*This post is selfish. But I don’t care. Because it’s really more for me than anyone else. Read at your own discretion.*
Here are some things I feel strongly about, but maybe not in the ways that you might think. Know that if you continue to read I am probably going to say something that upsets you. This isn’t an attempt to be bold or brave or courageous, or to make some thinly-veiled political statement. It’s just a collection of thoughts to try to help myself maintain some sense of sanity in the season we are currently in. There’s no touchy-feely application point or three-part conclusion. It’s purely selfish. You’ve been warned.
I don’t think all Muslims are bad any more than I think all Christians are good.
I hate that we have legalized abortion, which always ends with a dead child, and often does so out of convenience made because of poor decision-making; but I understand that there are valid concerns about the application of a blanket law that requires nuances regarding some situations like rape and incest and a woman’s health and her experiences with oppression.
I like the idea of a smaller government, but I love the social assistance and provision that bigger government can provide for people and families that are struggling.
I don’t think marijuana is a big deal, but if my kids came home high I would be pissed and I would probably sell their cars.
I believe the institution of the church has committed countless egregious acts toward people that were just trying to learn about Jesus or to be left alone, but I still believe the church is the answer for a hopeless world, and that part of that answer involves a healthy reliance on the institution.
I think both candidates for the 2016 presidential election have qualities that are admirable, and both candidates have qualities that are utterly deplorable.
I think people should be able to purchase any gun or weapon they want to purchase, but that there should be some level of background check to make sure that the person purchasing that gun isn’t likely to use it to shoot up a school or church due to some mental health issue or prior conviction; and I think there should be severe penalties for those who abuse this right.
I like to argue the benefits of liberal politics with my conservative friends, and the benefits of conservative politics with my liberal friends.
I think Supreme Court justices should be elected instead of appointed, and that they should have term limits. But I think those terms should be long, like, maybe upwards of 20 years, in order to protect the consistency necessary when applying the rule of law.
I think all lives matter, but I believe “all lives” aren’t as endangered as black lives at this point, and that means how black lives are being treated should be a high priority as we look to fix problems related to race.
I think traditional marriage is the system God designed, from a Christian perspective; but I can’t fathom what it feels like for someone to tell you that you are wrong for who you love. Besides, I don’t feel like that’s mine to judge.
I believe that systemic racism did and does exist, and that there is such a thing as white privilege; but I also believe that it’s easier to apply a mantle of “privileged white person” or “reverse racist” to someone that looks like an oppressor than it is to listen to each other, and that doing so only perpetuates the racist construct moral people want so badly to eliminate.
I believe that you don’t have to have experience to have understanding–I can spot a bad helicopter pilot by following the smoke; but that doesn’t make me any better of a helicopter pilot than the guy who crashed.
I think America should seek to offer assistance to as many refugees as possible, but I think that doing so carelessly could be damaging to our nation.
I think that every situation is salvageable, but that not every situation should be salvaged.
I don’t think people ask for forgiveness enough. I don’t see people offering much forgiveness.
I think that love wins. But I don’t think most people know what real love is.
I think love is embodied in Christ and through his sacrifice, but that as his followers we haven’t always done things the right way, and deserve much of the criticism we receive.
I believe that if you read this far I have probably offended you, or maybe encouraged you, in some way.
But remember, it wasn’t for you. It was for me.
I hope we can still be friends.
“Uggggggghhhhhhh… I am almost DONE!”
I tried to ignore him. I mean, we were both standing at the urinal, so it was kind of weird. Separate urinals. We were standing at separate urinals. That’s an important detail. Otherwise it would be a way weirder story.
“Man… 12 more hours.”
We were the only guys in the bathroom, so I used my powers of perception to ascertain that he was trying to start up a conversation. Specifically, with me. For the record, I am very insightful.
I didn’t know where to start, exactly. I mean, “almost done…” “12 more hours…” while standing at a urinal… just how long had he been there? I mean, he was there when I came in. Maybe he needed medical attention or something.
“Almost done, huh?” I asked him. I didn’t really know what else to say other than “Do you need me to call a doctor?” This seemed safer.
“Yep,” he said. “Then on to Salt Lake.”
Phew. He wasn’t talking about his time in the stall.
Thankfully (for him and for me) we both finished up the rest of our business in silence, and he headed to the sink to wash up–which was a pleasant surprise in itself. *If you are a carny and I offended you with that comment, I deeply apologize. It’s just… well… have you seen many carnies? Not generally the cleanest of characters.* Anyway, his shirt told me his name was Rick, and he was obviously an employee of the state fair I was attending. Rick the carny. Making friends in the bathroom.
I thought we were done talking, but then Rick said “We’ve been here 10 days, you know.” I told him I did know. I like the fair. I usually attend with a big contingent of my extended family. We usually look through the main buildings and animal barns, guess the weight of the giant pumpkin, eat way too much, and finish with the demolition derby and with some carnival rides for the younger kids. Rick had been running the rides in my town for the past 10 days, and being that this was the final night of the fair, he was about to tear down and pack up for Salt Lake.
I didn’t really know how to continue the conversation, but I took a stab and said “So what’s the season like? You work year round?”
And wouldn’t you know it, Rick, the shy, shrinking violet that began this relationship by talking loudly to a complete stranger while emptying his bladder in a public restroom really came out of his shell. “Oh man, it’s pretty awesome,” he said. “I work pretty much year round. We are here, then Salt Lake, then a tour through California! Set up, play some games, ride some rides, take some tickets, break some hearts… then on to the next town.”
“Sounds like quite the life,” I replied. “But what happens when it gets cold?”
“We follow the sun, man. We follow the sun,” Rick said.
I had no idea what that meant. I think he could tell.
“Texas,” he said, cocking his head quizzically to the side while trying to satisfy my curiosity. Which, it kind of did.
I wished him well, and began to head back to my family, when I heard him yell from a short distance away “Hey, you know what though? I love it here. If I were to settle down, I’d want it to be here. All the fishing and mountains and hunting. This is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been!”
“It is pretty great,” I responded. Then Rick waved, and I waved, and we went our separate ways.
Look, I am probably never going to see Rick again. And I think it’s safe to say that Rick is maybe a few seats short of a fully-functioning ferris wheel; but I am convinced that my life is better for having had that conversation. It wasn’t really profound or deep or spiritual. But it did serve as a reminder for me that people are as weird and as strange and as awesome as the places they hail from; and that some of the simplest interactions we have with people can really brighten our days and bring us joy.
I hope we all can get to the place where we are willing to talk to carnies in public restrooms, and that our conversations can make the world a better place to pee… er… be…
Some of them were mean and some were hilarious. Some made me think. Some made me angry. Some made me shoot milk out of my nose. Some were true, and others couldn’t have been further from the truth.
One of the ways people handle being called names is to choose to accept the name or to reject it. And a lot of the times you can tell the names that had the least impact, because they get the smallest response. For example, if someone calls me arrogant, I am pretty sure I have probably given most people I have ever met a reason to think I am an arrogant person. Mostly because I am regularly an arrogant person. I don’t try to be. I don’t mean to be. And I have been doing work in my life to try not to be. But I know that I have a problem with my ego; so when someone chooses to saddle me with some term that suggests I have done something to elevate my own self-worth, I am probably just going to own it.
Other times I have been called a name that I know is simply not true. And those kinds of names can be annoying; but for me they are actually less likely to elicit a strong response because I know they aren’t names that define me. I am comfortable in my identity apart from that name, so it’s easy to let it go.
And still other times, we get called names that we don’t understand, or we don’t know if they identify us or not. One time someone close to me called me pugilistic. I thought, “There’s no way!” I got offended, so I was pretty quick to argue with them about it. I’m sure you spot the error here…
In America, we have a problem with name calling. We are quick to throw out names that can be funny or mean or true or hurtful, without much concern for the way they make someone feel. Our name calling isn’t to degrade them–though that is a happy side effect–as much as it is to allow ourselves to dump our emotions on someone as the object of our ire. So we fling away. And we feel better.
Worse than just calling a name, many times people have decided that if a person rejects the name, they must just be hiding their closeted association with it. White people are definitely racists for not advocating for a clearer understanding of white privilege within their community, or for suggesting that all lives matter. Black people are reverse-racists (I hate that term, by the way… what is the reverse of racism?) for not recognizing how government programs like Affirmative Action or welfare only serve to hamstring white people and burden our personal economy, or for suggesting we focus on how much black lives matter in the wake of numerous deaths at the hands of white police. Liberals are baby-killers for focusing on protecting the choices of the mothers. Conservatives are chauvinists for trying to advocate for unborn babies.
If any of the above arguments offend you, please, read on.
When I was little my sister and I would argue. Often the arguments would lead to name calling, and the name calling would lead to feelings being hurt, and hurt feelings led to parental involvement. My mom would say “Just ignore your sister. If you react she’s just going to keep pushing,” or something of the sort. Yet, today, we have an entire nation of people that seemingly have never learned that lesson.
I can’t tell you how many times I have seen someone become the very name they are rallying against by fighting unfairly and unwisely, to protect their own self-image. But as Christians, we are taught that our identity should be in Christ alone, and our efforts to persuade someone should only be made to persuade someone to become more like Jesus. 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 says that our actions toward others should be founded in the compelling love of Christ, and nothing else. Not worldly wisdom or status, not in the old ways we may have been party to before we began our relationship with Jesus. But, as people that have had the privilege to see enough of the love that Jesus taught that we now have the responsibility to share that love with the world around us that hasn’t yet taken hold of it.
As humans and as Christ-followers, we need to have hard conversations about the systemic racism that does exist in America, even if we may not knowingly participate in it or be aware of it. We need to be willing to recognize the advantage it is to have thousands and thousands of good and caring people serving in civil service roles with the police or other areas of government without suggesting that we burn the whole system down because of the actions of a handful of criminal vigilantes. We need to be ready to listen to people on the other side of the table as we have conversations about politics and religion and racism and abortion without calling people names. And we need to quit throwing around damaging labels like bigot and racist and terrorist when we are talking about humans that don’t agree with our viewpoints. We also need to be willing to do the hard thing by wearing some of those titles, in an effort to understand the perspective of someone that doesn’t think or believe or look like us, with the intention on moving people toward healing in the name of love.
Jesus put on a wooden cross and the sins of the world. He took on the name of murderer, cheater, adulterer, liar, sinner. He was mocked by the people that helped him on to that cross the entire time while they watched him die. There is nothing that anyone can call me that should offend me more than that. A perfect man–the Son of God–taking the punishment of the place I earned in order to provide me with an exit strategy that didn’t include an eternity apart from God.
I want us to quit calling each other names. I want us to learn to reject the names the world puts on us, and just leave them alone. Don’t give them power. Don’t give them any ground in our thoughts.
Instead, let’s celebrate the names that God calls us.
Child of God.
On September 26, 1990, my life changed.
Not directly. And not nearly as much as the four women that were in the car that evening. My aunt Kay was one of them.
They had been out celebrating the exit of their 20’s as a number of the girls had just turned 29. They turned onto a confusing section of highway into what they thought was a center lane. It ended up being an oncoming lane of traffic, and they went head to head with a cattle truck traveling in the opposite direction.
I don’t know if I fully understood the deep carnage of the accident until 1993 when I was sitting in a drivers education class, and I somehow recognized the car from a slideshow of pictures the instructor was using to convey the importance of seat belts to new, young drivers. He said, “This is a car that was destroyed by Commelini’s Junction a few years ago, and no one was wearing their seat belts.”
“That’s not true,” I told him.
“That’s not true,” I repeated. “Three of the women were wearing their seat belts. The fourth woman wasn’t, and she was thrown from the car and survived with no major injuries. The driver was wearing a seat belt, and she was killed on impact. The two women in the back seat lived, but suffered unbelievable physical and mental trauma. And they were both wearing their seat belts.”
“How… How could you possibly know that?” he asked.
“Because,” I said, “My aunt was in the back seat.”
The class took a timely break.
My aunt Kay was in a coma, and after a number of months was labeled as being in a persistent vegetative state. Do you remember the Terri Schiavo case from a number of years back? It was a big deal in the field of what is known as end-of-life care. Schiavo suffered a medical emergency that limited blood flow to her brain, and she suffered physical and mental repercussions. She had a number of mental capacities that remained, but she had signed a DNR–do not resuscitate order, and could communicate with her husband that she didn’t want to live, wasting away on life support and a feeding tube. She died due to medically-assisted suicide in 2005.
My aunt Kay was in a similar physical state. She ended up in a nursing home, and has had a number of treatments over the years designed to facilitate vocal and occupational and physical therapy. She is mentally all there–she laughs when you tell a joke and gives you the finger when she’s upset. But she’s trapped inside her body, confined to a specialized wheelchair, held hostage by the damage caused by the accident to her body and her brain.
Our family has prayed often for God to heal her. I know that through this journey she has become closer to the Lord than she ever did while she was capable of communicating and commuting normally. But I don’t know why God has allowed her to stay in this place. We all trust that God’s plans are divine, and we don’t need to know them. But it still makes us sad to not be able to interact with Kay the way we used to. Kay will be 55 this September.
In Matthew 9 and Mark 2 and Luke 5, we read about the healing of the paralytic, where friends of a paralyzed man try to bring him to Jesus to be healed; but the crowds are overwhelming and they can’t get into the place where Jesus is. So they do what any sane person would do, and they fashion up a mat and lower their immobile friend through the roof so Jesus can heal him.
Jesus does heal him, and first he forgives the man’s sins; but it’s interesting what he says when he does so. In every detailing of this story it says that Jesus forgives the man when he sees “their faith,” referring to the faith of the man’s friends.
I am encouraged by this, and moved to believe that we have the power to offer the healing and the forgiveness that Jesus provides to people that haven’t yet interacted with Jesus through our faith–that our persistent seeking of Christ stimulates the landscape in some way to make a person either more receptive or more receivable to the grace and mercy offered by Jesus.
Is God calling you intercede on behalf of someone that is far from him? Is God calling you to intervene in the life of someone near you that needs more of God in their life? Is God calling you to fashion a mat and lower someone through the roof of a building as an act of faith?
Whatever God may be calling you to do, he is calling all of us to seek him and to pray. So let’s pray for one another that God would be glorified in each of our lives, and that he’d lead us to do the things that would bring glory to his kingdom.
Tonight my son Ethan finished in 83rd place out of 106 boys in a high school cross country race.
And I have never been more proud of him.
Ethan isn’t your typical cross country runner. Partially, because until 2 weeks ago, he was a tailback and defensive end for his high school football team. His brother Timothy is a runner. He’s 6’3″, 160 lbs, and built like a rangy gazelle. Timothy runs on the local community college cross country team, and he’s pretty fast. He has a collection of individual high school medals, along with a couple team championships from competing in track and cross country. Ethan is 5’9″, pushing 180, and we have to buy him special clothing because the muscles on his legs and arms don’t allow him to fit into the clothing made for someone his height. In short, he’s a brick… house. And he hates to run.
A couple of weeks ago Ethan said “Dad, I am thinking about quitting football.” It’s Ethan’s senior year, and his small, private Christian school only started their football program 3 years ago when Ethan was a freshman. He was so excited to be one of the first to sign up, especially knowing that, at graduation, he would be one of the first ever 4-year letterman in the history of the program. The team earned only one win in their first season. They won a few more in their second season, almost squeaking out a winning record for the year. Then, last year, they earned a third place trophy in the state tournament, only one win away from the state championships. So when he told me he was thinking about quitting, I knew something was up.
While Ethan loves football, his number one priority is wrestling. He’s been on the mats since he was 4. I have had the pleasure of being his coach for many of those years, including the last three as the head wrestling coach at his high school, where last year he was our team captain. Last season he was ranked in the top 6 in the state for the majority of the year, despite suffering a concussion in football that took him out of the early part of the year. Then, late in the season, Ethan suffered a gruesome shoulder injury that looked like it was going to end his season for good, if not his wrestling career.
Thanks to some great doctors and physical therapists, Ethan was able to return after a 5 week break to wrestle in the state qualifying tournament. Unfortunately, his lack of conditioning at this point was enough to keep him out of the state tournament, and it crushed his dreams and his spirit. This is what led to the thought of quitting football.
“I’m scared that I am going to do something playing football that will jeopardize my wrestling season. And I love playing football. But I am a wrestler,” he said. I encouraged him to talk to his coach, who graciously helped Ethan try to manage a system where he could take some time off for PT, but just a few minutes into the first full contact practice, Ethan rolled his ankle. I think, at that moment, he was done. He maintained his commitment to his coach to stay for one more week before making a decision, but add to the injury a poor performance in a wrestling tournament the following weekend and his mind was made up. He needed to give up football–this thing he deeply loved, as well as the daily relationships and inside jokes, and chances for more success during his senior season–in an effort to become a better wrestler.
He came off the mat after his wrestling loss and since I had been encouraging him to stay on the football team, I told him “I’m kind of rethinking this football thing…” He said “Dad, I am going to quit on Monday.” I told him that quitting wasn’t enough… he’d need to work on strengthening and developing his cardio… when he said “I think I’m going to join the cross country team.”
And tonight I got to watch him run the first race of the season. He’s terrible. But he’s terrible with a smile. And with encouragement to others. And the knowledge that his identity isn’t found racing on backroads and golf courses in dwindling weather. It’s just something he has to suffer through to be a better wrestler, and for now, that’s where he finds his identity.
Romans 8 says that, as Christians, the Spirit testifies that we are God’s children. And as His children, we are heirs to His Kingdom–if we are willing to endure suffering in His name. And if we endure that suffering, we also get to share in His glory.
Most of us wouldn’t describe Ethan’s concession to running for cardio as a great amount of suffering, but who is to say. I am just proud of the fact that he decided that the suffering in one area was worth the strengthening of his identity in another. Are you willing to suffer for your identity? If your identity is in Christ, it’s worth it. The inheritance is the Kingdom of God, and the right to be called sons and daughters of the Creator of all things. Be encouraged, that your suffering, especially in the name of Jesus, will be worth it.
It was a pretty amazing feeling to preach my first official sermon as the lead pastor of Downriver Church. If you know me, or have been following me or any of our leadership team online, you know that it has been a fantastic ride so far. From readiness assessments to church planting intensives; from early morning meetings with leaders and pastors and coaches in churches and coffee shops across the city and state (and some Skype calls across the country,) to late night brainstorming sessions in backyards with an amazing team of committed friends, I can’t imagine how this season could have been any more challenging or more rewarding.
But while this launch feels like an end–and it is, in part–it is really just the beginning of the next chapter. My hope and my prayer is that this next chapter would be a beginning for others, and for all of us, really; that we would begin to see God work in our lives in ways that we could never have expected before becoming a part of Downriver Church. I am excited to see people introduced to Jesus for the first time, and for the opportunity they will have to interact with Him through service and through community and through worship. But most of all, I am excited to see the restoration God wants to bring to families and to friends, where real hurts are healed and real needs are met by real people seeking to make a difference in this world as a response to the love they have found in Jesus.
Thank you. For the opportunity to serve and to lead. For the trust you have in me. For the support when I am feeling weak. For the encouragement to be bold, and to lead in the way God is calling me to lead. And for the prayer. I could not do this without your faithful prayers.
And with that I say, buckle up. It’s going to be a fantastic ride.
It’s been a while since I have updated here, but now that routines are starting to take shape with the church plant I am going to pledge to be here more often. I have really developed a passion for writing in the past couple years, and I am excited to have the opportunity to do it as an extension of my job as lead pastor of Downriver Church.
But with that increased passion comes pressure.
In most areas of my life I am someone that thrives and feeds on pressure. I am the guy that wants the ball. As a wrestling coach, maybe a more appropriate illustration is that I am the type of person that doesn’t mind being down by 4 in the third period, 6 seconds on the clock, looking for a 5 point move to end the match and win the day and get the girl.
This is a little different though. As many artistic things as I have been involved with in my life–being in bands and playing musical instruments, practicing martial artistry through Brazilian jiujitsu, working as a graphic designer, competing in 80’s style 1v1 breakdance circles–none of those things really were driving me artistically. They were just fun. But through those things I found that the special something that really drives me artistically is communication–the art of expressing myself with words.
And now that I found something I truly love, that truly and deeply moves me, and that I want to be able to use to make a difference in the lives of people and families and communities and cities and nations and the world around me… well… it’s a bit daunting.
For the first time in my life, I really do care what people think about me.
And it’s scary.
The pressure to perform up to someone else’s standard is kind of debilitating and crippling and fever-inducing, and that’s a serious problem, especially for someone that sweats a lot. And that is putting it mildly, sometimes. About the fear and the sweating.
At the end of the day, though, I am going to continue to write, and to teach, and to preach, and to try to live up to the standard Christ set for his followers; which, is not to be burdened by the pressures placed on you by others and by yourself, and not to feel the need to be perfect. It’s good to listen to those voices, but it’s better when you filter them through the lens of God’s grace, and find beauty and completeness in the imperfection.
I’d never really heard that before. More surprisingly was where I was when I was hearing it, and who was sharing that information. I was a drummer in a Christian butt-rock/thrash rap/experimental/balladeering/folk band in the late 90’s. There were 5 of us, and we were all pretty different guys. Technically there were 4 of us, but Chris, our bassist, invited another friend (also named Chris) to check it out and he showed up with a keyboard and a microphone and, well, just kind of never left. Literally, within a few weeks he had moved in to the place and even lived there after the bandmates moved out and the band broke up. We thought the best way for us to make music was to take the “Let’s not limit ourselves with just one style” approach. After all, we were 5 pretty distinct personalities. I was a wannabe gangster. Jared (Smurf Dog) was a classic rock and country boy. Chris the bassist (also known as Crusty C) was a goth. Chris the keyboardist (who we called Chambers) was willing to be or play whatever would get him famous or impress the ladies. And Dan (Sig Pig), our fearless leader, was our older, wiser, mature Christian of the bunch at roughly 9 months since his conversion. You can see why our style was a little bit eclectic.
Back to my facial flesh.
We were having band practice and somehow I found myself complaining about how my long hair (shaved sides, center part, chin length, occasional cornrows, don’t judge) would cause me to kind of breakout with zits on my cheekbones, because I have pretty straight hair that lends itself to being a little bit oily. And that it seemed like every time I dried off after a shower or washed my face I was making it worse.
Which is when Crusty C piped up and asked, “Well, how do you wipe?”
If we were talking about different kind of wiping, that wouldn’t have been a strange conversation for band practice. But I inferred he was asking about how I was drying off, so I told him I just basically rubbed the dry parts of the towel on and along the wet parts of me in an attempt to make those parts also dry, and in the most non-condemning voice he said “Dude, you have to pat your face dry. You can’t just be wiping the towel across your face. You’ll do more damage to the already irritated pores. It’s a sensitive area.”
We weren’t stoned. At least, I don’t think we were. But revisiting this now I have my suspicions. We were pretty young in our faith so it is a possibility. Crusty C is a pretty tall guy and for most of his life has sported wispy, golden locks that dangle off his shoulder. At least, until he went completely bald in his twenties. And he always wore black everything because goths are usually rebelling or unhappy or anti-establishment or something. But I will say that I think he’s always had fairly impeccable skin, even with the sharp contrast of his dark clothing and pasty white face. But he’s not a guy you would immediately look at and think to be soft-spoken and sensitive. But he is. So it wasn’t the way he said things that surprised me. It was what I was learning.
And I think about that now like, how did I never learn that you shouldn’t rub your sensitive skin with a towel? Or maybe stranger, why was my gothic bass player friend the one I learned that from? It seems like a basic life skill yet none of the people I would have described as normal influences in my life ever taught me that before.
Thank God for wispy, blonde-haired, emotionally sensitive gothic bass players and their willingness to share habits for effective skincare.
While I may not have looked toward Crusty C for excellent advise on matters of dermatology, he had a wisdom or an experience that I didn’t posses, which made him a prime candidate for me to learn from. And I can’t help but think about the times in my life I have missed out on opportunities to learn or grow, or understand a new experience, simply because I was either too proud or too resistant or just too ignorant to be able to hear sound advice from someone with a different perspective than myself or someone I didn’t perceive as having something to offer to the conversation.
Take opportunities to glean wisdom from unexpected places. The Bible repeatedly uses children and prostitutes and tax collectors and murderers to teach us about Christ’s kingdom. And God uses these unexpected people to demonstrate to us that wisdom can be found in some pretty strange places through some pretty strange people.
If God can use these people to teach us about His kingdom, he can use musicians to teach you about skin care.
In fact, it was actually kind of ugly; white paneling emblazoned with thick black vinyl lettering that was terribly kerned. The frame was dirty, and the glass was spotted; but the fluorescent light inside did its job, admirably illuminating the words encased inside that small, obnoxious metal box affixed like a wart to the side of that beautiful 200-year-old Methodist church.
Do No Harm
Stay In Love With God
Could it really be that simple?
I think so. And to make sure I would never forget the power with which that quote struck me, 2 weeks later I had it tattooed on my left forearm. Right there in between a golden compass and a silver cross, and bordered by a couple deep red roses with bright green leaves.
I know. Not what you expected. Take a picture, right? But I believe that sometimes God gives a person something just for them, and this was my way of honoring that. It’s with me for the entirety of my life here on earth, and I will always remember it.
One of my favorite movies is The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty. Ben Stiller–star of cinematic masterpieces Zoolander, Reality Bites, and Dodge Ball–plays Walter Mitty, a negative assets manager for Life magazine. That’s basically like a photo curator, assuring the quality of images that get sent to print. It’s a dying profession, evidenced by Life’s discontinuing of their print magazine and move to an entirely online format. Mitty is in charge of handling a very special image for the magazine’s final edition, an image dubbed #25. The photo is being delivered from a world-renowned nature photographer, Sean O’Connell, played by Sean Penn; in his letter to Mitty, who he has never met in person, he calls #25 “the quintessence of life…”
Alas, the photo comes up missing and the rest of the movie is a journey to track down O’Connell and find the photo. I don’t want to give away the ending, but Mitty searches for and finds O’Connell deep in the Himalayas, while he’s on assignment, trying to capture a rare snow leopard on film. When one appears, and overwhelmed with the majesty of the great “ghost cat,” Mitty asks O’Connell, “Aren’t you going to take the picture?” To which Penn replies “Sometimes I don’t. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.”
In essence, sometimes God sets apart certain moments just for you.
Thousands and maybe even hundreds of thousands of people traveled past that church on that same road, over that same summer, just like I did. And maybe God had something for them too. But I know he had something there for me and that he wanted me to remember that place and that time and those words. And those words have helped keep me grounded and mindful and joyful at the idea that God loves me and he wants me to love him back by serving him here on earth.
Do no harm.
Stay in love with God.
Maybe there’s something here that God has set apart just for you.
It was actually something like the 5th page among 12-15 pages of copious notes, taken from the mouths of world-renowned leaders like former Hewlett-Packard and current presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina, Harvard Business professor and business and economics guru Michael Porter, and former Secretary of State, Army General Colin Powell.
And somehow, “Good leaders go to strip clubs” was something I thought would be important to remember.
Perhaps even funnier though was the rest of the entry. Here are the other statements listed:
“Successful leaders wear bow ties.”
“Strippers don’t like other women.”
“Leaders are motivated by risky propositions.” (this one may be entirely true…)
“Bad bosses make excellent teachers.”
“Oprah is very powerful.”
“Always tell someone when you think they have a bad idea.”
“Don’t go to meetings in Chicago or you will get fired.”
“People grow closer after attending a strip club together.”
I am not sure the penchant for strip clubs here. Actually, sadly, I am not sure why any of these things were written into my journal. There are literally pages and pages of great notes on vision-casting and team-building and force-multiplying through optimistic investment. And then this one inexplicable page that haunts the middle of the book with strangely precarious/nefarious advice.
What I will say is this: context is important. Very, very vaguely, I remember attending this conference with my hilariously irreverent best friend, and I do have Carly Fiorina’s name written at the top of the page, so I could probably track down a video of the message for some perspective or even ask my buddy to fill me in on what he remembers. But let me make this stretch of logic first; we serve a God that speaks to us, in part, through the words in a book written over thousands of years by hundreds of people, spanning cities, countries and continents, passed down and interpreted by fisherman, tax-collectors, culture-shapers and kings; not to mention being helped along by a group of people intent on putting that book in the cheaply-built drawer of every hotel in America and beyond. So when we turn to a page somewhere in the middle and read about Jacob hand-painting sheep and cattle to trick his uncle into giving him the best of the herd by making him think they were blemished, or the left-handed swordsman Ehud stabbing the fat king Eglon until the hilt was buried deep in his belly, or story after story after story of people finding favor through the collection of enemy foreskins… why the heck do people want foreskins anyway? Status? Stature? Are they like human pork rinds? The point is, we have to trust that in the right context, all scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching.
I mean, every scripture is not always appropriate every time. But every scripture will be applicable at some time.
With that in mind I’d encourage you to dive deeper into scripture in an “expository” way, to understand the context. Basically, that means to ask questions about what you’re reading. Who is the “who” when the verse says “who?” “As they went…” where were they going? Where were they coming from? Who exactly were they? These kinds of questions give the Bible new life as we read and help us better understand the practical ways we can use it to help us live Godly lives today.
Context is important.
Hey, that’s one axiom you can write down that should stand the test of time. (But I’d still recommend getting a bow tie.)