lot of volcanic activity that happened here years and years ago. The most recent being Mount St. Helens erupting a couple decades back. The Cascade Range includes such massive mountains as Mt. Hood and volcanic wonders as Crater Lake. On the Eastern side of the Cascades, near Bend, Oregon, there are a few lava tubes. Over the years, they have collapsed creating caves you can walk in. They don’t go too far in, maybe a hundred or so feet, but enough where you need a flashlight to get to the back.

I’ve been caving before in Kentucky and Arkansas. They’re similar to the lava tubes, but on a much bigger scale. Going deep far in, you can’t see except for what is immediately around you. Or, the entrance to the cave was lost hours before as you wondered through the rocky structure. When your eyes adjust, all you can see is immediately around you, if even that.

I imagine falling into a pit is similar. Except panic starts to creep in. You can’t escape, you can’t get out, and you have no idea what is above you except for the hole, mocking you, way out of your reach. Like the tailspin of a plane I mentioned last time, I have never fallen into a pit before, especially not one I couldn’t escape from. But, I can imagine what it might feel like based on my limited caving experience. And, like the tailspin, I have felt those feelings before, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. And even sometimes physically. The feeling of no escape. And then the feeling of hopelessness.

Almost the entire first half of the book of Ecclesiastes is one depressing poem and narrative of meaninglessness. I think I could count on one hand the amount of times I have heard a sermon preached on this book. I used to wonder why the early church even allowed this book in. Song of Solomon, I get that one, but why Ecclesiastes? And then I hit a loss of control. Then came fear.

And then I hit panic.

And then, then I hit hopelessness.

A few times I have hit hopelessness in my life. Perhaps the first time I can remember only lasted an hour or so and I cried a fair amount. But with each instance, they have been much longer periods of time, each one having much greater magnitude than the last. Going from an hour to months and months and months. And going from a few tears, to uncontrollable sobs and complete disorientation. Like going from a lava tube a few feet long, to the depths of the Earth inside a cavernous maze.

I was in such a panic, that I lost all objectivity. I mentioned this in the last post, and I think it is worth mentioning again because I know I am not the only follower of Jesus who has hit this place before. I lost objectivity. There was nothing that could help me. No one that could save me. Nothing I could do, and in the end, what was the point? Everything. EVERYTHING was meaningless. EVERYTHING was hopeless. And I would never recover, so why even bother. I lost objectivity. I was lost to the subjectivity of my immediate circumstances, or in my case, the potentially-perhaps-maybe-might-cloud-be “ifs” of the future that I could not even begin to control.

I know that I am not the only follower of Jesus who has hit this place before. I am thankful I know that. And, I only know that because I have had courageous people in my life who have been so brave as to share their experiences publicly, allowing their vulnerability to bring hope to others struggling. Others like me. That is why I believe that Ecclesiastes is in the Bible we read today-because it’s reality. It’s real life struggles, real life problems and real life questions I know I’ve asked.

Those others that have been so brave, they are the ones who helped point me back to objectivity. They are the ones who helped point out where Jesus was in all of this (and it turns out He has always been there in the midst of the pit). They help bring me back to a place of objectivity each time I fall into the pit. And, I also do the same for them. It happened to Solomon in the second half of Ecclesiastes. He found objectivity again. That place of objectivity is always there, it’s where Jesus lives. It’s just sometimes we get so caught up, we can’t see it.

I know I will fall into that pit again, hopefully not as severe as before. But nonetheless, I have people who love me and are willing to sit in the pit with me. Me, them and Jesus. I hope this brings you a bit of objectivity today, if you’re in the pit getting muddy and desperate. You are not alone.

be blessed today