The Tension

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Life is full of irony. Sometimes it’s a light-hearted, funny irony, and at others times it’s an irony that causes you to enter the tension. We want to be successful in business, but for many it comes at the cost of a healthy family life. We long and fight for justice, yet many products we buy are unjustly produced. We long to eat healthy, yet most of the “good” tasting food is full of sugar, fat, and grease (at least for my taste buds!). We want to be unified, yet we have this pull to label, box in, and identity on a certain side. We want to serve the poor, but when we do, we often realize it’s we who are being served. We pray for answers, but when the answers come, they aren’t what we’re looking for, so we miss it. We hate racism, but when we truly address it we can’t deny the small (or large) seeds of racism in ourselves. Our children are living in relative comfort, while other children are rocked by a bomb, sitting alone and bloody, scared, confused (I guess this isn’t irony as much as tragic disparity). As Christians we brag about being servants of Christ, but when we’re treated like a servant, we become angry and feel entitled to better treatment (again, this is at least true with me…) Irony, yes. Irony that produces tension.
Tension: the state of being stretched tight. These issues, when exposed to us, seem to stretch us tight, create discomfort, and the tension sets in. “What do we do with this?” Most of the time, the easiest answer is to find a way to relieve the tension, so we run to one side of the issue and neglect the other side. Problem solved. Until the next issue arises, and if we’re honest with ourselves, these tense issues rear their ugly heads every day. We can’t run from the tension, but we can deny it, numb ourselves from it, remain ignorant. We can… but could it be that these are the very things that destroy our souls. 
This is why Jesus constantly drove people into the tension. Time and time again when asked questions like, “What’s the greatest commandment?” “Who’s my neighbor?” “Do we pay taxes or not?” “How do you inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ answers created tension. He didn’t give a pass to those looking for a quick way out or a quick answer through a doctrinal loophole. He pressed them to be honest, to live in to the tension of honesty, self-reflection, humility, sacrifice; to die to the habits that were killing them, and oppressing others. 
Most of the answers we are looking for in life, aren’t easy ones, or else we would’ve found answers already. And most of the time, the partial answer is mysterious and left open ended. It’s in this place of tension, where we can’t fall back on programmed responses. It’s here that we are thrown into the depths of our desires, our beliefs, and we are left to wrestle with who we truly are. Are we going to live in to the mystery, the tension, and trust that we aren’t the ones holding all things/all beliefs together? Are we going to allow the process of unknowing to shape us into a people who truly know the one who does hold it all together, at the cost (or risk) of being labeled by your own tribe as “going off the deep end,” according to your tribe’s standard, or are we going to settle, run to one side of the camp, and stake our flag on the “right” side. 
It’s in the tension where we have the opportunity to become properly tuned. Jon Foreman gives a great metaphor for tension, likening it to guitar strings that are strung tight enough to hold a tune. It’s in the tension where we play on tune. Strung too tight, we bust. Not strung tight enough, we make awful noises. If you have honest friends around you who aren’t just a fan of yours, they’ll tell you when you’re  about to bust, or if you sound horrible. When you are offended by a friend or acquaintance, you are then offered the gift of tension. Who are you going to choose to be? Are you going to run to one side and stake your flag, or will you live in to the tension of teachableness, humility? This is all too convicting for me, even as I write this. 
Right now, in this season, we have a great opportunity to live in to the tension of life without running to one side or the other, claiming the other side as demons, or wrong, or lost. I confess, I’ve done plenty of flag staking, and I am not proud of it, and neither has it produced any beautiful lovely sounding music. It won’t, because it’s not tuned. Today, we have opportunities to embrace the beauty of mystery and unknowing. To admit we’re not the ones holding it all together (or to admit that our country or tribe isn’t the one holding all things together). 
Jesus constantly broke the mold of what was right, and I’m convinced followers of Jesus are called to live in to the same ethos, to passionately stand in the middle, confidently living in mystery and certainty. Embracing the tension in our own lives first, then embracing others who are struggling to find the confidence to stand where it hurts as well.
The glory of God is revealed through a broken man. Tension. 
The cross, the greatest act of love. Tension. 
The tomb becomes a womb. Tension. 
Beauty is found in death. Tension. 
Ashes produce life. Tension. 
The way up is down. Tension. 
The way to access power is to give up power. Tension. 
To become the greatest, you must become a servant of all. Tension. 
Gain life by losing your life. Tension. 
“With that in mind, I feel like dying to myself is a daily task necessary for true abundant life.” Jon Foreman
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Peace: Is This The World You Want?

Peace. What a tricky word! What is peace? What do people imagine when they speak of world peace? I’m sure much of the desires and imaginations of peace would be for the wars and killing to stop. For there to be no more children abused by pastors, priests, and family members. For the sex trafficking to no longer be a business and the porn industry to dry up financially. For those who are hungry and thirsty to be fed and have clean water. On and on this list could go, and these are all parts of my prayer when I pray for peace.

This advent week of peace, I want to remind us of what we know of peace from the story of God, which is in agreement with our desires listed above, but it’s more. The biblical concept of shalom (the Hebrew word for peace) is much broader and more intimate than the common understanding of peace understood as “the absence of conflict or pain.”

The Old Testament has over 200 occurrences of the word shalom, and it has come to be defined in the broad sense of the definition, as not just peace as “the absence of conflict,” but universal wholeness, well-being, justice, or peace with justice. In other words, as the philosopher Cornelius Plantinga Jr. has articulated, shalom (peace) is “the way things are supposed to be” as created by God (Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, 1996).

Plantinga says this as he speaks about what Old Testament prophets/authors would have dreamed of when thinking about peace:

“They dreamed of a new age in which human crookedness would straighten out. The foolish would be made wise, and the wise made humble. They dreamed of a time when the deserts would bloom, the mountains would run with wine, people would stop weeping and be able to sleep without a weapon under their pillow. People would work in peace and work to fruitful effect. A lamb could lie down with a wolf because the wolf had lost its appetite. All nature would be fruitful, benign, and filled with wonder upon wonder. All humans would be knit together in brotherhood and sisterhood; and all nature and all humans would look to God, lean toward God, and delight in God. Shouts of joy and recognition would well up from women in streets and from men at sea.”  (taken from an online article by Plantinga; http://tgc-documents.s3.amazonaws.com/cci/Pantinga.pdf)

If this is true, then for there to be shalom (or at least more glimpses of it) there must be a confrontation with ourselves and the world views that we live by that need to be challenged, or that challenge the imagination which Plantinga articulates above. We all want the world to look a certain way, and we all have our opinions and judgements, but few of us live our lives in line with our opinions and do not want to be judged with the same standards of judgements by which we judge others. It’s the degree of separation between what we believe and how we live.

So really, peace begins with us, by asking ourselves, “What kind of people do we need to be in order to resist the destruction that our prejudices and judgements create? What are the virtues of true peace? Am I starving to be peaceable with peace and to be peaceable with God, ourselves, and the non-human creation?”

In the New Testament, James the letter of James) speaks of peaceableness as a key ingredient to the wisdom from above: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:17-18, NASB)

To be peaceful is to be full of good fruit and to be absent of hypocrisy. This is a tall order. I admit, I’m a terrible peacemaker, but maybe it’s the admission of our hypocrisy that creates the beginning of peace.

Listen to the words of Jesus in Mark 9:50: “Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” To be at peace with others, true peace, is to be salty and useful, to inspect ourselves, and to admit where we are not useful or have become twisted in our thinking/views.

Later on in the gospel of Luke, Jesus says something that stirs the pot and moves us into more questions: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Luke 12:51) What’s Jesus doing here? Is he contradicting himself? I thought one of His names was “Prince of Peace”?

Jesus, the Prince of Peace, the One who says often, “Peace be with you”, knows that for true peace to be made, there must be a stirring, a realization that we are not alright and all right. Peaceableness then, must entail bringing to light that which we ourselves want to corruptly keep hidden… this will cause division and anger within ourselves, but peace will prevail… eventually.

This is where shalom breaks beautifully into this discussion. Shalom is one of those words that we learn what it means the more we see/realize the absence of it, like we do today when looking at all the headlines. The world is longing for shalom and we are all saying “Enough!”, but we are all saying “Enough!” to different ideologies. Where shalom is absent, we begin to grieve the way things are supposed to be and then, if we are able to critique even our own beliefs, we will receive a new set of lenses with which to view and interpret life because of our newly interpreted experiences.

To be peaceable is to be shalomic, displaying the way things were supposed to be when God created the heavens and the earth and all of the life that inhabits planet earth. Where shalom is absent, we are called to move into those places to display and model it, to be peaceable, not quarrelsome. To learn the discipline of living in the tension of disagreements and bringing light to those who are not at peace. To be able to navigate difficult friendships, networks, differing political parties and beliefs, even how to behave in the midst of eminent danger. However, being a presence of peace will often disturb first. It’s like turning on really bright lights in a dark room when people are sleeping or just waking up; angry shouts are hurled at the one who turned the lights on.

But here’s the thing, we all have different cries of “Enough!” which means we are going to rally around something that pisses off another person or group of people. What do we do then? Well, if our cry of “Enough!” is really because of the loss of shalom, then compassion and humility towards those we differ from will (ought) to be present. The problem is, many of our “Enoughs!” are because our personal narrative of how things are supposed to be, and they have taken over. Social scientists would label this as a “self-serving bias.”

A self-serving bias could be explained as our tendency was humans to have a superior view of our social desires. We tend to view ourselves as more humble, or ethical, or skilled and tolerant than others. In short, we are really good at justifying our thoughts and behaviors because they are better, or more superior than others. This helps us “mis-remember” our pasts and interpret them through more of a rose colored lens, as we numb ourselves from all the memories of our failures and self-centered behaviors.

To use a Christianese term, this is called “self-righteousness,” or “pride,” which is the root of all sin and the most deadly of the seven sins. This is why it’s easy for the Pharisee to say, “Lord, thank you that I am not as bad as that sinner over there!”, and then you and I say to ourselves (quietly of course), “Lord thank you I am not like that arrogant Pharisee. Darn self-serving biases… this corrupts our relationships with one another.

Our cries of “Enough!”, if they are really for peace, would not be rooted in our self-serving biases, but in humility and driven by compassion and a desire to listen, which doesn’t mean you have to change your conviction. What it does mean is that you’ll be more open to celebrating diversity and will understand that if Jesus were among us today, he wouldn’t champion everything you champion, he wouldn’t vote Republican or  Democrat, etc.

Let’s be honest with ourselves, most of our lack of shalom is not because of most of the headlines on the news, but because of our unwillingness to step outside of our own world views, humble ourselves, and admit that we are part of the problem, that we are actually shalom breakers. What a thought!? Most of us can’t resolve marital conflict or conflict at work with a mean boss or annoying coworker. Our desire to see wars end and gun violence disappear and terrorism be eradicated is good, but we need to look inward and take care of business at home, within our own hearts and minds, and commit to release that which is opposite of peace in us; contentiousness.

In the book Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement, Brian Walsh and Steven Bouma-Prediger say this about contentiousness: “Like a parasite living on a host, contentiousness feeds on rage and rancor, antipathy and animosity, to fan the fire of discord and accelerate the spiral of violence.” (214)

Peace happens when we wage war on that which is evil inside of us, and this can only happen when we realize how we’ve neglected the parts of our lives that have waged war on shalom. This includes our relationships with God, people, ourselves, food (and how we grow and consume it), what we buy and how much of it we buy, who we’re friends with, and who we neglect. If you’re up for the challenge, add to the list what you’ve been courageous enough to observe in your own life.

Peaceable people look for non-violent ways to address conflict, although I do not believe this means that there is never violent ways to deal with evil. Peaceable people don’t deal with others in stereotypes or labels, rather they seek to know people beyond hot topic issues. Peaceable people expose false world views of consumerism and materialism not by loud arguments but by their lives of simplicity and contentment. Peaceable people know when to say enough. Peaceable people are essential oils to the soul of humanity and culture. Peaceable people seek peace with God, themselves, people and the non-human creation with equal fervor.

And this is why Jesus came. This is why advent is necessary every year, to remind us of the call to be the change we want in our own lives by first embracing Jesus as the only means to truly eradicate evil and bring about shalom. Jesus, who is himself peace, came to undo our messes and wars and to grant freedom for the captives, forgiveness for the sinners, and peace to the broken and contrite in heart. His presence brought and brings peace because he is the Prince of Peace. 

Advent for those who truly love the advent season, is birthed from a cry of “Enough!” and a longing for the Prince of Peace to have mercy on them, and in turn, create in them a heart to be peaceable people in the world, as agents of reconciliation and peace. No, this is not a euphoric view of peace, this is peace rooted in the story of God, which has the power to make new life from death, to make the tomb become a womb.

As I close out this post, I am reminded of a newer song by the band Switchfoot entitled “The World You Want.” The bridge of the song reminds us that our lives are always saying something and they have a great impact on life as we know it:

You start to look like what you believe

You float through time like a stream

If the waters of time are made up by you and I

If you change the world for you, you change it for me

What you say is your religion

How you say it’s your religion

Who you love is your religion

How you love is your religion

All your science, your religion

All your hatred, your religion

All your wars are your religion

Every breath is your religion yea

Is this the world you want?

You’re making it

Every day you’re alive

Weekly @Switchfoot Song: Incomplete

Johnny Gosch was the first kid to appear on the side of a milk carton.

Have you ever seen a “missing person” report on an old milk carton or hung up in the front of a local grocery store? I have all kinds of emotions that pop up when I see them, and think of that child or adult, who’s missing… lost, and I wonder:

What are they thinking? What’s happened to them since they’ve been lost? Are they alive and happy somewhere, or alive and suffering? Are they even alive? Is there family at home grieving over the loss of their presence, their smile? Are they still looking for them, or have they given up?

And the more I think about missing people, I think about the season of my life when I’ve been a missing person, right here in my normal, everyday self, when the only person who’s been kidnapped is my identity. Then I ask myself those same questions:

What am I thinking right now? What’s happened to me since I’ve been lost? Is this what living really is like? Is this happiness? Am I even really alive in the truest sense? Does anybody care that I’ve been missing? And does anybody care if I’m found, or will they even recognize me when I show up again?

Over the last 15(+) years I’ve built relationships with people in such a way as to be a friend to people who are longing to have/find a voice, to be heard, to vent, and to offer freedom to those trying to figure life out. I can say that I’ve really learned a lot over the years, and have heard lots of longings and doubts, fears and confusion, loss and pain.

Every single person, in their own way, are incomplete, just like me, trying to find out who we really are what life’s really all about… and in this journey of life, there’s a lot of relational wreckage in my life, and in those of my friends’ lives as well.

Missing person. Incomplete. Where will I find myself? But as Switchfoot poetically puts it, the real question we should be asking ourselves is: “Where will I lose myself?”. Check out their song “Incomplete”:

He’s washing face to start his day

He’s lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely

Nothing in the mirror ever shows him what’s within

Now he’s checking out the faces

On the back of the milk

He’s sour under all this pressure

He thinks the missing person looks an awful lot like him

And he starts his engine

But he knows he’s missing gears

Incomplete!

Where will you find yourself?

Incomplete!

Where will you find yourself?

Where will you lose yourself?

‘Cause you’re the missing person now

Step outside your doubt

And let yourself be found!

He’s sick of the race just to save face

He’s tied and tried, he’s sick and tired

He’s tired of the holes that are keeping him incomplete

He’ll push the pedal to the floor

Like the day before

He’s trying to be always trying

Try to find an end to justify his means

We all long to be complete. To be found and feel safe and sound. The problem is, we often try to feel complete within a system that has us running off fumes. The rat race. “The pace of life is full, busy, and hopefully, one of these days,” we say to ourselves, “I will find my purpose or be noticed during one of my busy activities, then I’ll feel complete and the burn out of life will be worth it.”

We don’t have to keep saving face. We can step out of the race, out of the system that tells us what it looks like to “succeed”. We don’t have to keep pushing till we drop, and lose or miss all that we already have. As missing people who try to find themselves in what they do, we will miss the people who truly love us now. We will miss our kids, maybe lose our spouse, and hurt those we love most. It’s not worth it. Take your foot off the pedal, slow down, and smell the flowers that are closest by you.

There’s freedom when we take our eyes off the systems and place them on the person, Jesus. The luggage-free savior who isn’t owned or managed by anyone. The problem is, this system, or the systems we’ve created, have squeezed out the very person who helps us find ourselves by losing ourselves.

Losing, or cutting off the baggage that comes with whatever it is we’re trying to protect. It could be Christianity or your faith (or lack there of) of choice, it could be your lifestyle, your job, your “significant other”, or your faith community. Jesus isn’t owned by any of those things or people.

Jesus doesn’t come with the baggage of their history. Jesus rises above the entities, circles, and teams, and clearly makes known, there’s no team that can contain him. He’s complete, and our incompleteness melts away to the degree that we walk in his direction.

Where will you find yourself? It’s where and when you’re willing to lose yourself, to cut out all the lines you’ve drawn and the circles you’ve joined, and realize, Jesus isn’t following you. Crazy thought, huh? Jesus isn’t following us. He’s inviting us to follow him. This is where life is found, not in right belief, or in a well-ordered life, but in a life pursuing Jesus. This is where we really find ourselves and can offer ourselves to people in a ways that give life.

Jesus is the beginning of all that is good, and he cares about missing people, and longs for them to be found.

Weekly @Switchfoot Song: Don’t Be There

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I have finally arrived at the last song of Switchfoot’s first album, which by the way was recorded, start to finish, in just three weeks. Pretty impressive for a few young amateur musicians who didn’t know all the boundaries that “professional” music was supposed to have. This last song entitled “Don’t Be There” a poetic piece that was written about a relationship that was changing as they grew apart from each other. The beauty of this song, in my opinion, is the honesty of emotion in the midst of change, pain, and confusion.

Don’t be there
‘Cause I’m on my way

And I’m already gone over
And I’m on my way

And I can’t recall myself
How I went down
Did I get shot
Or shoot myself

I’m down here
And you’re way up there

But that doesn’t hurt badly
But it stings right here

And I won’t pretend there’s
Nothing there
You be around and I’ll be square
Don’t be alarmed if I’m not there
You be around and I’ll be square

If you’re a rose
Then I’m the thorn
That’s in your side

And does it hurt badly
‘Cause it burns right here

I’d like to say hello
I’d like to say I care
I’d like to let you know
That nothing here’s the same with me
Nothing here’s the same

Don’t be around
Don’t be there

Oh the freedom to be able to express emotion and to process pain. This seems to be something in our day and age that is numbed by food, technology, or other forms of busyness. Some people get mad when asked, “How are you feeling?” Many people want to just be left alone, and I can understand that, but there is something that is missed when we are able to grieve and process in loss in community. We all love community, but when it comes to painful personal things, we close up; we resist the purest expression of community. Processing loss and pain out loud allows us to break down barriers in ourselves and others so there is room for one another, and for difference, and discomfort, and growth.

So go ahead, try it. What are you going through that you’ve given yourself freedom to be concealed to those you’re close to? Open up to safe people. Give it a shot. Let others walk with you, maybe even say the wrong thing and offend you. It will only serve to heal you and mature you, as you welcome the joy of community and the power of being weak and vulnerable.

Weekly @Switchfoot Song: Ode to Chin

This song title is apparently written for a friend of theirs when they were younger, named Willis Chin. I’m sure we could speculate much more about this song, the title, and other things we’d never really know unless we sat down with the band. But that’s not the point of some songs, and I think this song fits in that category, of having a deeper and more liberal meaning (liberal meaning generous, not politically liberal). It’s a great song with questions we’d all be better for if we spent time intentionally answering them in our own lives. Here’s the lyrics:

What’s your direction?
Tell me what’s wrong, tell me what’s right
What’s your direction?
Think about somebody else for the night
Life’s more than girls
God’s more than words
You’re more than this
So what’s your direction?
And where are you now?

Grow, grow where you are
Anchor your roots underneath
Doubt your doubts and believe your beliefs

What’s your direction?
What matters most?
What should you know?
What’s your direction
All that you’ve been
Makes who you are now
‘Cause I’ve been ashamed
I’ve been a fool
You know I’ve backed down
When I lose direction I pray to be found

Grow, grow where you are
Anchor your roots underneath
Doubt your doubts and believe your beliefs

Now some would read this song and question the health of telling someone to “grow where you are,” especially if you are planted in bad soil, or in a place with little sun and water is scarce. Growth won’t happen there. I agree. To me, this song is challenging us to root ourselves. Be known. Don’t close off and isolate yourself. To grow is to be planted and rooted. In a culture where transient people and communities aren’t rare, rooting yourself somewhere is one of the ways we are going to get back to communal life that is restorative and actually makes a difference in a local context. Healthy global change can never happen if we never focus locally. 

Be who you are locally, today. Wrestle out what you believe and what matters most in life. Think critically. Challenge what you do and ask why you do it. Understand what shapes you and how your habits are formed. Culture is not neutral in the sense that it is shaping people and communities all the time. Beliefs and exposed in marketing, grocery shopping, and church going or not. We are always being shaped.

What are you being shaped by? What’s forming your habits and thoughts? Who you running with? Who knows you? Who should know you? Who do you know? The doubts you have…. doubt them and be honest about your doubts. The beliefs you have… believe them and don’t be ashamed of those beliefs. To be a good friend is not to agree about everything. It’s to be who you really are and being honest about that. The best, most intimate friendships are those who are honest with who they are now and the beliefs and doubts they have, even about each other.

Jean Vanier (Canadian Catholic philosopher turned theologian, humanitarian, author, and founder of L’Arche Communities) has some of the best thoughts on community, belonging, being known, and knowing. “Community is the breaking down of barriers to welcome difference.” Community and Growth, 20. Barriers are built when we are not honest about our doubts and beliefs. Barriers are built when we are not sure of who we are and pretense settles in. Barriers are built when we never plant or root ourselves because we are never able to be truly known.

This is difficult stuff. Stuff I struggle with all the time, but I’m committed to wrestling it out. Believing what I believe about God, the gospel, life, and sin without shame. Doubting elements of truth that have been shaped more by my own interpretation or other people’s interpretation of a truth. Doubting interpretations of truth is not saying there is not truth… but it is embracing that many truths are twisted and construed throughout history, and getting back to the root of many truths takes much doubting and at the end, an embracing of mystery and faith.

So what’s your direction? What matters most to you? What are you willing to die for? Where have you lost your direction? Wherever you are, you can ask to be found, and you will be found.

Weekly @Switchfoot Song: Life And Love And Why

I haven’t posted a “Weekly” @Switchfoot Song in quite a while, so I realize the title of these posts now are fraudulent to a degree. Offer me the grace to keep the “weekly” part of the title if you will, as I am on a personal journey to unpack the theology/philosophy of Switchfoot’s songs (which are many and will take a while), and the “weekly” part of the title puts pressure on my weird mind to keep working on this.

So today I’m highlighting the song “Life and Love and Why,” which asks many questions about life, it’s purpose and meaning, and is searching for something, not just to live for, but to give one’s whole life for, and even die for:

Life and love and why
Child, adult, then die
All of your hoping
And all of your searching
For what?
Ask me for what am I living
Or what gives me strength
That I’m willing to die for

Take away from me
This monstrosity
‘Cause my futile thinking’s
Not gonna solve nothing tonight
Ask me for what am I living
Or what gives me strength
That I’m willing to die for

Could it be this
Could this be bliss
Could it be all that
I ever had missed
Could it be true
Can life be new
And can I be used
Can I be used

Give me a reason
For life and for death
A reason for drowning
While I hold my breath
Something to laugh at
A reason to cry
With everyone hopeless
And hoping for something
To hope for
Yeah, with something to hope for

Could it be true
Can life be new
Could it be all that I am
Is in You
Could it be this
Could it be bliss
Can it be You
Can it be You

Some people say these are the questions of the 20 somethings, the idealists who are longing for more than this world has offered them, and will be discontent in life till they find that purpose.

I suppose many middle aged men and women look at this generation and say, “It’s only a matter of time until you realize the American dream is not worth fighting against, so just give in to it now before you’re let down and realize the idealized life of standing courageously for something is a let down.” With all the lost dreams out there and the relentless fight of wanting to die for something, I understand why people would feel that way.

To long for something that you would be willing to die for ends up really bad for most people in the movies, at least if it’s not a cheesy flick. It’s like William Wallace in Braveheart. Everyone wants to be the lover and warrior that he was, but no one wants the outcome of his life. Dying on the execution table having lost his love and the war he was fighting for.

The world we live in does not value lives that give everything up for truth and justice, at least not right away. We all think of the righteous martyr and say, “Wow, she was courageous! I want to be like her, but I really hope I don’t have to in this life.”

Whether we like it or not, we are in a time in history where the courageous men and women are being raised up again in the West, as there has been a season when courageous people were few and far between. The age of comfort and leisurely pleasure is over.

With the rise of social media and the global connectedness we can now have, even though there’s “relative” peace in the West, all of us know that it is not all good throughout the world and our lives of “bliss” are confronted with death, hunger, and grave injustices. We can no longer live in our bubbles and pretend everything’s good. We all belong to one another, I hope we believe that… and the only hope in the world is people not losing hope.

“With everyone hopeless and hoping for something to hope for, yeah, with something to hope for… Could it be true, can life be new, could it be all that I am is in You; could it be this, could it be bliss, can it be You?” The answer to these questions are found in the next song on the album entitled “You.”

“I find peace when I’m confused, I find hope when I’m let down, not in me… me
in You, it’s in You. I hope to lose myself for good. I hope to find it in the end, not in me … me in You.”

This is the hope this world’s longing for. This is the place where confusion is not disorienting, and being let down in the end doesn’t breed hopelessness. This is the place where losing is winning, and death is living. This is the place where the weak are strong, and the poor are rich. It’s the place where if you want to be somebody, you become a servant of all. You can’t lose when you arrive at this place.

I’m talking of course about the place of surrender. Losing one’s life while standing before a bloody cross with Jesus the Christ hanging on it, displaying the greatest act of love, sacrifice, courage, and compassion. It’s not in us, it’s in Jesus. Jesus is the hope in the darkness, and the love for the loveless. It’s in Him, not us. Jesus offers us life for death and makes love something worth dying for.

Because of Jesus, love alone is worth the fight. Love for our enemy is cast in a whole new light. Love for the underdog and the broken sufferer is the new normal. And today, there is an army rising up, learning how to die, resurrecting an old moral. What gives me strength that I’m willing to die for? It’s the hope of life in Christ that offers more.

Weekly @Switchfoot Song: Concrete Girl

It’s been a while since I’ve had time to write about another Switchfoot song from their first album, The Legend of Chin. This is more of a personal project for me, going through each album from their first to the last. Switchfoot has represented to me a band that stays rooted over many years of change and adversity. They also represent a band who hasn’t been, nor is, afraid to address real issues in life, writing about the beauty of life, relationships, God, creation, and the battle of life in the midst of the beauty. They continually live in the tension of pain and joy, loss and gain, beauty and ashes, and gives hope to the hopeless. This particular songs is addressing the coldness of life at times, and how the modern view of architecture (mass concrete al over the place) presents a coldness to life, a life that values sameness at the cost of people faking who they are. Here are the lyrics:

Bleeding thoughts
Cracking boulder
Don’t fall over

Fake your laughter
Burn the tear
Sing it louder
Twist and shout

Way up here
We stand on shoulders
Growing colder

Laugh or cry
I won’t mind
Sing it louder
Twist and shout

Immovable shadows
The concrete girl
They’ll rock your world to nothing

And they’re swimming around again, again
And they’re swimming around
The concrete girl

Catch your breath like four-leaf clover
Hand it over

Scream to no one
Take your time
Sing it louder
Twist and shout

Nothing to run from is worse than something
And all your fears of nothing

And they’re swimming around again, again
And they’re swimming around
The concrete girl

Concrete girl don’t fall down
In this broken world around you
Concrete girl don’t fall down
Don’t fall down my concrete girl

Don’t stop thinking
Don’t stop feeling now

One step away from where we were
And one step back to nothing

And we’re standing on top of our hopes and fears
And we’re fighting for words now concrete girl
And we’re swimming around again, again
And we’re swimming around now
Concrete girl

Concrete girl don’t fall down in this broken world around you
Concrete girl don’t fall down
Don’t fall down my concrete girl

Concrete girl don’t fall down in this concrete world around you
Concrete girl don’t fall down
Don’t break down my concrete girl

Now I am well aware if that when you read these lyrics, you can feel lost and might not get what they’re trying to say. On one of their websites, they describe the context for these lyrics that, I think, speak to the way we think about urban development of buildings: “Here at the University of California San Diego, concrete reigns supreme. I love my school and wouldn’t go anywhere else, but the contemporary buildings here are noticeably different from the stately facades of the Ivy League schools. The sterile modernity here is cold and impersonal, the concrete corners immovable and severe.”

Sterile and cold. The modern architects of the “Urban Renewal” Act of 1949 thought that they could clear the slums of major cities across the country by designing multiple housing units in the slum that all look the same, sterile and cold, and simple some would say. Build it and they will come some thought. Well this “urban renewal” act was what created all of the projects in the inner city that we know of today. Sterile and cold, with no personality and no thought of the cultures of the people who would live there.

Some of the urban development that has taken place across our country is void of character, with mass track housing, no personality, the sameness of model homes, the loss of true neighborhoods when subdivisions were created, and before you know it, we have a concrete world around us, that takes a car to get you from one place to the next. The concrete world around is built to cater to the car more than the person; the development than the neighborhood; the marketing than the connecting. Concrete worlds tempt us to stop thinking and feeling, and conform to the world of technology and advancement.

So here’s a plea for those who are struggling in the concrete world around us: change happens when we chose to live differently. Walk more. Drive less. Shop locally. Plant a garden. Start a farmer’s market in your neighborhood. Advocate for development in your town that caters to the pedestrian. Help design neighborhoods where the poor have equal access to goods and services as those who have cars do. Don’t buy into “bigger is better” or success means growth. Cancerous growths are not successful, nor are growths of urban concrete sprawls that kill creativity and culture. The change starts one life change at a time. We can help our cities and neighborhoods be truly better places of justice and righteousness. Concrete girl, don’t stop thinking; don’t stop feeling.