You can’t be a contradiction
There’s no room for an “and”
Choose one way or another
So that we can understand
You are not your own
Listen to our advice
Acceptance is all you need
People won’t look at you twice
Artist and mathematician,
Engineer, creative soul,
Gentle, strong, and angry
Hidden and outwardly whole
Ugly and ruggedly handsome
Bristly and hairy and soft
Liar and lover and under the depths
Incredibly, wonderfully lost
Checklists upon empty boxes
Fill the world you live in
Where simplifying is knowing
And confusion is a sin
“I am who I am,” I cry
“A story difficult to tell”
The black and the white don’t combine
Into a gray, ambiguous hell
“Feed me, o, feed me, liar!”
Yelled the hungry volcano
The earth is ready to devour
Your broken up human soul
“Not true,” I tell the fire
Licking at my feet
I am made in the image of one
Man cannot re-create
And therein I see the lie
That we don’t understand
If it will not prove or compute
Its existence we cannot stand
I am swimming in a bowl of lies
My cereal bowl
The spoon is my escape
To pour sweetness on my tongue
And savor the short satisfaction
I lie because I don’t want to admit to other people that I am weak
It makes me feel pitiful
So I would rather they think I am strong
Or at least mysterious
I think over these things at
The dining room table
Alone in the morning before 6am
When no one can see me
If I cry
I am talking to a room full of lies
Because they are my friends
For friends invade my personal space
Like a Junior High dance
And I can’t navigate the closeness
Pain can’t be the good thing
I know it is
As it closes in on my heart
And turns my comfort
I will make it
I am in a cage made of lies
Like solid bars
Invisible on the outside
And others don’t understand
What they don’t know
I hear the truth as a whisper
Tickling the edge of my ear
Cool as water
As it cuts down to my bone and tears me apart
And I bleed
I am on a pedestal of stone
In front of an audience
Under glimmering light
And I tear off shame as a robe
So that I can be exposed
I will be
I will be
I will be
Translucent films of white
Pages strewn on the floor
Denying the words that want to find a place
On their thin surfaces
Instead traversing the busy highways of a
Friday afternoon’s thoughts
Backing one into another
When I don’t think I can feel
I tear the paper
In order to let them out
And doubts about what I am doing
Wishing the jagged edge would
Moving is not easy
Change comes as you drive along
Blind to potential
I feel like I must have failed
I find myself here
Crumple the page and throw it away
I roll down the window
The air outside is warm
And the papers flutter in the breeze
Animated into dance
Words start to fly
Shame can’t live outside
Boundaries of silence
I am breaking through
Gossamer sheets of pulp
Recycled and renewed in a world
That no longer sees their value
I shut off the screen that tells
Rather than allows me to speak
I will write after so long
Hey all…its been too long. Hopefully I get more poetry and thought up here over the next few months. Here is something that has taken a week to become full words and thankfully the Spark event at North Coast Calvary Chapel last night was the space for it. The image is burned in my mind. I hope you enjoy it:
He Took the Seat
I was in the great room
In the crowd of so many
Who were on their faces
And it was silent
Like the dawn breaking
At the water’s edge
When the wind stops
I was in the great room
And He walked in
On a red carpet
Where the least have tread
But he was famous
I was in the great room
Memories flooding back
Of men I no longer see
Scoffing, pretending, questioning
Not wanting answers
When I sat at his feet
And poured out the last of me
Emptying it from the cracks in my facade
When I couldn’t cover up
I was in the great room
When the roar began at the back
As if somewhere in the past
Exploded out of time
And they screamed and wailed
Like a million funerals
Became a billion new births
And He took the seat
“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” 1 Peter 2:23-25
Anyone else feeling discouraged but at the same time revived?
I listened to a sermon this morning that made me, well, angry. Not (as the pastor seemed to be directing) at those who are watering down the Gospel, or those who don’t take the Bible literally, or those who seek peace with other faiths and are willing to compromise, but more at my own faith in God. Is the Gospel message so watered down in me that I cannot stand up and love those around me, even if I disagree with them?
I feel like I am a true member of the church today – impassioned and enraged at moments, wagging a finger in judgment in other moments, retreating to my own Christian culture or to sin (often one and the same) when things get tough. Do I believe that Jesus did what Peter says, that “he entrusted him who judges justly” and that I too can turn to God for justice and guidance?
This last week the CSU system officially removed InterVarsity as a recognized campus club because they make their leaders sign a Statement of Faith. This act of signing a statement was determined to be discriminatory. The rationale is that anyone of any faith or creed or race or gender must be given equal opportunity to run any campus club, and the statement excludes rather than includes. And, though not stated, I am sure they think that if leaders are elected democratically in a club, the club will pick its leaders to match its own values. The signing of a statement doesn’t allow flexibility – it is discriminatory against anyone that doesn’t believe it. The decision seems only to affect faith-based clubs, though it is within itself not explicitly discriminatory.
I went through a whole series of emotions regarding this. How do I reconcile the ridiculousness of this decision with my faith in a way that conveys respect and steadfastness? Is it wrong to fear that this is only the first glimpse at a larger wave of changes coming faster than the changes in climate? I am left just wondering…God?
As I approach turning 35 years old next year (ah!), I have started to step back more and look at my own life. The question that keeps coming back is – why am I here? This isn’t where I want to be or where I thought I was going to be. So I decided to change that, to pursue a life more in-line with what I wanted and expected, following the movement of God in my life, using the talents I have been given, fighting the challenges I have received.
The first step to it was changing my hair style. It is ridiculous, I know, but it felt like something small, something I could change without many consequences. Then for a couple of weeks I grew out a beard, mostly because I was too busy to find the time to shave it all off. But I kept it. The beard felt like momentum, like a first step towards conquering mountains that God gave me victory over long ago. Alright, Lord, here I am and I am ready. What else?
I know, I’ll get in better shape. Yeah. I gained weight after the baby was born, so time to get healthy, to avoid the pitfalls men in my family have faced for years. I won’t get heart disease, I refuse to. So I started a routine I thought I could do, taking about twenty minutes every morning. At first I struggled with getting up early in the morning. But eventually I enjoyed doing it and felt great about the results. I started to run again. It was yet another victory in an area that I thought I had complete control.
But then there were tougher areas. Like my marriage. Like pornography. Like writing. Like purifying my mind and heart so that I am at the ready.
For the first time in years my work started to slow down to the point that I was looking for other things to do. And I fell back into one of my greatest weaknesses; the malaise of laziness. I struggled to get simple things done. I lost even more motivation outside of work. And things got messier. My worries about money started to grow, another friend struggled a lot with his life and needed support, my wife felt distant and removed, I was turning to old habits to make me feel better, my writing slowed down. How in the world could I bring this life back to life?
I again stepped back and looked at everything. Is God who He says He is – to me? How could I forget who God is if I know Him and relate with Him daily? Looking around the landscape I saw that my mind was crowded with weeds that I let grow over the years. I wanted to pull them myself. As soon as I pulled one I turned around to see another old one growing back. A yard full of weeds is discouraging especially when I know I need to step out of the gate into the world to be an ambassador for Christ. I began to fear that all of the other people in my life, including those that don’t know anything about Jesus, saw the weeds too. What if they turned away from faith because of me?
The only answer I know of is to turn to God, to cry to God. I can’t fix this.
I shouldn’t try to fix this.
When I heard about the decision of the CSU Chancellor to de-recognize InterVarsity I became immediately angry. How could a school system that I attended boot a campus ministry over discrimination like this? This is InterVarsity, whose leaders opened my eyes to racism, prejudice, and injustice in our community and around the world. What? All that I ever saw come from the chapter at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo was help to the campus, to the church, and to the community. When strife broke out it was returned with love and reconciliation. We volunteered and served all over the place.
Against my nature I thought of all of things I could do to stand up against this, to say it wasn’t okay, that I felt it was a stupid decision based off of irrational reasoning. I wanted to start a letter campaign. I wanted to start a boycott of giving to the school system. I wanted to march in protest. I wanted to go to the Chancellor and tell him that the students of the California State University System need Jesus now more than ever. That there is no hope in the world without Jesus because there is no possibility of lasting change for the good apart from Him.
But I realized I was still trapped in the weeds of my own life and they stop me from doing anything. They render me impotent, distracted, hurting and hungry. I can’t stand because people will spot my blemishes and use them as a smear campaign against Jesus. And why shouldn’t they – those things don’t represent Him but they justify what they believe.
So I don’t do anything.
I am the church in the United States today. We are trapped in the weeds we have let grow. We are addicted to pornography. We are lying and cheating. We are proud of ourselves for being right and knowing the right way, but we don’t really follow it ourselves. We are afraid that the world around us will crumble. We are afraid that we will be rejected and made irrelevant – like we try make other people that we want to silence. We lie to ourselves that our world is safe and okay and happy. We lie to ourselves that by being certain the end is coming soon we can retreat and let it happen.
I’m going to be 35 in 4 months and I’m tired of me. It’s time to re-enter the battle. I have to put myself out there and allow the arrows to fly at me. I have to trust God really, to admit that I failed and let the weeds grow but that God is the only one that can clean up this mess. God must be my only protection. I have to take these talents and invest them where they will yield a return for God’s purposes.
I’m done being right.
No, I’m not right. I’m redeemed, my life exchanged.
Church – perhaps we are put here for such a time as this? What are we going to do about it?
I was listening to poetry this morning and this, which has been brewing in my mind for weeks, finally came out. I hope you enjoy it!
Like jewels hanging around my neck
Are the babbles and giggles
the screeches and squawks
The unintelligible language you speak
You reach out your hand to touch my lip
As if my mouth holds unknown things
Sometimes we wash your hands at the sink
Like a couple dancing
You in my arms
Long familiar with the hold we have on one another
A daily anniversary of the day you arrived
When you cry out in the night I am blinded
But I find you as if buried
Deep within a mine
When I scoop you into my arms
You wrap around my neck
More precious than anything
Ever to adorn me
When years tumble past
Like the clothes you watch
through the window of the wash machine
Will memories fade with them
Or will they polish to a bright shine
Like gold or diamonds
Like time in a jar of water
Shimmering, shining bright
There is something about wit that charms me. When someone comes back with a sharp reply, especially if it is clever and unexpected, I smile broadly. I almost can’t help but savor the moment. And to me no people group seems to be more proficient at this skill than the players in British fiction, from Shakespeare to Masterpiece Theater to Monty Python. They know how to turn and twist words and use body language to suggest meanings that might never have been there before. Brilliant!
I’ll admit it: I laugh out loud when I read books that have this clever wit. Ask my wife,who finds my responses to books humorous (though that could be a whole separate post). JK Rowling had a fantastic time of it in Harry Potter; Charles Dickens delighted in turns of the phrase. Jane Austen gets me every time – the words she chooses are so biting and yet so kind, disguised in Victorian propriety, covered by the layers of class structure, social mores, and the status of women. Brilliant!
There are two ways that this kind of wit can be used as a form of communication. One way is to put another person in their place. The other way is for sheer, unadulterated entertainment. Sometimes a person/character blends both styles (which isn’t surprising since humiliation can be made entertaining). Now our morality sensitive minds read this and think – Oh, how cruel! or how horrible! and what a selfish thing to do! Using wit as a device seems unnecessary, filled with pride and self-gratification, the complete opposite of the humble Christian way filled with grace and encouragement. But admit it to yourself now that there are moments a well placed barb leaves you cheering the underdog, proud of her/him for standing up to an overwhelming structure and standing for justice with exceptional flair.
I confess now that I am very guilty of enjoying a verbal spar every now and again. In my (somewhat complicated) mind, dialogue can be a bit of a game, a challenge to actively think through communication carefully and come out on top. Perhaps it comes from boredom? I know I am far happier when someone else joins in the repartee. It really isn’t even a matter of winning or losing, now that I come to think about it. But how I feel about it really doesn’t matter as much as do the consequences of my behavior. And if other people love to join, where is the harm in that?
I have (rarely) heard it said that the Bible is against making fun of people. In the first Psalm, the writer warns not to sit in the seat of mockers. I always pictured that as a guy who sits in a courtroom , then stands, points and laughs at anyone who is convicted. That couldn’t be the same thing as wit, right? I mean, it is so, unintelligent.
My eyes were opened if ever so slightly yesterday night at church. Jason Poznaks, who does a fantastic donkey impression, was describing the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. He described this image of a man on a young donkey, swaying about a street lined with people who were throwing their cloaks and palm branches before him. In Jason’s words this was a king’s homecoming, er, except it really wasn’t a king’s homecoming. He talked about what the return of a conquering hero King would look like in those days. The king would enter a city gallant on his best horse, coming before a vast army whose size and prowess promised further victory and the opulent spoils of war. When the King arrived it would mean the war was over and that victory belonged to the people of the kingdom. It was probably the biggest party the people could muster. In comparison, Jesus came on a clunky pinto with a small crew of Occupy San Diegans, each confused about their purpose in being there. Jason also pointed out that this king Jesus, really the King of Kings, was not the ruler or political power that the people wanted, and therefore could never be the expected victor. He was not going to conquer Rome, per se. In a way that we might not understand, Jesus’ entry to the city was kind of a joke, almost unworthy of any fanfare. I am sure that there were people standing by laughing to themselves, or at least slightly poking fun at Jesus to the person standing next to them.
Now this was meant to be the grandest affair, an important step to fulfill the promises Gad had made hundreds of years before. And it did fulfill the prophecy, to the letter. But why did Jesus have to ride in on a donkey? Why couldn’t he have blown everyone away? Because God has a sense of humor, a grand wit about him. Its purpose; to put people into their place by revealing who He is. How funny that God would send a king on a donkey!
When Jesus received a complaint from the Pharisees about his disciples’ celebration, he claimed that even the rocks would cry out in worship if the people stayed silent. Why? Because the rocks get the obvious truth that the Pharisees were missing. Call it hyperbole if you will, but here we are again with a sharp wit that demonstrates the vast chasm between the thoughts of men and God. Did God want to make a show of this? I don’t think that is God’s style, at least most of the time. But he certainly made a scene either way.
So I come back to this whole thing of mockery or wit or linguistic olympics….can that side of me peaceably coexist with this transformed world view? Being honest with myself, if I had to fast from being witty for entertainment’s sake it would probably really get to me. And knowing that it would get to me means I probably need to do it.
As for whether it is right or wrong, does it matter? Perhaps, like the Pharisees, I would be getting upset about something that isn’t even the point. My God is creative with how He relates with people so therefore shouldn’t I be? One day it might be through fire in the sky and the next day a talking donkey, but God has a keen sense for reaching the human condition. Why shouldn’t I approach other people in a human way, in a way that relates to them, and relates me to them like a well-made bridge? Like a Pharisee I could fall on the side of fear and pocket the dangerous possibility that I may do or say something wrong. But would that be living? Talking about all of this makes me realize that I don’t know God in this way. I don’t approach Him with a smile and clever words because I know He is always going to be greater than I am. And yet He is overjoyed to teach me in unexpected ways, to lead me down paths that draw me in closer. Why can’t we flirt with one another, or at least dance or wrestle? Perhaps a fast would give me an opportunity that I have never taken before – to get to know God better in his sense of humor and irony, to approach the Almighty knowing well that it could be abrasive to my pride but delightful to my soul.
I had a terrible New Year’s Eve this year. It was so bad, I completely forgot about the holiday until after it was over (perhaps I’ll celebrate Chinese New Year to make up for it?). That evening is a shining example of God’s faithfulness to me and my impatience in return.
For those of you that haven’t heard my story (how many of you are left?), I was on a flight bound for San Diego on New Year’s Eve, coming from Las Vegas. In a freak natural phenomenon, the San Diego Airport was fogged in, and though we tried a couple of times our plane could not land there. After a quick flight up to Ontario (about 114 miles away), a couple more hours “trapped” on Ontario’s tarmac, we were released into an airport that was closed for the New Year’s Eve holiday (at least the restaurants were). Eventually our flight was cancelled, and we waited for our airline to find a bus to drive us to San Diego. No problem, right? It was only 7:30pm on New Year’s Eve.
My parents, who live about ten minutes away, were out of town, as were my closest relatives. The rental car companies had no “one-way” cars left to rent (at least not without an exorbitant fee). I became tired and cranky and hungry and impatient and angry. All I could think about was being home. And the dollar signs it would take to get me there.
My lovely wife did her best to prevent a Derek meltdown, and talking to my family on the phone helped. Then the little miracles started arriving. My parents had an extra car at home available for us to drive, if we could get there and get in. I thankfully had a key to their house with me. My mom called a friend who was also willing to pick us up at the airport and drive us to my parent’s house. We were finally at home in bed by 11pm. Perhaps the most unexpected blessing; the airline sent vouchers to apologize for the situation (a situation they did not create, I might add. Props to Southwest Airlines).
It has been a few days since, and I am coming back to my senses. Time to think through the inevitable New Year’s Resolutions. What did I resolve to do last year? Oh yeah – this blog! This year brought many unexpected twists and turns, most notably my wife’s long job search, my sudden immersion in novel writing, and the progressive dissatisfaction with where I am at. What could this New Year bring?
Let’s begin with conviction. I guess I can’t resolve to be more convicted, but I find this basic of element of my Christian life wanting. Instead I listen to the voice stoking my own ego. No where is it more clear than in marriage, where my every move affects another person. While a pithy “pray more” or “read the Bible more” suffices for many on this category, they don’t work for me. Within this man is a battle of wills; the will of God versus the will of Derek. And the will of Derek likes to keep Derek distracted – dangling carrots like acceptance, success, and self-indulgence with a hint of immediacy so that I have no desire to do anything that does not suit me. When a plane flight re-routing is needed to wake me up again, I realize I need to look in the mirror more often. Then I can see the ugly stuff; I use food to make me feel better, I crave approval any way I can get it, I drive myself mad with perfectionism, and I make myself feel like a failure for not being successful enough. The Holy Spirit opens my eyes to the people and places around me in funny ways, reminding me that I need to be dependant on God for all things, and that in God I have nothing to worry about. I thank God for conviction, though I equally hate it. I feel like a little kid that tries too hard, only to realize that I don’t get it, and then to further realize that not getting it is a good and beautiful thing.
How about confession? I suck at confession. Sometimes I wish I were Catholic so that I would have a “safe” person to tell everything to. I know that is ridiculous. I also know that I can say anything to God. But I suck at confession because I fight repentance. I don’t want to do the hard things. And my community often does not want to do the hard things, either. They would rather hear me out and try to make me feel better. Perhaps the only way to resolve this issue is to choose to serve those most in need – to do hard things empowered and emboldened by God – and to let the confessions flow out of humility rather than pride. I bet drug addicts would have a thing or two to tell me about pornography and my thought-life. I bet foster kids wouldn’t hesitate to highlight my innate selfishness. And (thankfully) my wife helps me to see when I am too into me. Can I resolve to put my confessions into actions?
I was recently challenged to “fall back in love” with God. When I heard those words, I recalled the afternoons I would spend on a park bench next to a pond, watching the sunlight filter through the leaves overhead while sketching praises to God. Or whole days I would take to climb a mountain alone and talk to Jesus as if he were there with me, walking alongside me. Or those mornings I would run off with a journal and would ask questions – hard questions – because I was hungry to know. How incredibly thankful I am to have those memories. But why are they memories?
I forget who God is when I am no longer thankful; when I don’t acknowledge his presence in my daily activities. When I realize who God is, I am drawn in – and I fall more in love. Can I therefore resolve to run away with God – to be alone with Him and see what happens, even when I am surrounded with people?.
I want to be entangled with God. Isn’t that what love looks like?
I fell in love with my wife, and we are married and practically inseparable. I love having her around, knowing that I am called to serve and honor her far more than myself, and yet redeemed and valued through our relationship. I want to be like that with Jesus. It isn’t that I want to wear a big Jesus t-shirt or to make my faith a talking point with everyone I meet, but I want to be united to God in a more indelible way. Can I acknowledge that Jesus is there with me always and be madly in love with him? The fear of becoming completely irrelevant, or worse yet, self-righteous, translates into a life of compartments with so little romance. I want God in the now, even in those moments I am convicted and confessing, when I feel guilty or impatient or hungry, when I am doing completely “ungodly” things. To heck with the formalities. I want each step to be a fragrant praise.
I know, my resolutions are impossible.
“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
What are you thinking about for this New Year? What resolutions have you made?