Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Grieving and Hoping

After some lighter, or less personal blog posts, tonight I am going to open up.

I am grieving tonight. Six months ago we moved from VA to Washington; and for some reason, tonight, sitting in a hotel in Kansas City, the grief finally came, pouring out in tears and sobs.

Grief over leaving my parents, my brother, my best friends, my favorite people and places and activities.

Most days I'm doing pretty well, and I do like life out in Washington, but I think it's finally hitting me that after the past nine years of being close to my parents, and my friends, and driving home to our house in the woods, and swimming in our neighborhood lake, and going to GMU basketball games, and meeting my college buddies for drinks at Fats, and going to the CAA tournament in Richmond every March--all that is gone, and I'm grieving for that.

I love my family, and my wife's family who is all nearby now. I really enjoy my job, and my new friends. I love the mountains around us. I like our small town, and the people who help care for our kids.

But I miss my life if Virginia. Just as with the other big moves in my life--going from VA to Texas, then Texas back to VA--I have said goodbye to a part of my life, a part of me. So I grieve.

Yet as I think and write and cry through my grief, my focus shifts forward, and toward those around me. 

All this is enhanced because my wife has cancer, and in these early days of diagnosis and exams and consultations, we are uncertain of the future, knowing only that our lives are about to change radically.

I also realize that my life is not be about me, but about Jamie and our kids. 

I am concerned for her, and hopeful for God's healing and blessing. I long to be the man God wants me to be for her. I pray that God will help me love and support her, and provide peace and strength for her and our children.

I pray and work to be able to lay down my life, to live more and more for God and my family. I look for hope of what God will do through this dark time, hope that he will bring us all through this, stronger, gentler, closer, more faithful.

I close with a prayer borrowed from my friend Mike Stavlund, whose writing often encourages and blesses me and captures the parts of my heart that I struggle to express (thank you, Mike):

God of grace and disappointments, God of kindness and pain, God of suffering and healing, God of absence and presence, God of weakness and strength, we worship you. We wrestle with you, and we honor you in all of your ways. 


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Meeting BJ Thomas

One of my favorite songs is a cover--B.J. Thomas's version of the Hank Williams classic "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry."

I love Thomas's voice, and have been a fan for many years.

I think the first of his songs that I knew was his biggest--"Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head," from the film Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid.

As a teen, I was always into oldies, and remember listening to "Hooked on a Feeling," "I Just Can't Help Believing" and "Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song."

In 1985 I read Thomas' first book, Home Where I Belong, which chronicles his early career, battle with drugs, and his spiritual journey, as he became a Christian and sought to overcome his addiction. 

While I wasn't an addict or acoholic, I read the book at a time when I was trying to move away from a life filled with drinking and partying, focusing more on God and trying to live a life that reflected Christ.

Thomas' book really spoke to me. I connected with his struggle to do the right thing in the midst of temptation and his personal demons. His faith and humility inspired me.

In my 20's and early 30's I went through a lot of ups and downs, especially in relationships. "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" was a song I turned to from time to time. It does such a great job of capturing the loneliness that we all feel at some time.

In the nineties, I lived in Ft. Worth, Texas, and spent a lot of time at the Ballpark in the Arlington, where the Texas Rangers played. I even worked at the Ballpark for a couple years, so I went to a lot of games.

Thomas lived in Arlington, and was a frequent guest at the Ballpark, singing the National Anthem before games several times each season. I loved to hear him sing "The Star-Spangled Banner."

In the late 90s I flew home to Virginia once or twice a year. One time I got on the plane in DC to fly back to Texas, and as I walked through first class, saw a face that looked familiar sitting in the back row of the first section.

It took me a minute to recognize the thin, almost gaunt face, deep blue eyes, and long, curly black hair; and it wasnt until I was walking past him into coach that I realized it was BJ Thomas.

I sat down thinking, "how cool was that." I wasn't shocked; I traveled a lot and was used to seeing famous people.

I used to fly in and out of Nashville a lot, and over the years have seen a lot of celebrities in airports or on airplanes--including John Voight, Charles Durning, Faye Dunaway, Amy Grant, Tom T. Hall.

But it was different with Thomas. Having grown up listening to his music, and reading his book, I felt like I knew him. As I sat in my seat, I remembered his story, and the struggles he had overcome. I looked back at my own life and thought about the path my life had taken in the years since reading Thomas' book.

A couple hours later we landed in DFW and I got off the plane, having forgotten about the famous voice in first class.

I walked to the baggage claim area and waited for my bag.

It's easy to get mesmerized watching that belt go around and around, looking for your luggage. After about ten minutes I looked up and saw that everyone had retrieved their bags and left, except for me. And BJ Thomas.

I walked over to him and said hello. I told him that I was a big fan of his music, and that I had read his book and appreciated him telling his story, sharing his struggles and faith journey.

I told him that his recording of "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" was beautiful; one of my all-time favorites.

Thomas was really friendly; he listened and asked a little about me. Our conversation lasted less than five minutes; his bag appeared before mine and he thanked me for my kind words and said goodbye.

I look back at that conversation every time I hear one of his songs--one of those little moments in life that isn't really a big deal, but leaves an impression, and makes those songs a little more meaningful.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Belief--from Rob Bell's last sermon at Mars Hill

i write this to you because of how many of you have been
challenged about your participation in the life of this
church, often with the accusation: but what do they believe
over there at mars hill?

as if belief, getting the words right, is the highest form of
faith. Jesus came to give us life. a living, breathing, throbbing,
pulsating blow your hair back tingle your spine roll the
windows down and drive fast experience of God right
here, right now.

word taking on flesh and blood.

and so you've found yourself defending and explaining
and trying to find the words for your experience that is
fundamentally about a reality that is beyond and more than

so when you find yourselves tied up in knots, having
long discussions about who believes what, a bit like
dogs doing that sniff circle when they meet on the sidewalk,
do this:

take out a cup
and some bread
and put it in the middle of the table,
and say a prayer and examine yourselves

and then make sure everybody's rent is paid and there's
food in their fridge and clothes on their backs

and then invite everybody to say
'yes' to the resurrected Christ with whatever 'yes' they
can muster in the moment and then you take that bread
and you dip it in that cup in the ancient/future hope and
trust that there is a new creation bursting forth right here
right now and

then together taste that new life and liberation and
forgiveness and as you look those people in the eyes gathered around that table from all walks of life and you see the new
humanity, sinners saved by grace, beggars who have
found bread showing the others beggars where they found it
remind yourselves that

remember, the movement is word to flesh.
beware of those who will take the flesh and want to turn it
back into words

I recently had a conversation with a pastor who would not do business with my company because we do business with another pastor, whose theology and methods he does not approve.

I deal with people all over the landscape of the Church. I have conversations with extreme fundamentalists and liberals; people who use only the King James Bible, and others who write their own translations; people in churches of thousands, people in churches of ten.

I work with Baptists, Methodists, non-denominationalists, Episcopals, Catholics, Bereans, Mennonites, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Lutherans, Anglicans, Korean churches, Chinese churches, African-American churches, Latino churches, Emerging Churches, Reformed churches, traditional churches, contemporary churches...and dozens of others.

I see an incredible diversity in what churches put on their "statement of beliefs" pages, and think how amazing it is that all these people are reading the same bible and come up with such different interpretations, perspectives, doctrines and emphases.

I grow weary of the debates among writers and speakers and theologians, the accusations of heresy, the warnings to avoid certain writers and churches and theologies.

So I love Rob's answer to the question of belief. It's about the bread, and the cup, and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It's about loving God and loving people.

I am convicted that I do a poor job of this. I need to spend less time reading and thinking and debating, and more time just loving God and loving people.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Rob Bell--Jesus' Humanity

More from Rob Bell's goodbye sermon at Mars Hill:

many Christians are eager to point out that
Jesus said he was the son of God and that's the wedge issue,
the crux of the faith, the divisive point you have to take a stand

i believe he is. and in the same breath, i remind you that
he also referred to himself a shocking number of times as the
'son of man.' you know what 'son of man' means?

now that's shocking.
take a stand on that.

what he stressed, what he thought was a big deal, what
he called himself time and time again, was son of man.

it is a big deal for a human to be divine, but if
you're looking to provoke, and if you want to focus in on
astounding claims he made about himself,
how about the mind-bendingly revolutionary claim of the
divine being human?

spitting in mud,
drinking so much he's accused of being a drunk,
letting people clean his feet with oils,
inviting people to touch his wounded sides.

humanity, now that's interesting.
Jesus invites us into the full spectrum of human experience,
from lament to exhilaration and everything in between.

from basking in the presence of God,
to cursing at the top of your lunges from the rooftops
because God is nowhere to be found,

shrieking till you're hoarse 'my God, my God, why have
you screwed me'
now that's life.
that's real.
that's divine.

These are the kinds of thoughts that really help me connect with Jesus. Imagining his humanity--that he lived and breathed and hurt and felt and experienced all that I experience. That he, too, experienced God's presence, and the lack of God's presence--just as I do.

There are times I sense God being so close--holding me, comforting me, loving me, encouraging me, guiding me, protecting me...yet there are also times when I feel that I could shout as loud as I can, and still wonder if he hears me.

Times when life just doesn't make sense, and I wonder, "What the heck is God thinking/doing?"

Remembering that Jesus went through all of that helps tremendously. I am not alone. God doesn't just invite me to seek him, he seeks me. He became human and came to me. He took the initiative to know me and love me and be with me. wow.