For Revolutionaries and Visionaries Only

One of the gifts I’ve been given from the construction world is that I understand it takes time to create something beautiful. And that ‘time’ includes lots hard work, sweat, many mistakes, sometimes broken bones, blood, busted budgets, mental toughness to keep the vision in mind when all you see is a mess, and the willingness to keep at it, to do it the right when things get difficult, and not cut corners. I have many terrible stories of what cutting corners does in the construction world… just go out to a new housing suburb and ask a homeowner what issues they have with their “new” home. Good work, beautiful work, takes time and commitment to do things right.

With many jobs I work on, there is demolition that has to happen before we can start actually ‘building.’ Whether it’s digging the footer for a stem wall that is going to hold the bearing load of a building, jackhammering out old concrete and rebar to build something more functional or more aesthetically pleasing, or tearing out walls, ceiling or floors for a remodel. The homes or buildings where demo takes place becomes a dusty mess, full of hazards and is in need of strong labors to tear out and haul off all the junk that is no longer necessary.

It takes this…

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To get to this…

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Or this…

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To get this…

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In life, this struggle is the same. We all want the beauty without the work. We want the resurrected life without the death. We want healing but not the pain. We want the finished product, but not the long journey of demolition and clean up to get to the point where you can actually start building again. We want to live in peace, and run from disorder. We want to ignore what’s broken. We want to cut corners. This is a human desire. I don’t know anyone, who in their right mind, loves pain and waiting a long time for things to become whole. But not loving these things does not mean we can dodge them and expect the beauty we long for.

You see, this work is hard because if forces us to deal with that which we are afraid of: exposure of our shame, ignored trauma and loss, an invitation to grieve, asking others to help us haul off the junk that’s been demolished… This work is hard because it invites us into the truth of the way things really are, and to ‘willingly’ move into our shame and grief seems like a death wish at worst, and stupid at best.

But it is precisely the digging into the shame and moving into the grief that is what creates the beauty. It’s the asking for help and recruiting strong laborers to help with the heavy lifting. But remember, it’s the ashes covered over the forest floor that brings about a plush forest in years to come. It’s the work of sitting in your pain long enough to die to the old ways that have kept you numb isolated, and without passion and intimacy for years. Death must be at work within us for beauty to ever surface in the purest sense.

So here’s to the hard work of creating beauty when there is no clear vision of what it will look like once we get there. Here’s to sitting in our pain (not completely on our own though) long enough to die, and in the tomb of grief, in time, it will turn into a womb. And once again, you will be invited into the pain as you will labor to give birth to the hidden beauty waiting to be revealed.

This is an invitation for the revolutionary, the visionary, the one who is not happy with the way things have been, for those who are not willing to cut corners, and move past the comments that are meant to keep you from feeling and dealing with what’s really going on under the slab. May this encourage you today to stay the course, and as Mumford and Sons puts it, to not succumb when the world is wrapping round your neck. Find your broad-shouldered beasts and invite them in to your shame and grief to share to weight and pain of this journey towards beauty.

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Stories and Disordered Sexual Passion

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Stories move us, especially when the body gets the deeper meaning of powerful stories. Stories hold deep meanings that can’t be explained, only caught at the gut level, and when you catch it, it changes you, body and mind. Nathan D. Mitchell says that “our bodies make our prayers” Meeting Mystery, 224). I believe that, because I can say whatever I want to you, I can pray the fanciest of prayers, and make it believable to you, but my body can’t lie like that. When I eat terrible food that friend has made, I can say to them, “Oh man, this is so good!”, but my body is screaming at me, “Get this out of me!”

In James K. A. Smith’s Volume 2 of Cultural Liturgies, Imagining the Kingdom, he introduces the word praktognosia (56), meaning “know-how,” or to get something intuitively, at the gut level. This is how passions and desires work. Our bodies desire things passionately, usually at non-cognitive levels, and they feel things in the same manner. “I understand in ways I don’t know, and it is my body that understands” (58). We get things many times because our body responds to it before our minds conceive of the meaning. Stories have that kind of power to affect (move emotionally) our desires and actions, intersecting our bodies and minds.

In many ways, we have become so accustomed to analytical, systematic, scientific methods of learning and communicating, that we have lost the art of telling stories that “move” us into action or necessary change. This is especially true in the Christian culture, when desires are disordered and destructive. Many times, our answer to someone whose desires have gone whack (insert all of humanity here!), we respond with an answer that is behavioral and does not address the heart of the desire. For example, when a young man confesses looking at pornography, we say, “Hey dude, you gotta be in Word more”, or “How’s your prayer life”, or “Call me each time you struggle with this and I’ll help hold you accountable.”

Now, I admit that those are not bad things to do, but the issue I take with many “Christianese” responses to sinful desires (particularly sexual desires) is our lack of addressing the desire, and redirecting our imaginations to greater desires, desires that actually give life, not destroy life. Some of my greatest triumphs over sexual temptations are because I’ve had friends redirect my desires, rather than trying to shut down my desires. Trying to shut down our passions and desires by starving them out is not what we were meant to do as humans. There is a time for abstinence, but it’s not the long term solution. Our desire must be changed.

When we shut down desires and passions, we are bound to break eventually, because God gave us strong desires and passions, but they have been disordered. Sexual desires are inherently good, when they are order properly and directed towards the right person. We need holy imaginations to consider that our desires for things we can’t have are actually not desires that will bring us the joy and “fun” we wanted to have. In this case, our desires are weak desires. C.S. Lewis puts it best on the first page of his short excerpt entitled, Weight of Glory:

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

We are indeed half-hearted creatures, with weak desires and imaginations that have been lost. We need a divine awakening of imagination. We need to be better story tellers, more transparent in our story telling, offering our passions through story, and imagining the good life through story. It is the story that captures our bodies, and our bodies know-how passions and desires work. When we capture our imaginations for goodness, our bodies know and our actions follow suit.

The body gets what the body wants. When we feed the body with corrupt desires and illicit imaginings, corruption and illicitness follows. When we feed the body with good desires and holy imaginings, goodness and holiness follows. Maybe our disordered culture of sexuality needs better story tellers of what the good life really is. It seems as if our pop culture has told better, more convincing stories than anyone else, using sex to sell, and making millions off of disordered desires.

It’s time we tell better stories. We should know (and deeply believe) after all these years, that pop-culture isn’t fooling anyone, as we can clearly see how it’s stories have contributed to miserable marriages, lonely people, and confused children, who continue to cope by jumping into and living out of the destructive story of pop-culture. Imagine with me for moment, that the good life is faithfulness to one spouse, great sex in the context of a committed marriage, staying when it was easier to leave (kind of like Jesus did on the cross for us), the joy of being true to yourself, and the dignity we can all offer men and women by not objectifying them. Wouldn’t that be a sweet world to live in!

Our desires don’t need to be ignored or buried, they need to be re-storied with the true story of the universe, the only story that holds the answer to the pitiful place we are in as humans; the story that we all praktognosia when properly heard or seen. The story of God re-gathering his family together and reordering this world to the way it was supposed to be. Imagine stories that were birthed from this story. Imagine stories that give contextual witness to the goodness of God’s plan. Imagine stories that re-framed respecting women as economically profitable, and giving dignity to our bodies a virtue more desired.

What stories or imaginations have captured you either negatively or positively? Which stories have you believe in that are producing death in you? What stories are you telling to yourself? To others? It’s time we pay attention to the stories we are listening to and telling, and be better stewards of humanity and our sexuality, before we lose another generation to disordered sexual passions.

What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas

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Las Vegas is famous for many ‘riskay’ things, and this phrase has become the trademark of the city’s gambling sector: “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”. This is implying that what you do here in Vegas won’t hurt your wife, husband or loved ones, as long as they never find out what you do here. Worse yet, there is a belief that illicit behavior won’t even hurt the person doing it.

This same thinking is wrapped up into the old adage that goes like this: “What we don’t know, won’t hurt us.” When I was a kid, I used to talk about things like, “What if the fast food worker spit in your hamburger?” or “What if your hamburger was dipped in the toilet?” You know… things that everybody worries about, right? I remember talking and thinking about this every now and then when we would eat out. The conversation always ended, in my mind at least, “As long as I don’t know, I’ll be fine.” I was a garbage disposal as a kid.

I was thinking about all of this when my brother showed me this picture of a McDonald’s sign in California. Some of McD’s food is hazardous to your health, so much so, that California McD’s, by law, must post this warning in their stores. My brother told me that even though this sign has been posted, sales have not been hindered. This made me rethink the old adage and I began wondering what it takes to change people, even though they know something will cause harm to them.

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Eating a McD’s big mac that has so many preservatives bugs or mold won’t even eat it, or going to Vegas and giving your soul away to someone who is there just to pay rent and cover their bills, have caused so much damage to our bodies, but we still do them. Seems strange that this belief of what we don’t know won’t hurt us is still allowing us to ignore dangers and toxins in our lives.

We didn’t know so many toys were made with lead, but they hurt many people. We didn’t know certain foods were infected with salmonella, but it got us sick. We didn’t know building products with asbestos were bad, but they’ve been very toxic. We didn’t know that porn was destroying our minds (it’s scientifically proven that sex addicts destroy their brains, literally), but now we have a sexually addicted culture that consumes and marginalizes predominantly children and women.

What we don’t know can and has hurt us, but what’s even more disturbing is that this McD’s picture reveals to me is that even though we know things hurts us, even destroy us and others, we still do them; we still offer them to others. Not only that, they are some of the most profitable industries in our ‘sophisticated’ culture (fast food, porn, and cheap consumable products). What we desire, we get. So the problem is that we have desire issues.

What we desire, we get. So merely saying, “I want to act differently” or “I want to stop doing those things” isn’t enough to get people to stop the foolishness. We are still eating cancer causing food, we are still performing sexually illicit, brain damaging acts, and big industries are still producing cheap consumable products for a profit only to waste our resources and environment, because we consumers buy them.

Our desires are what need to be challenged and changed, and this doesn’t happen by mere will power or behavior modification. It happens by realizing and owning that we’re all part of the problem, and as hard as humanity tries, as ‘sophisticated’ as we get, we can’t solve the problem of evil and illicit human desires.

What we need is to desire something or someone who is not corrupt, and will not corrupt. What we need is people who are willing to submit and surrender, not to their desires, but to the only One who is not corrupt, and will never corrupt.

Going All The Way!

I was a Young Life leader (a mentor to high school students) for 10 years, and during that time, I overheard many conversations of young boys who would talk about “Going all the way” with their girlfriends, or some “chick from the party”. As someone now who’s been married for almost 15 years and have gone through quite a bit of suffering with my wife, that phrase “Going all the way” in regards to some sexual feat sounds cheap and dismissive of the real work of love, and the cost of “going all the way”.

This is Calvin Matthews. He has “gone all the way”.

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In 1976, he was out of town for work during the last week of July. On July 31st, his wife Gloria and his fourteen year old son George were home during the great flood that came out of Estes Park, and they both died that day. This drove him to “hit the bottle”, and he began to drink… a lot. In his words, “By a miracle of the great Lord”, he met Thelma at the bar, she had just lost her mother, and was there to have a drink to distract herself from the pain. She wasn’t medicating with alcohol, but Calvin was. Needless to say, they fell in love and she introduced Calvin to the best medicine ever, Jesus.

Calvin said, “The dear Lord used Thelma to save my life.” Years later, after 30 years of marriage, in 2007, Thelma had a stroke and after a series of procedures, she was bound to the hospital and eventually was placed in a nursing home because Calvin couldn’t care for her at home. Since 2007, Calvin spends most of his waking hours their with Thelma, helping her eat, reading to her, singing for her, and making her laugh; he has also become a friend to many others who are bound to their new home.

Calvin is the pastor at that nursing home. He’s also an awesome model of “going all the way” with a woman. We need more Calvin’s in this world. More men who are called to “go all the way” when it costs them everything. This, in my opinion is the remedy for our over sexualized culture that abuses and emasculates men and women.

I pray that I can “go all the way” with my wife one day. Thanks for the example Calvin!

Sexual Abuse Prevalence in the United States

Below, you can click on the link to read a very sobering article regarding sexual abuse and the reality of where we are at in our society. My purpose in this is not create fear or anxiety or skiddishness, rather, it is to raise awareness about sexual abuse and to help us keep our eyes open in our daily lives to possible instances that may be taking place right in front of our eyes.