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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If at first you don’t succeed…

keep-calmI’ve been thinking long and hard over the past month or so, about why it has been so hard for me to write (as some of you have noticed).  Some days I feel like I have real clarity.  Other days I’m just swimming in my personal abyss of uncontrolled thinking.  

Tonight is a little clearer, so I’ll give it a shot.  Here are some reasons why I think my writing here has been so weak and sporadic:

  • Writing a new sermon every week has become more difficult.  Maybe some post-surgery concentration issues.  Maybe due to trying to figure out a new routine to stay fresh after 44 years of weekly preaching and teaching.  Who knows?  But it’s a grind.
  • Some days I feel like, “Why bother?  Everything’s already been said.”
  • I don’t read Facebook much anymore.  Mostly when I get notified if people write something directly to me…or about me, sometimes.  It just feels wrong that I would want or expect someone to read what I write, but I’m not taking the time to read what they write.
  • I feel as if I’m busier now than I’ve ever been.  How did that happen?
  • I’m reading more than I am writing.  This has been good for me, though.  I’ve got six new books that are sitting on my end table and night stand waiting to be started.
  • Some days, I take late-night, rabbit-trail, web surfing to unknown levels of greatness.
  • My old buddy, depression, has shown up frequently in the past year.  It most often takes the form of staring, accompanied by undisciplined thinking.  Talk about a picture of productivity!
  • For the first time ever, I’ve let myself get sucked into following the circus of our presidential election process.  I have never, ever, done that.  It’s not who I am.  I have so many more important things going on in my life.  The majority of the time I think about writing, I have been drawn to react to things related to the issues of this political season. That generally stops my writing cold.  Dead in the water.

Most often, though, I find myself getting two or three paragraphs into a potential blog post, and then I get the feeling I don’t really have anything important to say.  I suppose it’s that simple.

So it’s time for a change.  After eight years of blogging for, essentially, the same audience and the same reasons, I’m going to try and breathe some fresh life into my writing.  For me. If you get something out of it, even better.  This is I want to do for my heart.  For my spirit. For my well-being.  Totally selfish.

Well, sort of.

I’ve decided to do the majority of my writing to my grandkids.  In the past, I’ve written occasional blog posts to them.  That has not been enough.  I really want to leave my story for them…to them.  I don’t expect them to read it anytime soon.  They’re too busy growing up.  But maybe someday they’ll want to know my story.  Maybe it will matter to them what I believed, what I felt strongly about, what my life was all about.  They deserve to hear it in my own words.

I wish I knew my dad’s story.  He wasn’t much of a talker.  Not a writer, either.  He was a hard-working man who showed his love and dedication to me and my mom by getting up early every day, putting on his work boots and his work ethic, getting in his Dodge pickup truck (three speed on the column), and earning a life-giving, life-sustaining paycheck for us every week.

There was never much time for storytelling.  I wish there was.  Oh, how I wish there was. There is a part of me that I will never know.  There is a part of me and a huge part of him my boys will never.  We all lose.

Just in case it matters someday, I want my kids and their kids to have the opportunity to know.  There is no guarantee I will get to tell them personally.

So I’m going to start writing to them, my little family tree.  I think I’ve got lots to say and right now I feel like I’ve got an audience, even though they don’t know it yet.

You can read it if you want.  It may feel a little like eavesdropping, but that’s ok.  Maybe you’ll read something that will be of value to you.  I know I will throw in some random posts along the way that might be of more interest to you, so it really might be worth your while to stick around.

I hope you do.

Btw…do you like the new background theme?  I think I do.

Writing about writing.

BloggingEvery time I sit down to compose a blog post, I usually spend 1-1/2 to 2 hours writing it.  Not every one.  But certainly most of them.  When I was looking back at my blogging history earlier this week, it started to sink in just how much time I spend doing this.

Years ago, when I would sit down with my pen and spiral notebook, I seldom spent that kind of time.  I would scribble my thoughts and prayers…whatever came to my mind.   I would write what I was feeling.  Good and bad.  It was where I would express my frustrations and take the filter off.  I would I would write things that only God could handle.

Looking back, I’ve come to realize it was in my journaling where I became a more disciplined communicator.  It was where I grew to understand the connection between my heart and my head and the power of expression.

That connection is now part of me.  Journaling to blogging to preaching to daily conversations…my words matter.

When I write, I write carefully.  Every blog post is full of false starts that nobody ever knows about.  Sentences that are written and re-written multiple times.  I want to make sure that what I write is exactly what I want people to read.  If somebody reads what I write, I can never take my words back, once I hit the “publish” button.  Oh, I can go back and wipe it clean, but the screen shot has been snapped.  It’s definitely why I limit my writing on Twitter and FB.

I want my words to be consistent with my own character and personal journey.  I don’t want to be a hypocrite.  I get that nobody’s perfect,  but if what I write and what I do and say don’t match up, the importance of what I write is emptied of its value.  Painfully, I know this first hand.  “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work for writers, any better than it does for parents.

Not only do I want an internal consistency, I also want to reflect the character of Christ in everything I write.  Especially when I am critical.  I take the words of the Bible writers seriously.  There is a time to call out sin.  There is a time to express opinion. There is a time to stand up for righteousness.  It’s not always easy.  “Let no unwholesome words come from your mouth” and “Bless and do not curse” are not outdated religious catchphrases.  They are commands that those who seek to honor Christ will live by…that I choose to live by.

I want my theology to be well thought out.  I want my opinions to be fully informed.  I want my criticisms to be above reproach.  I want my sarcasm to be measured.  I don’t ever want to play out my personal agenda with another person online. I owe them face to face.

I want healthy and uplifting writing to outweigh my negative thoughts and opinions 50 to 1.  I want grace and kindness to be present every time I write.  We live in such a caustic and unfiltered culture, I refuse to be part of that problem.

I generally read and re-read my posts ten or twelve times before I ever publish them.  Sometimes I let them sit for a few days and then come back to them, to see if they are still worth publishing.  I always try to read them from the point of view of the other…to make sure I am not inadvertently hurting or potentially driving a wedge.  I want to do my best to make sure my words and my intentions, will not be misunderstood. Unfortunately, this is never foolproof.

I am deeply aware that something much greater is at stake besides my need to be heard.

Pastors shouldn’t blog

blogging 1I don’t really believe that.  But I came close to adopting it as policy.

During my writing sabbatical, I began to struggle with the reality that most of what I was writing about…or wanted to write about…was stuff I was seeing in the lives of people I love and share life with.

This was really nothing new.  For years, I have written about people I know and the stories of their personal journeys.  It has always been pretty easy for me to hide their identities and change the details enough to protect them, while still passing on critique, life lessons, or a challenge to address what’s wrong.

But that had gotten increasingly more difficult.

Honestly, it’s easy for someone to criticize the actions or attitudes of another, when you don’t really know who they are.  When they are at an arm’s distance.  When they are on the other side of a computer monitor.  When they sit in an ivory tower or underneath a freeway overpass.

When they have no names, they aren’t real people.

It can be even more complicated for pastors.  I follow a number of high-profile christian types who constantly come out with both barrels loaded, criticizing and judging all “types” of people who claim to follow Jesus.  They find fault with church leadership and rail against different theologies.  They condemn certain behaviors, while praising those they see as superior. They write boldly to the anonymous, generalized “other”

And they do it from pulpits with moats of separation.  They do it from insulated board rooms and the protective confines of inner circles.

But I can’t hide like that.  I walk with people who sin just like I do.  I share meals and laughter and shortcomings with people I call friends.  I see the failures of people whose names I know and paths I share and messes I wade into.  I see myself in them.  As a pastor, I can’t play dumb to what I see.  I can’t ignore what is wrong and needs to be fixed.  I can’t turn a blind eye.  I’m a card-carrying people helper.

But a blog or a post from the safety of my recliner and the protection of a screen is not the place to do it.  And that’s where I have found myself the past year…fighting the urge to call out the unhealthy and damaging behaviors of the people I love from this unfiltered internet stage.  So I experienced a sort of paralysis.

And I think it was a good thing.

So I am now ready to move forward and write again.  Most sin is common to all.  The only difference is degree.  I’ll continue to work hard to protect the identities of my friends, while confronting those things that damage us, separate us, and undercut the grace of God.

But it sure would be a lot easier to live insulated from real friendship and calloused to the effect of my words on others.

On second thought, pastors really shouldn’t blog.

Opinions are like….

OpinionA bunch of the bloggers I follow like to inform their loyal readership whenever they are taking a break from writing.  I assume they do this because they don’t want their loyalists to panic when they don’t get their daily fix of wisdomor opinion.

So I took a week off of blogging the past seven days.  I’m pretty sure nobody noticed.

I’m ok.

Tonight, I recuperated from a long, ridiculous week by watching some college baseball, some Spurs-Heat, and catching up on what some of my favoriteand not-so favorite bloggers have been writing lately.

I follow about 125 online writers who post regularly.   They represent a wide variety of theological, political, cultural and relational positions.  Far leftfar rightand most spots in between.  I try to follow people who are reasonable and thoughtful in their positions, except for a few extremists on both ends.

It’s amazing how much influence the extremists have on each side of the middle.  Lots of loyal sheep.

I’m working hard not to be a goat.

While reading tonight, I realized why I go through spells where words are hard to find.  It seems like it’s all been written.

Pick a topic.  Any topic.  And somebodymultiple somebodieshave already written their opinions.  Bowe Bergdahl.  Donald Sterling.  Lebron. Any and all things Obama.  Same sex marriage.  Fake pot.  Real pot.  Church leadership stupidity.  Inerrancy of the Bible.  Tragic automobile accidents. Predestination.  Poverty.  The economy.  The border.  Guns.  Boxcutters.   Jack Bauer.

Opinions.  Opinions.  Opinions.  And you know what they say about opinions.

Tonight my brain is tired from reading.  My heart is weary from processing opinions.  My hope for a better world is discouraged.  My belief that being a follower of Christ is all about thinking and acting and metaphorically writing  like Jesus has taken a shot.   I feel a little empty.

I have nothing to add to the discussion.

My opinions are not needed right now.

Hello, again.

Hello againWell, I guess you could say the reports of my blog-death have been greatly exaggerated.

It is not dead.  It is aliveand so am I.

Thanks to the few of you that noticed and gave me words of encouragement to write again.  To those of you that heckled or tried to shame me into writing again, I suppose I should thank you also.   And to those that don’t care one way or the other, you might understand my hiatus better than most.

For the past month, there has not been a day that I haven’t sat at my computer and thought I should be writing.  I’ve even attempted a few times and just ended up deleting it.

Sometimes I didn’t feel like writing.  Other times I was too busy with other things.  There were days I completely forgot until it was too late and I was too tired.  Sometimes I thought I had writer’s block.  Yeah, right.  I don’t even know what writer’s block is.

The truth is, I just haven’t had anything to say.

About a month ago, I started following a couple of blogs that really captured my attention.  Then it turned into a multiple-times-per-day habit to check in and see what was being said, both on the blog and in the comment section.  I would follow related links and wait in anticipation for new posts.  It was like I was hooked.

Now that the near-obsession is under control, I can look back and see some things.

There is a lot of noise out there.  There are ridiculous amounts of people writing, talking, teaching, speculating, advocating, blow-harding, pontificating andbloggingabout anything.  About everything.  About nothing.

And I just didn’t feel like adding to the void.

Everything I thought about writing was already being said.  I would attempt to put my “spin” on it, but all it ended up looking and feeling like was more noise.

So I just decided to shut up until I had something to say.

That day will come again.  Soon, I hope.

Until then, I will slowly begin writing.  Not about anything life-changing (as if that happened very often in the past!).  But I have decided to let you in a little on what I’m doing right now.

If you didn’t know already, I’m in India.  I’m here for two weeks teaching a couple of classes at Lakeview Bible College and Seminary in Chennai (which used to be called Madras).  I was here 23 years ago.  It’s good to be back.

So over the next couple of weeks, I’ll try to give you an insider’s view of a padre in India.

Like I saidreports of my blog-death have been greatly exaggerated.

Here’s where I’m staying for the two weeksupper floor, fourth window from the end.  I’ll send some pics from the inside later.

IMG_1420

Here’s where I teach each day.  Pretty cool building…

IMG_1421

I’m not happy

arghh1I’m not happy.

I’m really not happy at all.

I haven’t written all week. Writing here is my friend and my trusted ally. This is where I’m forced to be honest and confront my struggles and doubts. It’s where I listen to myself think. It’s my own personal therapy…and you are part of it.

And I just haven’t had the time to write…to process…to think things all the way through…to reach creative closure.

I just don’t have time.

And I’m not happy.

I’m really not happy at all.

Good night.