Finding my way back

Hey.  Remember me?

I’m not eeeeven going to try to explain where I’ve been or what’s been going on with me over the past “who knows how long?”.  Not now.  Maybe later.  Just not now.

What I will say is I just haven’t had the words to finish the sentences.  I start and I can’t finish. I feel it in my heart and I can conceptualize it in my mind, but somewhere between my brain and my heart and my fingertips, I go dark.

It’s been that way for months.

So I’ve had to let the words of others speak for me.  Reading the completed sentences of others have become my voice.  The wisdom of others has touched my soul and brought clarity to my thinking and healing to my wounds.

The scholarship and judgment and spiritual depth and common sense of others has become my voice…speaking to an intimate audience of one.  Me.

“That’s me!  That’s what I’m thinking.  That’s what I’m feeling.  Those words are shouting my pain…crying my confusion…clearing my path…declaring my faith!”  Man, am I grateful for the writings of others.

One of God’s gifts to me during this season of wandering is a guy I’ve never met and knew nothing about.  I stumbled on his writing late one night about six months ago, as I was reading another, more popular and well-known blogger.  I read just a little and I was hooked.

His name is Winn Collier and he’s a minister in a small church in Charlottesville, Virginia.  Yeah, that Charlottesville.  If you’re interested, you can read a little about him here.  One of these days, I’m going to write him and tell him how much his writing has meant to me on this leg of my journey.  Until then, I will continue to look forward to his next post.  And then his next…

Here’s a portion of what he wrote today.  It’s actually a letter he wrote to a friend of his. Carve out a few minutes of quiet and read his words and let them speak for you.  You’ll be better for it.

You know, though, how Charlottesville has been siphoning off so much of my energy in so many other ways lately. Our dear, broken town has been splayed across the news, and it’s not going away–last night CNN had a link to a livestream of our town’s City Council meeting–can you believe that? In the middle of Hurricanes and DACA breakdown and North Korea shooting nuclear missiles, there sits our town council with a lead-in from Wolf Blitzer.

John, I tell you, on August 12th, I experienced the most vile and vicious ways we degrade ourselves and others. I know racism and antisemitism is still very much with us, but I’ve never seen it bare its fangs– so brazen, without any twinge of conscience. And then, later, I stood between two groups of people spewing the most evil, dehumanizing words at one another. I will never forget that. Never. And though I would never want three people to die to be able to get to this point, I am grateful that now our wounds, festering so long, are in the open, that we simply cannot ignore them. I hope that now we can embrace serious national repentance. I hope that we can truly become brothers and sisters, that we can make communities where everyone truly belongs.

You talked about the “In-between”. I feel that all the time. I feel it, for instance, in trying to navigate how to live well in a time where we cycle from one crisis to the next, rarely without any moment to catch our breath or think deeply, certainly no time to think clearly. One downside (of many) to the 24-hour news cycle and firehose-style social media is that we are tempted to believe we can have (or should have) our finger and our mind on every issue, every crisis, every worthy concern. But we can’t. Only God can do that. If we think that we have no responsibility to engage the sorrows and injustices of our world, we need God to expand our heart. However, if we think that we are responsible to confront every sorrow and injustice of our world, we need God to chasten our bloated (and destructive) delusions.

Of course, for many of us, our overblown sense of responsibility comes from the shame blasted out from those who like to sound like God, only with a heap of self-righteousness poured on top. A long time ago, I gave up giving someone else that level of authority in my life. I’ve got my hands full trying to follow Jesus’ voice; I can’t tune in to the million-voice siren call on Facebook too.

All this reminds me of Ignatius who often signed off his letters with this inspiring jolt: Go set the world aflame! That’ll get the blood flowing, won’t it? We do need more people striking their match. However, Ignatius also regularly insisted on our need to foster a Holy Indifference. This Holy Indifference was Ignatius’ way of describing an abiding trust in God that keeps us from getting swept away in the emotions and demands of those things (and often good things) that simply take over more energy than they should. It’s not a call to apathy, not by any means. However, it is, as one writer put it,”peaceful acceptance, realistic expectations, and careful consideration.” If we have indifference but no flame, we’ll waste our life. And if we have the flame but no indifference, we’ll just burn, burn til there’s nothing playful or hopeful or curious left in us at all.

Beautiful.  Powerful.  Life-giving.  Words.  You can read the whole blog post here.

I have been completing more of my sentences these days.  Maybe you’ll get to start reading some of them again, soon.

Until then…

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Theology for Grasshoppers

Grasshoppers 4(For the uninitiated, “Theology for Grasshoppers” is my attempt to tell my story of faith to my grandkids.  I hope I’m around long enough to tell them personally.  But just in case I reach the finish line before I get the opportunity, these letters will be the record of what I believe and why I believe it…in words and stories they can understand.)

Hey there, Farrasprouts!

Sooo, what do pink socks, a miniature Batman, Superman, Darth Vader, Chewbacca, and a ninja warrior, a baseball, a minion fan/candy carrier, a squirt gun, plastic eggs, sour gummy worms, a bow, assorted rocks, and a stuffed rabbit have in common?

Those are all your little leftovers of fun that seem to live permanently on the floorboard of Mimi’s grammamobile…things I don’t ever seem too much in a hurry to clean up.  I saw them all again this afternoon and they made me happy.

And they make you guys happy, too.  Life is so simple for you right now.

I think a lot about what you guys are going to be like as you grow up.  What are the things that will make you happy?  Where will you invest your most important time and energy? What will stir your hearts? What will be your passion?

The world is at your fingertips.  There’s no telling what you will do with your lives.  I hope I’m still around to see it.

But what you end up doing is not what’s most important to me.  

I bet you will get really good at doing some things.  You may rock it at sports or become great writers or singers or get fascinated with medicine or cars or law.  Who knows?  But before any of those things can take on any lasting meaning, there’s something else that will always matter way more than talent or education or experience.

It’s called character.

WHO you are will always be more important than WHAT you do.

Character is about heart.  Character is about what kind of person you are on the inside. Character is certainly about how you treat people, and choices you make with your time, and your responses in times of struggle and frustration.  But it’s even more than that.

Character is about who you are when nobody’s looking.  Character is about what you do and think about in secret.  Character is about standing UP to wrong, even when it hurts your reputation.  Character is standing FOR those who need help.  Character is about being the right KIND of person.

Character isn’t always popular, but it is always pleasing to the One who matters most.

Way back when I was your age, I was taught to try to live by the Bible verse that says, “Always think about things the way that Jesus would think about things.”  Philippians 2:5 (*FFT)

I promise, if you do that, you will never be sorry and your lives will turn out pretty awesome, no matter what path you end up walking down!

Be Wise, Grasshoppers.

Papi
(*Farra Filtered Translation)

Marriage Tuesday

marriage 2After all these years, I still care deeply about marriage and helping couples have the best marriages they can possibly have.  I’m always a sucker for saying “yes” when a couple (especially a young couple) asks me for help.

Right now, I’m meeting with two young couples who are preparing to get married and I’m also going to be overseeing the ceremonies of two other young couples in the next couple of months.

Here’s what I can tell you about these four couples:  From what I can see, they all define marriage in a different way.

And that is their prerogative.  That’s true for all of us.

Each of us enter into marriage with some presuppositions about what marriage is and what we are hoping ours will become.  We have beliefs about marriage that have been carved out since our childhood (when we lived with our parent’s marriages) and got further refined as we watched marriages (both good and bad) in our adolescent and young adult years.

We come to conclusions about the nature and purpose of marriage by watching and listening. The differences between us is our sources of influence.  The people we watch. The voices who speak into our hearts.  The words we trust and have authority in our lives.

But make no mistake.  What our marriages are built on…what our marriages grow into…what our marriages ultimately become…are our choices.

I’ve said this before, many times.  I always ask couples why they want to get married. They are almost always quick to tell me it’s because they “love” each other.  Now, as noble and foundational as love is to marriage, that’s never the answer I’m looking for.  At least not in the form I’m hoping to hear.

How about some of these reasons:

“ I find my greatest joy in serving her.”

“I want to grow old together.”

“We are better together than we are separate.”

“I want to live absolutely and fully committed to him.”

“Our individual giftedness compliments each other.”

“I completely and totally trust him.”

“I am drawn to her character and example like no other.”

“He refines and challenges my shortcomings.”

“She inspires me to live out a higher calling.”

The reason I seldom, if ever, get these kinds of answers is because most couples are not thinking deeply about marriage and they are drawing their definitions of marriage from sources other than the nature, character, words, and example of Jesus.

So when it comes to your marriage (current or future), here are the questions to ask:

Who is influencing your thoughts and your process of defining marriage?

What is your source of moral and relational authority?

Is your marriage what YOU say it is, or are you submitting yourself to a greater influence?

No matter what, it’s still your choice.

Theology for Grasshoppers

Grasshoppers 4(For the uninitiated, “Theology for Grasshoppers” is my attempt to tell my story of faith to my grandkids.  I hope I’m around long enough to tell them personally.  But just in case I reach the finish line before I get the opportunity, these letters will be the record of what I believe and why I believe it…in words and stories they can understand.)

Hey there, Farrasprouts!

I want to teach you something that’s a little above your pay grade right now, but it’s definitely something you’re learning first hand these days, whether you know it or not.

It’s the value of repetition.

One of the things that separates people who just “get by” in life, from people who ultimately do amazing things in their world is how well they master the art of repetition. That means learning to do the same things over and over and over again, in order to do them better.

Holdie, in your short career as a little baseball player, you’ve already experienced the value, and the results,  of practicing the same exact patterns when you swing a baseball bat.  Back elbow down (not “up” like everybody tries to tell you), hands at your back ear, see the ball, front foot down early, swing for the fence.  Again and again and again and again and again.  Repetition.

Great soccer players understand this.  Great guitar players understand this.  Great doctors understand this.  Great debaters understand this.  Great husbands and wives and dads and moms understand this.  Great scientists and carpenters and dancers and teachers…and even old pastors….understand this.  Repetition.

I hope this sinks into your little hearts someday.  Repetition is a spiritual thing.  It can feel dull and boring, yet at the center of repetition you can find the fruit of self-discipline.  

You can be fooled into thinking there are so many different things you could be doing, other than deepening your skills through repetition.  Repetition isn’t the “fun” part. Practicing  the fundamentals gets no attention and no awards and no trophies.  But it’s the only real path to get you where you’re going.  And it’s the stuff of legends.

Through repetition:

  • A baseball swing becomes a work of art.
  • Reading becomes joy.
  • Dribbling becomes dancing.  
  • Mathematics becomes a symphony.
  • A painting becomes a masterpiece.
  • Prayer becomes intimate conversation.
  • Faith becomes the oxygen of life.
  • Hope becomes confidence.
  • Love becomes the abandoning of self.
  • Trusting God becomes instinctive.

These are pretty deep things, little newbies.  Most people don’t practice them enough to ever fully realize how awesome life can be when little things are mastered.  

Don’t run from repetition.  Run to it.

Be wise, Grasshoppers. 

Papi

Marriage Tuesday

Marriage TuesdayAccording to my clock, I’ve still got about an hour before Tuesday is over this week, so here comes a Marriage Tuesday…

I have dozens and dozens of divorced friends.  The last thing in the world I would want is for my words to inflict any more pain on them than their own reality has already done.  It’s with that awareness these thoughts are offered.

There is no question the ones who feel the brunt of the pain of a divorce are the husband and wife.  It was not their goal to grow apart.  It was not their desire to draw loved ones into their conflict.  The needs of the children always weigh heavily on the parent’s hearts.

Even though one almost always feels more like the “victim”, neither is ever entirely blameless. Sometimes one feels like they are doing all the work, while the other is just going through the motions.  Some couples work and work and work to figure out what’s wrong and stop the bleeding and heal the hurts.  Every now and then it pays off.

Sometimes it doesn’t.

There is almost always a mess of collateral damage, also.  Some of it is obvious.  Finances. The house.  Loss of identity.  Loss of confidence.  Changed relationships with in-laws and extended family.  Holidays.

Here’s one issue that’s seldom talked about: How the divorce affects the church.  When the divorcing couple are both part of a church family (along with their kids), the church is living in awkwardness.  We don’t know the “whole” story…if we know any real story at all. Sides are often chosen and loyalties are declared.  Story lines are controlled by who’s talking and who’s listening.  Truth is slippery.

Worse yet, the church family can know absolutely nothing, because the couple has chosen to keep their struggle private.  Maybe they believe it’s nobody’s business.  Maybe they’re hoping it will get better and reputations can be spared.  Maybe they are simply living in denial, while their friends are living in the dark.  Until it blows up.

When that happens, we (the church) lose one, or sometimes, both of the partners.  Our children’s ministry loses their kids…at least half the time.  We lose their shared responsibilities.  We lose their financial support.  We lose friendship.  Their need to move on (for the health of their new relationships or just the need for a fresh start away from memories of their old life), leaves the rest of us just feeling loss.  And less than what we were.

And me?  Because I am usually more intimately involved with the couples, my feelings of loss are usually pretty acute, even though my emotions are mixed.  Somebody’s loss is almost always someone else’s benefit.  It doesn’t mean I have to like it!

So here’s the takeaway.  To all of my divorced friends:  My prayer will always be for your best. I hope the painful part of your life is in your past and you have found healing and strength in your new life…filled with new friends and new opportunities for you and yours.  May redemption be your song.

However, if you are still married and your relationship is less than what it should be…falling short of what it could be…hidden from what others see…held together by a veneer of social respectability, while it is crumbling below the surface in ways that only you and your partner know…it’s time to raise your hand.

It’s time to let someone in.  It’s time to swallow your pride.  It’s time to remember your vows. It’s time to live by faith and no longer by sight.  It’s time to ask for help.

It’s time to face the prospects of the potential collateral damage.  Before it’s too late.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Theology for Grasshoppers

grasshoppers-3(For the uninitiated, “Theology for Grasshoppers” is my attempt to tell my story of faith to my grandkids.  I hope I’m around long enough to tell them personally.  But just in case I reach the finish line before I get the opportunity, these letters will be the record of what I believe and why I believe it…in words and stories they can understand.)

Hey, Farrasprouts…

When your daddies were little, they grew up around music.  I played my guitar for them all the time.  Our youth group was always singing together.  I took them to concerts.  We listened to all different kinds of music, most everywhere we went.  Sometimes, me and Mimi would even have disagreements over the types of music I would let them listen to.  She still gives me “that Mimi-look” when I’m listening to some of the music I like.  It can get pretty loud and crazy!

One of the reasons I love music so much is because I believe God has put music inside our hearts.  It’s a form of communication that’s been around since…well, since people have been around.  The writers of the Bible wrote about singing and making music as much, or more, than just about any other topic.  Music can motivate us, soothe our sadness, touch our hearts on the deepest level, and speak for us when we have no words.

I want you to grow up loving music.  I want you to sing and make music in your hearts.  I want you to be little rebels in the culture you are growing up in and not be embarrassed to sing at church or in the school choir or at the top of your lungs in the car.  God made us to sing.  God gave us lungs to express our joy and sadness…and gave us music to make it beautiful.

I have a song I want to give to you.  Of all the songs I have ever heard, this is my favorite. It’s an old song (written around the time your daddies were born!)   It’s a really simple song and the style is no longer popular.  Just a guy singing and playing the piano.  I knew him.  His life and his story were amazing.  By the time you guys grow up, I hope he will not be forgotten.

rich-mullinsHis name is Rich Mullins and the song is called “If I Stand”.    Every single word of this song is important and it speaks to me in a very personal way. But there is one line that stands out.  To me, this one line is the single greatest line in any song that has ever been written.

It will always be my prayer that these words will come to mean as much to you guys, as they have meant to me:

“The stuff of earth competes for the allegiance I owe only to the Giver of all good things.”

Be wise, Grasshoppers.

Papi

 

 

Maybe someday you’ll watch “Ragamuffin”, the movie of Rich Mullins life.  I think you’ll be glad you did.

Theology for Grasshoppers

grasshopper-3(For the uninitiated, “Theology for Grasshoppers” is my attempt to tell my story of faith to my grandkids.  I hope I’m around long enough to tell them personally.  But just in case I reach the finish line before I get the opportunity, these letters will be the record of what I believe and why I believe it…in words and stories they can understand.)

Good morning, Farrasprouts…

When your daddies were young and still living with me and Mimi, they used to get into arguments.  They were seldom about anything really important, but to them, the issues were almost always big deals.  

They would raise their voices and twist the truth and exaggerate and say things to get under each other’s skin.  One of them would often get so angry and upset, they would end up squealing, “He’s making me sooooo mad!”.

I always loved it when that happened, because it gave me the opportunity to teach them one of my most favorite lessons.

I would look right into their teary-eyed, red-faced little mugs and say, “Your brother isn’t making you mad.  In fact, nobody can ever make you mad.  You make yourself mad.”  And they would always respond back to me, “Yes he is! Yes he is! HE’S making me mad.  HE’S doing it!  It’s HIS fault I’m mad!”.  

They always played right into my hands.

“Nope.  Nobody can ever MAKE you mad.  You make yourself mad.  It’s your choice.  You’re choosing to make yourself mad.”

That only made them madder.

“But he’s the reason I’m mad.  If he wouldn’t have done that, I wouldn’t be mad.  Everything would be fine with me, if he wouldn’t have said that, and made me so mad.”  They just couldn’t let it go.  They would always fight my logic.  “Daddy, now YOU’RE making me mad!”

It’s a lesson they got taught dozens, maybe even hundreds, of times.  Getting mad is a choice we make.  It is never the ONLY option.  There are always many others.  When someone says or does something you don’t like, you can get mad and yell or scream or fight or treat them poorly or talk about them behind their back or do or say something just as bad…or even worse…to them.  In fact, that’s usually what we WANT to do.

But you don’t have to.  You always have other choices.   You could choose to be quiet and listen.  You could try to understand their point of view.  You could react with kindness, instead.  You could choose to be patient and forgiving. You could step away and wait for things to calm down.  You could pray for them.

Getting mad is never the only choice you have available.  And even though it will probably be the easiest, it will never, ever be the best.

One of the greatest gifts God gives to us is our freedom to choose.

So choose wisely, Grasshoppers.

Papi