change

Letting Go

Our white cat, Tiger, came to us in 2006 when his previous owner dropped him at our house. Joanne and I instantly saw the man was abusive. When he opened the cage in our foyer, Tiger ran as fast and far as possible. We later found him crouched behind the dryer.

         It took a long time to win his heart; he was so fearful. But, over time, he gradually warmed to us. I think he finally realized we would not injure him. In time, he became vocal and his personality opened like a flower. He learned to express his needs and his affection.

         For example, Joanne and I meet at our game table almost every day for a card game and have done so for years. In that ritual, I’ve pulled the piano bench up beside my chair for Tiger. He would jump up, watch us play a while, and then paw my arm as I tried to play; his searching eyes told me he needed attention. And, of course, I gave it to him.

         And, despite the feline reputation for indifference, Tiger was always attentive to us, mainly to Joanne, a diabetic. If her blood sugar fell or climbed too much, he would lay nearby, fixing his gaze on her. When I appeared, his laser stare told me, “Do something!”

         We became a society; three of God’s creatures leaning into each other within our one-acre corner of Tennessee. We learned the cross-species nuances of affection, reaching, retreating, intruding, and yielding. We stepped on his tail; he threw up on our floors. Through it all, we slowly began to understand the scripture, “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast.”[1] We were effectively the hands of God for Tiger; we had to fulfill the Lord’s care for His creatures.

         We loved and enjoyed him for 13 years. But, these pet-and-people connections never end well. He was, after all, an elderly cat. So, after completing some kidney tests, about 1:00 p.m. on October 1, the vet told us the time had come. We said we’d bring Tiger to her clinic at 3:00.

         Over the next two hours, I watched Tiger interact with his environment, including us. But I knew what he didn’t—that the road to his future had washed out. As I petted him, prayed for him in this new journey, and wept in farewell to a friend, I wondered if that’s how God views us. He sees what we cannot, and He knows we can’t control what is coming. In the end, our weakness will drop us into His kindness.

         Throughout that last trip to the vet, and as we entered the “death chamber,” Tiger was docile, accepting, silent. As he lay on the table, his very full eyes locked on ours. Peacefully. He had moved beyond fear.

         Then we gathered him in his blanket and held him while the doctor administered the drug that would take Tiger from us. As the chemicals carried him from our shoreline, he pulled a corner of his blanket into his mouth and began to suck. He continued to suckle a breast we could not see. Until he stopped.

         In his death, Tiger made his final statement to our little family; go gently. Lay it down, let it go. Rest. Everything will be far better than you ever imagined.  


[1] Proverbs 10:12 (ESV)

See You in 100 Years

More than just a good story, which it surely is, Logan Ward’s See You in 100 Years (Author Planet Press, 2013) calls readers into a deep meditation of what we gain and what we lose through “progress.”

       Here’s the story: In the spring of 2001, Logan and Heather Ward quit their jobs, sold (or stored) everything they owned, and, with their 2-year-old son, Luther, moved from New York City to a farm, with a 116-year-old house, in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

       More than that, they also “moved” back to 1900. That meant no cars, cell phones, or electric appliances, and no electricity, gas, or water service in the house. If it didn’t exist in 1900, they wouldn’t use it. They didn’t even accept rides in cars. If they could not get there by walking, bicycling, or by horse and buggy, they didn’t go. And they would live like that for one year.

       Part of the absorbing joy of this book is the way the reader must think through every detail of suddenly leaping backwards a full century; the long hours of hard work required just to remain alive, learning to work with some animals and kill others, living without weather forecasts or news, discovering the new patterns of farm life, and the knowledge that you cannot call anyone in case of emergencies.

       No wonder 1900’s life expectancy was 47 years for men and 49 for women.  

The Stamp of Time and Place

See You in 100 Years also reveals the way times and places mold people. So, we see good, liberal, non-religious, and artistic people quickly conform to traditional husband and wife roles. Ward admits that Heather fell into “the stereotypical chore load of the female… cooking, cleaning, laundry,” while he took care of “wood-splitting, water-pumping, livestock care.” He explains, “We do the jobs we’re inclined to do and that will be more efficient…with chores filling our days from dawn to dark, efficiency counts for a lot.”

       Well, maybe it always has! 

       And, then there is rain. As one who grew up in farm country, I understand why farming communities are inevitably religious. It all comes down to this: We must have rain and we can’t make it happen. Who you gonna call?

       During their sweltering, parched summer, the Logan family runs right into an ancient pattern; a black cloud covers the farm, the wind increases, the air cools, and a few big raindrops hit the dust, and then…nothing but the blazing sun. Over and over for weeks. He says it well, “For the first time ever, I understand the desperation that could drive people to dance for rain.”

       But, then…the rain arrives! “Heather breaks into sobs. I hug her and cry, too. Letting go is easy in the deluge.”

A Time of Testing 

Moving backward 100 years would inevitably become a crucible of testing. Sometimes excruciating, the tests measure every aspect of life: physical, mental, marital, financial, and communal.

       I’m sure it was unintentional, but the pace and intensity of bad language seems to serve as a thermometer for the heat of the testing. Ward and Heather’s profanities increase until they break. From that point, their language becomes clean and gentle.

       Perhaps the biggest test was 9/11/01, as these transplanted New Yorkers had no knowledge of the terrorist attacks of that day until neighbors began coming to their door. Logan admits the enormity of the attack made their experiment seem small and maybe silly. Neighbors invited them to their homes to use their phones and TVs.

       The way they work through their relationship to 911 (and the modern news business) throws a big yard light on modern life. Their choice is not a stunt, but a plumbline of sanity.

       Finally, as life on the land knocks them face down in the dirt, they come up grateful for every tomato, egg, cucumber, pint of goat’s milk, or drop of rain. Near the end of the book, Logan tells us, “I can’t contain my feelings of gratitude. For the first time since my boyhood, I offer silent prayers of thanks…”

       Obviously, I loved and do highly recommend this penetrating, moving, and funny book. It immersed me in another world and time, frequently pulled me out of bed or office, and threw me into sadness when it ended.

       As with many good books, I wanted to remain with those people and in that place a few pages and years longer.

Things Too Wonderful for Me

What do you see when you gaze into the rotting carcass of an animal? Something deeply revolting? Or do you see an ecosystem being sustained? Most people know those nasty necessities—worms, maggots, feces, viruses, roadkill—play essential and exquisite roles in sustaining our environment. But we still look or run away.

Of course, our recoil is instinctive. But it also reveals that the typical person’s view of life on earth may be absurdly immaculate and pitifully immature.

I think that may also describe our view of leadership. Having worked with many leaders, across several decades and a wide spectrum of fields, I’ve seen it over and over. Leaders just tend to be odd; inconsistent, irrational, unsettling. They often seem to dance to music no one else can hear.

But, history has a way of managing leadership eccentricity, a way that is often long, messy, and completely unacceptable to the pious, the impatient, and those who need to control things beyond their own jurisdiction or influence.

That’s probably why our “absurdly immaculate and pitifully immature” culture encourages the mocking or wrecking of what it doesn’t understand. Let’s face it; we created a monster when we invited pop culture to define fitness or candidates for leadership. The more we do that, the more we damage it…and our society.

Higher Ground

I didn’t vote for Donald Trump. But, whether I voted for him, like him, respect him—or not—I walk in a mission that leaves no room for speculation about him (or anyone else). Aside from praying for “all who are in authority,” (1 Timothy 2:2), I rarely think about the man. My life purpose demands my full attention. I have to keep my eye on the ball, regardless of who occupies leadership positions.

That’s why the hysterical fixation (positive and negative) with Trump is one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen. Look; we have elections; they produce change, incremental or cataclysmic. That’s called “process.” It works. So, to spend my time contemplating Trump’s fitness for (or the possibilities of removing him from) the presidency would indulge the most boring depths of silliness. Worse, it would admit that I have no purpose, no self-respect, no job, and no lawn to mow.

Many biblical passages proclaim the very high-altitude view that God reigns over all and that He chooses earthly rulers according to His will. One of those scriptures seems aimed at this age of Trump, telling us that God “…rules over the kingdoms of the world. He gives them to anyone he chooses—even to the lowliest of people.”[1]

Just as the Creator loves the ecological wonders of the putrid carcass and the magic of maggots, maybe He also chooses leaders according to His criteria, not ours. Do you think His ways really might surpass ours? Could be; that may be why there’s no biblical record of Him ever seeking human opinions of His processes, ecological or governmental.

Good grief, He’s the One Who appointed David as king. You know, David, one of history’s greatest leaders. And, the same guy that killed 200 Philistines, then circumcised them and presented the bloody remains to King Saul as part of his application to be Saul’s son-in-law. And some think Trump is creepy.

Could This Be the Time for Humility?

Robert Farrar Capon reminds his pure-minded readers that when the Bible speaks of seed falling into the soil, it does not mean religious or sanctified soil; it is foul and disgusting. Dirt is, well…dirty. In fact, Capon notes, some seeds first pass through birds and are then defecated onto the soil.[2]

The Psalmist wrote, “My heart is not proud, LORD, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.”[3] Have you ever heard someone try to command a conversation with no knowledge of the topic? Do you think that may also describe human comprehension of the micro world’s pathogens and parasites? Or, the majestic sweep of galaxies and light years?

If so, maybe the world of leadership is also too inscrutably wonderful for us. Maybe we should just walk away from the mob and return to our families, farms, businesses, and villages to take on the jobs that do fit our capacities.

[1] Daniel 4:17 taken from Tyndale House Publishers. 2004. Holy Bible: New Living Translation. Wheaton, Ill: Tyndale House Publishers.

[2] Robert Farrar Capon, The Parables of the Kingdom. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1985

[3] Psalm 131:1 taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan House, 1984.

 

The Latchstring of the Eternal

When I saw Tom Hanks’ film Cast Away back in 2000, I thought it was deeply dishonest. A man, Chuck Noland, spends four years on a Pacific island. Alone. A truly desperate situation. Yet, he never, not once, prays or even looks up in search for something higher. He builds a relationship with “Wilson,” a commercial product.

But, now I realize the movie was prophetic. Today, we all live in desperation, and yet we seek or recognize nothing beyond ourselves. Like Chuck Noland, we don’t lift our eyes. And, in our aching loneliness, we also build relationships with cold material objects.

Maybe that’s why our American culture has become so claustrophobic. The walls and ceilings of our imagination keep moving closer. Our freedom to dream and explore has become cramped. Today, a need for help only drives us to Google or YouTube. We seem unable to grasp anything transcendent.

Groping in the Dark

Malachi Martin closed his novel, King of Kings, with an intimate portrait of Israel’s King David as he neared death. In his last days, we see the once-magnificent and fearsome king suffering “rigid and brittle fragileness” and weeping “quiet tears” in the night. Then, we see the dying David “groping for the latchstring in the door that opened out onto the eternal.”[1]

That phrase captures my own heart’s cry. That’s why I find myself in every conversation, meeting, meal, book, movie, sermon, or business transaction, reaching for that latchstring. I am not angry; I am just bored by every voice, tradition, system, idea, or issue littering the terrain around us.

But, I am overwhelmed by God; I care what He ordains and orders in His creation.

Let me meditate in His temple; I want to soak in His simplicities, silences, invisibilities, and abundances. Let me get lost in how He so masterfully conducts the whole orchestra of His cosmos, including seasons, expanses of land and water and space, the incomprehensible sweep of the universe, and, oh yes, those beautiful, complicated, gifted, crazy, devout, irritating, and deranged people whom He created as instruments for His magnificent and beautiful purposes.

Voices

I wonder if we may soon learn what the Apostle John meant when he wrote, “…We are of the earth, and we speak of earthly things, but he has come from heaven and is greater than anyone else.”[2]

I’m sick of “national conversations.” Those voices and opinions are distinctly and uniformly “of the earth.” We just keep recycling them. Forget it; I want to hear a sound from heaven, one that doesn’t sound anything like “earthly things.”

And, frankly, I have a concern about our cleverness in these human conversations. We’re too good at it; I’m too good at it. But, some terrible forces are gathering that simply will not respond to earthly voices. Siri and Alexa cannot tell us what to do. Fox News, The New York Times, Facebook, and other energy centers will be left stuttering. And religious leaders and media will sound just as foolish as all other cultural voices.

One Voice, One Word

Although John the Baptist came from a priestly lineage, nothing about him confirmed that culture. He didn’t wear what they wore, eat what they ate, drink what they drank, write what they wrote, or speak what they spoke. He was not conversant with the establishment. His message didn’t engage them at all.

That voice cut across all the exhausted words and embalmed concepts. He was not interested in dialogue, compromise, or reform. He said, “Repent.” That one word came from God, not from around here. And it rejected norms and traditions and slashed any hope of improvement or accommodation. “Repent” laid an ax at the root of every impotent thought, institution, or authority. The old was dead.

John the Baptist found the latchstring. When he pulled it, the King marched through the gate. He still marches and the territory of His Kingdom continues to increase. Isaiah said that increase will never stop.

Some see all that now. Those who don’t and those who do should lift their eyes. Don’t look down; don’t turn back. Keep looking to the horizon. As sure as the sunrise, something new is coming. And knowledge of the new is already spilling across the land. It will inexorably cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.

[1] Malachi Martin, King of Kings (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1980)

[2] John 3:31, New Living Translation

Storm Warning

My friends, Glen and Roberta Roachelle, once sat in a beachside restaurant as a storm moved in. Just as they took their first sip of coffee, a wave crashed over the seawall and against the windows. As diners laughed nervously, Glen told Roberta, “Let’s leave right now.”

When they stepped outside, a larger wave blew out the windows. Water and shards of glass filled the area where they had sat moments earlier.

The Gathering Storm

Storms are essential; they transport water, often across areas of drought, and redistribute temperatures between the poles and the equator. They cleanse the air and land, nourish crops, replenish aquifers, etc.

They also kill. Storm surge, wind, lightning, freezing, and flooding can wipe out human life, quickly and extensively. The Galveston, Texas hurricane of 1900 killed 8 – 10 thousand people. In 1970, a cyclone wiped out a half million people in East Pakistan.

A massive (and essential) storm is moving across our land. We see features of it every day; a culture of outrage, random violence, family and friends divided by politics, shocking increases of suicide and opioid usage, escalating vulgarity, and a general loss of decency and decorum.

Despite the transitory pain and disruption, I believe the storm will bring long-term transformation (as storms always do). That’s why I think focusing on Trump, immigration, Islam, sexual identity, or technological intrusions misses the larger picture. Comparatively, they are all mere data points for the massive storm.

Be There

Just as no one can control earthquakes, tornados, droughts, or hurricanes, humans have no power over the direction, intensity, or consequences of the storm pounding our country now. But, we might survive if we take precautions. Here are a few:

  • BE KIND

    Because our social environment is so combustible, words explode as matches dropped in dry leaves. I know conflict screams for engagement, but be careful! Think about it; getting combative over politics, Facebook, or Jesus is not going to change anyone’s mind. But, kindness often shifts the focus to the things that really matter.

  • STAY HOME

    In 2017, I heard an ER doctor tell a high school graduating class, “Trust me; nothing good happens after midnight. Please go home.” Remember, home is (or can be) a sanctuary. You don’t need a reason to go home; you need a reason to leave.

  • BE SUBVERSIVE

    We all live through an insane insistence that we conform to the dysfunction around us. But, the sane person must be subversive—a secret agent of lucidity and stability—in times of insanity. And to be sane today is to live and speak generously. Reach through the fog of politics to connect with people. Serve others. Stop, look, listen. Pray for one another. Give a damn.
  • KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE BALL

    Our cultural storm includes a tornadic swirl of nudges, suggestions, invitations, and demands. Ignore them. Good grief; you’re on home plate and the pitch is screaming toward you. The gnats don’t warrant your attention.

  • REMAIN INSIDE MORAL AND ETHICAL SAFETY

    We are living through a monumental collapse of those who ignored the classic standards of ethics and morality. We should not judge them, but the career destruction and humiliation should be all the warning we need to humble ourselves and increase our moral and ethical vigilance. Run to God’s safety and rest.
  • BE QUIET

    One line of the Miranda warning says, “Anything you say can and will be used against you…” What do we not understand about “can and will?” Stop talking! Pretending you’re mute can save your time, money, reputation, and perhaps your freedom. My brother Vernon, a longtime Kansas Sheriff says, “The right to be silent is one of our most precious freedoms, and so few use it.”

  • TRANSCEND REACTION

    Our culture invests great energies and dollars to goading people to react. And, when we are continuously prodded by anger, outrage, temptation, and other provocations, we tend to become reactive. We wait to be told when to click, buy, get mad, exhibit outrage, what to believe, etc. But, remember, you don’t have to explain anything or make everyone happy. Rise above reaction; live straight ahead.

Look; storms are inevitable. They serve the Creator’s purposes. But, they’re also dangerous. That’s why civilizations develop storm warnings. By taking mindful cautions, you can survive and continue in your life’s purpose. As Coach Dan Reeves said in an old pharmaceutical commercial, “It’s your future. Be there.”

Warriors in the Rain

My dad was one of the survivors when a Japanese bomb sank the American aircraft carrier Princeton on Oct. 24, 1944. Naturally, he came home with very specific ideas about the Japanese. And, just as naturally, those ideas took root in the soil of our family.

Twenty-seven years later, my wife and I took my parents on a vacation to Japan. Although Dad seemed happy to be going, he grew increasingly somber as we traversed the country. I did not realize the full meaning of his journey into the heartland of a still-vivid enemy.

After one day of sightseeing, we all emerged from the subway at Tokyo’s Akasaka Station into a heavy rain. With no umbrellas, we faced a walk in the downpour to our hotel, which was two blocks away.

Immediately, a well-dressed Japanese businessman came up behind my parents and held his umbrella over them. He got drenched as he graciously and silently walked them all the way to our hotel. When we were all under the portico, he simply bowed and walked away. Dad shouted, “No, no, come back.” The man turned and walked back to Dad.

In that moment, those two men — clearly about the same age and undoubtedly veterans of the same war — stood face to face and shook hands. Neither said a word. But volumes passed between the eyes of the old warriors; each knew that he knew that he knew.

The son of one of those warriors saw it all. And what I saw that day in a Tokyo rainstorm changed me deeply. Things I had long assumed, things my father had conveyed to me, took a mortal hit that day. Over time, they totally fell apart.

More than 40 years later, that incident continues to speak to me.

I think part of the reason that moment was so life-altering was that no one was trying to change, or even enlighten anyone. An unrehearsed real-life moment had simply produced an updraft that carried its participants above and beyond some old bigotries. The moment gathered its power from its purity and spontaneity.

Although education is one of the basic functions of civilization, life’s most educating moments are nearly always unplanned. They remain free of human design. Life has a way of teaching its own lessons. It doesn’t need human torque.

When humans work at changing other humans, the result is inevitably dehumanizing. Whether the changers are left-wingers or right-wingers, believers or infidels, dreamers or scoffers, whether they are motivated by sales or by God, the message comes through loud and clear: Respect is contingent on purchase. Human value is subject to someone buying someone else’s concepts or commodities.

The movie The Big Kahuna features three industrial lubricant salesmen — Larry (Kevin Spacey), Phil (Danny DeVito) and the evangelical Christian Bob (Peter Facinelli) — at a convention in Wichita. In one very penetrating scene, Phil tells Bob:

“You preaching Jesus is no different than Larry, or anybody else, preaching lubricants. It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling Jesus or Buddha, or civil rights or how to make money in real estate with no money down. That doesn’t make you a human being. It makes you a marketing rep. If you want to talk to somebody honestly, as a human being, ask him about his kids, find out what his dreams are — just to find out — for no other reason. Because as soon as you lay your hands on a conversation, to steer it, it’s not a conversation anymore — it’s a pitch — and you’re not a human being. You’re a marketing rep.”

That scene goes to the heart of what it means to be human. On what basis do we grant respect and value? Is intellectual agreement a prerequisite to friendship? Must we remake people before we can love them?

Or can we, like a Japanese warrior I once observed, step out of our bunkers in order to be genuinely compassionate to those who are different (and who may even have tried to kill us)?

As far as I can tell, very little (if any) serious change is wrought by human planning and force. Real change occurs when a serendipitous something — a birth, a death, an act of kindness, an act of brutality, a moment in the rain — pushes us out of the smallness of our world into larger truths.

“Love your enemies” is not a harmless and naive religious platitude — it is one of the largest truths in history. Embracing it carries us beyond our own borders and connects us to a larger revelation of what it means to be human.

Touring Heaven

Imagine that you, a cop or teacher, could tour an active volcano. You would not experience its boiling and beautiful wonder as a geologist, but rather from your untrained perspective. And, in fact, your lack of education and expertise may enrich the whole experience.

That is the basic premise of Proof of Heaven, A Neurosurgeon’s Journey Into The Afterlife by Eben Alexander, M.D. (Simon & Schuster, 2012). This NDE (near-death experience) story is not at all like 90 Minutes in Heaven, Heaven is For Real, or any of the other Christian books on the afterlife. A secular materialist, not a Christian believer, wrote the book. I don’t believe it contains one scripture.

But I believed every line of it (“believed” as in gut resonance, not theological accuracy).

On November 10, 2008, a rare form of bacterial meningitis struck Dr. Eban Alexander, a Harvard trained neurosurgeon in Virginia. His “entire neocortex – the outer surface of the brain, the part that makes us human – was shut down.” For seven days, Alexander had zero brain activity. He was “brain dead,” kept alive only by a breathing machine. On the 7th day of his coma, his doctor recommended ending treatment.

As a medical drama, this story is a breathless, vivid, tense, and emotional page-turner. But, beyond that, the reader is mesmerized by Dr. Alexander’s very descriptive report of where he went and what he saw after his life on earth.

The Tour

Alexander offers rich details of the sights, sounds, thoughts, communication patterns, and other dimensions of his kaleidoscopic tour of, yes, Heaven.

For example…at some point in his coma, “something appeared in the darkness. Turning slowly, it radiated fine filaments of white-gold light, and as it did so the darkness around me began to splinter and break apart. Then I heard a new sound; a living sound, like the richest, most complex, most beautiful piece of music you’ve ever heard. Growing in volume as a pure white light descended…

“I was no longer looking at the slowly spinning light at all, but through it…I began to move up. Fast. There was a whooshing sound, and in a flash I went through the opening and found myself in a completely new world. The strangest, most beautiful world…brilliant, vibrant, ecstatic, stunning…

“A sound, huge and booming like a glorious chant, came down from above…the joy of these creatures, as they soared along, was such that they had to make this noise—that if the joy didn’t come out of them this way then they would simply not otherwise be able to contain it.

“We were riding along together on an intricately patterned surface, alive with indescribable and vivid colors – the wing of a butterfly. In fact, millions of butterflies were all around us – vast fluttering waves of them, dipping down into the greenery and coming up around us again…a river of life and color…we flew in lazy looped formations past blossoming flowers and buds on trees that opened as we flew near.”

The Message

Alexander’s tour of Heaven fills many pages and is surprisingly complete and satisfying. But then he moves into what he learned or received on the tour. Those observations include:

  • “The (false) assumption that we can somehow be separated from God is the root of every form of anxiety in the universe.”
  • “Nothing can tear us away from God, ever.”
  • “Physical life is characterized by defensiveness, whereas spiritual life is just the opposite.”
  • He summarizes all that he saw and heard with three statements:

    “You are loved and cherished, deeply, forever.”
    “You have nothing to fear.”
    “There is nothing you can do wrong.”

In a very moving scene, a few weeks after his recovery, Dr. Alexander goes to a church service with his wife. To his astonishment, what he sees in the structure and iconography of the sanctuary reminds him of what he saw in Heaven. It was then, in a gathering of God’s people, that Alexander realized, “I didn’t just believe in God; I knew God.” Then we see him hobbling to the altar to receive the Eucharist, tears streaming down his cheeks.

For me, the main value of this fine book lies in seeing a skeptic pulled into the too-good-to-be-true Love that is Larger. And, consistent with his astonishment, Alexander’s descriptions tumble out in powerful, clear, and fresh language. No clichés or religion-speak here.

You want a good book that will pull you out of your world and take you to another one? Do you want a renewed look at the great adventure of life – one that passes through and beyond the earth? If so, I recommend you dive into the very deep and clear pool in Proof of Heaven.

 

 

 

 

Hurricane Donald

I recently had to face my offensive harshness with telemarketers. For the first time I saw one as a fellow human who was struggling, stressed, and locked into a job he hated. And my glorious Edness had just made his load heavier. That epiphany broke something in me that needed breaking.

The sudden exposure (even in private) of a bad habit or hurtful way is one of the most humiliating and painful episodes in life. I fully understand the Apostle Paul’s harrowing question, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

But, those moments are also essential and helpful. We all need those interruptions of cosmic kindness that disrupt our forward movement. They come to break, refine, and equip us with more grace.

The Beauty and Power of Disruption

Nations, cultures, and groups also need that refining force. Well, guess what. We have it; we are living through a powerful and historic disruption. It’s called “Trump.” But it has very little to do with policy or politics…or Trump. In fact, if he doesn’t already know it, he’ll soon learn that he’s caught in it too.

I think it’s dealing primarily with our arrogance and attitudinal sclerosis. In other words, it’s confronting our swagger and inflexibility. And it is applicable across the board. Like a hurricane, it is staggering across the land, bearing down on every person, group, relationship, event, and institution.

But why?

I believe it is because disruption brings newness into the present, “new” as the invading, explosive, and transformative power of the future. That new will—like a hurricane—rip and splinter old ways.

And that is for our good!

Have you noticed that most people seem to know our present national path is not healthy and not sustainable? So everyone claims to want change—but as a tool they can deploy to manage the future. It doesn’t work like that; real change invades. It’s not controllable by anyone or any agenda, and that’s the secret of its power and beauty.

From time to time, we all need to be so challenged, provoked, and terrified that body fluids leak through our clothes. That’s why and how we change. The great kindness of our Creator always has and always will tear up old ruts, comfort zones, and corruption in order to bring renewal. He will always cut across me; His purposes are too important to leave me (or you) intact.

Where did we ever get the idea that we and our tribe don’t need disruption? Why would anyone think that we get to create, educate, innovate, and negotiate only with those who feel exactly as we do about everything? That’s silly. Maturity requires the ability to work with different and difficult people.

Right here, it gets personal. I didn’t vote for Trump. He was the proverbial “bridge too far” for me. OK, so now what? Looks like I have decisions to make about adaptation, humility and learning new skills and rhythms.

I appreciated seeing the Tech titans—none of whom could be called Trump supporters—actually sit down and talk with the President-elect. For years some have lectured us on the need to sit down together, to “cross the aisle” to work with “the other side.” Oddly, so many of those voices never did that. But Tim Cook, Jeff Bezos, Sheryl Sandberg, Elon Musk and several others did. Furthermore, they agreed to keep meeting together with the new President.

Maybe they understand how the world works.

All Things New

Over the past year I have learned that loss always feels personal. But it never is.

Human instinct seems to always view loss from a close and immediate angle…it happened to me, took something from me, and now forever diminishes me and my future. But that is a distortion, like one cell in a drug addict’s body contorting in pain when he goes cold turkey. That cell cannot see the larger picture and purpose.

Much of what we’re seeing now is the contortion of individual cells. Too many bloggers, political elites, media voices, entertainers, and college students are only looking at Hurricane Donald from a very personal perspective.

To all of them I would say, “Close your eyes and take deep and long breaths. Humble yourself. Walk outside. Look up. Reconnect with the deeper rhythms of the universe. This is not personal any more than a hurricane is personal.”

Relax, trust, and prepare to live in a renewed and beautified landscape – one you didn’t design and one that lies far beyond the ramshackle real estate of your own habits and preferences.

The Wisdom of “And” 

Minutes before I spoke to a Christian leadership retreat, another speaker took a position disputing what I would soon be saying. Wanting to avoid conflict or embarrassment, I discreetly asked my friend Mike Bishop to step outside. When I sought his counsel, he nodded his understanding and said, “Just remember, and, not or.”

         Mike’s wisdom set me free. I could add to – rather than contradict – what had just been spoken. 

         I’ve often thought about Mike’s “and” in this election season. The swirling accusation that attends presidential elections seems to pull all of us into sharp (but quite unnecessary) polarization and conflict. Everything tends to be either/or. We seem incapable of reasoned, thoughtful, and charitable assessments of opposing views or candidates.

Both Sides Now

Columnist William Raspberry once told me “most people believe more than one side of any issue.” That has become an enormous and orienting truth for me. But when the structures of our time cannot tolerate complexity or nuance, everything becomes either/or. 

         To live in “And” just screws up the algorithms of the age.

         Let’s face it; most of those who prefer Trump are genuinely concerned about the integrity of national borders, terrorism, pervasive incompetence, and the loss of respect for America throughout the world. Those people are not crazy or evil; they are grappling (however inarticulately) with serious issues. 

         And most of the people supporting Clinton are reaching for a more just and inclusive society, one that rejects the old structures of privilege and power. In fact, I think most people on the left yearn for a new story, one that rises above the old rules and allows dreamers some space. 

         As author Jonathan Haidt suggests in his book, The Righteous Mind, conservatives are more concerned about authority, loyalty, and sanctity issues. Liberals are more focused on care, fairness, and choice. Those tensions are valid and necessary. They are all “and, not or” issues; surely a civil society can and must discuss all of that intelligently and kindly. 

         But for some reason it is difficult to just listen to a position and then respond with, “Yes, I see that. And perhaps we also need to also consider…” The biggest problem with that position is pride; what I know is often the enemy of what I dont know. 

         Humility is the only antidote for pride.

The Path of Humility

Humility is always appropriate, always in season, and always dignifying. Humility is not self-degradation or passivity; it isn’t a servile posture. Real humility is based on the conviction that my view is incomplete. My capacities and perspectives are limited; I need others. 

         That’s why I like what pastor and author Tim Keller says about the integrity of conversation. He says we should “do the work necessary to articulate the views of your opponent with such strength and clarity that he or she could say, ‘I couldn’t have said it better myself.’ Then, and only then, will your polemics have integrity…”[1]

         Now imagine Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump sitting at a table in a TV studio, earnestly and humbly talking about issues. Clinton says, “Now, Donald, here is what I heard you say in Cincinnati. Now, please tell me if you agree with the way I express it or not.” And Trump listens carefully, nods, and says, “Hillary, that’s it. Thank you. That is my position.” 

         Sadly, we all know that is never going to happen.

But you and I can practice that kind of relational and conversational integrity. We can humbly, patiently, and respectfully listen to one another – even on Facebook! Even when others speak in anger and exaggeration, we can love, listen, and respond gently. 

         When I think of how little I really know about life, God, His creation, about anything, I catch a glimpse of the towering ignorance that drives anger and conflict. 

         What if…we all stopped fighting, humbled ourselves, and turned our energies to exploring the deep and immeasurable riches all around us? It is just possible that you may discover a vital link to a beautiful treasure…one that would be enormously helpful to others, including me. 

         What a beautiful world. 

[1] Keller, Timothy. Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-centered Ministry in Your City. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012. 

Life After Loss

Over the past 18 months I’ve been working in a laboratory of loss. Through our son Paul’s death, my participation in a study of education in American, my knee replacement surgery, post-surgical recovery and rehab, relocating, political realignments, and global immigration dynamics, I kept being drawn to the issue of loss.

Through all of that, I’ve come to see that loss is not to be feared or rejected. It is a normal and essential part of life’s cadence. If we regard losses properly, they can bring renewal for the next season of life. Here are some of the details:

  • Loss is not personal. Yes, I know that it sure feels personal. In the moment, it seems unique, even historic. But loss is rarely personal. The simple truth is that everyone dies, financial tides rise and fall, relationships get injured, trains go off the rails, etc. The old bumper sticker (sanitized), BAD STUFF HAPPENS, captures a simple, but large and inescapable truth.
  • Life requires that we deal with it. The species cannot continue if humans are immobilized by loss.
  • Loss (a.k.a. ruin, failure, death, destruction, etc.) is always painful and disruptive; it never comes at a good time. So we must learn to accept and navigate it.
  • Loss is short term. Most people tend to view the whole journey through the keyhole of the present moment. But almost nothing we see through the eyes of grief is accurate or helpful in the long term.
  • Loss is an illusion. It might lash, boil, invade, injure and steal from us; it may even leave us face down in the gutter. But it cannot destroy the core of our true identity. For that reason, we don’t have to fear it. Nothing significant is taken away by loss.
  • Loss is a myopic interpretation of a larger change. An old “Far Side” cartoon showed two men fishing on a lake as a large mushroom cloud boiled up over the horizon. One fisherman said to the other, “I’ll tell you what it means, it means screw the limit.” People inevitably view global realignments through the lens of their personal needs and desires.
  • Loss calls us to greater maturity. Living in a culture that encourages emotional indulgence, we tend to welcome grief and offer it a big easy chair. But maturity pushes the grieving out of bed, into the shower, and to the office. And it makes sure that he or she does that every day for the rest of his or her life.
  • Loss passes by. Glen Roachelle once said, “When you go through a storm, don’t become an expert on storms. Just get through it.” It comes. Endure it. Loss moves on; you should too.
  • Loss reveals a higher path. Crises always bring me to see that my “Edness” is insufficient. For me, I can only proceed by faith in God’s total reliability. I’m not assuming this is (or should be) your response, but I have to get up above the big muddy me and ascend into a higher and clearer view.
  • Loss is not The End. Although it appears to be apocalyptic, loss the usually just the end of a season or a way of thinking. What appears to be great loss can be a gate to a brand new future.
  • Life surpasses our earth existence. For me, where I live is not a big deal. Living in God is the real objective. From His place, I am able to more clearly see the vast sweep of the whole journey. And seeing loss from the high ground give a completely new perspective and releases people to accept and bless it.
  • What about loss on a national scale? It seems to me that conservatives tend to view every loss as an assault on our foundations and liberals tend to see losses as threats to progress. Both views are power grabs. In truth, when seen from the high ground, the losses brought by war, disease, economic tremors, social injustice, technology shifts, and even immigration crises are often servants of renewal and redemption.

 

The losses suffered by individuals, families, business and industry, and nations mean old things are blowing away and new things are arriving. Life after loss is much like the land after a thunderstorm. The scent of rain and the purity of the air suggest new beginnings.

Let’s step into the new. We have more to gain than we ever lost.

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