Why Did You Have To Go and Do That?

“Seriously, Bullshitter to Bean-counter.  What’s this gonna cost me?” –Pat Patton

As an exercise in discovering what is true about us as believers in Christ’s redemptive work, many people who attend the same community that I do, which is called Seaside, have spent the last twelve weeks attending a class called, “how people change”.  It is a study in how Christ changes us by His grace.  It was written and developed by two guys names of Timothy S. Lane, and Paul David Tripp.  The study is full of great insight about why it is we do what we do, and where that leaves us as participants in the redemption story.  It essentially lays out the nature of our relationship with Christ, describes where that places us positionally with our Creator, and then offers practical ways to live as though redemption is real.  I received insight, pertaining to anger, using the metaphor of a glass of water.  It follows thusly, “if you are holding a glass of water and someone bumps your hand, allowing some of the water to spill; what caused the spillage?” (that’s a poor paraphrase)  My presupposition was to automatically blame the person who bumped my hand, but they offered the possibility, “what if the reason why the water spilled out of the glass was because there was water in the glass?” (again a paraphrase, though I am more satisfied with its quality).  Lots of things like that, that I found very helpful.  The study was not very “list” heavy.  As a matter of fact, the community of Seaside is not very “list” heavy; “do this get that” sort of stuff.

I’m a big fan of lists, well sort of, I’m a big fan of finding the easy way through a given maze, and as such, if there were a list or map that showed the easy way through the maze of life, I’d be a big fan of that.  There isn’t though.  It’s funny how this seems to be the logical way to treat my faith in Christ…break it down for me.  What do I gotta do to have a better life, to make me a better me?  The quotation at the beginning of this post was relayed to me by friend Pat Patton, we call him “The General” (we being, those who know him, and call him that) (the implication being, not everyone who knows him calls him that).  This was something he said to an inspector of some sort (I think) in a dream, it is a hilarious quote to use in situations where-in someone has you “over a barrel”, who knows the unique position in which they have you, and are in the midst of telling you just how unpleasant the experience is going to be.  I highly suggest stopping them in the midst of this, all too familiar, diatribe with that quote.  I love this quote, I always have.  I love it too much.  This is where I seem to begin with every struggle I have in my life.  What is the least that I am going to have to do, to get out of whatever I have found myself?  This was not The General’s intent for the quote, on a practical level, I miss-use the quote, and the ensuing hi-jinx are accompanied by far less whimsy.

The economy of the gospel is not: “get the biggest return on the smallest investment”.  If it were, then lists would be of great value.  We could do whatever it took to accomplish the things that would give us a grade that we find acceptable.  This would be a very subjective pursuit, a pursuit that I’ve substituted for Christianity for most of my Christian life.  The economy of the gospel is: ” my life in return for the one Christ provided through His death and resurrection”.

If Christ came to earth for the express purpose of fixing my short-falls, then all that could be said of His death would be, “Why did you have to go and do that?”  If I could be fixed then Christ’s death was just a spectacle.  It was not a spectacle; it was no stunt.  It was what had to be done, given the seriousness of my sin.  Christ died to make payment for my sin, He rose again to relinquish sin and death of its power over me.  I am not fixable, I’ve died to my former self and become a new person in Christ, as described by the author, Paul in Galatians, a book in the Bible–more specifically–Galatians 2:20.  Christ didn’t have to die to give me an example of how to navigate life’s struggles…that’s what life coaches are for.  Life coaching only takes you so far, and that destination is well short of true redemption.  Life coaches know this is true, but hey, car payments don’t make themselves; and if someone is willing to give advice that somehow makes another person’s life easier, and as a result, the second person  feels obliged to help out with the car payments, then no harm–no foul.  Just don’t stay there, this is not the end I seek, and I don’t recommend you should either.

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To be Thankful

It was a cold Thursday evening we were all sitting in our spots, carefully planned out with Stewartian precision, name tags marking our places, lest there be any confusion.  All the best table settings were employed to lend a punctuation of sorts to the importance the meal held in the hearts of all in attendance.  An embarrassment of riches set before us in the form of mains and sides and salads and company…and rolls.  Grace was said, and the bounty was divided, enough for everyone and then some.  Then the request was made, much to the consternation of all.  “Could everyone please say one thing for which you are thankful?”  What would we say?  Is it safe, or sane to be this vulnerable, even given the spirit of the day?  We sat uncomfortably plotting our next move while, outside, the winds howled, and the rain tried to beat its way in.

There were thank-yous for friends and family.  Platitudes for employment and provision.  A small one-legged Peruvian boy, almost to the point of tears, spoke with wide-eyed exuberance of his thankfulness for life itself, and rightfully so we realized, as he dazzled and amazed us with his tails of mayhem, and heroic conquests of hardship –both physical and moral.  For what was I thankful, it had to good, after all the Peruvian kid was a hard act to follow.

I’ve family.  I’ve friends.  I am bi-pedal.  I’ve all I need.  I have all of these things, which is no insignificant miracle, given the fact that I’ve led a life that is remarkable in my propensity toward mistake making, if in nothing else.  Which is not to say that the most remarkable things in my life are mistakes.  By no means.  The most remarkable thing in my life is that I could live such a blessed existence in spite of myself.  Why?  How is this fair?  The short answer is it is not fair; there is nothing fair about it.  I am in the process of learning that justice, while a great story arc in pulp fiction narrative, is a cumbersome wardrobe to don.  It is the fairy tale rumination of the self-righteous.  Over-dramatic?  Perhaps.  I am thankful that I serve a God of second-chances.  None of the things for which I could be thankful would exist were it not for grace.  Were it not for mercy.  Grace and mercy trump justice and self-sufficiency every time.

My intent in writing these things is not to thumb my nose at those who lack this world view.  I take no pleasure in flaunting grace like some spoiled kid who never gets his due.  Grace and mercy is the bus on which I ride, its destination is redemption and I’m just saying that as I look around I see that there are some empty seats.

[[[ it all smelled like bullshit

I had this plan of writing a short story on the blog, at a rate of a thousand word chapter per post with a new chapter being published twice a week.  Sounded like a great plan, save one caveat, I don’t think that is what I am supposed to be doing with this forum.  For the past couple of weeks my friends have been encouraging me that they find this blog most compelling when I am being honest about what I am going through in my life, and what I am learning as a result.  I was resistant to this idea, because I wanted to put out content on this blog on my own predetermined terms, and as such I would be honest when I wanted to be honest and be creative when I wanted to be creative, and all else be damned.  If you’ve been reading this blog for a while your initial thought might be, “He really is a slow learner”.  The answer to the question you have in your mind is, “Yes, we do share that in common”.  So I started on the story, and it was going well, and I was on pace to put out two trouble-free non-introspective chapters a week.  What a relief.  Then, while I was sitting in church this past Sunday…it all smelled like bullshit.  I’ll continue to write that story, but it’s not for here.

John chapter 9 verses one through three is a passage in the Bible and it reads like this, “And as He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?’  Jesus answered, ‘It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him.”  Later, Jesus heals the man with some spit, and dirt and a little rinse in “the pool of Siloam” (which means, Sent).  This was a part of scripture from which my friend Jefro preached at the church I attend, Seaside, last Sunday.

This cut me to the quick.

I am the disciples.

It doesn’t matter whether I am trying to discern the reasons for someone else’s struggles, or my own; the idea that God is using tough circumstance to establish His kingdom on earth, is the last one that I entertain.  If something goes wrong in my life I automatically jump to the conclusion that either I or someone else has done something to cause my immediate consternation.  Generally, I default to someone else.  If something tragic happens to someone else I determine that it had to be a result of something that they did.  This is my starting point.  Through the grace that God has given to me and has revealed in my life, this has a tendency to give way to the truth of the situation.  The truth revealed in the preceding scripture reference.  Why is this my starting point?  Self-preservation through self-righteousness.  If I can create a narrative where-in the whole of life’s foibles are created and perpetuated by human failings, I can then reverse engineer a foible-free life.  Problem solved, NEXT!  This idea is perfect in every detail, save one, its accuracy.  Simply put, it is not true.  Save two, actually, the other problem with this thinking is it focuses too much on the concept of introspection as a path toward enlightenment.

Introspection is a great discipline in which to engage, but it is a means, not the end.  In the midst of looking within to determine why we do what we do, we must never determine that the answer lay there.  We can notice our struggles, but it is our Creator who possesses the necessary tools to make significant change, and to give that change “legs”, as it were.  As my Pastor, Jefro, says–and I’m paraphrasing– “It’s not a matter of determining that I am impatient so I need to work on my patience, build more patience, and through that I become patient.  It is a matter of realizing that I have a problem with patience, I don’t know how to fix my lack of patience, but I know that I can trust God with my lack of patience, and  His plan to make me into His likeness which will include being more patient.”  In the latter scenario it is God who receives the glory.  In my life the message translates thusly.  The idea that “I don’t like myself because I have some short-comings to button up, but in three months when I conquer those moral failings I will really like who I am”, is a lie.  The truth is, with regard to my moral short comings, I can trust God with them today, and they’ll no longer posses the power to torment me.

In light of these truths, the question of why I do the things I do becomes less important than the idea that this IS what I do, but I serve a God who can deliver me from doing it, and not only from doing it, but from wanting to do it…this is truly good news.  How does this apply to my own particular flavor of home-spun arseholery? (Note: spell-check thought the word I was shooting for was leaseholder)  What indeed.

The More Things Change…

These last few months have been marked by introspection, some of my own volition, some motivated by the Holy Spirit.  The latter has been more useful in my pursuit of godliness…clearly.  I’ve learned that I’ve a problem with idolatry.  My idol of choice…me.  Those of you who know me might think this is a strange choice, and if you were idol shopping you would probably look for one that would make a better statue.  I would agree, I am in no position to defend my idol from a logical standpoint.  This introspection has not been of the unhealthy sort, least wise not the part motivated by the Holy Spirit, but it is not always pleasant either.  Looking over past behaviors, and making realizations about why it is that I hurt people who trust me is a dirty business, and painful when done with honesty in one’s heart.  Even now I am dealing with the consequences of hurting my family and a family whom I care about a great deal.  This is all still in the stages of my trying to understand why I do what I do.  There is, however, good news in all of this.  The God who saves, also changes the hearts of willing men and women.  Redemption is real.  I will be writing about this after I’ve taken some time to process the narrative myself.  It is, after all, just part of the story God is developing in my life.

In the weeks coming, my blog will change in direction from what has been its theme thus far.  My plan is to write a short story that has been kicking around in my head for years.  The parameters I’ve set for myself on this project are different from my previous posts.  Before I was determined to keep my posts to 1000 words or less, and to stay on the schedule of a new post once a week, to be published by Thursday.  My new plan is to write chapters of approximately 1000 words to be published at a rate of one chapter on Monday and another on Thursday.  This new format will be a little harder for me to do, and will require more self-discipline, and will possess a higher propensity toward failure…but  you know what they say…neither do I, but hopefully it is wise and apropos.

I guess what I’m trying to convey is that change is coming, and one thing I’ve noticed about change in my life is: The more things change…the more I look forward to them changing.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Bakery

It is morning, in a bakery, somewhere in Las Vegas.  In the air, all of the smells one would expect from a bakery…on the menu, an exit strategy.

They say that “sex sells” but they never say why it sells…none of us do.  Sex sells because we love to objectify people.  This love is not born of a hatred for humanity per-se.  We love it because it is easy.  It’s a hard reality to face that we all have a tendency to objectify people.  We are fascinated with the concept of “objects selling objects”, maybe not so much when it is spelled out like this (it sounds crazy when articulated like this), but there is an unsettling precedent in American (or Western if you like) culture of being sold things by people we treat like things.  Recently, my Pastor, name a Jefro, challenged us as a congregation to see past the habit of treating others as objects, and digging deep to find their humanity, a place where love could triumph.  His proposal was to help support a ministry called The Cupcake Girls, the name of the ministry possesses the power to invoke innuendo, but not all is  as it seems…is it?  Or is it?  The answer is no.

The Cupcake Girls is an outreach ministry in Las Vegas, whose chief concern, in terms of those unreached by the gospel message, is women involved in the sex-trade industry…an insidiously innocuous term if ever there was one.  The reaching is accomplished through cupcakes.  The Cupcake Girls bring the cupcakes to the clubs and brothels for the girls employed there to enjoy…no strings…no bait and switch…just cupcakes and a chance for relationships to happen.  So far they are involved with 17 strip clubs and 5 brothels across Las Vegas and throughout Nevada.  They do this ministry with one of the most astonishingly low budgets I’ve ever encountered, in terms of dollars spent per people affected.  That was my pitch…you wanna help?  Go to the site (it was those red letters you read a few lines prior).  There you will learn that cupcakes are just the beginning; they also help the girls with a myriad of other things like experiencing a family environment through Christmas parties, and having spa days which allow the girls employed by the clubs and brothels to see themselves as people who deserve to be treated like people, not objects.

You see these girls aren’t just objectified by men who look at them as objects of exploitation, they’re also objectified by men and women who see them as objects to disdain, objects that deserve their judgment, as objects who need their pity…they are none of these things, they’re not things at all; they’re people.  My point is that these girls are stripped of their humanity by the nature of the work they perform.  Their vocation creates a stigma that many never see through and there they die a slow and lonely death.  This stigma can be made obsolete with a tweak of our attitudes, we can diffuse its power.

Why would we want to do that?  I guess because Jesus did.  Annoying savior ain’t he?  Whats even more annoying than his example, is the obligation to try to emulate it, especially when seen through the way he treated Mary Magdalene.  He didn’t treat her as a sexual article, as had most of the men she’d encountered.  Nor did he treat her as a taboo to be avoided at all cost, as the church had.  He simply invited her to be his friend, and that they were, and still are as far as I know.  This is not a call to married men to go out and begin friendships with sex-trade workers, there is no doubt of the propensity toward disaster that scenario would create.  Men could, however, support their wives in the building of such relationships.  Families could work together to create opportunities for interaction in healthy familial situations through dinners or Sunday brunches.  Women of the church could end the policy of “financial embargo” with concern to so-called “Sexspresso” stands, and take the opportunity to stop in and start a relationship with the people working there.  In short the church could begin to love the people who are involved in a trade which society (the churched and the unchurched)  finds convenient to forget is staffed by people.  A radical premise right?  My favorite kind.

I wonder.  What do we think as we pass by the espresso stands, strip clubs, as we see pictures, or hear of sites that sell sex at the expense of their employees humanity?  Do these thoughts honor the God you say you worship?  I know mine rarely do.  That can change.

Lastly a hypothetical.  There is a girl she has been wrapped up in the sex industry for seventeen years, it has been a long rabbit hole the end of which seems unattainable to this girl, having been disappointed time and time again in a vocation that is known for, and thrives upon disappointment.  She needs to get out…but how?  She imagines her resume and she almost laughs, it would be funny if life wasn’t so desperate at this point.  If only she had a job that looked good on paper.  This is one of the possibilities that can happen in a world where strippers are treated like people…chances are taken and lives are changed.  These ideas are not my own, like I said these were challenges that my Pastor offered to us, as a community, during a Sunday meeting.  I thought I would convey these ideas to people who read my blog who hadn’t the benefit of hearing Jefro’s message (more info about Seaside’s [the church I attend] involvement here).  These are ideas that could change lives; everyone’s life involved.

Dear diary, a funny thing happened on the way to the bakery this morning…redemption.

That Hard Livin is Gonna Catch Up to You Boy )epilogue[

When first I laid eyes on my girl...Miss Ruby

May 21st, 2011 at around 11a pacific, my family and I stepped off an international flight into the Sea-Tac airport with our new daughter, a beautiful little girl, in tow; we were happy and exhausted.  I walked out of the airport to a helicopter in which I was taken to an aircraft carrier; I put on my flight suit and gave a press conference to brag about my latest conquest in front of a ridiculously large banner, “Mission Accomplished”  its gospel.  A great end to a moving story…draw a tear from a glass eye.  Problem: going to China to adopt a little girl wasn’t and isn’t my mission…it isn’t even a means to an end; it is a part of a dynamic story that I am charged with living out, this is what I have learned, this is what I continue to learn.

It is strange, the way I segment my life.  “If only I could accomplish this, then I would be happy”, the thought scrambles through my mind with the frenetic delirium of a death-row gerbil.  It’s not so much strange that I have the thoughts; more so, it is strange that while the evidence against this theory looms large, I still convince myself that it is true.  Somehow, through the haze of a mis-spent youth, and the lead-curtain density of my Irish hard-hat, I do learn somethings.  This is what I learned through the “Hard Livin” saga.

I am no island.  I have lived, and at times continue to live, as though my actions have no effect on anyone but myself.  This is not true now, nor was it true before I almost blew the adoption of Ruby, had to drop out of school, had to pay thousands of dollars in fees and penalties, and had to spend time away from my family in county, these consequences just made the truth obvious…obvious enough even for me.  My actions have always affected those who care about me.  I have a habit of looking at relationships through the filter of, “how does this affect me?”.  “How will this or that benefit me and my needs?”  I am a consumer, a consumer of love…more to the point, a consumer of the emotion I recognize as love–for better or worse (or is it worser?).  The mistake in this type of thinking is that it is too patso-centric.  If I begin to focus more on loving others, rather than how my needs are being met, I open myself up to learning more about love, both the giving and receiving. No longer am I the mirrored-lensed goon, standing in a watchtower, high powered rifle in hand, making sure only the love I recognize makes it on to my yard; I am available to learn about love through others.  Love is a bridge that can span any moat.

I don’t like myself all that much.  Don’t misunderstand me when I say this…it is not a cry for help from a bruised and beaten down man who has no hope of ever realizing how much he should esteem himself.  I love myself to death.  I just don’t like myself.  Note: The problem of not liking oneself only becomes a problem if one is caught up in self-worship.  If one is focused outward, one never really examines this question for an unhealthy amount of time.  Oh sure there are times of reflection and all that rot, but it never comes to a point of self-loathing or any of the other logical conclusions of a life spent in terminal self-reflection.  For me, I stopped liking myself when I realized the thing I worshiped was not living up to my expectations.  This is no new quandary, this is the inevitable consequence faced by anyone imprisoned by idol-worship.  Once the object of your worship falls short of your expectations, you become warm to the thought of doing away with said object, or yourself (as the shame of a life spent in false worship becomes to great to bear).  The problem with self-worship is the two solutions are really the same.  Thus comes the test of ultimate idol destruction, a test some people pass…unfortunately.  Another solution is to turn a way from idols and fall to your knees before the one true God.  I did this once, which made me a worshiper of God positionally, but on a practical level, in the day to day, there is something in me that always finds a way to worship myself.  For me turning away from idols is a daily routine.  Hopefully.

Finally, I learned that my hope is not completely wrapped up in the idea that one day I will slip the surly bonds of this body and worship God without fetter; it is also wrapped in the truth that God is changing me consistently; He is changing me daily.  Sometimes the change comes through wave after wave of shitty circumstance and sometimes it’s not that easy, but I am learning that I can trust God through it all.  In the airport coming home from China, it struck me that in ten days the one year anniversary of the night that I was arrested for DUI would be here.  The night that started this chain of events.  I remembered the way I thought of God almost a year prior.  I was a man who thought, if given the option between making me pay the consequences for my poor choices, or saving a little girl from being an orphan in China, my God would save the girl every time. As I stood there in the airport, and as I sit here writing this now, the power of the day to day change God initiates and completes in my mind is palpable.

 I know now, I serve a God who can do both.