Dash Got Pushed Down

johnandDash

My son got pushed. I watched it happen. I saw it coming. I wanted to stop it, but I couldn’t.

He got pushed to the ground and wept his cute little eyes out. It was the first time he had been rejected. It was the first time he had experienced someone being “mean” to him.

For me it was devastating. It was way harder on me than it was on Dash. He was fine after he cried it out. I was not. I was angry. I was frustrated. I was hurt. I was not angry or frustrated or hurt by the little boy that pushed Dash (his cousin Ethan.) Ethan is a good kid. He’s cute as he can be. He was just doing what little boys do. It happens. Still I was frustrated. Still I was upset.

There is something about watching your flesh and blood fall to the ground because of another that devastates you. Hearing my son cry because of the actions of another ate at the core of my soul. I haven’t been able to shake it. The incident wasn’t even that big of a deal. Why am I reacting so emotionally to this?

I think, perhaps for the first time in this regard, I saw things from a God-perspective. I think I was able to step, momentarily, into God-sized shoes. I think I felt the same emotions God must feel at the injustice of the world.

God has to watch injustice every day. God sees people being pushed around at every corner. Not a moment passes by in which someone is not being wronged in this world. And we do it to each other. We have all been the little boy doing the pushing and we have all been the little boy being pushed to the ground. It is devastating on both sides.

I love my son. He is the greatest joys of my life. I would absolutely do anything for Dash. He is the priority of my life. He is my ministry. His smile lights up my life and his tears bring me to my knees. Seeing him fall to the ground for the first time because of someone else lit up emotions in me that I didn’t know existed. I was trapped in the corner of my parents table and had to fight my way through to get to my son who was balled up on the floor weeping. I grabbed him in my arms, kissed his tiny forehead over and over telling him, “It’s ok. Daddy’s here. You’re fine. I love you. You’re going to be ok.”

I imagine this is what God feels like. He does not force his way into situations. We have free-will. We can push people down and we can be pushed down. We are all on both sides of the equation every day. But God fights his way to us to pick us up and tell us it’s going to be ok – both the pusher and the pushee.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can stop doing the pushing. We can stop using one another for personal gain. We can stop comparing. We can start having compassion. We can start loving. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve been the pusher. Today you can start being the healer. You can bring life into people’s lives. It starts with me. It starts with you. It starts today.

And so I will continue to be there for my baby Dash, but I will also teach him that he does not have to push back. I know that he will be pushed many times and that he will probably be the pusher in his life too. I can’t always protect him from harming others or harming himself. I can only be there to love him no matter what.

And that must be somewhat similar to how God feels watching us too…

What I Learned in Seminary

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I am just steps away from completing a master’s degree that has both challenged and enlightened my way of thinking and my life. Education is a wonderful gift for humanity – especially theological education. Diving into the depths of the universe, humankind, and our Creator for four years with some of the most brilliant men and women I have ever met has been one of the greatest joys of my life.

My mind has been completely opened. I was given the opportunity to sit down with folks who allowed me to question anything and everything. I had the chance to explore topics from perspectives that many would deem terrifying, even “heretical.” It is such a gift to question in a safe space with people who can guide you into truth. I was never told what to think or believe; rather we were given the tools to discover.

With that said, here are some thoughts I am walking away with from my experience at Logsdon School of Theology. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but it represents some of the major themes I have discovered.

God is much bigger than my brain can ever imagine.
God is infinitesimally loving and kind.
God does not create evil or cause evil of any kind. We do a good enough job of that ourselves.
God is restoring ALL of creation through Jesus. This is the theme of the Bible.
When I say all of creation I mean…ALL.
The Greek word that is translated into English as “All” has no other meaning besides, “All.”
Did I mention God is restoring ALL of creation?
My job on earth is not to get people to agree with my point of view.
Jesus offers us life to the fullest – my job is to live this life and help others live this life.
We don’t need to accept Jesus, we need to awaken to the reality of Jesus.
The point of Jesus’s life and ministry is not to get you out of Hell.
Speaking of Hell – it’s probably not what you think it is.
On that note – Heaven probably isn’t what you think it is either.
The Bible is a beautiful work of both God and humanity.
We take certain things in the Bible far too literally.
The Bible is a cultural work. It was written for a certain people at a certain time. The challenge is to apply the principles of the Bible to our modern context. (i.e. it’s not a sin to wear a shirt made out of two different types of material and slavery is a bad thing.)
Jesus is pretty clear – you don’t have any right to judge anyone for anything.
When you have your sins figured out – you can help me with mine.
God is about equality. That does not fit well into a capitalistic society.
God loves you whether you have your “ish” together or not.
We are created to love and uplift one another.
God cares less about promoting you in your job and more about promoting humanitarianism.
God does not choose certain people. God has already chosen all of creation. Remember the all thing?
It is ok to question things. Question everything. God likes that.
I am loved by the Creator of the world. I have done nothing to earn this love and I will do nothing to lose this love. It simply is. I am free to live my life. So I choose to live.

These are just some fleeting thoughts. I reserve the right to add to this at any moment. I walk away with this thought – I don’t know everything and I never will…and that’s ok. I am loved. It’s my job now to love.

I will miss Logsdon. It has been the community in which I have been allowed to question and grow. We all need an environment like this. Thank you Logsdon. Thank you professors. Thank you God.

Becoming Frank

Frank Underwood – the Democratic Whip turned Vice President on the NetFlix original series House of Cards. Brilliant show. Political drama at its finest. As Frank says, “The road to power is paved with hypocrisy and casualties. Never regret…Never look back.”

Frank is a sly little devil. He manipulates, coerces, demands, and bullies his way to power. He gets what he wants by force. He destroys anyone that gets in his way. He has love for only one – his wife. All others are fair game. Destroy or be destroyed. Unfortunately he is also a murderer in the series. He is cold. He is calculated. Emotions have no control over Frank. You can’t help but hate Frank. You can’t help but love Frank.

I am an ENFP personality. Emotion dominates my life. I hate it. Everything I do is based off of emotion. I have little ability to be calculated. If it feels right, I go for it. If it doesn’t, I shy away. Logic plays little role in my decision making process.  Emotions overwhelm me everyday. I cry more than ten girls combined. It’s awful.

I am rendered useless if I know someone is upset with me. I might as well crawl in a hole if I’ve made someone mad or disappointed. If someone hurts me, I hurt deep inside my bones. I feel everything far too deeply. Every smile I overanalyze. Every insta pic of mine that someone doesn’t like I over examine. The deal with being an ENFP is that we are usually right. If I think someone is upset with me, they usually are. If I have a feeling about a situation, I am most often right. That is part of the misery of being an ENFP.

And thus I am on a quest to become more like Frank Underwood – minus the murdering part. ENFPs are easily manipulated. Frank is not. ENFPs trust everyone. Frank trusts no one. ENFPs are walked over because we are often indecisive and can seem weak. Frank is meticulously decisive and is never stepped upon. The problem with Frank is that everyone hates him.

Surely there is a happy medium. Life circumstances prove that being a happy-go-lucky ENFP is not realistic. There is far too much pain in the world. Far too much betrayal. But one does not have to become a Frank Underwood clone and destroy people to get to the top. I’ve been on one extreme of the equation. Thus I need more of a backbone. I have lofty goals in life that I understand are impossible to achieve if I continue to allow my emotions to dominate me and trust the wrong people.

It’s time to become more like Frank. Not all the way to Frank, but it’s time to take a couple of steps in that direction. I am changing. I am evolving. Life circumstances have forced my hand in this. I would love to continue being the emotional, happy-go-lucky ENFP, but that does not work in my world anymore. I suppose it’s time to grow up.

Coming Out

Back when I was at Texas Tech – and we were actually good at football – a friend and I were headed to the game. It was five or six hours before kickoff and we wanted to get in line for a decent seat in the student section. My friend was quite a fast driver and we were unfortunately pulled over by the police. My buddy did not have much of a filter from his brain to his mouth and smarted off to the officer, “Don’t you have anything better to do than pull me over for five over the speed limit?” Needless to say my bud received a ticket and a hilarious lecture on respect.

Christianity is an evolving thing. We progress forward. Sometimes we take steps backward, but for the most part we move into the future. Typically we are a little behind the curve, but we get there eventually. Take slavery, for instance. The Southern Baptist Convention (the largest denominational body besides Catholicism in Christendom) was founded on the desire to keep slaves while other baptists were setting them free. Oops. A group founded on holding on to an old system of thinking – arguing and clamoring for something we know today to be wrong. We look back on slavery with disgust, but at the time it was not so black and white.

What about today? What are we arguing about and holding onto that we’ll someday look back on and think, “Didn’t we have anything better to do than argue about that?”

With that question in mind, I am coming out of the closet. Many in Christianity are far ahead in this regard. I have been there for a while, but now I do it publicly (for all five people that will read this). There is currently a great debate in Christianity regarding love. Who do we allow to love one another? Who do we “accept”? Who can come to my church as a couple? What families will we dedicate in our congregations? Who will we turn away because we don’t agree with their “lifestyle choices”? What about those “gays”?

My journey is like most who have shifted their perspective on this issue. I was staunchly against (yes I shamefully use the word against) homosexuality. I viewed it as disgusting – as against the will of God. Anyone that was gay was therefore that way because of a choice. A gay man really, in my mind at the time, was attracted to women but chose to like other men. Likewise someone who was gay could choose not to act on this desire because it was not natural. In fact, with enough prayer a person could no longer be gay. Oops.

I was fortunate enough to have a close friend, who is gay, sit down with me my freshman year at Tech and explain his life’s journey with me. That conversation and continued conversations absolutely changed my perspective. For the first time in my short journey of life I talked with someone who did not choose to be gay. He just was. And being gay did NOT define him just like being straight does NOT define me. It is part of who I am, but it is not my defining characteristic. Being gay is not his defining characteristic either. Since that time I have been fortunate to cultivate friendships with dozens of folks part of the LGBT community. While going to Tech I worked at the Student Counseling Center alongside brilliant Ph.D. counselors and psychologists who were gay. For the first time in my life skin was put on this thing called homosexuality. And it completely changed my world. My mind opened. My heart turned TOWARD people instead of away from. It’s funny what happens when we sit down with an actual person we stand “against”. We quickly realize people are people. We quickly realize that love is love.

In discussing this topic with peers the Leviticus passage quickly comes up: “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.” – (Leviticus 20:13 NRSV). Proof texting at its finest, and I understand that perspective, but if we focus on one verse in Leviticus why don’t we focus on them all? If anyone is wearing a shirt with two kinds of fabric you are, according to Leviticus, sinning against God. If you eat fat you have sinned (I love fat on a good steak). You will die if you don’t keep your hair in check. You are unclean if you eat seafood or even touch fish without scales. If you go to church within 33 days of giving birth to a son or 66 days after giving birth to a girl, you have sinned against God.  Trimming your beard or cutting your sideburns is a sin in Leviticus. Not standing when an older person is near is a sin. Permanently selling land is sinful. I could go on and on and on. Lots of these make absolutely no sense to us, but this is also 2014 and we aren’t Israelites. We live in a totally different context in a totally different time. Just like our ancestors who owned slaves lived in a very different time in a very different context. Thankfully we moved on from that. In fact, one could make a biblical case that slavery is OK. We know today that it is evil, but we have progressed. That’s the point.

We could continue the biblical discussion for years, which we’ve been doing, but that is not the point of this post. People will always disagree on interpretation. That is the nature of the Bible. That is part of the beauty of the text. I am just sharing my own journey in perspective change on this topic. These are our friends. They are our brothers and sisters. Our aunts and uncles. Our parents. Our children. This is our community, our humanity. These are people. This is who they are. Whether you agree with that last statement or not is irrelevant.

Who am I to tell two people who are in love that they cannot share their 401k at retirement? Who am I to say that one cannot receive the life insurance policy of their loved one at death? Who am I to say that two women cannot share the same legal rights my wife and I enjoy? Who am I to say that two men should not raise children together? This is America. This is freedom. These are people. This is love.

I am officially out of the closet. I support love. I support people. I stand with the love that two people share. I am with equal rights for a couple that desperately wants children and desires to take care of each other after their death.

We are moving forward. This will one day no longer be an issue. People on both sides can agree with that. That’s the story of God, though. Progress. Movement. We are headed somewhere. We are headed toward equality.

And so I ask, like my friend who smarted off to the cop, don’t we have anything better to do than argue against people who are in love? Aren’t there other things worthy of our time and desperation? I say so. I say time to move on. Let us be known for our love. Let’s find something better to do.

Inevitable Conversation

This afternoon I sat at J&B Coffee in the heart of Tech Terrace studying up to take the daunting GRE. In the midst of my focus, a friend walked in. We made eye contact, so a conversation was inevitable. You know that moment, don’t you? You see each other, you acknowledge each other, and the conversation begins – often against your own will. You’d really rather just say hi, but he sits down across from you anyway.

Now I am a slight extravert that needs quite a bit of alone time to recoup from being around people. I do, however, enjoy a deep, meaningful conversation. Small talk is draining to me. I’d just rather not. The weather is nice and my baby is cute – I get it. Let’s talk about something meaningful. That’s exactly what happened today.

I experienced one of the most refreshing conversations I’ve had in quite a while. At times my need for alone-time comes at the expense of relationship. Today I was reminded of the DIRE need we all have of meaningful, face-to-face, eye-contact conversations. I feel refreshed. I feel rejuvenated. I still have the same problems I had before. I still have the same struggles and doubts. But I feel more prepared and apt to handle them. I don’t feel so alone. I was able to share in the doubts of a friend. I was lucky enough to experience his apprehensions. It made me feel like being a human is ok.

I say all this to say – don’t pass up the inevitable conversation. I had no idea how badly I needed that conversation. I had no idea how badly he needed that conversation. I didn’t want to do anything but give a head nod and say, “What’s up.” In fact I was annoyed when he sat down. But it was exactly what I needed. I need so many of those. We all need those – the honest conversation that goes beyond the surface. The inevitable conversation can be the refreshing one.

Breathless

Have you ever hurt so badly on the inside you feel like you can’t breath?

I was in 8th grade playing football for my local middle school against our hated, across town rivals. I played quarterback on offense and outside linebacker on defense (it was the quick team, alright). One particular play I had a straight shot at the running back. I was going to destroy the guy five yards behind the line of scrimmage when all of a sudden I was blind sided by a lineman right in the gut. I went down like a game of Jinga, clutched my stomach, and gasped for air. The guy came out of nowhere. I couldn’t breath. I thought I was going to die.

You know that feeling, don’t you? That miserable, shocking, painful feeling when something hits you so hard and so suddenly you are metaphorically knocked off of your feet. You hit the ground, writhing in pain, clutching your stomach and unable to breath. I think we have all experienced this feeling. We have all felt the stinging pain of a shocking, emotional blow. The physical punch to the gut is nothing compared to the sting of an emotional wound so painful you feel like you can’t hardly move.

Emotional pain is universal. Suffering is universal. It binds humanity together. All of us, in one way or another, will feel the emotional punch to the gut that leaves us breathless. We lie in shock, waiting to either regain our breath, or, as I felt that day on the football field in 8th grade, we wait to die.

In the midst of the emotional pain we look for ways to fill the void in our lives. Some turn to friends, others turn to family. Some turn to other painful relationships and addiction to numb the pain, all the while digging a deeper hole and breathing through an even smaller straw. Some experience the pain in silence, suffering on their own accord in their own mind. We each deal with emotional pain in different ways.

Personally, I turn to writing. Writing has always been a release for me. I have been able to walk through moments of pain in my life simply by jotting words down on a piece of paper, writing letters, or even taking a moment to create the world’s next great haiku. I have yet to receive any haiku praise, unfortunately.

Pain, however, has a great equalizer – time. Time is always on our side. Time is never on our side. Time, as the cliché goes, heals all wounds, but time does not get rid of the scars. Some stings are too deep to ever completely go away. Some betrayal is so shocking the feelings will never disappear. Time will make things easier. Eventually we learn to breath again.

Time also reminds us that we are not alone. In the midst of a painful, emotional wound, the natural order of things is to recluse and convince ourselves no one understands what we’re going through. Time reveals a different story. We are not alone in our pain. We are not alone in our breathlessness. Someone, somewhere has gone through what we are going through and survived. In the immediate moments, days, weeks, even months, we are naturally inclined to push others away. Time reminds us that we need others.

Time reassures us that we are going to be ok. Maybe not now. Maybe not today. But someday, we will be ok. Someday we will learn to breath again. Someday we won’t have to force ourselves to do the ordinary. Someday breathing will become natural like it was before the punch in the gut.

Someday, we’ll all be ok.

I’m With You

Recently Michael Gungor (leader of the Christian band Gungor) has come under fire for his post-literal readings of the book of Genesis. I happen to personally agree with his interpretation of the book, having gone through my own transformation in understanding this ancient text. What has impressed me most is Michael’s handling of the entire situation.

Gungor’s most recent post on his blog is titled, “I’m With You.” It his response to critics demonization of both his views and himself. The fundamental right has always had a way of demonizing those they do not agree with. What strikes me as beautiful, inspiring, and encouraging is just how Gungor has blurred the line in the sand his critics have drawn.

When we disagree with someone, when we are hurt by someone, and when we find ourselves on opposite sides from someone, our innate response is to draw a line in the sand. Either you are with me or you are against me. You agree with me or you don’t. I am on this side or I am on that side. Inevitably both sides point fingers, accuse, backstab, betray, and destroy the other. No one comes out looking good. Everyone gets dirty. All parties get hurt. This is the natural way of humanity.

But Michael has shown us how to erase the line in the sand, even when the opposite side is screaming and yelling. We can, indeed, build bridges instead of burning them. But it takes both sides. Michael has taken the first step which is all anyone can do. Michael has reminded us that lines in the sand are often incorrect and that peace can be made if we would just come together. We don’t have to point fingers. We don’t have to take sides. We don’t have to scream and shout and try to destroy one another. We can come together. We can work this all out.

Thank you, Michael, for reminding me that demonizing another just creates bitterness in my own heart.

You can checkout Michael’s blog here.

Christian Lepers

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Full disclosure here – I am utterly sick of Christianity – modern, American Christianity that is. I love Jesus. I really am not a fan of Christianity. As Rob Bell says, Jesus wants to save Christians too. I do, however, continue to pursue it as my model of religion based on our thousands of years of tradition and also my understanding of salvation for ALL of creation because of Jesus. All of the other stuff can be superfluous and get in the way.

With that being said, I am saddened by the lepers we Christians (again I still claim Christianity) seem to create. I was having a conversation with a friend I have known for nearly all 28 years of my life about church. We grew up going to church together and now she and her family are looking for a place to be in community with others. They have visited several places and not been spoken to one time. She went alone one Sunday while her husband was at work and left crying because some folks asked her to move out of their seat. She told me she felt like a leper. This is not a new conversation in modern, American Christianity, but it is still prevalent.

We Christians are good at making people feel like lepers. We castigate, turn our noses up, and betray each other constantly. When someone falls down, we are typically the first to kick them. We slander, destroy, gossip and label one another as if it were part of the ten commandments. We make lepers of one another. We strip the humanity out of humans. It is almost built into our culture as if it is the very fabric of who we are. Destroy someone else so others won’t look at us. I am more guilty of this behavior than anyone.

First century world was harsh on folks with leprosy. They were pushed out of society and looked at as less than human. The painful reality for lepers in this time period was cruel. No one would touch, talk, or even look at lepers. Many believed that sin was the cause of leprosy. You screwed up therefore God has afflicted you. What a disturbing picture of God…

Jesus had a different philosophy with lepers. I’m sure you know the story in Matthew 8 – Jesus not only heals but TOUCHES a leper. Shocking gasp from the stunned crowd. How could Jesus touch something so disgusting, so putrid? This is the same attitude we have today. We turn our noses up at “sinners”. We look at others who are different than us as foreign aliens in need of cleansing. We push them aside as if they never existed. We destroy them with our stares and with our words. We look at new people as clique destroyers. We view same-sex couples as grotesque creatures. We hear of people struggling with addiction and silently thank God that we are “not like those sinners.” Lepers. Lepers. Lepers.

The reality of first century lepers is that they had no choice at all. They simply were who they were and Jesus was not afraid of that. He didn’t turn his nose up. He didn’t slander. He didn’t gossip and he certainly didn’t destroy. He healed. Of course there was the physical healing that took place, but much more than that there was the emotional healing that came from no longer being viewed as disgusting.

We can heal modern day leprosy in our culture. We can stop the slander. We can stop the gossip. We can stop the gasping and the back turning. We can look at people as people – whether we agree with them or not. Jesus touched the untouchables. We are all untouchables.

And a leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

-Matthew 8

Mud Wrestling

Introspectively I despise looking in the mirror. In a culture full of insecurity and comparison, it is impossible to look at oneself without seeing the physical flaws our world brings to light with every commercial, show, and movie. We are constantly inundated with the perception that we could be better if only we looked better. Our culture, however, rarely places much value at looking inwardly.

Without sounding too religious, there is an old tale in the book of Genesis in the Bible that talks about a man named Jacob who wrestled with some random being. Some say it was God, some say an angel, others say Jesus (although no writer of the Old Testament had any clue who Jesus was so we can safely assume it wasn’t Jesus). Jacob was kind of a douche, honestly. He was a scoundrel, a trickster. He tricked his blind father and stole from his older brother. The name Jacob actually means “holder of the heel” or “trickster”. This is what Jacob was. He was deceiving, cunning, and not the nicest bro of all time.

We’re stuck with this strange story in Genesis 32 that does not seem to make sense. The story, however, is much deeper than a little mud wrestling. Jacob is about to meet his brother Esau who wants to kill him for his betrayal. Jacob sends his wife and kids to meet Esau – possibly to avoid being killed himself. Again the guy is sly and tries to weasel his way out of what he has done. Then the story gets a little weird. Two guys randomly wrestling one another? Perhaps white t-shirts were involved but that makes it even more awkward. What a strange twist the storyteller weaves into the story.

Jacob and this random being wrestle until the other guy is so tired he busts Jacob in the hip. This plan fails, however, as Jacob hangs on for dear life. Finally the other guy gives up and tells Jacob to let him go. Jacob refuses unless he is blessed. The man asks Jacob what his name is. “My name is ‘trickster’,” Jacob replies. He knows exactly what he is and who he is, perhaps for the very first time in his life he comes to the ugly realization that he is, indeed, a scoundrel. Those moments in life are painful. The moments we come face to face with who and what we really are can be devastating.

For Jacob, however, the devastation was short lived. The other man looks at Jacob, after his personal epiphany, and changes his name. “You are no longer ‘trickster’,” the man replies, “You are now Israel…” It took Jacob being wounded to come to terms with himself. He had to face the harsh reality of who he really was in order for him to move forward. His wound actually healed him. His pain created redemption. His realization of the ugliness of his own life lead to peace and restoration.

Looking at one’s self can be painful. Oftentimes it takes a harsh wound for us to step back and examine who we are on the inside. That self-reflection can be absolutely overwhelming. I know this personally. It can almost kill you, in fact.

Perhaps the point the storyteller is trying to convey is not so much that Jacob wrestled with anyone other than himself. Perhaps Jacob took a moment to step back and think, “Wow, is this who I have really become?” Jacob was wounded by looking inwardly. He had to come to terms with who he really was. But that very wound allowed him to heal and become Israel – as the Old Testament stories tell. But that seems to be the story of God. Wounds heal. Grace is free. First are last. Last are first. Meek inherit. Rich become poor. Nothing makes sense.

Maybe we all need to do a little mud wrestling. Maybe we all need to take a look at ourselves. It can be a miserably painful process. It can open up wounds and hurts that we’ve buried for years. Those very wounds, like Jacob’s, can bring us healing.