Placid Stones

I had a vision of the storm Jesus calmed. I saw him stand in the bow of the boat. He spoke. He didn’t shout. He said simple words; few words. The words fell out of his mouth onto the face of the sea. The sea went flat. It was as if he had a placid stone; a stone that could do the opposite of stones we drop into the sea that create waves. And in my vision I saw us as those new stones falling into the storm; falling from Jesus’s lips; living words spoken into the turmoil. And my heart cried because I know I am not a placid stone. Even when I try to be a placid stone my words fall into the sea and create waves. Most days I’m not trying to calm the sea, I’m looking to agitate it or to use the storm to get me somewhere. Worst of all, there is a storm in me, ready to break at any time. Can I be a placid stone. My vision changes back to the boat in the storm. In the bow is Jesus but he’s me and then he’s him, but it’s us. “Speak to the waves,” he says. “You can, with me.”

So today I say to my own soul, peace be still, in the presence of Jesus, with his words filling me and overflowing into my own heart. And I say peace be still, in my home and to my family and in my street. Peace be still where I work and wherever my feet tread. He is the placid stone and I am in him. I can and I will bring peace.

Try a Little Bitterness

The guy tailgated me up the freeway. When I got to the merge lane and patiently eased into the flow of traffic with everyone else – one car yielding to the next in the polite morning ballet we all participate in – he screeched around me and pushed into traffic at the very limit of the lane. And I mean the very limit, because that merge ends at the mouth of a two lane tunnel. I gaped at this. He had advanced three whole positions. I felt a familiar heat rising in the middle of my chest and I started to mutter out loud to myself about the dude’s IQ. I may have used a little Egyptian. Obviously this guy deserved condemnation. He needed a little judgment from me. I thought I might even keep a little bitterness in my heart towards him. If only I could take note of the car make and model and the plate I’d be set. I heard another voice saying “No.”

“No?” I said back. “No?Did you see what he did? I have a right to feel this way. I deserve it.”

“And what good is that? What will it do for you today? What will you get out of it?”

“But I just want a little bit! I just want a little taste! It’s good!”

“It’ll make everything else taste different if you don’t spit it out right now. Bitterness never stays where you put it. Never. It spreads out. It finds the other little pockets you’ve kept in your mouth like a cow’s cud or a cowboy’s chaw. Spit it out.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Look. Do you see that car anymore? It’s gone. He’s gone. Gone. Not coming back. You had zero effect on him. This is stupid. It’s like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Give it up. Spit it out and drink something to clear out the taste.”

“There. I did it. I spit it out. Now will you leave me alone?”

“No. I won’t leave you alone. And I can see you’re still hiding some of it by the way you’re holding your mouth. Come on. Let’s talk about this. You know we did this whole routine yesterday…”

“And the day before and the day before…yeah.”

“You know I’m right. And you know how it feels when you admit it and take a sip of water. It’s the best water.”

I took a sip. I had to admit it was good. My mouth tasted sweeter. My heart felt lighter. My eyes grew clearer. “Poor guy was probably late for work. I hate that feeling. It makes me do crazy things. It stresses me out and makes me feel angry and scared at the same time. Yuck. Bless him. Get him to work safely. Ease his mind. Give him a good day. Yes. Give him a good day just like we are going to have a good day.”

“Amen.”

Acts 1:1

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach,

 First book… began to do and teach

Luke is the author of the book of Acts.  He is also the author of the gospel of Luke.  He is conducting a research project that takes him from the birth of Jesus to the birth of the church.  Theophilus is the person to whom Luke wrote both books. 

We know that Luke was a doctor and his writing is meticulous. Of all the gospel writers he is the most detailed and thorough.  He uses words precisely. When he says his first book was what Jesus began to do and teach we need to take note.  The first work is the gospel of Luke where Jesus is the lead character from start to finish, but in this second work, the book of Acts, Jesus is going to make a brief appearance and depart the scene.

How are we to understand the word “began”? Luke tells us that Jesus is going to continue both doing and teaching. How?  The way this is written is supposed to make us lean in and look for the answer right at the outset. We are supposed to enter here looking over the shoulder of the resurrection man, listening to a dead man teach about how to live in light of his destruction of the laws of sin, death, and physics. He is going to continue doing things and teaching us things and we’d better pay attention. He is no longer the peasant prophet, he is now the ruler of life and death. We listen in on the conversation and find out that he is not planning on sticking around and that some other person (thing, event) is going to shape and guide the movement he has begun. 

It is the Holy Spirit. It is not an it but a he. A person. He is the Spirit of Christ. What does that mean?  It means we should look for and expect Him to act like Jesus and to do the kinds of things Jesus did and say the kind of things Jesus said. He is not unknown to us. The whole gospel of Luke tells us what to expect from Him. Now we wait to see how He will arrive on the scene and what the gospel of Acts will be. 

Gospel and the Art of Shark Tooth Hunting

There was a book someone told me to read.  It was cool they said.  Enlightening.  Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  I read it.  I don’t remember it.  I guess it didn’t enlighten me.  That is probably more a statement about me than the book.  Lots of people read it and found it helpful.  I couldn’t relate.  The journey of the book interested me, but the Zen and the motorcycles didn’t.  I use technology that I don’t understand.  And I don’t want to understand it.  I want it to work.  I don’t want to think about how this computer is capturing these key strokes and saving my thoughts in bits and bytes.  And the Zen feels the same to me.  Too much thinking in little bits and bytes that run down rabbit trails and at the end seem so breathtakingly insignificant or worse, unintelligible.  The Zen felt inaccessible to me, like the carburetor on the motorcycle laid out in tiny pieces that only the initiated can see and put together.

I am a Christian and a pastor.  I like thinking but I’ve found Saint Paul’s warning that “knowledge puffs up” to be an occupational hazard and a cultural epidemic.  Pirsig was writing in a time when technology seemed to be overtaking us, endangering us with becoming functions, pieces of machinery in a godless mechanical universe grinding along with an unseeing merciless drumbeat.  My time is overtaken with information.  We are in danger of becoming receptacles of pieces of information.  Our drumbeat is godless and merciless too.  We are googled and googling. We are becoming what we eat, and we eat information.  We are can’t be disconnected from the the pipeline of knowledge or we might cease to exist.  We are social media.  Incoming and outgoing.  The puffing up chokes out life.  Saint Paul contrasted knowledge with love.  “Knowledge puffs up but love builds up.”  Living is love.  Love is living.

I noticed how much the puffing up was killing me.  Reducing me to posts and likes and comments and followers.  I noticed how loveless it felt.  I deleted my Facebook account FullSizeRender (3)without telling anyone.  No fanfare.  No goodbye sweet world.  Just deleted it.  My real world loving living friends asked me where I went.  None of the thousand friends outside of them has tried to find me.  I’m gone and they don’t notice it.  Why should they?  We don’t love each other.  We don’t live together.  We don’t miss each other.  I feel good.  I feel better.  Not smug or superior, just better.

I am loving the people in my real world more now.  I am practicing the gospel which is not knowledge but flesh and spirit.  I am practicing sabbath which is the art of giving up being God and affirming I can disconnect and not shrivel up and die.  And I’m hunting shark teeth which is pursuing something of value because I love it and not because I gain anything from it.  By these acts I am becoming myself and this is what God promises to make me.

A Confusion of Identities

There are times when all the world’s asleep,
The questions run too deep
For such a simple man.
Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learned
I know it sounds absurd
But please tell me who I am.
– SuperTramp, Logical

The story broke this week that activist Shaun King, one of the leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement, is white.  That’s a story.  That’s a breaking story.  Why?  Because King identified himself as biracial and the evidence is mounting that he is not.  He’s just white.  Plain old white.  Did he know he was white all along? Or did he really think he was (and is) black?  King said by the time he went to high school he identified himself simply as black, not biracial. His mom is white; there is no doubt of that but even though King’s family members say he is white, born to his mom and the white man named in his birth certificate, King claims his real father was an unknown black man with whom his mother had an affair. Confused yet?

Sounds familiar to another story from A few months ago. Remember Rachel Dolezal the president of a chapter of the NAACP who identified herself as black even though both her parents are white?  She said there was no proof her parents were her parents because there was no medical witness to her birth (which was in a teepee) and her birth certificate wasn’t filed for 7 weeks. She claimed she grew up seeing herself as black and drew pictures of herself with dark skin and curly black hair.  But in 2002 she sued the black college she was attending for discriminating against her because she was white.  Confusing.

Besides the Shaun King and Rachel Dolezal stories there is Elizabeth Warren who called herself a Native American, and proud of her Native American heritage but has no Native mirror-image1Americans in her family lineage.  And then the great big story of the year of Bruce-Caitlyn Jenner who changed his-her physical identity to match his-her internal identity of a woman.  Very confusing.

Identity is not optional.  We cannot live without one.  Not knowing who you are is the worst kind of psychosis.  It is so bad that truly crazy people will take on any identity rather than be identity-less; they’ll call themselves a rabbit, or take to calling themselves Jesus Christ.  I found this quote from Rachel Dolezal to be very appropriate:

“Overall, my life has been one of survival, and the decisions that I have made along the way, including my identification, have been to survive.”

True.  Very true.  But not necessarily in the way Rachel thinks.  She puts identity in that category of things that get things for us.  Identity is actually the thing that we must get or we have nothing at all.  The trouble with the identity stories we’ve read about lately is just this: the people seeking to use identity to accomplish something – social justice, career advancement, emotional integrity – have all missed a crucial and eventually devastating fact.  If you create your own identity then you must maintain it.  This is real identity confusion.  This is a real problem.  This isn’t to belittle the problem of having identities we don’t like.  That’s a problem too.  If you feel like being white is better than being black or that being a woman is better than being a man or that being an Indian is better than being white – if you really believe that – it presents a huge problem.  It’s whey people take on not just racial identities but also social and emotional identities.  People become the hero, the success story, the doctor, the lover.  All of them have the same fatal flaw; self maintenance.  It gets exhausting maintaining a self generated identity.  And when someone questions our self generated identity, we have no choice but to defend it.  We have to; it’s a matter of survival.

Surely though, all of us must recognize that it isn’t a breaking news story that will ultimately expose our lesser identities.  We will have to pass out of this life at some point.  Then who will we be?  All our carefully produced images will melt away and we will be in the presence of Eternity; in the presence of The Identity.  That experience will either be terrifyingly confusing or comforting depending on how we have oriented our lesser identities in the here and now.  The gospel is the only system of thought that tells people they can have a given identity now that will last forever.  It says God wants to give that to anyone willing to accept it.  The Christian term “repentance” is really nothing more than giving up lesser identities for the true identity of the God who created us.  The world could use more people who are not using systems, money, or other people to create temporary identities; who are humbled by an identity they did not earn, but emboldened by the riches of an identity that cannot be taken away.  SuperTramp said please tell me who I am – that is why Jesus came; to tell you who you are, and it isn’t a slave to God’s law but as a son for God’s glory and for your identification – and there will never be a breaking news story when that identity is exposed as a lie.  We can rest in it.

A Reason and a Place to Write Right

I realized this week how much time I’m giving to thinking about the current political reporting and debates and tweets and punditry, including making time to write my own analysis of the Trump and Hilary part of the show.  Politics interests me and I have strong opinions (a family characteristic passed down from my Granddad Kiser on my mom’s side) so I feel the need to join in and add something valuable to the discussion.  My medium of choice for adding commentary was Facebook, but a few weeks ago I deleted my account.  The back and forth of post – comment – reply – counter-comment, etc doesn’t work for me.  Facebook posts are too short and not formal enough to be conducive to presenting well thought out ideas, and comments, replies and counter-comments for the most part are reactive and lacking thought, and well, not nice.  I am decidedly impatient with anything I consider to be ignorant and I write things with an edge intended to inflame and/or cut rather than instruct or persuade.  Switching to Twitter as a medium of adding to the commentary hasn’t been much help.  Although the limited format forces me to think hard about what I want to say it’s pretty hard to stay away from snarky, cutting words in my Tweets and replies to Tweets.  Since my native language from birth is Sarcasm (everyone in my family is fluent) I feel right at home jumping into a thread of “burned you” and “I burned you back.”  The trouble with this is that my heart doesn’t end up feeling great after I fire off ten or so pithy, snarky Tweets.  I find myself delighting in the amount of favorites and retweets with a well shaped shot in someones twitter feed.  And that delight decays into a selfish dark slushy bitter taste in my heart until I jump into the next snarky 1375738928_free-speech-words-are-weaponsstream.  So I’ve decided to move the Twitter feed into better places.  To add light to the feed with godly comments and commentary and proverbs.  I think this is my part.  But I also feel I should contribute to the political discourse of my time.  This seems to me to be in the tradition of the gospel and clergymen.  Worldviews have consequences and Christians, especially Christian leaders must not disengage from the line where the gospel intersects politics, public policy, and the culture.  I feel like Eric Liddell in Chariots of fire:

I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.

I believe God made me thoughtful.  When I think and analyze and write, I feel His pleasure.  I also remember the words of C.S. Lewis at the beginning of Mere Christianity where he explained why he choose to write on the subject of basic Christian apologetics rather than wade into doctrinal debates:

That part of the line where I thought I could serve best was also the part that seemed to be thinnest. And to it I naturally went.

As I look upon the state of punditry it seems to me the left and the right the liberal and the conservative positions are thoroughly covered.  It also seems many Christians are creating content and publishing opinions from their perspectives; some more overtly Christian than others; some like Bono and some like Casting Crowns; Christians who make commentary and Christians who make Christian commentary.  But the line seems thin where I most naturally feel at home and that is the news story of the day and how it relates to the news story of our race in light of the most significant event in human history; the gospel, the Good News.  I am a Gospel commentator on my times and culture.  Trump is popular.  How does that relate to the gospel?  Hillary is accused of lying about email.  What would we do with/for her if we believed the gospel?  This is where I am at home and my heart is at rest.  This seeks to bring light to the eyes of my race and glory to a name that deserves it.  I sat down to write the book I am working on right now but ended up writing this.  It is something I need to publish so I’ve put it in the light and open to examination by others.  I need this kind of accountability and transparency.  This is also why I am choosing to write here on my site under my own name where I must take responsibility for my words and I have as much room as I need to think and to express.  I am a man of God and I work for Jesus.  I seek to write in a way that pleases him and helps others to know and to love him.  I believe in Jesus.  This is why I write.

Who Won the Sexual Revolution? (hint: it wasn’t women)

“When we examine simple connections between recent and lifetime sexual partnering, frequency of sex, and a variety of emotional-health indicators—including depression scales, self-reported episodic crying, life satisfaction, depression diagnoses, and current use of prescription antidepressants—it quickly becomes apparent that having more numerous sexual partners is associated with poorer emotional states in women,
but not men.”
Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying by Mark Regnerus, Jeremy Uecker)

A good thirty years into the sexual revolution, the throwing off of “traditional” views of sex along with how we view gender roles, is working out great; if you are a man.  Men who used to pay a much higher price in terms of commitment and stability in order to gain access to sex, can now have sex for little or no commitment.  Women, who were encouraged to view their sexual decisions in a “liberated” way (ie to have sex when they wanted with whoever they wanted) are not faring so well by putting that into practice.  In the traditional view of sex, women were the gatekeepers who could demand relational security in exchange for sex, and men were the pursuers exploring the market for the price they had to pay for sex, and trying to have as much of it as they could get for the lowest cost.  As more women adopted these liberal attitudes toward sex, the market slowly started to flood with lower cost sex in terms of commitment to the point where a woman who withholds sex from a man is no longer an obstacle for him – he has plenty of options readily available.  Now men can have sex for next to nothing with many partners – literally a school boy’s dream, and they are doing it with abandon, and, evidently without causing themselves much long term damage.  Women on the other hand, are not faring so well.

Even getting married—deciding to settle down with only one sex partner for good—doesn’t erase the emotional challenges for women who’ve had numerous sex partners in their lifetime. While no association with depressive symptoms is apparent among now-married young women who’ve had up to four sex partners in their lifetime, problems appear among those who’ve had 5–10, and even more among those who’ve had more than 10 partners.  [Such] women display more intense emotional difficulties. Among those who’ve had more than 10 partners, 41 percent report being depressed at least some time in the past seven days. Just over 14 percent are actively taking antidepressants, and only 79 percent say they’re satisfied or very satisfied with their life. So while the security of a marital relationship can diminish sex-related emotional-health problems, it doesn’t often take them away.

It makes you wonder who’s idea the sexual revolution was in the first place, and what were they hoping to accomplish.  One name above all others attaches itself to this: Hugh Hefner.  Hefner is the living image of the beginning and shriveling up of the sexual revolution; a man of small physical and moral stature who lacks the generally valued masculine qualities which would attract and hold the attentions of a real woman.  A man who has everything to gain by tearing down the traditional sexual structures in order to gain access to what he wants.  It was all couched in such inclusive terms from the start – why shouldn’t we all stop feeling guilty about sex and relax?  Why shouldn’t women be able to have as much sex as men are having?  The truth was (and still is) that men were not having more sex than women; that single men always had (and still have) less and less satisfying sex than their married friends, and that women enjoyed sex much more when they had a greater power over the sexual market place by rejecting casual sex and waiting for sex in an emotionally stable relationship. What will happen in the next 30 years?  Given what I know about women’s character and ability, I predict they will tell their daughters and sons what a disaster the “sexual revolution” has been, and begin to teach them to reject it.  The generation raised by the victims of the sexual wars will raise a generation who will reassert sane and workable sexual practices that work for both genders.  When they do, many will be surprised at how “traditional” it looks.  I won’t, because to me it isn’t tradition, it is truth written into the fabric of the universe by our Creator, and rejecting it always wreaks havoc.  Maybe we can help get things started by putting posters of the original Playboy in every dorm room of America…  Read more from Ron here: The Elephant in the Bar

Hugh_Hefner_Shoot-00513824

Marriage: You’re Closer Than It Appears

objects-in-mirrorObjects in the mirror are closer than they appear.  Why?  Because the mirror bulges in the middle.  Imagine the mirror as plastic wrap spread across a frame.  If you took a ball and pressed it into the wrap it would bulge outward taking the shape of the ball.  This is a convex mirror.  Light reflects differently in this kind of mirror, bouncing off at an various angles.  In a flat or planar mirror light reflects at ninety degree angles virtually recreating a picture of the object being reflected.  In the  convex mirror on the passenger side of cars the different angles of light compress the image in the middle and expand the image at the outer edges increasing the field of vision by about 30% but making  reflected objects appear to shrink.  Both mirrors are useful in their place.  If you want to see around a corner you’re going to need the convex type, but if you are trying to put in your contact lenses a flat mirror is going to be your best bet.

Have you notice how some people have a wider perspective than others?  They can see things other people don’t see.  On the other hand there are people who are very good at reflecting exact pictures of what they see.  Same light, different reflection.  Mirrors have warnings.  People don’t.  In relationships it is often a good thing to suspend judgment about who saw something in a certain way until you have a better feel for their perspective.  Flat mirror types often feel like the picture they see is getting distorted by convex mirror types.  Convex mirror types often feel like the flat mirror types aren’t looking at the big picture.  Both perspectives have value and can be combined to  help you safely navigate your relationship.  Either way you see things, you are closer to each other than it appears.

What To Do When You Realize You Married the Wrong Person

We  know the divorce rate stats.  Marriage is a 50/50 proposition.  As a caterer and a preacher I probably attend more weddings in a year than anyone attends in a lifetime.  I can tell you this:  no one looks worried about the divorce rate at a wedding.  No one.  Worried about the cake falling over, yes.  Worried about a wrinkle on a tablecloth, yes.  Worried about whether or not the mash potatoes on the buffet are good enough, yes.  But no one is worried about divorce.  I’ve never seen a bride huddled with her girls stressing over whether or not the groom is the right one.  I’ve never seen the groom with his boys wistfully looking over the women in the room and wishing one of them was in the white dress instead of his bride.  But I sure have heard a lot of people saying they married the wrong person a year or two or ten down the road.  This is supposed to make IMG_0027everything better.  It is a magic formula pronounced over a struggling marriage.  It absolves the speaker of guilt.  It is the equivalent of saying “I’m not really broken.  I’m marriageable.  I can do marriage.  I just needed the right partner and this one isn’t it.”   This seems to overlook at least one crucial fact: even if you did get the wrong partner for marriage, it was you who chose them – it was your judgment call.  What makes you think your judgment is good enough to go out and find the right partner?  And, more immediately, if you have such poor judgment about one of the most critical decisions of life, what makes you think you are qualified to judge the true state of your marriage?  No matter how bad the marriage looks at the moment (and no marriage looks good all the time), it is wise to remember that your discernment got you here, and the worse the marriage looks, the less you should trust your own ability to see it clearly.  You got fooled.  Maybe you should take time to figure out how that happened.

Ask yourself if it is possible that the problem is not who you married, but that you don’t understand what marriage is.  What if marriage doesn’t create your problems but reveals them.  What if the purpose of marriage is to create a situation where the real fatal flaws in us are exposed so the opportunity exists to get them repaired?

If these things are deep enough there may be no way to get them to the surface other than a committed relationship with another human being who never goes away.  We all wear a success suit for the world and we hop around in it all the time like rabbits.  It covers up the things inside we don’t want to show others, the pain, the scars, the shortcomings, the fear.  Hop, hop, hop.  But marriage is there all the time, and sooner or later we can’t keep hopping.  We unzip the suit and let it all out.  It was always there underneath.  We didn’t show it to anyone especially not someone we were hoping would marry us.  Most of us don’t do this on purpose.  We don’t set out to deceive anyone.  We may not even realize where those flaws are, their roots and their fruits.

Divorce

If the Christian story of the world is true, and if the Christian concept of marriage is real, this is precisely how the gospel works its way into us and helps us.  Marriage is a means through which grace is pushed deeper into our lives than we would on our own.  Marriage is a means to get at the deep deceptions that dwell in us because of our God-loss.  And a key component of this view of marriage is that this grace comes to us in any kind of marriage.  Bad or good.  Fulfilling or unfulfilling.  This grace is the realization that Jesus Christ is a spouse that marries the wrong person on purpose.  He marries people who are not lovely, but he loves them into loveliness.  Finding out you married the wrong person may be the only way you can figure out how much you need to accept Christ’s marriage proposal to you.

Purchase Ron’s Book; The Elephant in the Bar:  How the Sexual Revolution Broke Sex & Marriage and How to Keep It From Breaking You