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

An Honest Conversation 

“I go on this great republican principle, that the people will have virtue and intelligence to select men of virtue and wisdom… Is there no virtue among us?… If there be not, no form of government can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people is a chimerical (highly unrealistic) idea.” James Madison, late 18th century, via Habits of the Heart, 254.

This is indeed a powerful statement from a man who was the chief architect of our infamous Constitution that has helped shape a great nation. The power was always meant to be in the hands of the collective people, people with virtue and wisdom, people who are able to see goodness and honor, and to elect only those who displayed such characteristics. Is this not what we long for in America? Is this not why many people are outraged over the amount of support Trump has won over? The disregard of virtue and character disgusts us and confuses many in our country today. It also reveals how many of us have things we love more than goodness, truthfulness, and human dignity.

I would be neglectful however, if I focused only on Trump’s (or any other candidate’s) virtues and wisdom (or lack thereof) and did not take the time reflect on the virtue and wisdom of our founding fathers as well. The tension of this powerful statement comes from a man (James Madison) who did not count blacks as part of “We the people.” They didn’t even see them as fully human. To be exact, they saw them as 3/5 human. The “We the people” didn’t even fully include women, as they were void of many rights as well, including the ability to vote. This was a founding group of white men who forcefully took land, lives, and dignity from the natives, and to this day, has never fully been acknowledged and dealt with. It seems so easy to overlook this reality and romanticized the goodness of our founding fathers because of all the other good they stood for and the amazing Constitution they created, but to overlook this seems like a grave injustice and inhumane.

This is a generational narrative that has set an infinite amount of implicit rules that most white people are not able to see nor admit. Our nation was founded by white men who set up a nation to cater to people with the same color of skin as theirs. Within all this, implicit rules were established, rules that put white mans needs above everyone else. These unspoken implicit rules have set a culture that has so utterly permeated today’s culture, that to deny there is not equality or equity for people who have darker skin than the average Englishman is ignorant. There are forces at work that people in the dominant culture are not able to see unless they’re able to humbly get out of their privilege and see through the lenses of sub-dominant cultures perspectives.

I say this not to discount the goodness of what America has stood for in many other ways through out all the years, but to seek honest reflection about a nation that has become my heritage, my home. I do believe we live in a very great nation that has fought for justice and peace in many ways. But any good historian (and I am no where close to an historian) would never recount only the good and forsake the ugly of the past. Yet, we as Americans seem to easily neglect the mess as a way to anesthetize our senses to the dysfunction of our heritage, leaving cancer in our souls, slowly growing and hurting and killing us, like a frog boiling in water, and we wonder how we are in the place we are today.

So what is virtue and wisdom? How should we define those words? Does our founding father’s neglect of human dignity towards Women, Blacks, and Indians matter to any of us, or is it easy for us to overlook it and spin the truth of what it was like back then? Was our country founded with “integrous” virtue and wisdom? Does anyone care about our heritage? Do we even care that we’ve never fully acknowledged the atrocious acts of our beginnings? Are we willing to be honest about them, or is it too much for us to take in? Are white people scared to speak out and say that the race issue is the dominant cultures problem? Will white people read this and miss the point I’m trying to make, and become angry with what I’m saying? Where’s our virtue, our wisdom, our courage?

At this moment in history, we’ve been offered another gift. A gift that has exposed, once again, where we are at as a nation, where we are morally, where our allegiances lay, what we truly love and value, and our individual concern that has neglected the common good of the “whole.”

Many of us today are disgusted at what we see? The question is, what are we going to do with our disgust? Are we going to numb ourselves from it and say it really is not a big deal? Are we going to keep on spinning our heritage and twisting historical facts? Are we going to be selective listeners? Are we going to allow our disgust to move us to hate certain people and groups and create more division? Are we going to let the oppressive culture dictate how we treat people? Or are we going to let it move us to compassion that seeks alternative ways to live and honor each other’s diversity? Is it crazy to think that we would allow our disgust to radically change the way we live and love both privately and publicly?

The future holds the mysterious and unknown answers to these questions, and we will soon see what’s next for this people group called Americans. We are all responsible to act and change according to our convictions, and do so in a way that restores human dignity, with a virtue of humility and the wisdom of the divine. May we all be willing to not only take an honest loom at our heritage, but also an honest look at our own lives, our loyalties. We truly are what we love, and what our fore fathers loved, has shaped what we believe and how we behave more than we’re willing to admit.

What do you love, really? Be honest. It’s brutal at first, then you’ll realize you’re human, you’re flawed, and so is everyone else around you. Maybe then we’ll be able to offer more grace to others who are different than us, and will be able to see with a new set of lenses, our country, our families, our personal and public lives, and our need for one another.

Is this the world you want? You’re making it everyday you breathe the air of this world. What is your life song singing? Are you playing on tune? Are you playing in harmony with others or do you prefer solos, or should I say silos? We need each other more than we know, but we need to admit it first. Freedom is at hand, and it’s not the kind of freedom most of us think of. It’s a freedom to be exposed, to be wrong, and to admit it. It’s a freedom to not be in control, and to give up power, and to offer life to those who have had life robbed from them. The freedom we’ve been given, at whatever level we actually have freedom, has been given so that we are able to offer it to others as well.

Hating God

The book of 1 John is a book written not from the hand of a systematic theologian, but from a seeming creative artist with words who knew Jesus intimately and lived out his passion to teach others to encounter the same Lord he did. One verse in particular sticks out to me in 1 John that always ruffles my feathers is 4:20-21:

20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

What is Johnny saying here? This is a strong sentence. At first glance I sense that Johnny is saying, “Love for your brother has no bounds because it is not driven or tainted by fear of man, or what man thinks. It is a pure love that can’t be contained… love unleashed… explosive love!”

So I ask myself, “How do we get to that place of unleashed, explosive love?” Many of us have experienced the new birth in Christ and yet we are struggling to love one another (we are not doing justice, loving mercy, walking humbly among our enemies). We are often times fake, we gossip, we hold grudges, we judge, we build up walls to dodge, we dismiss, and we elevate ourselves over each other and over other beliefs, we fear being found out, we run from intimacy and protect ourselves from good people.

Dan Allender in his book Bold Love (1992) writes this: “Is it possible to love and hate at the same moment? Even more important, is it possible to hate someone so deeply that love is obscured–to a point of being a functional non-entity (existence)? If that is possible in our relationships with one another, could a regenerate heart have even love for God crowded out by self-interest, fear of others, anger, rebellion, and hatred? I believe that it is not only possible, but the very reason why most of us love so poorly.”

Allender is leading us to think more deeply and critically of ourselves and stop defending our goodness. Believer, Jesus defends your goodness! We must ask ourselves questions like this: Why am I an amateur lover? Why does forgiveness at times mean so little to me? Why do I harbor negative feelings towards someone and never seek reconciliation with them? How can I see brokenness and not give my life to helping those I know who are broken?

This hatred in our hearts is often quiet, dormant, and masked. “How could I hate God? I mean come on, I love and follow Jesus!” But what we neglect to see at times because of our fear of judgement, is that we make decisions daily that show our neglect of God, and if we treated a friend that way, it would be hateful behavior, rude at best.

We must be honest with where and who we are and allow the new birth to take it’s full effect. And this honesty begins with being silenced by the gravity of our condition. God is love, we are not! Silence, not defense, is required for deep change to occur. Contemplate the reality of God’s love next to your love. When we become silent, when we stop defending and fighting for our own goodness, we can look God in His eyes and discover His response, which 1 John 4:20-21 teaches us, that God’s response to His honest children is one of love, acceptance, and presence; not fear, torment and loneliness. It is at this place of brokenness and honesty where we catch a glimpse of the love that the Father has for us. It is great, it is extravagant, it is mysterious.

You were made to love and to be loved; to know and to be known. This is how haters become lovers.

The Art of ‘Flipping the Bird’

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Has this ever happened to you? Being flipped off that is… Last week I was driving on 19th Ave near Indian School (in Phoenix) with my friend Billy Thrall. I was in the passenger seat when these guys drove up next to us motioning through the window to roll down our window. So we did, and the driver said, “You guys want to buy an entertainment center?” With my camera already in hand ready to go, I said, “No, but can I take your picture?”

The picture above was their response. I’m so happy I captured that moment, and Billy and I died laughing thinking, “Did that really just happen?” Yes, yes it did just happen, and you know what, I respect them for doing it. I know, I know, I’m weird like that. I can remember when I was an adolescent and I learned what ‘flipping someone the bird’ was, and one night I was talking with my dad about it and other things about life and relationships. My dad told me, “Jeff, it’s better to be honest with how you feel than to hold it in and brew with anger gossip in your heart and gossip to others about it.”

That’s wisdom, and I listened to it and took it in. Later that night, after some small, petty disagreement with my dad before I went to bed, I looked at my dad while ‘flipping him the bird’ (literally) and said, “Hey dad, good night!” We got a good laugh about that back then, and we still do today.

Many of us have ‘flipped the birds’ in our hearts to people we love, and then acted like we were all buddy, buddy with them at the same time. These guys in the truck are more respectable because they had the freedom (albeit a rebellious freedom that I’m not advocating!) to let out how they truly felt. We would do well, and it would be very loving to those we know, not to BS them with fake affection if we aren’t feeling it. Honesty is beautiful. Being honest about being mad at someone you are close to is even more beautiful.

A Proverb says: Faithful are the wounds of a friend; deceitful are the kisses of an enemy. (27:6) Don’t give kisses to brothers and sisters when you’re ‘flipping them off’ in your heart. Be real. Be loving. Give them the gift of honesty, which is loving. After all, it feels good sometimes to let the birds fly free!