Tag Archives: Jesus

Be Brave. Get Dirty.

i used to hate getting dirty.

You too? I mean, all kids love playing in mud and will put all sorts of disgusting in their mouths. I had that too. But a larger part of me hated messes.

A comedian suggested our self-protective society boils down to our drive for bacon. I think for more people it's about Lysol wipes. Life's messy. Clean it up.
Could society boil down to this? The world is messy and we like it clean.

I always thought cleaning up was the best part of play time. In kindergarten, while the other kids squished finger paints and mashed their hands (and faces and each other) in multicolored smears (can you believe the patience of elementary school teachers?), my version of finger painting employed two index fingers held as far from me as possible on the paper. The length of time required for this “art instruction” was always too long and I’d watch the clock to know when the barbarism would end and we could go wash it off.

Then, in second grade, a mild phobia kicked in when Billy Huffman poured 3 snails down the back of my shirt and chased me around, slapping them into slimy stains.

Since then, it’s been fairly easy to identify with those driven by a distaste for getting messy.

Unfortunately, the scariest messes are inside and invisible.

“Ever since there have been such things as novels, the world has been flooded with bad fiction for which the religious impulse has been responsible. The sorry religious novel comes about when the writer supposes that because of his belief, he is somehow dispensed from the obligation to penetrate concrete reality. He will think that the eyes of the Church or of the Bible or of his particular theology have already done the seeing for him, and that his business is to rearrange this essential vision into satisfying patterns, getting himself as little dirty as possible,” Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners

Bret Lott says that was him before he wrote A Song I Knew By Heart. Raised in a Christian home, I can trace the disposition for such propaganda to my early writings. Such earnest little fantasy worlds I created.

“The fact is that the materials of the fiction writer are the humblest. Fiction is about everything human and we are made out of dust, and if you scorn getting yourself dusty, then you shouldn’t try to write fiction. It’s not a grand enough job for you.” (Mystery and Manners)

I could never truly appreciate backpacking for all the dirt my body tends to acquire. I spent many years fretting about this, trying to convince others they needed to change and be cleaner and civilized and more conscientious with their finger painting. I wanted to believe we could all write with integrity and depth and see the world as it really was like Jesus did–with true compassion and piercing insight–but just in a safe, clean, civilized kind of way. In a bookish kind of way. In a churchy kind of way. Maybe also in a big corporate ministry office kind of way.

Surely that was good enough for God, wasn’t it?

The trouble came when I tried imagining Jesus turning his nose up in disgust at the people he gave up everything to hear and see.

The world is messy. And for a writer to tell the truth about it he has to gain a deeper appreciation of the mess inside him that says, others are messier, my mess is fine.

To really love the reader as yourself, you have to see how God loved you enough to accept as dirty as you could get. Even while you were still a mess, he held your face, looked into your eyes and took the cross.

He sees the world more clearly than anyone ever will. What does he see in you?

Only he can provide what we need to be cleaned up. And if he doesn’t hesitate to get dirty with people to do it, should we?

The clubs we belong to cloud our vision, make us think our smudged windows are clean, or cleaner than others’. Jesus is the one who breaks up up our corrupt ideas, systems and prejudices. He breaks our laws. It may offend us, but he has the right because he knows the light. He has the clear insight.

Grace is dirty and that will always be scandalous.

Do you want to be well?

The “how” of writing is the skill of economy: to learn what is essential. Excellent writing is nothing more than rendering the best representation of reality from the clearest perception of it. And that clarity is only through adopting Jesus’ eyes, being brave, and getting dirty.

A certain Samaritan, despised and lowly, went down from Jerusalem away from his safe haven… He wasn’t necessarily looking to get dirty or break the rules. But he wasn’t trying to stay clean and safe. He opened his eyes to reality and took it, took it all in, and he was filled with compassion because he saw himself in a stranger’s eyes.

And he did not look away.

Is longing enough?

Is longing enough? You don’t often believe so. And maybe too unbelieving, too afraid to admit, you strive to feel something you don’t, something real again of this living water, and a love for his life.

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Something that may not have happened exactly, though you do remember and it persists. Its truth seems to have expanded the bowl, beyond your rim and left you with unanswerable questions: Does he truly live in me? And does he know what he’s doing? And do I?

So you fight to return to this first love, the love you don’t exactly remember. And what happened back there and was it real love? And more than just a feeling? Or less than that, an immature hope of feeling something?

But no matter, you want to want to. Though you wonder if that is enough.

And you get yourself up to wake yourself up and wonder if anything’s changed. If all of this is all faith is, a longing for love, and wondering if it is really enough? This creating a world of all that remains, of what must exist if it didn’t, and are all of us merely wishing to escape our bowl and say it’s real this collective dream we’ve only imagined? And are we real and will we be this way eternally?

I admit: I sometimes wonder with you.

I sometimes think maybe we’re all waiting for the one soul who can bring himself to say it, the one hopeless enough to see without fear, beyond the flesh-varnished bowls:

“Behold! The kingdom of heaven is within!”

But some days he doesn’t show, and I want to say to you to just keep peering in. Persist in the illusion and forget cleaning the outside of the bowl.

You are beautiful just as you are.

Hope is blind but it’s the only thing that washes our eyes. This life is only real when you preach it to yourself loud while straining to hear his whisperings in your unstopped ears:

This is the way. Walk in it.

Stay and listen to your steps crunching on the road and live in it. Seek, knock, ask. Turn, fall, kneel. And be still in those truths, all your bowl can contain.

For those are yours and all you have here. They are the real.

And those faint and dying lies are only snaking suspicions of an insufficient longing.

 

———————-for further exploration: On Beauty

Pick a Fight You’re Willing to Lose

Dear Strong Christian,

How much I’d like to fight with you.

Charlotte fighting

But I suppose the truth is, I’m not that concerned. I know you’ll be fine in time, when life does its work and then God does his. I don’t need you to agree with me, and I don’t care about disagreement. I’m not sure what happened, but when did we start to think Christians all have to agree in order to love and find common ground?

I know there are more important matters than this. I’m not very high on the list of people whose opinions matter and sway others. Nor do I wish to be. I have a quiet life and a simple story to share. I don’t want that to change. I have enjoyable, behind-the-scenes book work to do.

Trying to convince people–even publishers, agents and writers in CBA–of my point is pointless. I do enjoy discussion, though often debates don’t appeal because competition implies a winner and a loser and that opposes my gospel.

It’s my gospel because who can say if it’s yours, however great our hope may be? Real life is not so cut and dry.

This post pretty much states my “position,” if I have one. And the blogosphere could do well to remember it:

http://www.thechurchofnopeople.com/2013/04/everyones-orthodoxy-is-someone-elses-heresy/

Striving for answers is foolishness beyond the one Jesus offered. There are many things he didn’t talk about that get a lot of people upset. They wish so much he’d said more, but they’re missing the ones he did say. Make peace and you’re blessed. Accept suffering for another’s sake. When we’re focused on being right, too often we’re wrong. So many of his “answers” focused us on the bigger questions—it’s as though he’s saying, “I know it’s impossible, so what will you do with what I did say about trusting me?” Is that putting words into his mouth?

He wasn’t merely evasive; he was patient and unrelenting. But he knew answers too often barricade the high and the low, the insiders and the outsiders, and his work was leveling all of that out. He was okay appearing wrong. Appearing weak.

Who will be that hero?

Still Loving Ya, Miley: A Final(?) Word

 

Two camps. Two paths. They say that’s all there are.

The low road and the high. Lovers v. haters.

And hate it or learn to love it, no one gets out. Everyone has to decide.

Which way will I go?

The way of the world or the way of the Lord?

We hear of these all our lives and we think we know which one’s good and which is bad.

But it’s not so easy, is it? We’re all in these cages always trying to figure out which way we’re headed, and which way others are going. It’s part are the way God made us. And part is our own making.

Haters wound, thinking they’re loving and that can become part of your cage. But their light is darkness, and as one of the “corrected” I can promise you, they don’t know the truth. And many people need to get free of folks who call hate love. Their ignorance is responsible for much that’s wrong in the world.

Still, they’re human. And they don’t always realize how their words sound. They don’t get how simply opening their mouths can shut someone else’s. And they don’t know all the people they’ll never hear from, never know, never set free because they think they have things all figured. Makes you wish they’d wonder what others sound like some time, doesn’t it? Don’t they want to know?

I guess I’ve been “corrected” quite a bit. But the stink of it is, any reaction from us only proves them right. It’s just like their shock over your new image—it serves to prove you right. But see, it doesn’t mean you are any more than it means they are, and swallowing each others’ scorn, it only makes each side stronger.

So I guess I don’t know where that leaves us. It seems you may fight and blow it off for many years. I can’t imagine how difficult it is to hold onto you with so many people thinking they have a right to you. I think God preserves my relative obscurity as a gift every day.

But don’t let anyone tell you Jesus would ever give anyone a thumbs down.

People can judge all day long. But not him.

He knows hating does no good. And he’s all about doing good.

Unfortunately, people aren’t. Jesus did a whole lot of stuff we can’t. He said don’t resist what you call evil. And for the life of me, I can’t manage that, though I try. I do know when you do, you see what evil really is—just goodness inside out, some love that lost its way. Truth gets twisted. Beauty sullied. There’s no evil without first good. God made it all good and it got all screwed up but we don’t need to fear this. It’ll be all good again someday.

But for now, all we need to know, all you need to know is that the power in us is God-breathed. It’s put there in our tongues and in our words and it’s the very power of life and death.

“Judge not lest ye be judged.” Jesus said that one too, though we argue it away and say it doesn’t mean not judging people.

“Correcting” in love is usually a sham because what’s loving to the person you’re correcting? What feels loved, seen, known? No one really knows. We know love isn’t a feeling but a decision, but Jesus never asked us to be other people’s conscience. He asked us to get in their shoes and walk a mile. And he said to let the blind lead the blind into a pit.

He knows who’s right. I’ll let him sort it out. But here are some ideas I’ve got:

1. Maybe we need to struggle to need him. Maybe that’s the only way we realize we need him?

2. When you stand in authority, someone always wants to knock you down. But kneel in powerlessness and suddenly no one’s left to judge.

3. I don’t know how many people it will take rebelling against God because of “God’s people” before his self-proclaimed defenders finally surrender, but just remember: God never asked us to deny people their freedom. He told us to set people free.

4. Spend as much time as you can imagining all that’s possible when we finally know even in all our “sin” how Jesus not only defends us and lets us off the hook, he sees and affirms us exactly as he made us.

5. If grace is what saves us, may we affirm everyone’s right to experience it. I agree with ending all restrictions on what Jesus made free because his sacrifice was good enough.

6. It’s not our job to save anyone, to set ourselves apart, or do any of the works faith requires. That’s his job. And he does it very well.

And even if you don’t agree and you still hope for a win between the camps, I hope it’s okay if I give up for you and say thanks for all you did to help me see my need to. I’ve needed to surrender to his free-love anarchy more fully. I don’t give up in hopes of anything changing, though I will pray for an end to all restrictions on those who must be allowed to speak without judgment, prejudice or discrimination.

And just remember he says, “Come to Me and I will give you rest.” Rest is not selfish, not what selfish people do. Rest is what you’re made for, next to him and in him and him in you and not ahead or behind or in fear or control.

Everything’s his doing. Give him back your everything and be truly free.

Freedom isn’t always an easy place to live. But there’s nowhere safer.

Why I Love Miley Cyrus: A Dad’s Attempt at Advocacy

“Following the broadcast, which again enjoyed huge ratings, Elvis was burned in effigy by angry crowds in Nashville and St. Louis. The popular press was also critical of his style and movements. Rock and roll was increasingly attacked and there was growing opposition to its supposedly negative influence on America’s youth. The more the establishment pushed back, the more Elvis’s support grew from millions of teenagers.” –EdSullivan.com

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Now if the blog title doesn’t say all you need to know, I’ll put it plain: I’m not a Miley Cyrus “fan.”

Actually, I’ve just become more of an obsessed groupie.

What else would you call a dad who suddenly saw from the other side of the screen what parents have always seen and feared?

Up until a couple of days ago, we were the family who dissed Hannah Montana. She was right up there with WalMart, McDonald’s and minivans. Anything flaunting such shameless corporate branding had to be evil, right? I’m pretty embarrassed about this image-consciousness, this deep fear of being judged as “low class.” But woop, there it is.

Cynical cool hipster parents were we, or at least what we wanted to be, so it isn’t without a bit more shame-face that I have to admit to being really personally offended by Miley Cyrus’ performance at the VMAs.

Who even knew the VMAs still existed?

The stills from the performance are enough to make any parent crazy. Where’s one of those MIB memory erasers when you need one?

But maybe you recall an artist who calls himself Eminem.

And when someone did this.

Then there was that other thing that happened and this and that and oh yeah, this.

And are we not entertained? 

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I just read that “it is when we deny our bodies and refuse to embrace our flesh that we become broken.” How poignant and true for us here.

And maybe offended isn’t the word, really. It’s more like aggrieved. Grieved, honestly, that’s how I felt. And as I watched it on the replay at whichever news outlet was running the clip on constant loop for our naval-gazing society to tsk at, I just kept thinking She’s right. Doggone it, she’s seen through us and she’s 100% right.

It’s not a new statement she’s making. Our confused moral standards are continually being pointed out and challenged. George Michael made a statement about his supposed “offenses” and defending his “freedom” with his album titled “Listen without Prejudice” back in 1990.

If we took the time to listen, could we hear what Miley’s saying? Maybe we are afraid. Whether she’s right about us being jealous hypocrites or not, we do get pretty uptight and afraid.

I think she’ll be fine. Enough people have found a way through the public eye. But I still want to hear her and face what she brings up:

Authenticity.

It’s what I’ve dedicated my life to. It’s why I’ve always been a misfit in the Christian culture, the one that requires certain things to ensure it’s safe before considering whether its biblical. It’s why I’ve been branded a misfit. I don’t gain acceptance or approval in the safe crowd, the one not talking about drugs, and sex, and the fact that abuse and rape are scandals the church covers up, and everyone knows some folks who prefer to stop their ears and sing, “be careful little ears what you hear.”

So be it. I’m gratefully disillusioned.

And now as a dad, I’m not giving up on Miley. I can’t. A kid her age is just being who she’s been made into and if she’s going to finally learn to sing like herself, she needs advocates, not stone-throwers. She’s not being this way just to be offensive. She’s not being selfish to get a rise. Though it may certainly look like a nice side benefit and no one on “team Cyrus” is sad about the album sales spike this will cause.

But look how offended people can get! It can be really funny.

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The trouble lies in the one taking offense. I love the word “umbrage” because it conjures exactly that big, throat-clearing chin-wagging scowl we’re all doing. We have got to fight past moral outrage if we want to save our kids. But the problem is, when we’re offended, we’re blind to it.

I wasn’t going to talk about Miley Cyrus because, come on, if we’re scandalized, get the kids off the Internets already. I knew my opinion (we all know what opinions are like) would offend, dismay, concern, and basically freak out many people who want such things back in the box. But Miley’s not going back in the Disney box, folks. And from that angle, her VMA performance was refreshing. If there was any doubt about what she was doing up there, let the “poor, misguided” thing speak for herself.

But oh, the humanity!

What did we think the song “We Won’t Stop” is about?

“It’s my mouth, I can say what I want.”

“It’s my body, I can do what I want.”

Let’s maybe consider why’s she even saying this. Pause and think about it. Is she saying it to God? Who’s she saying it to?

Maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to condemn someone to hell.

Do I wish she had a better way of expressing that? Of course. Do I feel it’s my duty to tell her? Of course not. What is my duty here?

The video has 160 million views in just over 2 months and it’s garnered the most even split between thumbs up and thumbs down you’re likely to ever see. So I’m going to be willfully me on this one and say what everyone’s thinking: boy, it’d be nice if everyone could be that free in their own private space. But the truth is, we know better. We’re older now and while we know Holden Caufield eventually grows up and realizes it isn’t just his body and his mouth but his wife’s and his kids’ and his boss’s and his mortgage’s, whoever thinks pop music should celebrate any of that is smoking Molly. (I don’t actually know what that means.)

Go ahead and shoot the messenger, but I’m both the strong-willed rebel and the shy piano player, and I have to deal with both so I hope you can too.

America, come on. You’ve seen this kind of thing for so long! Have you forgotten how much of a thrill they get shocking you? You put people in boxes and then whine when they lash out. You cover your mouths while being secretly jealous, angered that someone still knows what it’s like to feel so uninhibited and alive. The devil’s rock n’ roll doesn’t fry kids’ brains, it fries parents’ brains.

What do we think Reality TV is about? They’re showing us we’re all hypocrites and we like it. Tori Amos, Trent Reznor, Madonna, Marilyn Manson, Avril Lavigne, Lady Gaga have all tried to get you to face this. And as a PK, I’ve got to apologize for my position on this because when I felt judged, I didn’t need someone to point out my sins, I needed someone who understood the anxiety and anger of being judged. Arguably, many rock stars have imploded under the pressure, including the King of Pop. Some have killed themselves. Others have become sad imitations of their once relevantly-polarizing acts. We all know it’s the lack of a dad, a lack of love, a lack of seeking how God sees us, and yet what do we throw at them? Disapproval, dismay, outrage, pity, and all sorts of unhelpful words that only increase their awareness of the impenetrable cage around them.

And we wonder why it keeps happening?

So don’t take offense. Let’s leave that pointless offer on the table. And instead of picketing or boycotting, can we grow up and realize that our reactions create the behavior we don’t like and that our attitudes reveal what’s in our hearts? Someone’s got to be the adult, the bigger person, the more loving one, and I think that begins by being big enough to look on this creation and this world as it is with compassion, in all its beauty and horrors, its stink and sacredness, its filth and its fullness, its decay and majesty and for once and for all say,

I LOVE YOU. I see you. I embrace you.

Can we? Oh, let’s stop talking about it and do it! Let’s stop trying to be okay with this and do what we know was done for us.

I believe the fate of our own souls lies in the balance.