destruction

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.

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.

Do You Have an LSO?

Today’s aircraft carriers are small towns (Pop. 5000) that exist only for the purpose of moving their 4.5-acre airport and 80 jet fighters anywhere in the world. But there’s a huge problem. That airport is too small for what it must do. So fantastic (and frankly weird) machines must compensate.

First, a catapult rams a 50,000-pound jet from zero to 165-mph in 2 seconds in order to slingshot it into the air at sufficient speed for flight. Then, when the plane returns, another contrivance reverses the process; the plane’s tailhook snags an arresting cable that slams it to the deck. And this happens while the plane is flying 150 miles an hour and the runway is jumping up and down and rolling from side to side. No wonder the landing is called “a controlled crash.” It’s like a first baseman catching a line drive.

And that is why the flight deck of a modern aircraft carrier is considered the most dangerous working environment on earth. People can be, and have been, sucked through jet engines or sliced in half by the arresting cables.

While spending five days aboard the USS Nimitz in 2005, I saw why the Landing Signal Officer (LSO) is one of the most important jobs on the carrier. Every day, several times a day, he or she is responsible for the safety of a human life and a 40 million dollar piece of equipment. The pilot’s purpose, field of vision, and mental awareness are all so tightly focused that he or she cannot possibly perform the landing without the LSO.

Incredibly, the success of the aircraft carrier’s mission comes down to each pilot completely trusting another human being with his or her life. Survival means a total commitment to another person’s vision, perspective, instincts, wisdom, skill, and personal stability.

Who Cares?

In 1972 I ran into the blinding revelation that life is dangerous. Even though I was 25, married, and had a child, I was like a drunk monkey driving the Indy 500; someone was about to get killed. So I reached out to Glen Roachelle, the most stable and mature man I knew at that time (or today). I asked him, in essence, to be my LSO. But I used the word “pastor.”

I believe that God cares for His creation and that His loving care is built into the whole package of life. The biblical words “pastor” and “shepherd” reveal the expanse of God’s care. That’s why the “LSO” is a fine metaphor of His provision of care. But we don’t get it. We think that needing an LSO is demeaning. We also demand that a “pastor” be an institutional CEO, Director of Sales and Marketing, TED talker, comedian, and funeral and wedding planner.

Totally wrong.

A pastor is simply one who “keeps watch for another”…you know, like an LSO keeps watch. It’s so simple: I can’t see myself clearly. I need objectivity. A pastor can see me with greater clarity and perspective. And he brings wisdom, skill, and maturity to the pastoral role.

I could tell many stories that illustrate real pastoral care. Very few involve Bible studies, prayer, or church gatherings. Most feature cars, kids, health, houses, and financial needs. Glen’s pastoral eye has nearly always seen my need for rest, a raise, or a doctor before I did.

We all need someone who can see who we really are and the vast sweep of our circumstance – someone who can see everything and actually give a damn for both the grand purpose and the individual lives at stake.

Like an LSO. He or she is the point of connecting the grand macro mission of the aircraft carrier with the micro safety and welfare of the individual pilot. The LSO not only sees everything, like where the plane and the deck are, but also instinctively knows where the deck will be when the jet touches it. You think that may be important?

You and I live and work in an extremely dangerous time and place. The casualties are high and so very visible. We all know the tragic stories of business, political, and spiritual leaders who suffered great pain, loss, shame, and even death. And they are simply the most visible. We’re all exposed and vulnerable.

Think about it; your purpose is too panoramic and your life is too important to not give it your very best. Perhaps that means you need someone to watch for you.

“Excuse Me, Barista, May I Live Here?”

Washington, DC, summer of 1994. From the muggy blanket of heat and city sounds and odors, I stepped into a new and magical cocoon of coffee aroma, cold air, quiet greens and charcoals, and Sinatra’s velvet crooning of “In the Wee Small Hours.”

They called the place “Starbucks.”

This was more than a store. I felt like I had slipped through a hidden door in the cosmos, passing from mess and madness into a fortress of peace and safety. Out there could never intrude in here. That very first Starbucks seemed to be a metaphor of how to live in a harsh and polarized environment.

In fact, when you read the 23rd Psalm it sounds like David wrote it in Starbucks – the place of quiet rest and sweet restoration. Fear and evil are locked outside. But inside a lavish table is spread in full view of a hostile world. And, honey, that cup of sublime goodness just overflows. Of course, I will dwell in this house forever! Duh.

This is not a mere coffee shop; it’s an alternate society, a counterculture, another government.

The Safe Place 

Everyone lives in the tension between yesterday and tomorrow. The old is exhausted and dying; the new has not fully arrived. We endure the death grip of yesterday while tasting the promises of tomorrow. That struggle is not unique to any time or people; it is always true.

The safe place is a zone, a domain within that struggle. And it’s usually located in the midst of turbulence or great loss. For example, we’ve all seen a dying person give up the fight to stay on earth. They simply embrace the next dimension of life (Secret: you don’t have to die in order to enter that place). And we’ve all seen people go through crucibles that brought him or her into a surprising zone of victory.

External conditions didn’t change at all. But they found a new way to live in the midst of it. And that new way did not spring from power, beauty, education, money, or control. At the point where they gave up their own strength, they slipped into the safe place that is always within and around us.

What Does the Place Look Like?

Imagine that you are sitting in a beautiful and restful suite with 10 to 12 other people. The room is elegantly designed, built, and furnished. The lines and light and colors and depth of quality call every occupant to higher thoughts and purposes.

The people in the room reflect integrity, confidence, grace, and good humor. Their speech is gentle, clear, calm and reasonable. They listen. Their laughter is full and deep and clean. No shrill tones and no combative, angry or mocking voices are heard in that room.

Vertigo may prevail outside. But spin anyone in this room and they will come up pointing to the North Star.

And everyone here is serious and focused. For example, as one man reads a document to the group, the sound of children playing outside grows louder. His eyes never leave the document; he continues to read as he steps to the open window and slowly closes it. The room becomes blessedly quiet. He continues to read as he returns to his seat.

No one went to the window to disparage or correct the children. These are mature people; they don’t react to distractions. They are passionate about, and focused on, a great purpose. They don’t have time to pick fights or borrow offenses from what is going on outside. Good grief; they know all those things will pass.

New World in the Morning

Look, I understand that we live in harsh and dangerous times. An age is passing away (as ages always do). It’s painful and frightening. And I’m not aloof from it; I’ve wept over the losses and hurled too many bad words at my life’s various media screens.

But, when I get still (with a fine cup of coffee!) inside the safe place, I remember that the global shaking and convulsions are the birth pangs of a brand new era. All that is worthless or dispensable will collapse into dust and blow away. All that is worthy and eternal will overcome and preside.

Just as a Starbucks in Washington once illustrated for me, we can all find a safe and delightful place right in the middle of transitional chaos.

Hey, I know; let’s meet there after work and talk about it.

Remember Who You Are

In “The Lion King,” after Mufasa, the King, died, his son Simba was forced to run away and hide in the jungle. Eventually he totally adapted to a much different place and to a carefree life (“Hakuna Matata”). In reality, he became a different creature. And there, in that alien place, Mufasa returned in spirit in order to call his son to remember his royal roots; “Simba, remember who you are. You are my son…”

When people find themselves in a difficult place, they often think that their condition is very complex, strange, daunting and hopeless. But that is almost never true. More often, they only need to remember who they are. When they do, they can just walk out of the jungle of their false identity.

However, remembering is more than mental assent. Remembering who we are also requires that we fight the inertia that tries to destroy us.

Consider this old story.

A wild duck once flew very high with his flock on the springtime return to northern Europe. But he grew tired and dropped down into a Danish barnyard. He ate corn with the barnyard ducks and enjoyed their company into the night. Although he intended to stay and rest for a short time, the hours turned into days and weeks. After a while he decided to spend the summer in the barnyard.

Then one autumn day he heard the familiar honk of the wild ducks flying south. That sound awakened his true identity. He was not born for the barnyard; he was created for high altitude. His heart reached for the sky. With rapid and loud flapping of his wings he tried to get airborne, but only rose as high as the fence. The barnyard had civilized him; he was fat, soft and weak. Although he knew who he was, he could not return to the sky. For a few years, he held onto the fiction that he would join them “next year.”

Anyone can fall like a rock from his or her true nature. A crisis, a distraction, or a deception can make anyone forget.

Being true to who you are is natural, but never easy. For a duck to fly, it must keep exerting the muscles that allow it to mount the wind. Settling is deadly. In other words, “who you are” is not the same as “what you have become.”

In his book, The War of Art (Grand Central Publishing, 2002), Steven Pressfield examines what he calls “resistance” – that mysterious force that fights our true nature and calling. It is what pulls wild ducks from high flight into the barnyard. According to Pressfield, “Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole…Resistance is always lying…” (Page 9)

“Resistance’s goal is not to wound or disable. Resistance aims to kill. Its target is the epicenter of our being: our genius, our soul, the unique and priceless gift we were put on earth to give…Resistance means death. When we fight it, we are in a war to the death.” (Page 15)

Our identity is a high altitude reality. But it is dropped into a realm that resists it. For example, it has been estimated that for every book that gets written, more than 6,000 were started and never finished. Something tenaciously fights to disable or destroy the gift.

Perhaps the best way to fight resistance is to seal off the barnyard’s allure of instant gratification  – the Internet, TV, food, alcohol, etc. They lie. They promise affirmation and joy, but lead only to death.

Remember who you are. You have been designed for a place far above that lower orbit of bare minimums. And now is the historic moment; the barnyard gate is wide open. Even if you cannot yet fly, you can walk. Sometimes, just walking away is the down payment to flight.

Suddenly

This 5 minute video of the Japanese tsunami is astonishing. That must be why, to date, it has more than 12 million hits on YouTube.

The footage carries the viewer up over language. I watched it in total silence. But the word that sums it up for me is “suddenly.” As in:

Waves of destruction roll over the land, until it lies in complete desolation.
Suddenly my tents are destroyed; in a moment my shelters are crushed – Jeremiah 4:20

You wake up, shuffle to your coffee pot and carefully enact your morning ritual. You plan your day…meet Diane at Starbucks, drop by the office for a few hours, play golf this afternoon…

All the while something large and shattering is already on the way to your life. You will do nothing you planned. Your life will change, perhaps even end, “suddenly.”

Life’s changing moments are usually outside our control. We all hold the illusion that we can originate or manage change. But, as my friend Rex Miller says, “Real change comes from somewhere else and invades us.” We do not see it coming and we cannot control its content or its pace.

We often forget that good things also come suddenly.

You wake up, shuffle to the coffee pot…not knowing that great wealth or your future spouse or healed relationships are already walking up to your front door.

You will suddenly collide with delirious joy.

The same Bible that records sudden tragedies also recalls a sudden earthquake that shook a prison to pieces, releasing the captives (I wonder how conservatives would view a similar “act of God” in our time).

Perhaps the real challenge is to embrace all the suddenlys as coming from the hand of a kind God.

Even the tsunamis have a way of cleansing and reordering the landscape of life.

Go back to the site of this video in ten years. I can confidently predict that it will reflect the sparkle, shine and great joy of renewal. The earth never turns on itself, never destroys itself. It only dances to the rhythms of renewal.

Scroll to Top