Thursday, May 11, 2023

The Pit

In the beginning was the pit.

Yesterday, I did something I hadn't done in a quarter century. To be entirely frank, that quarter century has gone so fast that I didn't realize how much I missed it.

I moshed.

It was the perfect 'dance' for Generation X; a simplistic jumping motion, bouncing into other flannel-covered, Birkenstock-wearing, holey-blue-jeaned grungers, like molecules under high heat and pressure. Moshing was wild abandonment to a moment of uncaring. The 90's were a time of transition, from the overly-synthesized 80's to the crunching, distorted guitars. The music reflected this transition: the nostalgic syrup of Baby Boomers, fresh from Disco and its tight polyester, to under-dressed and overly-simple catchy tunes and lyrics. Gone were the days of Toto and their rains in Africa; in was Weezer and their mournful retelling of the ruination of a sweater.

While yesterday I moshed with a group of teenagers to the greatest grunge song of all - Smells Like Teen Spirit - my thoughts floated back to a day, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. 

In October of 1994, I was a bartender at the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) in Waverly, Iowa. On the north side of town, the VFW was a quiet, smoky dive, decorated with the autumn colors of the seventies - bright oranges, chocolatey browns, tans and a smattering of faded yellow. The mottled carpet was worn thin in places and holes created from long dead cigarettes pocked the material, especially around the pool table. On the long south wall was a juke box with a coin slot. 

One song for a quarter. Eight songs for a dollar! The discs were tracks straight from the 70's: Steppenwolf, Kansas, Led Zeppelin, the Eagles. 

On most nights the faithful few, three or four WWII veterans and their wives would pull up to the bar stools and order their drinks (which we got to know very quickly) and then the women would retreat to a table while the guys would tell stories and tease the bartenders. They came for the camaraderie and the conversation, not to mention the incredibly cheap drinks which their $20 yearly memberships bought them. 

One night, as Don and Ray (I still remember their names) were chatting with my brother and I behind the bar, Don said, 'Why don't you bring some of your friends down here? Liven the place up a little bit?'

'You mean that's legal? Even if they aren't veterans?'

Don raised an overly long, curly eyebrow and snorted. 'As long as they pay their dues, we'd love to have them.'

To be fair, $20 seemed like a lot of money in those days. For a college student on a budget, it could buy 1/3 of a college text book or five cases of Grainbelt Beer (free t-shirt included!). Ryan and I decided to invite a few of our closest friends and see what they would do. 

The next weekend, we brought half a dozen of our preppiest friends - ones that scrubbed up pretty nice so as not to frighten the veterans and their wives. One friend, Eric, walked through the door and his eyes lit up. Suddenly, it appeared as if he'd walked into Nirvana: 70's furniture, 70's music, 70 year old people, 75 cent draughts of beer! Eric strode confidently across the room and without further ado slapped a $20 bill on the counter. 'Make me a member and give me a beer!' Within seconds of his membership, Eric and Don, a suspender wearing man with a protruding gut, were in avid conversation about life and all that it meant. 

Fast forward four months. 

It's February of 1995. The bitter cold winter of the midwest had settled in. Mounds of snow were heaped on the corners of streets. The wind had a bite that stung. But I didn't feel it, because the VFW was the site of a concert unlike they'd ever had before.

For four months, word at Wartburg had spread. The VFW was THE place to be on weekends and Wednesdays. The half dozen preppies in the beginning grew to one hundred and fifty memberships. Almost nightly, college students were driving to the south side of town, away from the dance club on the main drag, to drink beer and talk to old people. In fact, it wasn't just an increase in college students wanting to drink cheaper, more older folks were coming in to check out the noise and the laughter. 

On that magical night, though, there was a lineup at the bar twelve deep. The juke box was ringing out a song about a magic carpet ride; a score of veterans were chatting with college students clinking glasses and and asking the young ones to talk a little louder. We were running out of cheeseballs and onion rings, and for some reason, the owner of the VFW had purchased pickled eggs which were being gobbled quickly. There was so much excitement that night because above us, on the second level, was a dance floor, and the band was getting ready to play. 

Generally, musical groups that played at VFW's lean in the Big Band direction, but that night - that most memorable night - Sweatlodge, made up of Wartburg's own students, was playing. The sound began to thump through the floor, glorious thrashing sounds of grunge. As the students two-fisted their cheap beers and headed up the stairs, I caught Don's raised eyebrow. 'You should go check it out,' I said.

He shrugged, grinned, and nodded and limped his way after Eric who had, unsurprisingly, begun wearing matching suspenders to Don. These two unlikely twins marched up the stairs. After a while, when the rush for beer had ended, I could tell the moshing had begun above us because the ceiling was starting to bounce. Dust filtered down on us from the antiquated (and most likely) Asbestos flavored tiles above us. I looked at Ryan. He said, 'I hope the building holds.'

When almost everyone had gone upstairs, I told Ryan I was going to see what was going on. I dropped my bartending towel on the sink, lifted the bar barrier, and took the steps two at a time. With each step, the music got louder and louder, harsh, scratching guitars, thumping bass, out of control drums and the throaty, vibratoed voice of Mike Jensen singing about going to a Happy Chef to dance around. People were moshing as if their life depended on it. Sweat and happiness dripped from the phalanx of Gen Xers, but then I found Don and Eric positioned at the edge. Eric was teaching the 70+ year old veteran how to mosh.

And so yesterday, when Smells Like Teen Spirit blared from the speakers, I couldn't help but start bouncing, and sweating, and laughing. I closed my eyes and remembered a time gone by, what it was like when life seemed easier and less fraught with drama and stress. I jumped and jostled people, people, like in 1995, who were only in your life for a short while so we needed to bump into them more often. 

Life is a mosh pit. It really is. Don't stop bumping into them. 

It's Nirvana.

Monday, February 6, 2023


I'm having reservations. 

At the risk of sounding old-ish, technophobic, or even wallowing in grumpiness, I'm hesitant about embracing artificial intelligence. But it's not for any particular Hollywood reason: I have no reason to think humankind is about to be used as batteries, or that computers will take over the world, or AI will don a maroon, Spandex outfit and float off with the rest of the Avengers. I believe that AI's greatest threat to humanity is not in the destruction of civilization, but destruction of creativity. New technology like ChatGPT offers an incredible opportunity to save time, but at what cost?

Isn't that the question of every new technology invented? When the car was invented, travel became faster. When electricity was harnessed, heating and cooling became easier. When the computer was invented, almost limitless amounts of information and data could be crunched. But what did we lose?

To go slower meant we spent more time together in conversation. Now we are solo drivers in cars, or ear-phone-stuffed commuters, or video-watching flyers who struggle to connect verbally.

To have no central air (not that I'm complaining now), meant that we were more adaptable to the elements and able to survive in difficult conditions. We were fitter, quicker, more aware of our surroundings.

To have search engines rather than the Encyclopedia Britannica, means that we can find things out faster, but we don't retain (maybe even learn) anything. 

And now we have the ultimate laziness tech barreling down the digital highway on a collision course with our creativity, the very thing that makes us human. Over the last thirty years, during the evolution of music, we've seen how computers have (in some ways) enhanced music, but we also found a genericking of music. One no longer even needs to be able to play an instrument. One can push a button on a keyboard and the rhythmic crashing of drums can be recorded, or a looped guitar riff, maybe even the vocals! Processed sounds, combined with generally inane lyrics, have undermined the music industry and reduced it to a (and I'm vastly generalizing here) talentless pool of bass beats and thumping drums. And now, with AI, we have come to a place where computers will not only help us with music, they will actually write it. Barry Manilow can no longer claim to write the songs that make the young girls sing. Albert Indigo can now be credited.

And what does this do to us as a species?

We'll be even lazier than we already are.

We'll be even more sedated by the vivid colors that computers create, the sounds that AI manipulates, and the words that no longer mean anything at all. Suddenly, I'll receive a letter from someone I care about and consciously wonder if they wrote it. And the only way I'll be able to tell for sure is if that person hand writes it.

But that won't happen. Because we don't really teach handwriting anymore.

We'll be even more dependent on the digital world for everything, until eventually, we forget what a spring breeze smells like; what snowflakes on our eyelashes feels like; what a lemon tastes like; what the enmeshed fingers of a lover feel like; what the voice of the ocean sounds like before and after a storm. 

AI will not destroy our humanity, but it may destroy what's best about who we are as humans: our ability to sing, to paint, to dance, to cook, to speak, to love, to sigh.

These are my reservations, and it has nothing to do with saving time writing a formal letter or take the MCATs.

I want to retain my ability to feel.

And so I will be careful and watch where my digital footsteps take me.

I want you to know that I did not use ChatGPT to write this blog post. But can you be sure?

Thursday, January 26, 2023

The Pen

I have to admit it. 

I suffer from a particularly strange form of covetousness about pens, writing tools, you know - sharp pencils are a source of fascination for me, and the mere thought of a fat ball point pen makes me shiver with delirious glee. Why, if I see someone has left a pen on a bench, or a seat in the park, maybe lying on the ground after it's dropped from their bag, I rarely will say, 'Excuse me, but I think you dropped this.' The chivalrous thing to do would be to pick up the pen, hold it like the holy grail in front of them, and await their over-the-top gratitude for returning it.

More often than not, I don't do that. I wait with restless, malfeasant expectation, hoping that they overlook the lost pen, so I can collect it, like Gollum and his Precious, and put it with the other hundred pens that are strewn inside my desk drawer along with paper clips, rubber bands, and anything else that wasn't nailed down.

Is this weird? I don't know, but I don't think it's rare. In fact, the BBC approved an article entitled:

The Psychology of Stealing Office Supplies.

According to the study, 100% of office workers - every last one of them - have 'stolen' something from the office. Whether the 'thrill' of lifting a pack of neon Post-It notes, or the more nefarious photocopying ten photos of a missing cat on the office Xerox, everybody does it - everybody has done it.

But why? Why do we take stuff from the office?

According to The Psychology of Stealing Office Supplies, it comes down to what I'll call the I'll-Show-You reasoning.

When people accept a role in a company or business, they generally align themselves with assumptions that the company will keep their promises about employment. For example, some companies will say, 'We will hire you to work 9-5, Monday to Friday, and no weekends unless reasonably related to your role.'

Employees read: Eight hours a day, five days per week unless I need a personal day, a sick day, a dog carer's day, a doctor's appointment day, or any other number of necessary 'days' to keep their personal life finely tuned. And, for heaven's sake, no weekend duties. According to an employee, there is no weekend reasonably related to the role, and any ask would be completely 'un'-reasonable.

Now, what generally happens, is that companies may need an employee, during the busiest times of year, to fill in on a weekend, or aid a colleague. Certainly, this is above the 38.6 hour work week, and if it happens more than once, the employee may feel somewhat put out that the employer has gone back on his/her word. But the employee does not want to lose the job. No way; it's a good job and pays well for 38.6 hours, but working on a weekend is miffing. Instead of confronting the manager about the outrage, the employee opens the drawer at work and thinks:

'I'm entitled to this highlighter because you made me work a weekend. Ha! Take that! I'll show you.'

The more I think about this, the more I wonder about its universality with regards to humankind's inability to be sinless. Paul writes to the Romans about their righteousness - both Jew and Gentile - and that 'All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.' This sinning often takes the same shape as our justification as the Psychology of Stealing Office Supplies. In general, we are under the general assumption that God is very much like a benevolent genie who will, during the course of a day, week or lifetime, bring about overwhelming happiness whenever we desire it. 

That's got to be in the Bible somewhere, right? My life is meant to be happy, therefore, the omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent God, will use his power, his knowledge and his presence to bend to my will. That's the contract I signed up for. 

I'm sure of it.

But somewhere along the line, in the fine print (or more likely the parts we don't like to pay attention to), the scriptures point out something quite frightening, 'Not only (do we boast in the hope of the glory of God), but we also glory in our sufferings.'

There it is. Suffering is part of life. It's part of the contract.

But I don't like it. And so, instead of working through this with God, we shake our fists silently, with outrage, and outrageously say, 'Okay, okay, God, you who are all-powerful and all-knowing, I'll show you. I'm going to sin and see if you're going to do anything about it. I'm going to... to... to... take your name in vain! Yes, that's what I'm going to do. Or, I'm not going to go to church for a couple of weeks. (Not that church-avoidance is a sin, but you can see what I'm getting at). Or, I'm going to lie a little bit on my income tax, or covet my neighbor's shovel. I'll show you!'

And then, if you're like me, when I sin, I say, 'You haven't held up your end of the bargain. You owe me, so I took it.'

Of course, this is the sophomoric, kindergartenish, childish response to an egotistical worldview. 

But what's the alternative?

We recognize that the fine print, the work-on-weekends, the suffering has a point. 'We also glory in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.'

The theft of glory from both God and suffering leaves us with shame, but the recognition of God's faithfulness in suffering, or perceived altered-promises, leads us to find hope. And hope is a very rare spiritual resource in our frequently hopeless world.

At the end of this missive, I want you all to know that I've found the owner of the Uni P/N Fine Line water and Fade proof pigment ink pen (2.0, in case you needed that detail). 

She was quite happy.

I like making people happy, even better than filling my drawer with stolen pens.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022


Not long ago, I forgot my phone sitting on the counter at home.

In general, I'm not particularly strapped to my phone, but when I got to work and realized that I was now without it, I experienced something odd.

I know I'm supposed to write something like, I felt so free, or, Finally, I could focus on the tasks at hand, and yes, there was a semblance of that, but what else I felt was disturbing. I felt a sense of loss and something escaping me. As a Gen Xer, I should have been above it, but I wasn't. Suddenly, I recognized a deep sense of...


It's a good word for the way I felt about my phone that day. The phone represented possibilities, people who might need me, a future that might be out there, an escape from something that might be bothering me. And yet when I thought about it, I realized my phone was a mirage. Everything it represented was unreal - or perhaps the better term is - 'Unrealized.'

This moment of realization reminded me of a scene from one of my 'favorite' movies, Castaway. Throughout the movie, using the inimitable acting of Tom Hanks, the director, Robert Zemeckis, takes the viewer on the incredible journey of falling in love with a volleyball named 'Wilson.' As Chuck Noland (Hanks' character) finds himself planewrecked on a deserted island, he turns to a piece of flotsam to remind him that he is not 'alone' and still alive. As only Tom Hanks can do, the viewer finds himself or herself pondering, 'Would I not do the same? Would I get so lonely that I could have fully two-sided conversations with a piece of sporting equipment?'

And then it all comes to a head. After Chuck constructs a raft, he plants Wilson on a pole, and they sail off over the reef and into the wildness of the open ocean. Night after night, storm after storm, sunburn after sunburn, we nervously await the moment when Chuck and Wilson will be rescued. But then the unthinkable happens.

Wilson plips into the water and begins to float away.

As viewers, we are trying to splash water on the sleeping form of Chuck Noland. 'WAKE UP!' we shout at him. But it's too late. The camera floats away with Wilson until finally, Chuck wakes up and realizes that his only 'friend' in the world is gone and that he is finally alone.

With great trepidation, we view Chuck slide into the water and begin to swim after his volleyball friend. Just as he is about to reach Wilson, the rope connecting Chuck to safety and salvation strains tight. And in that moment, Chuck has to make a decision. Will he release his grasp on what is real to swim after what is not?

As viewers, we all understand that Wilson is not a real person. Zemeckis has used the volleyball as a symbol for the innate human need for connection and relationship. But the volleyball, if placed in the normal world, would not have any other use than to be smacked over a net. No (sane) person would hold a conversation with the volleyball much less risk his or her life for it. 

Somehow, though, I understand symbolically that Wilson is my mobile phone.

My phone is not a real person. My phone is a symbol, or representation, of the future, of people who might need me, or things I might be missing. My phone is a symbol of my inability to be present in the moment.

To leave it at home, for even a day, was an eye-opening experience where I had to choose what I wanted to be tethered to, and untethered from.

I needed to be tethered to people in the moment, listening to the stories and ideas of people around me, and untethered from something that is unreal - or unrealized. 

The future.

Jesus explains it this way: 'Don't worry about your life and what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear... Seek first God's kingdom and God's righteousness, and all these other things will be added. Therefore, don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.' Matthew 6:25a, 33,34

In other words, 'Don't tether yourself to the unreality of tomorrow, but seek first the things which are present here and now': God's gift of life and God's reality of righteousness. When you see these things, you'll understand that God provides the others as well.'

I hope you can untether for a while this week, not just from your phone, but from the worries of life! Enjoy the people around you!

Monday, June 6, 2022

In the Way

Once upon a time, a woman bought an estate with a large house, an expansive yard and a brooding forest in the acres beyond. The woman fell in love with the mansion, with arched porticos and terraced gardens along the side. After moving into the house, she entered the lawn to bask in the rays of the sun. Eventually, she approached the forest and found a hidden path with an old oak tree positioned beautifully in the middle. When she returned to the sanctuary of her house, she thought, 'I have finally made it in life. I have everything that I desire.'

One morning, when the light was not yet fully born, the woman stubbed her foot on the wall while making her way to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. Cursing, she rubbed her foot and stared up at the wall vowing to remove it before it did any more damage to her being.

Later, with swollen foot elevated on a chair, she called a remodeling company. When they arrived, she pointed to the offending wall. 'I want you to remove it. It's in my way.'

The remodeler, with hands on hips, shook his head. 'I can't do that, ma'am. It's a load-bearing wall. The structural stability of the house will be compromised.'

'I don't care,' she responded. 'I want it out.'

He refused, so she called in a less reputable company who would do it if she signed a waiver to release them of any consequences. Happy to have the wall out of the way, she agreed, and after the company removed the wall, she felt content.

Until cracks began to show in the ceiling. Calling the company back, she pointed above her. 'Why are there cracks in the ceiling?'

'Because you've had the structural support of your house removed. It was inevitable.'

'But... but... you should have told me!'

'You wouldn't have listened anyway.' 

'What do I do now? My house is falling down around me?'

The man shrugged. 'Have you got a tent?'

And so the woman moved into a luxurious tent in the expansive lawn of her backyard. At first, she loved the thought of 'roughing it.' To feel the wind in her hair and to hear the night time noises was a wonderful change. Even though she felt a slight resentment for losing her house, she was happy with her beautiful lawn.

But the rains came. The woman could put up with the rain, but the grass began to grow, and continue to grow. Frustrated by the continual mowing and upkeep, she called a lawn care company.

'I want this grass removed,' she exclaimed. 'It's in the way.' 

The lawn-specialist put his hands on his hips and sighed. 'You can't be serious. This lawn is beautiful and well-kept. People would die for a lawn like this.'

'I don't care. I want it out. I don't want to mow the grass anymore and I certainly don't want to pay anyone else to do it.'

With great sorrow, the lawn-specialist rolled up the sod one strip at a time and replaced the offending grass with white pebbles. The backyard glittered with light, day and night, and the woman felt happy.

Until the winds blew up one evening. Startled awake inside her luxurious tent, the woman peered outside and saw the pegs were beginning to pull up from the rocks. Her home was about to be unmoored in the fury of the storm.

With great fear, she wondered to herself, 'Now where will I go? I can't go back inside the house safely and I can't stay in my tent because there is nothing to hold it fast to the ground.' Grabbing her sleeping bag and her small stash of valuables, she ran across the pretty white pebbles towards the almost-hidden path in the forest. Wending her way into the forest, she piled her belongings as the rain began to teem down. Hastily, she constructed a crude lean-to of branches and leaves and then hunched morosely with her valuables underneath the makeshift shelter. As the storm raged overhead, she rued the fact she couldn't sleep in her mansion or even in her tent. 

Finally, the storm passed and the morning dawned. But the darkness of the forest was frightening. Light was only filtering mistily through the trees. When she looked up, she saw that above her, were the beautiful oak tree branches that had kept the worst of the storm from her. Instead of being thankful, she was indignant that this large tree should be keeping the warm sun from her. Calling a tree specialist, the woman made her complaint.

'I want this tree removed. It's in the way.'

The woodcutter put her hands on her hips and looked up at the beautiful old oak tree. 'I don't think that's such a good idea. This tree is providing shade and shelter for you.'

'I don't care. I want it gone.'

Sighing, the woodcutter took out her chainsaw and began dismantling the ancient boughs. When finished, the woodcutter stacked the wood neatly along the path. 

Now satisfied, the woman felt the last rays of sun on her face. Then, as dusk transformed into darkness, another storm blew up and the woman's shelter was destroyed.

The woman and her shelter had been in the way of the storm.

In this parable, what does the wall symbolize for you? The lawn? The tree? The storm?

I'll give you my own thoughts next week.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022


It's a definite Australianism (like 'G'day mate, Yeah - nah, or She'll be right, mate') to respond to the question, 'How'ya Goin'' by answering,

"We're getting there."

Usually, this response means that the person 'Getting There' is having a particularly difficult time but doesn't really want to talk about it, and the hearer of the response is to proclaim in a particularly cheerful way, "Good on ya."

Because I'm not one for idle banter, not that I despise it, but I find it a thick veneer to cover up what we really need to talk about, I ask the question that many don't expect.

"Where is there?"


"You said, 'I'm getting 'there.'' I just wondered where there is?"

They wait, mouth screwed up, eyebrows knitted, wondering if I'm yankin' their chain. But I'm not. I'd really like to know where they're getting.

"It's just a saying..." they respond lamely and probably want to move on without any of my dialogue. 

But I don't want to let it go. I truly want to know where people are on their journey.

Where is THERE? What is THERE? And, most importantly, how do we get THERE?

While in prison, Paul writes to the people of Philippi telling them that he is (presumably) THERE

...I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11b-13)

As some of the most mis-used verses in the Bible, often used to justify any endeavor (usually something virtually impossible) Philippians 4:13 states most assuredly that Paul can do all this through Christ who gives him strength. 

All This = THERE

THERE = being content whatever the circumstances. 

Often, in our contemporary post-Christian world, we imagine the journey to THERE travels directly through the mountains of psychological and emotional well-being. And yes, this is an important part of the journey. To work on the skills of self-control, monitoring both how we think and how we feel, is very important. But it's only one part of the journey to being well, to THERE. And the reason I know this is because there are many people who are able to 'control' their emotions and 'regulate' their thoughts, but aren't particularly content with where they are in life or who they have become. They have no idea where THERE is, only happily bouncing back and forth, like the tiny white dot in Pong, the video game.

No, there is something more than good mental health to find contentedness. 

There is also a hunger for something deeper, meaning with meat, something we can gnaw on and savor. We hunger for healthy relationships and people to share our stories with. We are well-fed on the exchange of both information and care. If mental health are mountains, relationships are a rainforest through which me must pass. And lastly, walking through the valley of physical health (or un-health) is part of this trek from life to death and back to life again. 

But even if we don't feel particularly healthy mentally or relationally, we know that contentedness can be found in Christ who gives us strength. 

This strength, a hope and a joy in Jesus that is something far deeper and mystical than simply focusing on ourselves, is what will help us find true contentedness even while on the journey. Strength on the way to THERE. And THERE, truly, is right now. THERE is here, whether stable or shaky, hungry or well-fed, needy or in plenty. THERE is being content.

Like Paul, I hope that you can learn the secret, too.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

What Do We Do Now?

I was all set to write about the disappointing reality of attempting to remain positive with 3 EASY STEPS, but the truth is, everything crumbled again yesterday with the news of another school shooting in the U.S. 

Those three words:




are the greatest symbol of a world gone mad. And yet, while Americans scramble to fight over political militarized zones, gun rights versus the eradication of things that kill people (the irony should not be lost on many other things that both sides conveniently ignore which kill people), much of the world looks on derisively. 

Another. As if one school shooting at Columbine couldn't change things, nor Parkland or Sandy Hook, now Uvalde, the country reels from the word 'another.' According to the World Population Review, the state of California 'leads' the country with 'another' with 164 school shootings since 1970. 

Horrifically, this is not a new thing.

School. According to multiple sources, in a Jewish kibbutz (an agricultural, collective) children's quarters and the school are placed in the center of the community so that in case of attack, the children are hurried toward the middle and protected by the adults. The school was the safest place in the village.

Now, school age children have an urge to look over their shoulders. Which deranged adult in their community will enter into the sanctuary of the school, lock the door and end the beautiful dreams of families? Is not the society deranged? 

Shooting. In this world gone mad, assault rifles are placed in the hands of teenagers who, after years of metaphorically holding them in their hands during slaughterhouse video games, have taken them to the streets, and worse yet, to the schools. Some will take great offense to this, but a truth needs to be told: When Jesus said, 'If your eye causes you to sin, then pluck it out,' maybe the better answer is, 'If your society puts in the eyes of children that which causes them to sin, murder, rape, destroy life, it is better to hang a millstone around that society and drop it in the ocean.'

Both political sides keep harping about gun control vs. gun rights. And yet the basic question is something that Paul the Apostle said, 'All things are legal, but not all things are beneficial.' 

Yes, it is legal for me to buy an assault rifle. Yes, it is legal for gunshops to sell assault rifles to eighteen year olds. Yes, it is legal for my society to provide at least one gun for every citizen. 

But is it beneficial?

I would argue an emphatic no. It is not beneficial in the least. And if it is not beneficial, then our next steps should be not for gun control, and not for political control, but what's the best for our kids. Not... another... school... shooting... ever... again.

And what do we do next?

Firstly, and at the risk of offending a few people, but it's worth it: I believe prayer is an awfully powerful thing - more powerful, in some ways, than assault rifles. And the prayer is not 'Dear God, change the mind of our politicians so that they get rid of guns.' No, it sounds more like, 'Dear God, I'm so sorry that I've been part of a culture and society that glorifies violence so that lives are tragically lost in such horrific ways. Help me, and others, band together to act for change, not by screaming at other people, but actively, and gracefully, changing the world together.'

This prayer, as I prayed it today, was an eye-opener for me. I, as a Christian participant in this world full of incredible and amazing people of different faiths, cultures and ideologies, should be hesitant to make my prayer a public spectacle. 

People of faith, be implored not to take your prayer into the sanctuary of your church, surrounded in safety of your rafters, and your glass, and broadcast your pleas to the world. Don't invite me to be part of your online prayer, but go into your closets, or better yet, go pray with people where they are. Pray as Jesus modelled, Our Father in heaven, who is here with us today, make this kingdom like yours in heaven. With people dedicated to the transforming role of eradicating the trespasses before they occur. 

Republicans and Democrats, Liberals and Conservatives, people of every political party, set down your colors, your banners and your issues-du-jour, and take up the fight against this evil consuming another school, another family, another nation. 

Work together for the good of our kids and the fight for their dreams that they can live in a world without fear of attending school, going to the mall, or the grocery store, or wherever it is that they find life.

It's time. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Testing Positive

It's just one of those things. A common occurrence, I guess. First a sniffle, then a slight cough, Can I take a deep breath? and you know what's coming. You're about to jab a plastic stick up your nostril, past your sinuses and scrape the inner lining of your brain. 

A few mornings ago, I woke up with the symptoms listed above, and because I haven't had COVID yet (that I know of), I thought it had arrived. After dunking the plastic stick containing my grey matter into the little plastic tube, I squeezed it out and waited.

Deep down, I had a feeling it wasn't COVID. I was right. My symptoms probably have more to do with the incessant rain and humidity here in Queensland, which has been an incredibly conducive Petri dish for mold growth in our house, than with a virus. Yet as I waited while only one line appeared on my Rapid Antigen Test, I had time to ponder what I was testing positive for. And it feels equally harmful.

I am testing positive for negativity.

Yes, when I jammed a metaphorical stick into my mind to wonder why I feel so deflated and grumpy, the two lines appeared. My symptoms for negativity include:


Persistent irritation with those who have opposing ideas

Impatience with people I love

A desire to escape 

An increased worry about what the next (or final) straw will be

Struggling with motivation for healthy activities

These symptoms have not arisen overnight, but over the last few years. The disease, I'll call it Chronic Negativitis, is contagious and I'm sure that I could have picked it up from any number of places. Most likely, Op/Ed pages of newspapers, Facebook posts, a general malaise from society in general that all things are just a little overwhelming right now. And I'm pretty sure that I've transmitted it to people around me at certain times. That's what infectious fake diseases do. 

Chronic Negativitis is not lethal, but it is certainly debilitating. As it shuts down my will for movement and crushes my spirit for excitement, I wonder what kind of medication will heal me. I wish there was a pill for it, or an injection of something fresh and new, but alas, there's no panacea. Only time, and natural remedies which are completely unnatural in our world.

So, if I'm going to diagnose myself with CN, I'm going to write a prescription for myself, also. I've got my little pad out now.

1. Turn off the news

This is not that we shouldn't be aware of what's happening around us, but embroiling ourselves in the daily dose of despising other people is making us sick. For all the articles regarding murder, hate crimes, and blaming governments for inflation, there should be items reminding us that life is good, even in a moldering world.

2. Take your social media app off the phone

Studies have proven that just one week without social media has incredible health benefits including healing Chronic Negativitis. If you type 'What happens when you give up social media for a week?' into your web browser, not one of the articles will say, 'Things will be worse for you.' In fact, every last one of them says that too much emphasis on social media in your life actually creates a breeding ground for CN. You and I both know that this is nothing new, but it's the reminder that might save us from the debilitating effects of testing positive for negativity.

3. Eat a meal with people you really enjoy

Once again, this is not rocket science, brain surgery or even underwater basketweaving. This concept is so simple, yet so rare (and so good for us) that we disregard it. We need a solution that tells us, do an hour of weightlifting, try yoga, six fish oil pills per day, don't drink alcohol. While these things are positive (but very difficult for some people), the easiest thing is to cook a meal together, sit down at a table together, use a knife and fork together, take your time talking about the great things of life together, and then do the dishes together. The healing benefits of relational bread-breaking is why religions all over the world stress it, and hospitality, so highly.

As I've tested positive for negativity, I'm not going to isolate. In fact, I'm going to do the opposite. I've written the prescription and hung it up on my board. This week, I'm going to journal my health (mental, spiritual, physical) and see what next Wednesday looks like. 

Would you like to join me on the quest for testing positive for positivity?

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Interpreting Language

Recently, my daughter Josephine, who is in her last year of studying Chemical Engineering, had the opportunity to do some internship work at a lead smelter. Part of working at the smelter is to learn the risks of working with (and in) a facility that deals in dangerous chemicals. Thus, Josephine had to learn about the effects of lead on the body and how to mitigate against these risks by policies and procedures.

One of these obvious procedures is to cover up the entirety of her body so that no lead was absorbed into her skin. This meant that from head to toe, she wore a thick, orange jumpsuit and a full facemask which filtered the air that she breathed. This is a great idea to protect the workers at the smelter, but with the covering comes various drawbacks.

1. When it's 42 degrees Centigrade, the outfit becomes a mobile sauna.

2. Communication is severely limited when you can't hear the person who is trying to speak to you.

As the summer went on, and Josephine was in and out of the body suit, she came up with a great idea as to how to communicate with others in spite of the covering.

Josephine had been learning Auslan (Australian Sign Language) in her spare time. If she could somehow, at the very least, spell the words she was trying to tell others, then they could communicate without trying to yell through the facemasks.

One day, as the heat was building outside (and inside her jumpsuit), she had to tell one of her co-workers something. Beginning to sign the letters, she watched with frustration as her co-worker shook her head.

It then hit Josephine: It's all right for me to learn the language, but if they can't interpret what you're saying, it's useless, like speaking Spanish in India. No matter how much you emphasize your words, no matter how loud you speak, you are just going to frustrate the person who wants to know.

It's not a stretch to understand the same thing about the Christian faith. As the language has become bulky, so many theological words (even the word 'theological' makes some people scratch their heads) are confusing and irrelevant. Yet, as the decades and centuries have continued, we've continued speaking words that make no sense to our contemporary world, words like 'repentance,' 'righteousness,' 'doing life with Jesus.' 

And the world, covered by religious protective gear, shakes their collective heads, frustrated by the lunacy of repentance (when they don't think what they've done is wrong), the judgmentalism of righteousness (when they are, by nature, a good person) and doing-life-with-Jesus (when they are perfectly happy doing life on their own). Yet the Church keeps insisting that if you get our language right, or when you get our language right, then you will be ready to encounter God.

How does the world come to grips with a post-religious language? What is its syntax? How does a life-long Christian translate this? It would be like Elizabethan Christians speaking olde English attempting to understand (and communicate in) binary computer language (machine language). Unless they could find a middle ground and intersecting points, they'd just spend most of their time shaking their heads.

This isn't to say that the church sheds its theology, but certainly it can translate the beauty of the gospel into a language which some of the world, dressed in its religious protective gear, can understand. We can speak in terms of a different kind of abundant living, talking about the good works that one does as a reflection of a God who was thinking ahead, and living a faithful life with Jesus as the cornerstone of all that we do. And this can't simply be language, it must be action. If we proclaim the call to repentance, we must be active in establishing justice. If we proclaim a call to righteousness, we must be active in acknowledging our own moments of un-righteousness. If we proclaim our own walk with Jesus, we are fair-warned that we must start walking with people who are considered outcasts by the rest of the world (and by some of the Church world).

Is this not the new language needed? Can the world interpret this word and action better? Won't this draw people closer to each other and to God?

Thursday, April 28, 2022

What's in a name?

It's an amazing thing to be able to overhear how young people speak with and to each other. 

In general, teenagers are in the throes of navigating space, personal and social, and finding order in a chaotic world. Often, their discussions reveal a desire for understanding - both their own, and how they can be understood. In our contemporary world, teenagers catch a lot of flack for all sorts of things, but are they really any different than any other generation? Aren't they trying to find their way in a world that is completely different than the one their parents inhabited?

So they communicate through images. And in these images, their stories are written and told: memes and emojis express how they are feeling and how they want to be known and understood. They (and we) post how we want to be seen and also the things of which we are most afraid.

For people of all ages, one of our greatest fears is to be called names.

The other day, I had the opportunity to hear a discussion after a group of fifth-graders (roughly ten or eleven years of age) were having after we disembarked the bus after an excursion. They were ebullient, joking, doing what kids do (and practicing the craft of communication that they will need even more as they enter their teenage years). One of the students had a white, fluffy bunny attached by a keychain to her bag. Here is the brief description of their conversation as I walked behind them:

Student 1: "Hey! I really like your white bunny!"

Student 2: "Thanks. I like having it on my bag."

Student 3: (running up behind them) "You shouldn't say that. (He's laughing) You're being racist to that bunny."

Student 1: "What?"

Student 3: "Yeah, you're a racist!"

Student 1: (now slightly upset) "I'm not racist. I just said I liked her white bunny."

Student 3: "That's racist."

Student 1: "I'm not racist! I'm not racist! It's just a stuffed bunny."

To say that I was flabbergasted would be an understatement. What I was expecting to hear was a thrilling discussion about Lego, or bus-riding, or... or... ANYTHING but a defamation of a young girl who had the gall to correctly identify the color of a stuffed rabbit.

This young girl was adamant about not being a racist, because in our contemporary world, there are few names that carry with it more negative connotations than 'racist.' And yet the term was bandied between eleven-year-olds as if it was a commonplace thing for eleven-year-olds to talk about.

This brief interaction helped me to realize two things we, as adults, need to be tremendously careful with.

Firstly, the words we speak in front of our children will be absorbed quickly and unconsciously. Whether we speak graciously or we practice a particular innocuous brand of slander, kids (as they always have done) will repeat what they hear. For us, a word filter should be fitted the moment we get up in the morning until we put our heads down for sleep at night. Not only is this a good thing for our kids, but it also changes how we see the world.

Secondly, no matter how much filter we have over our own words, unless we help children navigate the tumultuous online world, kids will be unable to understand the importance of their words on other people. I'm not talking website filters or nannying the internet, and I'm certainly not advocating censorship, but I am encouraging active participation in listening to kids and what they experience while online. For the kids in the above narrative, in all seriousness, they probably did not pick up the finger-pointing-racism from their parents, but have been osmotically gathering ideas online. Without guidance on how to correctly speak about racism, it just becomes a name (and unfortunately) a joke.

Some who read this may think I've overreacted. I wonder that myself. They were just playing around. It's just a white bunny. But somewhere deeper inside of me, I feel there is a modern metanarrative occurring that reveals this is not simply a one-time event, but will be a greater issue as the years pass. 

Each name we are about to stick to someone else is an opportunity: for them and for us. I hope we can stick to choosing a graceful name.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

When Giants Appear

The world is shaking with giants.

Giant fears. Giant anxieties. Giant obsessions and addictions. Gigantic problems with escapism. While these 21st century Titans of Despair may seem much larger than David's Goliath, the pathway to victory is the same.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the David and Goliath story is Israel's incredible devolution of a country devoted to hearing God through the Judges, to a nation quaking in fear at the thought of one man who would stand against the king that they'd chosen - a large man himself. Saul.

One would expect that someone like Saul would have charged headfirst into glorious battle, donning his own armor and carrying his own weapons, to defeat his greatest challenge. But as we read Saul's narrative closely, charging headfirst into battle has never been his modus operendi. 

In 1 Samuel 9, Saul's task was to go search for some lost donkeys. What we find from Saul, '...a handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else,' (9:2) is an unprepared, fearful boy who wants to turn away from the task because it becomes too difficult.

After this episode, Saul meets with Samuel and is convinced that he will be the first king of Israel. For some people, this would be a thrill - to have power, riches, people bending to every whim - but when Saul is announced to the crowd, he is '...hidden among the supplies.' (10:22b)

Although he looks the part, Saul is no giant killer. 

So when Goliath appears on the scene, it really is no surprise that Saul is paranoid, unprepared and fearful. 

It is here we understand that Saul's anointing, although serving a purpose, also serves the point that God does not '...consider appearance or height... the Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at outward appearance, but the Lord Looks at the heart.' (16:7)

So David, the youngest brother, a shepherd - good looking with healthy cheeks (as if that's a prerequisite for royalty) - passes in front of Samuel. This is the one that will be king.

Interestingly, David is anointed king when there already is a king. David also is unwilling to lift his hand against the current monarch. He shows his integrity and his fearlessness - the anti-Saul, if you will. Then, the giant shows up. The time has come for Israel to see the future.

Giant's will fall because of God's faithfulness, power and unyielding mercy for his people.

So, how did David kill the earth-shaking giant?

I. Belief in God and belief in himself. 

       "Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the Living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of the Philistine." (17:36,37)

II. Using his strengths and advantages.

       Everyone expected David to fight conventionally. To use a sword or spear would have been expected, but it would also have played into Goliath's strengths. For David, his strength was his size and speed and his ability to fight from a distance.

III. Faith in God.

        "All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD's, and he will give all of you into our hands." (17:47) It is a tremendously freeing thing when ultimately we realize that the battle's victory is God's responsibility and the part we play is following his direction.

IV. Being prepared and realistic.

        It's always made me smile that David's faith in God was extreme, but he picked up five stones. Sometimes I have thought, 'If David really believed in God, why didn't he just pick up one stone?' But a true leader/warrior is prepared for the unexpectedness of battle. Flinging stones can be affected by all sorts of things - wind, movement, nervousness, sweaty palms - so best to be ready for anything. I'm positive that God doesn't see our preparedness as a lack of faith. Yet far too often I (maybe others, too) bluster about faith and pick up one stone because of laziness rather than faith.

So how does this translate to our contemporary giants?

I. Belief in God and yourself.

    Look, much of the world believes that there is a God, but treats this God as distant and hands-off-ish. With our words we exclaim that we trust this Lord who Saves, but with our handwringing and our worry, we look for someone else to protect us from the giants. Like Saul, we ask around for anyone (Beuller? Beuller? Anyone? Beuller?) who is willing to stand up. 

   The LORD will rescue us from the hand of our 21st Century Philistines and can use all of us to do so.

II. Use our strengths and advantages.

    We keep expecting to solve problems by fighting these giants of fear, anxieties, obsessions and addictions by doing the things we've always done: We battle with swords of words, cutting down people and histories in the process; we put up the armor of online anonymity; we retreat into another world and submerse ourselves in the swirling battle of social media, biased news and distorted talking heads. Yet the strength of the faithful person is not based in a war of words, but by care and compassion in acts of service.

III. Faith in God.

    I keep hearing the phrase 'Post-Christian world' and it makes me feel like someone is standing over my grave and talking about me, but I'm not dead yet. Christian and secular authors alike write both obituary and epitaph about Christianity, "She was a good person, well loved, but she got old..." yet the heart of the body of Christ, Jesus himself, never grows old. When it feels that we are at our weakest and frailest, there it is that God's strength is most magnificently revealed. We are given the courage and strength to stand in the battle with the Lion of Judah at our back, and pick up our stones.

IV. Being prepared and realistic.

    Unlike Goliath, our contemporary giants quickly shift shapes. They are wily and agile and can slit us to death rather than stab us. So what is the tactic - the polished river stone - of the contemporary giant killers? 


As I write that, I think, 'There are some pretty negative connotations from that word.' 

1. Retreat is not from the battle, but a retreat from the online world, away from the tech-giants, the media-giants, the fear-mongers and death-dealers.

2. Retreat from fear, not out of fear, but to regroup with fellow believers to remember that the battle belongs to the Lord. The giant cannot get at us when we stand behind the Lion of Judah.

3. Retreat from our own self-addiction and embrace the opportunity to reconnect with others, no matter their political, ideological or religious identification. If there is anything that the world needs most is to circle the wagons. They're all the same wagon.

In this world full of giants, it is the LORD who looks at the heart of his people, the body of Christ, and smiles. As we are prepped for a battle that he has been/is already fighting, breathe a deep sense of relief. It is already won.

Now, just pick up your sling and stones.

The Pit

In the beginning was the pit. Yesterday, I did something I hadn't done in a quarter century. To be entirely frank, that quarter century ...