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Who We Are Instead

Most of my readers will be old enough to recall the time when we couldn't carry all of the music in the entire known universe around on a device that fit in our pocket. We had to listen to compact discs (or CD's for short). I'm actually old enough that as a kid I listened to things on cassette tape, but that's neither here nor there. I think I finally got my first iPod when I was in high school, but prior to that seminal event, I carried around a big binder full of CD's. Perhaps hinting at my burgeoning Type A personality, I would often remove all of them from the sleeves and re-organize them John Cusack in "High Fidelity" style. Alphabetical by artist, and then chronological by record release date was a popular way to go. Keep in mind, this was before we could just look stuff like that up on the internet. It often required me to keep the liner notes (which I always did) and check the dates. This was a real thing I did, and I did it often.

Within that CD collection were several albums by the band Jars of Clay. If your summers as a child included something call "Church Camp" I would be willing to bet that you are familiar with them. In 2003, they released an album called "Who We Are Instead," which we all bought thinking there was a cover of "Amazing Grace" on it... There wasn't. If you're a band like that and you write a song and name it "Amazing Grace," you know exactly what you are doing, right? Good marketing, Jars of Clay! But recently the title of that album - which I actually didn't listen to all that much - started to take on a knew meaning for me. But I'm getting to that.

Lest you all stop reading thinking this will be a song by song review of a now 15 year old album, I'll get to my point. I have been thinking a lot about grace lately. I am someone who grew up in and around the Church. Then I studied religion in college. I have spent a lot of my life hearing about, learning about, and talking about grace. A lot of my life. But here's the thing: I can't remember that many times when I actually tried it out.

The best way I can frame this is in the context of relationships because we are, after all, relational people. Every romantic relationship I have had to date has ended with one person breaking up with the other one. The reasons are various and specific to each relationship, as is common. But over the years I found that I was still harboring some resentment for the girls that I had been in relationship with, which I suspect (or hope?) is also pretty common. What makes this interesting is it didn't seem to matter who had ended things. Her idea or mine, I was still holding onto some sort of anger or sadness or grief. And it was tearing me up inside.

Let's pause here for a moment to consider why that might be. The answer is pretty simple really: we are made to be in relationship. Don't hear that as me telling you that you have to have a significant other to be fulfilled. You don't, at least not in the romantic sort of sense. But I do believe you have to have someone (or many people) that you find significant and to whom you are significant. We were made for this. This is literally how your body functions: in relationship. So anytime there is a break in relationship, we feel it on a deep, deep level. A level so deep that we sometimes are not even aware of it.

Speaking of that, I started noticing this trend within myself. And so I did a deep dive of journaling and talk therapy to figure it out. I bubbled this idea out with friends and cohorts in ministry over the course of several months. I landed on three ideas: Grace, Justice, and Love.

1. Grace: The Grave Has No Claim On Me

Not all that long ago, someone close to me did something to upset me. I don't want to be anymore specific than that for the sake of anonymity. Suffice it to say, what happened made me very angry and frustrated. I sat down to write out a perfectly worded text that would communicate exactly how angry I was and this person was giving no regard to how what s/he was doing was making me feel. I am a writer, so just believe me when I tell it was a good one! It was the "I'm mad at you!" text to end all "I'm mad at you!" texts.

But here's the thing: I never sent it. In a brief moment, one so fleeting that I didn't realize what had happened until hours later, grace intervened. It just so happened I had a worship set to prepare for, so instead of sending that text, I sat down to play worship music. As minutes turned into hours, it became less of a rehearsal and more of a time of worship for me. God had something to tell me and He really wanted me to hear it. It became clear when I reached a new song by Phil Wickham:

Then through the silence
The roaring Lion
Declared the grave has no claim on me
— Phil Wickham, "Living Hope"

The Grave has no claim on me. In a brief moment of silence, I got a nudge saying, "Do this instead. Come connect with me. I have something to tell you." The grave told me to write a text that was all about how I was feeling. The grave told me to make whatever the person in question was going through all about me. The grave told me to forego grace in favor of anger, which is so often accompanied by the un-truth that doing so will make you feel better. The grave wanted this relationship to break because that's what graves are all about, if you think about it. (With a very notable exception.)

But the grave has no claim on me. Or you. I believe that is true regardless of the faith you may or may not profess. This thing happened and it changed everything forever. So no matter where this essay finds you, you have the ability to choose grace in any given moment. Why? Because the grave has no claim on you. None. Zero. Zip. Zilch.

I swear to you, dear reader, up until that moment in my music room when I chose not to send that text, I can't remember a time I actually chose grace and hope and love. I am certain I have done it, or at least said the words. But this was the first time I remember deleting a message and feeling an actual weight being lifted from my heart. And you know what? It felt exactly right. Because we were made for this!

You are free to choose how you respond to any and all perceived slights or attacks. And here's the really, really cool part: you can choose grace every single time. This is a power you have. But even when we know and believe this, we (myself included) don't use this superpower nearly as often was we could be. Why is that?

2. Justice: Relient K(nows) Best

So what's to stop us from choosing grace in every moment of every day? Well, obviously we are flawed human beings, so there's that. But still, I think we could be doing grace more. I try to keep that thought in the front of my mind these days: what does choosing grace/love/hope look like in this situation?

I think the answer here is that we hold onto some (flawed) sense of justice. Going back to my example of the person who upset me, why would I hesitate to extend forgiveness and love and grace to that person? Again, I am someone who thinks and talks and writes about this all the time. Shouldn't that be the thing I do? The answer took some time and assistance (S/O to Richard Webb, Chris Kimpston, Jamie Richards, and Jeremy Poland!) to parse out but eventually I realized that a big part of why I hold onto these feelings and why I was hesitant to delete that text message in favor of a more forgiving one is because I was worried what would happen to me if I did. I remember having some semblance of the thought, "Well I can't just forgive (this person). That's like letting (this person) off the hook! Sure, s/he will feel better, but what about me?! I'll still be upset!" I know, right? Gross. I might as well have stomped my feet and said, "No fair! No fair!"

If someone hurts me, I should get to hurt them. That's the deal, right? Wrong! (I'm sure that was a big spoiler...) I should have known this, because Relient K told me a long time ago:

The beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair.”
— Relient K, "MmHmm"

Extending grace means we have to let go of fair. Because, dear friends, this whole thing isn't fair. Grace flies in the face of our sense of fairness or rightness or logic or reason. When I think about what God did, literally dying to put us back in community and free us up to choose the beautiful stuff instead, I am overwhelmed by how unfair it really is. Jesus gave everything, for which we often totally ignore Him or (more often) complain to Him. How is that fair? It's not. It's not at all.

God's sense of justice is totally different than yours and mine. And that is really because of that whole thing with the grave I mentioned earlier. In a world wherein death still has a say in how things go, maybe the mean text message makes sense. But that's not the world we live in. In this world, the one wherein the enemy has been defeated, justice takes on a whole new meaning. Jesus' ultimate act of grace - the most unfair thing that has ever happened - declared a new reality for us all. That means the stuff that used to make sense won't make sense anymore.

For a long time I held onto my pain and resentment because I thought, "I won't feel better until person x knows how much s/he hurt me!" But this is the new reality. This is the world of grace that makes life not fair. This is literally who we are now, whether we realize it or not. Speaking of...

3. Love: Who We Are Instead

So as you might have guessed by now, I didn't send that mean text after all. I sent a different one. I suppose I could scroll through my phone so I can tell you the exact I wrote, but I'll just let Bob Goff take this one for me:

Jesus talked to His friends a lot about how we should identify ourselves. He said it wouldn’t be what we said we believed or all the good we hoped to do someday. Nope, He said we would identify ourselves simply by how we loved people. It’s tempting to think there is more to it, but there’s not. Love isn’t something we fall into; love is something we become.
— Bob Goff, "Everybody, Always"

The final line of this paragraph is something I suspect I'll remember for the rest of my life. You don't fall in love, my friends. You become love. Just let that sink in for a moment.

After I spent my time listening to God on the night in question, I suddenly didn't want to be mean or angry or resentful anymore. I wanted to be love. This is a person I care about - the ones who can hurt you typically are - and making sure s/he knew that became far more important than how I was feeling. So the text that got sent had less first person pronouns in it. It was a text that conveyed how much I cared and that I was here to help with whatever was going on.

The point of that story is not "Look how good of a person Chris is!" It serves a small example of what can happen when we stop trying to fall in love and start trying to become it. That's the idea that finally made that Jars of Clay album title from 2003 make sense to me. Love is who we are instead. And as Bob puts it, we want to make it more complicated than that. Surely there must be more to it. But there isn't, there just isn't. Love is all there is and love is all you need.

Ever since that evening, I've been actively trying to choose love more often in my life. I fail more often than I succeed, but I try not to beat myself up too much about it. Sometimes it's easy to find the Divine Flow and sometimes it seems impossible. It means putting ourselves last, my friends. In every interaction. All the time. I don't mean be reckless, there is such a thing as healthy boundaries! But I wonder if sometimes we use that as a reason to choose the stuff that's not love when the real reason is that it's difficult or inconvenient or scary or intimidating. Or because we still want some old school justice.

I believe it gets easier the more often you do it. In the same book I quoted earlier, Goff tells us that, "When joy is a habit, love is a reflex." There are millions of choices presented to you every single day. You can choose to see the joy and goodness and wonder in the world or not. But if you do, I think you'll find yourself becoming love and grace and hope to others more and more often.

We are not mean text sending, hate harboring, resentful human beings. The Resurrection made sure of that. This is who we are instead.

Subverting the Subverted (Or Why We Love to Hate the Patriots)

  “Oh I can so just sit here and cry!” - Andy Bernard

 “Oh I can so just sit here and cry!” - Andy Bernard

I’m writing this essay less than 24 hours after watching the Philadelphia Eagles win the first Super Bowl in franchise history, besting the incumbent New England Patriots by a score of 41-33. People everywhere rejoiced as the Good Guys in Green sealed their victory with a strip-sack of league MVP Tom Brady, who stole the award away from their own signal caller Carson Wentz, who was putting together an MVP years until he suffered a season ending knee injury brought on by Brady repeatedly jabbing a pin into a voodoo doll wearing #11. (You can’t prove it didn’t happen.) If you - like me - didn’t have a dog in this particular fight, you probably uttered the phrase, “I just hope it’s a good game,” several times over the last two weeks. And we all got our wish. Even while watching it, I had a feeling it would go down as an instant classic, not unlike Vince Young’s epic unseating of the USC Trojans all those years ago. I hope we are all prepared to see that Eagles trick play during every televised Eagles game for the next 50 years. (Which we should, because it was awesome.) 

I feel I should add an addendum to my previous statements. Over the last two weeks I did say, “I just hope it’s a good game,” quite a few times... But it was always closely followed by, “And I hope the Patriots lose.” And I did have the feeling that I the game I was watching would be an instant classic... if the Patriots lost. That’s how I phrased it, by the way. Not, “I hope the Eagles win,” but rather, “I hope the Patriots lose.” There is a subtle but important difference between those two statements. It didn’t really matter who won this year (beause it wasn’t going to be the Packers) so long as Pat Patriot had to hang his ridiculously large head in defeat. I wasn’t so much an Eagles last night as I was NOT a Patriot fan. 

This is not an uncommon sentiment in sports. I recently witnessed a colleague provide the following answer when asked who his favorite baseball team was, “Anyone but the Yankees.” When a guy I recently met told me his favorite team was the Patriots I said, “Huh, how’d you let that happen?” It is a truism of sports fandom: we love to hate teams that win too much. I’m sure there exist in the world at least 5 columns in which the Patriots, Yankees, and Crimson Tide are referred to as the “Axis of Evil.” Yes, this hatred runs deep enough that we are going to allow sports writers to compare these teams to terrorists. You would be just in pointing that I just did that as well. At one point while perusing Instragram during commercials, I saw a post from a girl I briefly dated in which she was wearing a Patriots jersey and made a face like she had announced the death of her beloved dog. It is entirely possible I would be less sad about the dog. I know what I just said.

As with the Axis of Evil, I’m sure I’m not the first person to point out this paradox. We love it when our teams win. It is, in fact, the entire point of the game. So it is at the very least odd that we hate teams who have became too good at the point of the game.  

 You just know Cheney is a Yankees fan.

You just know Cheney is a Yankees fan.

This practice doesn’t seem to transfer to other aspects of life. We don’t hate surgeons who are too good at surgery. We don’t hate mechanics who are too good at fixing cars. We don’t hate grocers who are too good at not crushing your eggs with canned goods. So why do we hate teams that win too much?

Our societal obsession with narrative becomes when we try to answer this question. There is a reason the entire nation - with the exception of a pocket in Ohio (and possibly near St. Louis) - rallied behind the Chicago Cubs during the 2016 World Series. People who don’t watch baseball EVER watched that game adorned in Cubbie blue. We love an underdog story. We love subversion of the narrative. And the Philadelphia Eagles played that love like a fiddle this post-season, winning games in which the other team was favored in Philadelphia. The replacement of injured QB Wentz with journeyman Nick Foles late in the year seemed in many ways too perfect. It almost made the story too good, which I guess means I should hate it?

Subverting the narrative has become so ubiquitous that has almost replaced the narrative itself. None of us walked into Star Wars: The Last Jedi and expected the Rebellion to lose. That’s not the story we want; it’s not the way it’s supposed to be. If you want to read the Bible as metaphor, it is easy to see that even ancient story-tellers recognized this intrinsic desire within people. We want to hear the story of David knocking out Goliath, not of Goliath crushing a teenage boy into the Biblical equalivant of a pulp. (I guess it would still be a pulp?) When teams like New England win an epic number of championships in a short time period it subverts our subverted narrative. And this doesn’t sit well with us, though we often don’t understand why. It’s as though someone snuck into your office and moved everything a 1/4 inch to the left. It just feels off. 

You will likely never understand yourself exhaustively. But the fact that I am irritated that the New York Yankees now own the two best hitters in baseball should tell us something about human nature. We are wired to love it when the loser wins. This is why the movie “Rocky” resonates in your soul. Seeing someone - fictional or otherwise - accomplish what was thought to be impossible provides us a moment of escape - at its best - allows us to believe that we might be capable of the miraculous too. When teams like New England or Alabama subvert us back to reality, we are harshly reminded that most of the time the world doesn’t actually work that way. We are told, in no uncertain terms, that the Galatic Empire had a better payrolll and signed more free agents (Kylo Ren) and that the Rebels will have to watch the big game from their couches at home.

But we also have to remember that there cannot be a protagonist without an antagonist. We can only celebrate an underdog victory if there was a force in opposition to said victory. Every good story has a good villain. And Sunday, the Eagles had a doozy. And that makes the story all the better. Because the Patriots lost. 

I’m not arguing for the necessity of the existence of Evil. But the New England Patriots - and teams like them - are a pivotal part of the narrative. In a strange way, they give us hope that “our” team will be the one to beat them next year. They enable us to rally around the idea that maybe, just maybe, this isn’t how it has to be. And, transitively, they empower us to believe we can be more than is expected of us; that we can rise above our circumstances in the face of all our doubters and emerge victorious.

And they should be thanked for that... I guess. 

The Most Interesting Man I "Know"

There is a coffee shop in Des Moines that I love. For context I should tell you that I live in a western suburb and this particular coffee shop is located on the east side of Des Moines proper. Of course, Iowa’s capitol city is by no means the size of, say, Chicago. It’s still only about a 15 minute drive from my house. But I pass - and I want to get this number right - about 15 million other coffee shops on that drive. The coffee is good, but not great. The place itself is clean, but it is loud, and sometimes it can be difficult to find at place to sit down. There is food and ice cream too, the former being just okay and the latter being impossible to less than okay. (I would posit that even the worst ice cream is still pretty much okay.)

So, why would I choose to come here?

I have been to many, many of the coffee shops in the Des Moines Metro, but I always return to this one. I prefer it because the clientele is so much more diverse. I could easily go to one of the coffee shops just minutes away from my house, but I would get a generally uninteresting collection of people roughly my age sitting around talking about a) buying gold and selling pork b) what Meredith said to Dan in that meeting last Wednesday or c) the e-mail chain that has reached a length qualifying as “ridiculous.” They do all of this whilst wearing a style of clothing I am told is called “business casual,” which has to be one of the more oxymoronic terms currently in common usage. Inversion of those words evokes an image of man who sells Gap sweaters out of the trunk of his car.

And all of that is pretty much as boring as it sounds. So I come here for diversity. Here are the types of people I encounter most frequently at my favorite coffee shop:

1. Students: wearing gym clothes and wielding backpacks that are comical size. They mainline absurd amounts of caffeine while probably accomplishing less studying than was intended.

2. Couples: two people who appear to be romantically involved, which is best recognized by both parties starring at their phones instead of engaging in conversation.

3. A Club Meeting: usually 5 or 6 people (or more) who gather with a pre-determined and united purpose. Sometimes it is to discuss a book that they were all supposed to have read by now but everyone can tell Karen didn’t finish it. Sometimes it’s to talk about a part of the Bible that everyone was supposed to have read by now that Karen totally didn’t read. Most often it’s to have a private discussion about whether or not they should kick Karen out of the club.

4. The Loner: this one is kind of sad. I frequently encounter people in this coffee shop who are just sitting and flipping through their cell phones. They aren’t with anyone and - sometimes - they don’t even have a drink in front of them. I don’t know what to say about this type of person because I truly don’t know what they are doing.

5. The Off-Site Worker: he’s wearing the aforementioned “business casual” attire, has multiple electronic devices in front of him, and is still wearing a giant Bluetooth in his ear because no one has informed him that it is, in fact, no longer 2007. He may also vaguely resemble Tom Hanks when he got big in the movie “Big.”

But by far the most interesting person in this coffee shop is a man named Mark. Mark is probably in his early seventies and he is always here with another man of a similar age. Here are the other things I know about Mark:

- He claims to have once built a barn

- He often likes people’s shirts

- He says he always comes here on Mondays and Wednesdays (though I have just seen him and it is Tuesday afternoon)

That’s it. How do I know these things, you ask? To answer that question, I have to describe Mark’s routine. I have witnessed this ritual on probably half a dozen occasions now and it is always the same. He and his friend come in and order coffee in mugs. They sit down at a round table in the center of shop, upon which Mark will then place his Pall Mall cigarettes and a lighter. He will then get up and get a glass of water. This next bit is important, so pay attention. On the way to get the glass of water, Mark will find someone in the coffee shop, walk up to them, and say a thing. I phrase it that way because it seems as though he has a bag of sentences in his mind and just grabs one at random, regardless of context or perceived interest on the part of the person to whom he has chosen to speak. I’ll tell you more about what he says in a moment. After he says a thing, Mark gets his water and goes back to the table. He then pours a bit of water into his coffee (which somehow is the most peculiar part of this whole thing to me) and drinks it for a minute or two. He then gets up, goes outside to smoke, comes back and the whole process begins again.

I feel the need to pause here for a moment and defend myself, as I suspect many of you think it odd that I come here just to watch this man wander about. I don’t. I come here for other reasons altogether and he just happens to be here. A lot. I am also not in the habit of eavesdropping on his conversations. I know what Mark says to people because he always says it very, very loudly.

Here is a brief history of what Mark said today and who he said it to. Not one single detail of this has been made up. Not one.

What: “Well, this mental work beats physical work! I should know, I built a barn!”

Who: Two extremely attractive college girls who were so engaged with their textbooks, they weren’t even speaking to each other.

Interpretation: Initially I thought this was just good advice. But now, I’m not so sure. Mark seems to be suggesting here that mental work is somehow a) qualitatively better or b) qualitatively easier than physical work. As someone who actively avoids physical work, I resent at least one of those implications. Then again, the man has (supposedly) built a barn. So, I guess he would know?

What: “You need to find a way to take a break!”

Who: Three middle aged people who were eating lunch.

Interpretation: I found this especially cryptic because, to the outside observer, these people were already taking a break. Specifically a “lunch break.” Which begs the question: what does Mark think they should take a break from? Eating? The metaphorical, un-winnable rat race in which we all take part? This is some sort of new viral marketing for Kit-Kat’s? If so, I’m not sure it’s not working.

What: “I like your shirt!”

Who: Three different people - all of whom were female - on three different trips around the coffee shop. And no, they were not wearing the same shirt.

Interpretation: Had I the time or resources, I would gather these three women together, hire Tom Hanks’ character from “The Da Vinci Code”, and pay him to study those shirts until he found a common thread. (Pun very much intended.) However, since this would be expensive and also fairly creepy, we find ourselves at yet another impasse.

I have had one “conversation” with Mark. It occurred last winter while I was standing in line waiting to place my order. Mark was standing behind me and - for some reason - felt the need to say, “You sure are a good looking fella.” He then told me a joke that I am unable to recall, and that was the end of the conversation. When I returned to my table the girl I was dating at the time asked me if I knew the man I was talking to in line. I said I did not. I didn’t share the rest of the details of the conversation with her because I was honestly not sure it had actually happened.

At this point, you might think that Mark is a lonely - if not slightly unusual - older man who wants someone to talk to. And I honestly think you would be wrong. He is always here with that aforementioned other guy and, when Mark is not on one of his walk-about’s, they talk and drink their coffee. Furthermore, Mark doesn’t seem to want to have actual conversations with people. He just says a thing AND LEAVES. If you want to tell a better story, you might imagine he creates answers in his own mind; not unlike Tom Hanks talking to Wilson.

So what makes Mark so interesting? Is it how insanely cryptic his statements are? Is it how dedicated he seems to his regiment of coffee, shirt fondness, and cigarettes? Is it the fact that as I’m writing this Mark is wearing a t-shirt with a picture of a cat on it? (It’s a mug shot of a cat with the sentence, “The cat nip made me do it.”) 

As odd as these things might seem, they are not what makes Mark interesting. This man is interesting because of his wanton disregard for the social contract by which most of us live our lives. And somehow by casting aside the commonly agreed upon rules of interaction, Mark is able to be more social than most of us. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen a pretty girl in this very coffee shop with whom I would love to strike up a conversation. But I never do it. I sit in my booth and try to think of something clever to say. Ultimately, the girl in question leaves and I sit and pretend to read until I get inspiration to write an essay.

But this problem is totally foreign to our friend Mark. He does not fret over what he will say to an attractive girl. He built a barn and, by God, she is going to know about it. Nay, she needs to know about it! I have been present for some pretty critical moments of patients’ lives; set my boots in Afghanistan; and played music in front of thousands of people. And yet - in my mind - all of that pales in comparison to barn construction.

Since I started writing this essay, I spoke to the girl sitting in the booth next to mine. I asked her if she had ever put ice water into her coffee. She said yes.

So at the end of the day, who’s to say what is unusual?

Illumination

When I was a kid I used to be afraid of our basement at night. In the house where I grew up in northwest Iowa (God's Country, as some call it) the living room, bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen were all on the same floor. Next to the kitchen was a set of stairs that led down into the basement. My father ran a photography studio from down there during the day. And between the hours of sunrise and sunset, I had no problem being in the basement. It was totally safe and non-threatening, as it should have been. It was a place of business after all. I don't remember how or when I first became afflicted with this notion, but at some point I determined that at night the landscape down there wholly changed. It became a dark and scary place. A place where there were most-assuredly monsters who fed exclusively on skinny Korean children. Who doesn't remember that famous song about the one-eyed, one-horned flying purple skinny Koraean child eater? I can practically hear it now... 

Now and then, there would be some mission of utmost importance that would require me to venture into the basement after dark. Maybe it was mom needing something from the deep freezer (Hey guys, remember deep freezers?). Maybe it was that I wanted a soda. There were other, non-food and drink related reasons, but they concern matters of National Security and I dare not disclose them here, lest I have to kill you. The point is that sometimes I had to go where the wild things were. I don't have great recollection for these times - I've more than likely blocked them out due to the severe mental and emotional trauma they caused me - butI can remember that I would run down the stairs as fast as I could; retrieve whatever item was so paramount that it necessitated risking my life; and then race back upstairs again like Indiana Jones running from that giant rolling ball in Temple of Doom.

As an "adult", I've long since overcome my fear of the basement. But hopefully I'm not the only one who can profess to a childhood fear of the dark. You may be interested to know, however, that this is apparently an on-going concern. According to some studies that I googled, approx. 5% of adults admit to still being afraid of the dark. Moreover, this fear may be biological. Some scientists suggest that our fear of the dark is a natural inheritance from the time when we feared nocturnal predators. (That would be a sweet name for a band, by the way. I call legally binding Dibs!) Freud posited that our fear of the dark is a result of separation anxiety from (big shocker here) our mothers. I suspect he mostly said this because Freud seemed to think everything was about our mothers. He sure talked about mothers a lot. Maybe he should seen someone about that... And yet another theory states that fear of the dark comes is because it is believed that more crime occurs at night. Surprisingly, however, the data does not support this widely held belief.

I have my own theory, as you might have suspected. I think our fear of the dark is actually our fear of the unknown. In the light we can see the things around us and confirm what is both there and not there. We can orient ourselves in the world and determine a path or course of action. This is likely why light has become synonymous with things like revelation, knowledge, and goodness. 

But Richard Rohr would invite us to think about light a little bit differently. In his book The Divine Dance he writes: 

 "LIght is not really what you see; it is that by which you see everything else... Like light, you do not see God; but God allows you to see everything else through really good eyes."

Imagine for a moment that you are in a dark and scary place, totally devoid of light. Somewhere like, oh, I don't know, a basement. Now let's further pretend that we have three choices: we can use a lantern, a flashlight, or turn the lights on. Each would be helpful in this instance and I think we all know which would be preferable, but let's walk into for the sake of making a point. A lantern would only illuminate the area immediately surrounding the source. You could see yourself much better and some of the things around you. But ultimately, you would still bump into things or, at the very least, you would not see them until they were close to you since the lantern lacks range. The flashlight, in emitting more a beam, projects out and away from the source. This would be best for lighting a path and, in particular, seeing what is ahead of you on that path. However, that which is not immediately in the beam of the flashlight would remain hidden. 

This is, I believe, what Rohr is talking about. In the two examples I just laid out, it is all about what you are able to see. But our range of vision is still severely limited. Jesus said in John that He is the, "light of the world"and that whoever followed Him would, "not walk in darkness, but have the light of life." I think we have a tendency to make Jesus into more a lantern or a flashlight than the all-illuminting source He is meant to be. We want to make the Jesus light about seeing ourselves and what is immediately around us - as with the lantern - or, like the flashlight, we want it to reveal our path and forego the world around said path. 

But the true essence of the Resurrection is about, "...that by which (we) see everything else." Think about the total illumination of the Gospel. This light is so powerful that it pushes out and envelopes all darkness. It is turning the lights on in the basement to show us that no monsters - even that of death! - wait for us there. I've come to believe that the Resurrection is not so much about a path from point A to point B as it is a revelation of Truth that has been present the whole time. It doesn't show us a different thing, but rather reveals how things actually are. It illuminates the shadows of pain and broknness and the dark corners of death and despair. This is where a message of true hope can be found. 

I am reminded of a speech the writer David Foster Wallace once gave, in which he began with an anecdote about goldfish. He said, and I'm paraphrasing here, that a goldfish said to his friend, "How's the water today?" To which his friend, replied, "What the hell is water? It might be clear, but the fish is not aware of the water because the water is all around him. The goldfish cannot answer a question like "How is the water today?" He has no concept of water and therefore does not give a thought to its quality. The great irony being that without it, he would surely die.

Life is, I think, all about awareness. And how can you be aware of that which you cannot see? I said earlier that I believe our fear of the dark is derived from our fear of the unknown. Without the illumation and revelation of the Gospel, anything and everything could be out there in the dark, waiting to reach out and grab us. But once illuminated, these fears lose their power. They are seen and transformed. We cannot underestimate the importance of naming a thing; calling it what it is.

It is far better to see Evil and call it by name than wander about in the darkness wondering if it exists. It is far better to know that once illuminated, broknness becomes wholeness and death does not retain its power. This is Resurrection - as Richard Rohr says it - as a moment revealing the meaning of every moment.

Jesus is the illumination of the world. And that is trully good news for an abundance of reasons; not the least of which is that we can know with affluent certainty that there are no monsters in the basement. 

The Divine Flow

The other day I was sitting in my house thinking about loneliness.

Now I want to be clear, I wasn't thinking about loneliness because I was lonely. I was thinking about loneliness because I am working on a sermon series called "Come and Be Known," and it's brought up a lot of questions, probably more questions than answers.

One of the more significant questions has been: why would you bother to be known?

It's a fundamental question, given the series I've been writing. So I was thinking about that in my house the other day and it led me to thinking about loneliness. I have come to believe that heart of loneliness is an overwhelming feeling that you are not authentically and intimately known. And this absence, it is profoundly felt. The evidence is all around us in stories of isolation and hiding, stories that all too often end in tragedy.

But the question remains: why?

To attempt to answer this question, let's talk about atoms. (Didn't see that coming, did you?)

In case you have been privileged enough to avoid chemistry and/or physics for your entire life, let's do a refresher. An atom is made of three primary components: a proton, a neutron, and an electron. (For you stickers out there, I'll mention that a hydrogen atom doesn't have a neutron. Happy now?) These three things come to together to form the essential building blocks of, well, pretty much everything. Think about it: because these three things want to be in relationship with each other, you exist. You are here because of a relationship.

Atoms join with other atoms to make molecules that join with other molecules to make cells that join with other cells to make tissues that join with other tissues to make organs that join with other organs to make organ systems that join with other organ systems to make you. 

So I can tell you confidently that you are meant for relationship because you are made of relationships. 

When does this many become one?
When does this one ever not contain many?
Never! This is what the relational pattern of the universe is teaching us, from Godhead to geochemistry and everything in between.
— Richard Rohr, 'The Divine Dance'

The relational pattern of the universe. All things desire to be in relationship with other things. This is how life is created and how everything evolves. Elements combine to make something that didn't exist before. This thing in the universe, it has flow, movement, momentum. The above quoted Richard Rohr calls it "The Divine Flow". And when we look at it, when we find the answer to what is so profound about loneliness.

All that exists is stuff in relationship. When we isolate and start to feel insignificant, we literally move in the opposite direction of the Divine Flow. That's why loneliness is so powerful and why isolation can hurt so deeply. It is exactly opposite to where God and the universe are trying to move us. But - as my beautiful drawn picture demonstrates - there is a sort of momentum to loneliness too, isn't there?

I want to be clear: being alone in and of itself is not a bad thing. I have some introverted tendencies and I really value my alone time. But too much time alone can make us feel lonely. When we start feeling lonely, we start to hear lies about our significance, things like, "Well if no one wants to be with me, I must not be worth being with." And when that lie plants itself in your brain, it causes you to isolate. Why would a person with no value and nothing to offer put himself in the world at all? And we all know - and unfortunately have likely experienced - what that dangerous falsehood can lead to: spiritual and physical death. 

Do you know what I'm talking about?

These feelings of insignificance are significant (see what I did there?). The deep pain they cause is - I believe - a message to us from God. This is not how it is supposed to be. 

When I was in the Navy, I went on a deployment that took me to the country of Guam for a month. Guam is, essentially, a poor man's Hawaii. When we weren't working, we all tried to get out and enjoy what the country had to offer. One day I was snorkeling with a doctor friend of mine. We started out in a bay, in calm waters. As we swam out further, we found some rough seas. Before we could swim past the break, my friend suggested we ought to turn around, saying, "I think this might be a stupid idea." I agreed and we turned around, heading for calmer waters. As we did, we got caught in a riptide. This is a fairly alarming experience: you are trying to swim in one direction as the water pulls you in another. What ends up happening is you don't move at all. If you stay there, fighting the current for too long, you eventually tire and get pulled out to sea. The trick to getting out of one is to swim sideways, so you aren't fighting the current anymore. Which we did.

When we finally made it to shore, we were exhausted. We had been bashed up against rocks and coral, and we both had the wounds to show for it. I sat on the beach as rain started to fall and thanked God that I had survived. The metaphor here might be painfully obvious, but that doesn't make it any less true: 

Fighting the Divine Flow is exhausting.

It can make you feel like you are stuck in one place.

And if you fight it long enough, you might end up lost.

You know that your worth is not about you personally or individually doing it right on your own; instead, your humanity is just a matter of allowing and loving the divine flow... Life becomes a matter of showing up and saying yes.
— Richard Rohr, 'The Divine Dance'

You can hear and feel it. The Divine Flow, the movement of the universe. And - perhaps more importantly - you can feel it deep within you when you're fighting against it. You know what it feels like when you are pulled in by the current of community. You know how much stronger we are together.

You know all of this to be true because - just like when we isolate and start to believe lies about our significance - when we move with the momentum of the universe, we hear that voice of affirmation. A voice that tells us: this is how it is supposed to be.

You were meant for relationship because you're made of relationships.

So the invitation today is a very simple one: say yes.

Love and Great Buildings: A Farewell to My Twenties

I have long said that every birthday after you turn 21 becomes less and less meaningful. I mean, sure it was nice getting that insurance reduction and the ability to rent a car at 25, but they are hardly milestones worthy of note. My birthdays over the last decade have pretty much run the gamut from large parties to small, intimate dinners  to the one I celebrated right after transferring to Pensacola for training, where I didn't know anyone. I don't actually remember how or if I celebrated that day.

It's only natural - especially for writers - to be reflective at a time like this. I've long told myself that turning 30 wouldn't be a big deal and, for the most part, it isn't. I imagine when I wake up tomorrow, life will continue much as it did during my first two decades of life. Thus far, I've been largely free of the quarter-life crisis to which many before me have fallen victim. I'm not making any big career or lifestyle changes, much less buying a speedboat or sports car. I never really understood the appeal of a sports car anyway, they seem very impractical to me.

However, I am not completely free of cliches. Over the last several weeks, I've been spending a lot of time taking inventory of my life. Again, I think it's that writer/preacher gene in my shining through. As human beings are want to do, I've not only being thinking about where I am in life, but where my friends are too. For any of you out there who have already turned 30, I suppose I don't have to tell you that it seems like everyone is having a kid. Like literally everyone. Two co-workers and friends of mine recently had their first child, while I've received good news of a pregnancy from two other close friends; one of which actually came today. Almost everyone is married, settled into full-time jobs and have things like a house and a lawnmower and furniture they actually went to a store and purchased. Clearly, I'm not on that level yet.

You might think all of this would make me feel like I've fallen behind in the race of life. In truth, I kind of expected to feel that way as well. I've been pleasantly surprised to discover that I don't. A great many things changed in my 29th year of life that in some ways I feel like I'm still playing catch up with myself. One year ago I was headed towards grad school and - probably - marriage and kids and all that stuff. A year later, I'm single, out of school, and living as normal a life as is possible for someone in my line of work.

And I'm happy to report that I'm as happy as I've ever been.

The reasons for this, I think, are pretty numerous. Though I've led a pretty untraditional life up to this point, I think my twenties were actually pretty rad. I got to be a worship leader for a 10,000 member church. I became a paramedic, a job that I truly love. I served my country in the US Navy. I have lived in Texas, Florida, and Washington. I've set foot in Guam, Japan, South Korea, Qatar, Afghanistan, and Kuwait. And that's not including countries in which I only saw the airport. I drove from Florida to Washington and then from Washington to Iowa and discovered some beautiful parts of this country. I ran three half marathons. I met Ben Rector. I got diagnosed with PTSD (yes, I'm counting that as a good thing). I've gotten to bring a message of hope about mental wellness to hundreds of people. I get paid to play music. I started using the word "rad." All in all, my twenties were pretty kick-ass.

Of course, the last decade hasn't always been so joyous or easy. I got diagnosed with PTSD (see what I did there?). I've struggled with depression and anxiety. I've had numerous relationships end. I've been mortared. I've seen a lot more death than the average person. I've set goals for myself that I haven't achieved. In more ways than one, my twenties kicked my ass.

That's the natural rhythm of life though, isn't it? Good and bad. Ups and downs. Life then death. Good Friday, then Easter Sunday. That's how it works. Things start and then they end.

But that doesn't mean that some things don't endure. In fact, I can't imagine trying to navigate life if something wasn't steadfast. In the midst of struggles, we have to have something onto which we can cling. That's what gives us the courage to step off the plane in Afghanistan. It gives us the power to say "yes" to adventures and to the unknown. Like a lucky coin, we keep it tucked away in our pocket to be consulted both in times of trial and in times of joy.

It probably won't surprise anyone when I say that it's love that empowers us to endure change.

Love and great buildings will survive
Strong hearts and concrete stay alive
Through the great depressions
The best things are designed
To stand the test of time
— Andrew McMahon, 'Love and Great Buildings'

The above quoted song is, in my humble opinion, the best on Andrew's new album. But what struck me recently is this: great buildings don't survive without people to take care of them. Without upkeep, even the best things will succumb to time. There has to be someone there to clean and do maintenance. Moreover, buildings are meant to be lived in. They are meant for people.

And so are you.

You were created to endure, but you can't do it alone.

If you are like me and believe that all of this certainly isn't a happy accident, then you will know exactly what I mean. You and I were designed not to evacuate this life, but to be here and it live it fully. It makes sense then that God would know that life is fully of constant change and trial. The last ten years of my life bear witness to that truth, the same as yours probably do. But those years also bear witness to another, equally powerful and important truth: that you were created for love and love endures. It is not such much the idea that you were tailor-made for your specific circumstance, but rather that you were provided the secret weapon that allows you to face any circumstance.

Ten years ago I was sophomore in college. I hadn't yet met the people who would later give me an opportunity to lead worship at Hope. I wasn't a paramedic. Military service was far from my mind. I was way into a girl who wasn't into me. Twenty year old Chris had no idea what was coming for him. But I am here, ten years later, having done a bucket list's worth of stuff. I'm a happy and healthy person. A person who understands himself. And I simply cannot imagine wading through the last 10 years alone. I wouldn't have made it. But thankfully, I was never asked to go it alone.

The last ten years have taught me the importance of community. We are designed for it. We need it. We are worse when we don't have it.

You and I were designed to stand the test of time. But not alone. We were meant to do it together. Maybe you're reading this and you don't believe in God. No matter what you belief, I urge you to believe in other people. The other day I watched Coldplay's Superbowl Halftime Show from a couple years ago because what I do with my free time is my business... And the final set piece - pictured above - really hit home for me. Given all that has happened in my life, I think it would be understandable if I had ended up an angry, jaded person. But I'm not. I believe that people actually do care about each other. I believe that being in community is paramount to tapping into our full potential. I believe that you and I, together, can navigate every mountaintop, every valley of the human experience. And all of the stuff in-between. I believe in love.

So I raise proudly raise a glass to my twenties and, in so doing, so good-bye to a pretty crazy ten years. For all of the "great depressions", I wouldn't change one moment. Because each moment brought here, to this place.

This place where I believe in love.