Monday, September 06, 2010

Community and Comfort

Sometimes I feel like Albert Einstein. Not because I'm a German-Swiss nobel laureate or am considered the father of modern physics. I didn't discover the law of the photoelectric effect. I've got no claim to fame on the theories of relativity nor can I explain the perihelion procession of Mercury and didn't contribute to the quantum theory of a monotomic gas. (Ok, I wiki'd the man)

But, because there is a constant human struggle. I want to do God's will, summed up pretty succinctly by Jesus when he said "love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. The whole of the law is summed up in these two commandments"

Problem with loving people? You have to be around them to love them. And some of them are irritating, ugly and some of them are perfectly normal but just grate on your nerves. And other days, people are as wonderful as they can be but I aint always the most pleasant person to be around and I just want to be alone.

See, I love the idea of living in community, of sharing your life with those around you. Your family, church family, neighbors and community. In fact as I sit here and type this with the door and windows open, listening to the huge group of kids in our neighborhood playing in my front yard....I love community. As I sat around the backyard fire last night, and later the living room with a group of close friends, singing songs and sharing what God is showing us in our lives (with our kids running around and being goofy the whole time)....I love community. While we were doing that in the living room last night and 7 or 8 of the kids from the neighborhood wanted to come in and hang out at our house during the Bible study...I love community. When my dad and I were huddled around the laptop watching the Bama game the other day and 5 of the neighborhood kids came in, helped themselves to the chili on the stove and huddled around the computer with us....I love community.

But then there are other days. Rough day at work, too busy to do much but wave at a neighbor, rush through the workday, inhale dinner, fight with the kids to do homework, get them in bed then collapse aint all it's cracked up to be.

On those days...I daydream. This is my daydream. My family owns a farm in Georgia. My father and Aunt grew up there and all of us kids and grandkids and our friends grew up visiting during the summers. It's roughly 75 acres....give or take a few (no official survey has been done in ages. One of the boundaries is listed as being the branch off the creek). It has a house, what used to be the smokehouse which now is a tin roof shelter with a porch swing, a red barn and what used to be the tobacco barn which now holds hay for the cattle. It also has two ponds and some great woods for playing paintball. But what is even better than the spread out the fact that it is a 1/2 mile off of the main dirt road. That's right....turn off the truck route onto Tallokas road, go a few miles and turn right onto the red clay Greenfield Church Road, then hang a left onto Goodson lane, go a half a mile around the bend in the driveway and there is the farm, surrounded on all sides by woods and other farms. Can't even see another house from the farm. Our entire family of 20+ descends like locusts once a year for Thanksgiving/Christmas/Family Reunion.

But in my daydream, I move my family there, live off the land raising grass fed hormone free cattle, free range chicken and pork as well as organic vegetables. This daydream, in my mind is utopia because I can avoid all contact with other people and spend all day every day with my family, and if we get irritated at one another, just take a walk to a pond and simmer down. There is one problem with this daydream.....there are no neighbors for me to love as myself.

This is where I identify with Albert Einstein. See, he once said "My passionate sense of social justice and social responsibilty has always contrasted oddly with my pronounced freedom from the need for direct contact with other human beings and human communities"

He was like me in my daydream....perfectly content to be "free" of direct contact with other human beings and human communities. Yet, he felt passionate that he was responsible to live in community.

Jesus never said those two commandments were easy, only that they were required. Perhaps this November when I go to the farm for Thanksmas I will have an opportunity to stroll to the back of the pasture, breathe deeply and enjoy my "pronounced freedom from the need for direct contact with other human beings and human communities" for about 5 minutes....then it will be back to the real business of Loving my neighbor as myself.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Reflections from a 10 year old

Karston will be getting baptized tomorrow morning and I asked him to sit down with a notebook and answer two questions for me.

One: What does it mean to be a Christian? (and I quote)

"Being a Christian means a lot to me and many others. Here are three examples of what it means. The first example is the belief of Christ of God. All the Christians I know including me believe in God. The belief of Christ is a big part of Christianity.

My second example for you is worship. Many Christians worship because it is just like talking to God, it's how we show we love him.

Last but not least is praying. We Christians believe praying is a really big thing and I agree.. If we pray for forgiveness God will most definitely forgive you.

It is much more to be a Christian than this. But there are some of the reasons"

Second: What does baptism mean?

"What it means to be baptized is like being resurrected. When you go under you're dying and when you come back up you're being brought back too, so it's like starting a new life."

Good stuff huh?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Evil Roots

James 5:4-6 says

"For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The wages you held back cry out against you. The cries of those who harvest your fields have reached the ears of the Lord of Heaven's Armies. You have spent your years on earth in luxury, satisfying your every desire. You have fattened yourselves for the day of slaughter. You have condemned and killed innocent people, who did not resist you."

When I read this I immediately thought of large American corporations. Those who have been acused of violating human rights and child labor laws with their overseas manufacturing. Taking advantage of third world poverty allowing manufacturing at pennies on the dollar for the sake of wide profit margins. I think of the poultry company chronicled in the documentary Food, Inc. that would bus in illegal immigrants to work at below poverty wages....then seasonally when they were no longer needed, would call immigration authorities to have them arrested and deported. Or, for that matter, the companies and small businesses all over the country that employ undocumented workers at very low wages enticing them to illegally cross borders to create a better life for their family at the risk of their own life and risk of arrest. I also think of the AG giant also chronicled in Food, Inc that created patents on their seeds that puts small, honest, hard working farmers at risk of going out of business, or worse, criminal charges.

I think of BP, who hoard massive amounts of money, have record setting earnings and are able to drill for free off our shores yet don't spend the money to take precautions against enormous environmental disasters that destroy God's creation and put small businesses out of work and then refuse to direct all their efforts and finances towards creating a solution.

It makes me mad and I stand in righteous indignation with James and figuratively plant my hands on my hips, give a disapproving stare and shake my finger while taking comfort in the fact that they have "fattened themselves for the day of slaughter".

Unfortunately, God doesn't let me off the hook quite so easily. I always feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit to view Scripture as a mirror into my own life.

Where do I put my resources to work? Safely in my 401k plan? In a High Yield online savings account? In a safe in the house (no, for those of you ready to search my closets), in fine clothing or nice vehicles? In a nice home that fulfills some culturally imposed dream? On vacations and frivolous recreation? Or worse, investing in stock of the very corporations that commit the above mentioned atrocities? Or do I invest my money in financing the advance of the Kingdom of God (love, peace, mercy, justice, feeding and clothing the "least of these") by tithing and donating to worthy organizations. Do I set money aside to meet the needs of people that God brings into my path specifically to be blessed through me? Do I take my occasional excesses and share them? Do I pack a lunch to take to the city to give a homeless person? Do I take my leftovers from a restaurant meal and give them to someone needy, as the Old Testament commanded farmers to leave the corners of their field unharvested so the needy could be taken care of?

I am reminded of this by my father's Facebook post this morning.

"Spoke to someone yesterday who had tons of money. I commented that I have not done well for myself towards retirement. He said "Oh yes you have. I have money, but I have done nothing of significance with my life. You have impacted people and that is worth more than what I have." Just a reminder that eternity is more important than temporal wealth"

John Calvin once said

"They who abound in wealth seldom keep within the bounds of moderation, but abuse their abundance by extreme indulgences. There are, indeed, some rich men as I have said, who pine themselves in the midst of their abundance. For it was not without reason that the poets have imagined Tantalus to be hungry near a table well furnished. There have ever been Tantalians in the world. But James, as it has been said, does not speak of all rich men. It is enough that we see this vice commonly prevailing among the rich, that they are given too much to luxuries, to pomps and superfluities. And though the Lord allows them to live freely on what they have, yet profusion ought to be avoided and frugality practiced. For it was not in vain that the Lord by his prophets severly reproved those who slept on beds of ivory, who used precious ointments, who delighted themselves at their feasts with the sound of the harp, who were like fat cows in rich pastures. For all these things have been said, for this end, THAT WE MAY KNOW THAT MODERATION OUGHT TO BE OBSERVED, AND THAT EXRAVAGANCE IS DISPLEASING TO GOD."

Bernard of Clairvaux says:

"O vanity of vanities....Every part of the church shines, but the poor man is hungry. The church walls are clothed in gold, while the children of the church remain naked....What is gold doing in the holy place? To speak plainly, greed is the root of all evil...for the sight of these sumptuous and amazing vanities encourages man to give rather than to pray. So riches attract riches, money attracts money...The more the abundance of riches, the more willingly men give."


Clement of Alexandria says:

"The Lord ate from a common bowl, and asked the disciples to sit on the grass. He washed their feet; with a towel wrapped around His waist - He, who is the Lord of the universe! He drank water from a jug of earthenware, with the Samaritan woman. Christ made use, not extravagance, His aim."

Am I allowing myself to become useLESS due to my use of finances? Or am I willing to buck the system, fight the norm to submit my finances to God and allow use, not extravagance to be the target at which God can aim me?

How about you?

Monday, February 01, 2010

Lose a friend lose God? Part IV

Back to our regularly scheduled programming.

After a brief break in this topic, I am going to wrap it up with this post.

I firmly believe that when you lose a friend, you don't lose God, but you do lose the piece of that person that reveals God to you.

C.S. Lewis was part of a circle of friends called the Inklings that included J.R.R. Tolkien and another author named Charles Williams that died unexpectedly after World War II. Lewis wrote about the death of Charles Williams in an essay entitled "Friendship".

"In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald's [Tolkien's] reaction to a specifically Charles joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him "to myself" now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald.....In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious 'nearness by resemblance' to heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each of us has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest. That, says an old author, is why the Seraphim in Isaiah's vision are crying 'Holy, Holy, Holy' to one another (Isaiah 6:3). The more we thus share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall have."

That really struck me that he says, in essence, that now that Charles is dead, he has lost a part of Tolkien, the part that laughs at Charles' jokes.

I have lost a friend in my life. It hurts and it's not fun. Strange how it's been over 10 years since I saw this friend but it's still fresh. I guess it's because he didn't pass away, we have just been estranged and that leaves a lack of finality. If a friend passes away, you know that what you have lost won't be recovered in this lifetime. But an estranged friend leaves an unsettled sensation that perhaps what you have lost can be restored in this life.

This old friend and I grew up together and were best friends from age 11 thru 21. A real example of a friend that is closer than a brother. We were all mutual friends growing up so I have lost seeing Charis laugh at me when he calls me "butt munch" or even the way that he would allow me to see deep into his life when we would have talks and share things with one another that we wouldn't tell anyone else. I miss the fear and scrambling we experienced when we were only 15 and stole a mini van from a friend and wrecked it, and I miss the comraderie we built while mowing countless lawns that summer to pay for it.

More than anything, he was a friend during a crucial part of my life and journey in getting to know God. In this sense, when I lost his friendship, I lost my ability to experience God with and through him.

People are put into our lives for a reason. To see that facet of God that can only be seen through that person. And to reveal that facet of God to them that they can only see through us.

In regards to this old friend, I look forward to the day, in this life, that we will be reunited and I will get to see God through him again, and hopefully, show him a glimpse of God through me that he otherwise wouldn't experience.

As for now, I'm grateful for the multitude of good friends in my life now. At Fusion Church, Crossfitfire, work and in my neighbors, that show me a glimpse of God everyday.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Confession: I physically abused my children two nights ago.

It's true. This is hard for me to admit it, but apparently I have allowed the stress to get to me. We have a lot of things going on in our life right now, moving, work stresses etc. It's no excuse, but I allowed it to cloud my vision and I lost site of my responsibilitis as a father.

I actually choked my 10 year old son Karston until he passed out. Then, Josiah, my 7 year old just kept pushing my buttons and I ended up punching him about 4-5 times until he was in tears. Not my finest moment. It made me feel sick to my stomach.

In fact, it made me feel so sick to my stomach, that even when I woke up I still felt sick about it.

Yeah, it was just a dream. It started out that I was in a fight with this HUGE guy in a park. He wouldn't let me leave the park without fighting him. Now, most of the time when I have a fight dream, the other person is moving in real time while I'm throwing punches through molasses, no speed and it's very frustrating because I know I can whip this guys butt but I'm unable to move at real speed. This time, it was all as it should be. While he outweighed me and had about 6 inches on me, I was wailing on the dude. I was getting off punches and using his weight against him to throw him, I even put a killer arm lock on him that left him only able to fight with one hand.....but he JUST KEPT COMING!

I kept trying to get him to give it up for his own sake but he wouldn't. Finally I had enough and I was able to get behind him and put him in a choke hold until he passed out. Problem was, as soon as he passed out and hit the ground, he turned into my oldest son Karston. Of course everyone there was giving me well deserved grief for choking my son out but I assured them all that he would come back around momentarily, which he did. But as soon as he regained consciousness, he turned into this big ole dude again! So, I'm trying to let him know that for his own sake he needs to bow out but he wouldn't do it. I felt like one of the heroes in a good Louis Lamour western, just wailing on the guy but he just kept coming back for more. So...I unleashed a furious combo of about 5 punches to the temples on either side of his head. At which point, he immediately turned into my sweet sensitive 7 year old Josiah who was standing in front of me not only crying from the pain, but from the obvious hurt and betrayal I had just given him. I then had to sit on the ground and hug him telling him that I loved him and, after all, I had warned him I didn't want to fight him.

WHAT THE HECK????!!!!!!

What kind of dream is that that left me feeling sick to my stomach even after I woke up? I'm the kind of person that always wants to know what a dream means. You know, what's it mean when you have that dream that you are naked in front of your whole class in 8th grade?

Well, after a couple days of reflection, I think this was a reminder from God to not allow my situation and struggles, which seem to outweigh me and have at least 6 inches on me, to affect my family. To be very careful not to mistake my children and their tendencies to disobey and lie and generally act like savage 7 and 10 year olds, as my enemy. Focus my determination and will to fight on those circumstances, and focus every ounce of my energy on bestowing upon my children, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. It's what they deserve.

I'll be a savage and wail on my problems, but I'll be a "velvet covered brick" with my children. Be solid and unmoving on the outside, but soft and tender on the outside. That's a real man.

A fake man is tough looking on the outside, like a brick, but weak and soft on the inside. That's the kind of man that beats his kids up but is too much of a wuss to stand up to a big problem.

By the grace of God, you will never hear me start a real life sentence with "Confession: I physically abused my children two nights ago"

Monday, January 18, 2010

Lose a friend lose God? Part III

So, I have talked about the importance of friendships in your relationship with God, and have talked about seeing a glimpse of God in the relationships around you.

In this "episode" I want to talk about a passage in Scripture. Matthew 7:3-6 says:

3"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.

I always used to view this as a commentary against being judgemental, realizing that it's hypocritical to judge the faults of someone when in reality, you are full of enough of your own faults. While this is very true, I realized something about 10 years ago having to do with the mechanics of how our eyeballs work.

Experiment time.....try this. You can either gaze into someone else's eye, or stare at your own in a mirror.

This is how the human eye works:

The first step in how your eye works is the light from the outside world traveling to your eye.

The light then enters the eye through the pupil and travels to the cornea.

The cornea then focuses the light upon the lens.

The lens further focuses the light on the retina. The image is flipped over and spread across the back of the retina. The retina then carries the light signals to the brain via the optic nerve.

This is the interesting part. If you look into someone else's eye, in good light, you will see what they see, flipped over. When you see into someone's eye, you can see yourself....tiny and upside down.

Let's get back to Jesus' example in Matthew. Let's just assume you literally had a plank in your eye (and hadn't previously noticed the seering pain that comes with a log stuck in your eye) and you were face to face with a friend and you leaned in close to tell them something serious, then noticed what looked like a speck of sawdust in their eye.

That "sawdust" you would be looking at would actually be a tiny, flipped over mirror image of the pine tree protruding from your own eye. Jesus' point was that when you see something in someone that bothers you, realize that it's just a minute reflection of a large problem in your own life.

Our friends, especially when their character flaws get on our nerves, are Jesus' way of communicating to us.

If I'm not involved in close friendships, I won't have the opportunity to see myself and my faults that God wants me to work on. He uses the lamp of their eyes to illuminate the areas of my life He wants to give me the grace to improve.

Yes, if I lose a friend, I lose that communcation from God, through their eyes. If I lose a friend, I lose God.

Stay tuned to see what C.S. Lewis and Lord of The Rings has to say about finding God in our friendships.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Lose a friend lose God? Part II

Broken legs, babies and moving in the winter.

In Genesis 35:11, just after God changed Jacob's name to Israel, God told him that a "community of nations will come from you" Interesting that he used the word "community". I would actually enjoy studying the Hebrew word used here but all my books are packed in boxes. That would probably only serve to give me some head knowledge regarding community but I think I have a practical knowledge of community.

I think that when there is a void of friendship, there is a part of God that is lost. I know that I see God in the community around me.

I know that I see a glimpse of God when I'm working out and a group of people that have invested in me and my well being are encouraging me to "push through the suck" and attain a level of intensity, speed, strength, endurance that I have previously been unable to achieve.

I know that I see God in little things at work. Like in the sharing of pecans and venison sausage.
Or in more important things, like when a co worker and I break through the realm of "shop talk" and share with one another about personal loss, or former dissapointments and failures in life.

I know that I see God when I see our entire church family love on baby Lucy and baby Chloe (and soon to be Ritchie twins) when they are around.

I know that I see God when I see an entire community gather around our friend Hannah when she broke her leg recently. I see God when I see people organize meal delivery and time to just hang out with her while she is immobile because we don't want someone we love to have to be alone during a difficult time. I see God when I know that one of our friends went to see Hannah and offered to wash her hair for her so she could feel refreshed. Yep, you heard me, washed her hair for her. Pretty awesome friendships that are a reflection of God.

I know I see God in my friends who have offered to give up a Saturday of relaxing with their family to come out in the cold and help us move, because they know this is a move that our circumstances chose for us and we would not have chosen to do on our own and they don't want us to have to do it without support.

I know I see God when I see the gang of children at church running around screaming and being free to act like children.

I have no question I see God in the earth shaking, full sprint, body slam hugs that Alyssa, Savannah and Mercy greet one another with when they see each other.

I think I have a pretty clear idea of community. And I know for certain that if I lost these things, these friends, I would definitely feel a sense of losing a part of God.

Stay tuned to see how an irritated eye and CS Lewis and Lord of the Rings all prove that losing friends contributes to a loss of the nature of God.