Can’t We All Just Get Along?

I am watching rage and fear and extremism.  There are people declaring that this is the beginning of the end.  And there are people declaring that this is the gateway into a world that has, up until now, only been a whisper, a promise.   I am watching fear at war with hope, and love at war with hate.  I am, for the record, seeing this on both sides of the rainbow flags.

As for me, I feel a wee bit like Rodney King.  Amidst the riots that unfair treatment brought out, he uttered this plea: it was as pathetic as it was sincere.  “Can’t we all just get along?”

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I am not a moderate on the issue of marriage equality.  But right now, I am not much interested in expressing my opinion, and I am pretty sure that you have thought about the issue quite a bit, too.  I don’t think I want to disrespect you, and the reflection you have done on the issue by presuming that a couple hundred words from me is going to sway you on the issue.

I am, instead, in this space of wanting to patiently, peacefully observe things.  I am finding some interesting, powerful things in approaching things like a hippie-engineer.  Rather than trying to transcend emotions, I am trying to embrace feelings.  I am not trying to set myself above stuff by being robotically, spock-like, rational.  I am working hard, instead, at entering fully into places and resisting the urge to be swallowed up by these things.

And, so, there are these things that I am noticing.

I am noticing that there is a terrible and dark place a person can be.  This terrible and dark place is reached by way of a disconnect.  The disconnect is between something we know to be true in our very deepest places and something that is declared to be true by society at large.

A person who “knows” that they are attracted to people of the same gender, but who lives in a world where she can’t declare this attraction, knows this disconnect.   A person who “knows” that marriage is meant to be between a man and a women, but who lives in a world where the Supreme Court has declared that marriages can be between a man and a man, or a woman or a woman, knows this disconnect.   A person who “knows” there are behavioral connections to baring the ‘xy’ chromosome pair vs. the ‘xx’ chromosome pair and faces somehow who acts in a manner oppposing this, they know this disconnect.   A person who hears society tells them that they supposed to act like a ‘man’ but who feels like a women, knows this disconnect.

We have so much in common. Do you feel it?  Are you willing to let those who you want to be ‘the other’ into your personal space?   Perhaps, as we wrestle with the common ground we share, this feeling of disconnect, we want to say, “Yes, but, they aren’t the same as me.”

We want to do lots of things that aren’t good for us.

There will be time to debate our differences.  At some point, that will be a worthwhile thing to do.  But we will not accomplish much until we have gathered together and affirmed our samenesses.  They are much more important than our differences.  The person we fear and hate the most is the person we have the most to learn from.  But that’s not going to happen until we listen up and decide that we will, indeed, just all get along.

My thanks to some bizzaro world ne’er do gooding remnants for helping to crystalize these thoughts.

A Time to Listen.

There is this thing growing in me.  I am a guy, so it is not a fetus.  And I am, to the best of my knowledge, healthy(ish.)   So were are not talking a tumor here.

It is a sense of expectancy.  A sense of something new.

It is connected to following Jesus and experiencing God.  And what the church should be.

Would you do something for me?  You have read 70 words now, reader.  Invested a couple minutes of your life.  (Thank you for that, by the way.)

Leave a comment down below.  Say something about where you are at spiritually.  Tell me about what you love about where that is.  Tell me about whether you are waiting for something new.  I feel like I ought to listen, right now.  Maybe later it will be time to speak…  There is more I want to say, but not just yet.  So leave me a comment, will you?  Give me a spiritual State of the Union.  Fears and hopes, things that are going well, areas that just leave you aching for more.  Share it in ten words, or take a thousand.  I can’t promise much, but if you leave something below, I promise that I will read it.

McCommunion. And Community. And Hoping for a Blessing Without the Messed Up Hip.

OK.  Let’s just name the elephant in the room, before we even get started.

Communion?  It’s pretty wierd.

For now, though, I am just going to leave it there: admitting it’s weird.  But also… wanting to add something.

Communion?  It’s pretty amazing.

And right now, I am wrestling with God about this thing, communion.  It means so much, almost everything.  And therefore, it means so much, almost too much.  It is not enough to say that there is this huge, radical spectrum of experiences that are covered by this idea: communion.  At the bare minimum, there are three distinct extremes.  I don’t care that it’s nonsense to say that there are three extremes to a thing.  It doesn’t make it less true.

The default communion experience for me is this: Somebody used to pour out a hundred or more little cups of grape juice.  They sat, precariously, in these copper plates with these little holes for the little cups.  A matching plate chased this one, passed down the rows.  It had broken up matza cracker.

And then, there is this left turn, to the far end of the  experience, to a vertex of the triangle.

My life was beginning to fall apart shortly after I became a Christian.  (I am kind of proud of that sentence right there.) I made myself space and time to simply be with my struggles and my pain.   I created this sort-of retreat for myself.  I left behind my worldly responsibilities.  And I took this long journey up a mountain.

Actually, that last sentence was a lie.  I drove down the street to my dad’s.  But the rest was true.

Echoing in my head, perhaps from a recently-heard sermon, was the idea that communion can be anywhere, with anything.

At lunch time, I raided the old man’s refridgerator.  Cold cuts on bread.  I had a cold, so I microwaved myself tea.  Lemon was the most interesting offering in his little tea-basket.  I decided that this lunch was communion.  I took the sandwich, his body.  And the tea, not-a-wine, his blood.

I had made the tea by his microwave.  I was not familiar with it.  I ended with a mug full of bathwater-warm; almost hot, just above body-temperature sort-of lemon flavored water.  I thought about his blood before it came into my mouth.

This barely sour, warm-but-not-hot water…  it knocked me on my ass.  It could not have felt more like blood if it had been.

I sat there, by myself, in this improvised ceromony.   Perhaps it was something about how primal our sense of taste is.  But I was just wrecked by the whole thing, the human condition, the role of Jesus.

And then, there is an extreme.  I want to be careful about how I express this next part.  I am not sure I am against it yet.  (But to be truthful, I am getting there.)

And then, this other extreme:

During Sunday services, recently, they have begun to pass out these pre-sealed little shot glasses.  Inside, of course, sits grape juice.  Sealed in the top?  a wafer.  It feels a bit like a paper towel in my mouth.  This prepackaged thing: it serves a purpose.  Nonetheless, in my snarky moments, I want to call it “McCommunion.prefilled_communion_cups_with_wafers_123

I know that somewhere, there is a roaring assembly line.  A seemingly endless trail of these things being filled up, packaged, and sent off.  And a part of me finds this absurd.

And yet…  it is amazing.  It is amazing for the scale of it, thousands and millions of people all able to encounted the living Christ through this.  The sheer scale is kind-of awesome.  But also the idea that the resseructed Jesus dwells here.

The third point of this triangle:

Times with good friends, times recognizing God’s providence.  Thinking about how Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”  Did he mean that we ought to turn his object lesson into a ritual?  Or did he mean that we ought to gather together, celebrate together, in remembrance of him.  Communion.  Community.

These three portaits.  They are a microcosm for me, right now.  They are representations of this wrestling match that God and I are doing.  It is not only about communion.  These represent to me, little snap shots of the church itself.  What we are meant to be.

I don’t know where it’s going.  I only just barely get where I’ve been.  If you’re keeping score, I am pretty sure he is winning.

I wonder if you can get a blessing out of these things with out getting an injury, too.

Iced Coffee Like a Boss

You?  You are a great person.  And there is a ton of stuff that you can do way better than me, I am sure of it.  But can I tell you a hard truth?  The iced coffee you are making at home…  Most likely? it kind-of sucks.   If you’re like most people, you spend a good chunk of the spring, fall, and winter making your own hot coffee.  But probably, you have given up on trying to make your own iced coffee.  It doesn’t have to be this way.

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Today, there will be little-to-no theological, political or social pondering on Jeff’s Deep Thoughts.  Today, I want to give you a little help in making your home-made iced coffee not suck.  So here we go:

The Night Before

Step 1.

Brew coffee.  I am not going to tell you how.  You already know this part.  But just do it at the strength you like to drink it at.  Don’t listen to all those poseurs who tell you to make it extra strong.  You don’t have to try and protect your coffee from being watered down by ice cubes.

Step 2.

Fill a travel mug somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 full.   Finding the perfect amount will take some doing.  For me, it is a bit over a third cup.  The variables to consider:

  • How hot is it going to be where you will be tomorrow?  if it is going to be warmer, edge toward the 1/2 mark.  If it is going to be cooler, go nearer the  1/4 mark.
  • How long do you want your coffee to last?  Too much frozen coffee denies you access earlier in the day (unless you want to chip away at it with a wooden spoon like an Italian Ice.)  Too little frozen coffee means it won’t be cold later in the day.
  • What kind of travel mug are you using?  If you spent a bunch of money on your travel mug, hopefully you got what you paid for.  If it is good, you will need less ice.  If you’re a cheapskate like me, and you’re running with a plastic old thing, it will not insulate it as well.

Step 3

If you’re a heathen and wish to cheapen your coffee experience with sugar, milk, cream, syrup, creamer, etc. then put some in now.  Just put in enough for what is already in the cup.  When you fill it the rest of the way tomorrow, you can put in the appropriate extra amount then.

This right here is a ninja move.  When the coffee melts tomorrow, it will keep the ratio correct and not overwhelm your cup with black coffee.

Step 4

Prop your mug carefully in the freezer.   Bags of frozen vegetables, or those cooler bags filled with mysterious blue gel are pretty good for this.  They give you some control over the angle you are propping at.  We will get back to that in a minute.

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The reason you are not simply placing the coffee in the freezer is that this leaves you a circle of frozen coffee midway down your travel mug.  The circumference of this circle is determined by the diamter of your travel mug..  This isn’t a bad thing.  But it could be so much better.

When you prop the mug you create an oval shape.  The sharper the angle the mug sits at, the larger this oval will be.  The more surface area, the more quickly and effectively the coffee will be cooled off.  The precise angle is a lot like the question of how much coffee to start with.  It will take some experimentation to get it perfect.  I find that propping at about a 45-degree angle is pretty good for my needs.  Be careful, here, though, if the angle is not sharp enough coffee will drip out of your mug and make a big mess.

Step 5

Put the rest of the coffee in the refridgerator.   If you might want to do normal coffee at home, throw some in an ice cube tray.   If you use a ton of sugar, you might want to pre-sweeten it while it is still hot.  It dissolves a little easier that way.  If you’re not consuming enough sugar to choke Willy Wonka, you probably will be able to mix the sugar in even when it is cold.

The morning of

Step 6

Pull the mug out of the freezer right when you wake up.   Fill up the mug the rest of the way.  Put your milk and other junk in there if you must.

Step 7

Drink through out your morning routine.  Especially right after you brush your teeth.  That always tastes so good and freshens your breath.

Step 8

Top off before you go.

Step 9

Enjoy your still-cold iced coffee through out the day.  Think nice thoughts about me.

Pretending the Bloody Nose Doesn’t Hurt

I can remember before I learned how to drive.   There were some things that I did not know.  If I wanted to drive, I needed to learn these things.   I am not a very practical guy.  I love speculation and theoretical possibility.  I love thinking about thinking.  I love learning about other’s deep thoughts.  I love to share my own.

When it came time to learn to drive, I should have determined which one was the break and which one was the clutch and which one was the accelerator.  It was important for me to learn how to turn on the head lights.  At that stage in my life I lived in Southern California, so most likely figuring out how to turn on the wind shield wipers could wait; it wasn’t likely to rain any time soon.

Knowing the history of the automobile?  Even less relevant than operating the windshield wipers.  The kind-of guy I am, it is tempting, in situations like that, to want to explore thermodynamics.  I remember learning the term fitzgig around the time I learned to drive.  A fitzgig is a tiny explosive, the “spark” caused by the spark plug.  In the film “The Dark Crystal” they named a character fitzgig.  That animal is named after this concept.

Learning how to change a spark plug, that is not the sort of thing I get excited to learn.  I paid a lot of money to mechanics.  And I have had way more than my share of accidents.  I should have paid a lot more attention to these practical things.

I am learning that spiritually, I am not much different.  With the car I spent all this time contemplating theoretics.  I should have been practicing pushing down on the pedals.  And in my spiritual life, I have spent all this time arguing theology.  I have ventured to the edge of the sorts of things that can be expressed in words.   Probably, I have spent some time well beyond this point, trying to wrap my puny little human brain around stuff that I just won’t be able to explain or understand on this side of the grave.

I am in the midst of this strange time of transition.  Some of it is connected to my spiritual community at large.  Some of it is very personal to me.  Some of it I am in the center of.  Some of it I am on the peripherary.  And some of it I am only connected to indirectly…

I am feeling lead in a direction on this stuff.  I am learning so much important stuff.  In some sense it is so basic, just as the actual mechanics of driving a car are in some sense so very basic.  A way I can express this is to say that I am called to make peace through this turbulence.

I am learning that there aren’t any right words when people I love are suffering.  Explaining where I think God is can be callous.  Asserting that it doesn’t seem like God is there at all can feed into somebody’s struggles with faith.  Telling somebody that I know what their pain is like can belittle them and turn the focus on me.  Telling somebody that I can’t imagine what their pain is like can isolate them.

I am not saying that we should say nothing.  I am saying that all these words we have are not the important thing.

The important thing is that I am fully with someone who is angry or suffering or lost.   Right there, with them, in that moment.   Don’t we all know, when somebody is with us, in our pain?   For me, that is an incredible gift, when I know that somebody has stepped past their own baggage.  They are not thinking about how it is for them.  They are just with me.

I am probably not much good at this yet.  I am learning that in the past, the things I said to somebody else, they were at least mostly for me.  So often the words I have said to somebody else, they are motivated so very wrong.  When someone I love is hurting, it hurts me.  And I don’t like hurting.  And so in the past, too many times, I have found kind words.  It is less that I want my friend not to hurt because they are my friend, and more that I do not want my friend to hurt because there hurting hurts me.

Somewhere, we know it, when our pain is hurting someone else.  We know it when they are trying to stop our pain in order to stop their pain.  I remember when my youngest was tiny.  We used to wrestle-tickle.  Once (ok, twice, actually) he got his little fingers inside my nose.  His little toddler fingernails scratched up something good in there.  I bled all over the place and hurt quite a lot.

And he was really freaked out.  I found myself covering up the bleeding, covering up the pain.  And that is what a dad should do.

But there have been times in my life that I have been the toddler.  Times that people are hurting are greatly.  And me?  That hurt makes me hurt a little bit.  Perhaps the person hurting doesn’t want to see me hurting; they are avoiding some wierd and dysfunctional feed back loop.  At the minimum, they have enough on their plate.  They don’t need to wrestle with my pain, too.  So I offer up some stupid  plattitude, and they pretend it makes them feel better, and problem is solved.  (I am hoping the sarcasm in those last three words is duly noted.)

The first thing I am learning in this season of my life is that one of the things I am called to do is to walk toward pain, not away from it.  At this stage in my life, carrying my cross means that I put on my big boy pants.  I accept the idea that hurt is going to hurt.

I have been reminded that in this hurt, that is where Jesus dwells.  I have found him, as I have worked at being fully present to other’s pain.  Jesus was with me, waiting for a reason to manifest.  And he was in the other person, whether or not they follow Christ.  And also, he is in that space between us.

Peace Making, Self Esteem, and a bit of a tangent into the Death Penalty.

I think that too much has been said about self-esteem, and not nearly enough has been said about being a person who makes peace.

I was surpised, today, when I saw that these were connected so closely.

I think that the easy and obvious reason that a person might want to make peace is rooted in a regard for others: as the story goes, I don’t want to hurt you.   I don’t want to lash out at you.  I don’t want to fight you.

Of course, these are good things to think.  And caring for others?  That is a pretty good motivation.

But it’s not the best reason to be a maker of the peace.

The best reason to be a maker of the peace is because of what making peace does to me; put conversely, the best reason to avoid war (of every kind) is because of what it would do to me if I engage in it.

The “me” that I am speaking of, here, is not a lonely, solitary “me.”  It is a duo, a pair: there is my own, individual self.  And there is Christ in me, too.  When I choose peace, when I make peace, I am doing so because of what it does for me, and for the creator of the world, who, in his inexplicable, nearly offensive humility, chooses to reside within me.

I do not know that I am not always called to mindlessly submit to the assaults of others.   I know that an attacker can cause so much pain.  I know that it can hurt in unimaginably deep ways to have things stolen from us… Of course, it is the intangible things, when these are stolen from us, that we hurt the most.

And yet…   any attack, every attack, there is a part I can not control.  An evil person (and there are evil people!)  can only target things of this world, physical things… temporal things.

When I return violence for violence, when I lower myself to that level, suddenly then, I am jeapordizing things that are eternal and fundamental.

It is out of this deep self-esteem, this profound love for myself, for Jesus in me, that I must not give up my very self in exchange for that which is not part of the deepest me.

This is why I can not condone the death penalty.  I would rather be murdered than made into a murderer.  I will not let some one else turn me into the monster that they have become.

I am not good at this, making peace.  I do not always do what I see is right.  I do not always see what is right at all.  But I want to be better.  I am turning my eyes to making peace, trying to bring my heart there, too.   I am not good at this.  But I want to be better.

The Eye

Today, I raised up my hand and sang that Jesus conquered the grave.  I was crying while I did it.   If you had been there, you would have been tempted to cry, too, because my voice is not good.

Snarkiness aside, I am reeling right now with all this stuff.  Permit me this cliche, will you?  This whirlwind rages around me but I am in the eye of the storm.  It is scary, and sad, and frankly miserable.  But there is peace here, there is calm.

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It is Mother’s Day, as I write these words.  This is the first Mother’s Day I have had since my mom died.  Last week would have been her birthday.  Next week will be the anniversary of her death.

Fellowship Church, the community where I found Jesus, is ending.

A pair of my dearest friends, so integral to my faith and my life over this last decade, are leaving.

And yet…

I know that I will see my mom again.

And Fellowship?  It is becoming a campus of Next Level Church.  Representatives from our new affiliation were on hand today.  They seem good people.  And they have something pretty amazing going on.  It seems that they are doing what we, at Fellowship, have longed to do.

And this lovely, amazing couple, they are following God’s call on their lives.  I am so proud of them.

And there is more:

I continue to work on reconciliation and restoration of one of the most important relationships in my life.  And it is good.

And we had been car-less for nearly a year.  We had relied some on public transportation, some on ingenuity, and lots on selfless kindness from amazing people.  It was not easy, and it was often not fun.  And it is over.  Partially through the kindness of awesome people, we have a vehicle.  We were mobile this week end.  It was a joy to go grocery shopping with my wife.

After shopping we had this lovely meal.  We laughed together and nostalgi-cized.  (I don’t care that that word has the red underline telling me it is not a real word.  Don’t be so narrow-minded, spell check.)

I raised up my hands and I sang out this morning, and yes, it probably sounded terrible.  But I was just moved, struck, pierced by this idea that Jesus conquered the grave.

At it’s most basic, this means that we have a victory over our physical death.  But there is so much more!

There is this victory over my mother’s death, as there will be a victory over my own some day.

But also there is a necessary death of this community I love.   And there is victory over this death, too, as it becomes something new.

There is the death of the convenience of seeing my great friends all the time.  But the victory over this death is that these great friends are doing what God built them to do.

These deaths were the winds whirling all around me.  They were real, they were scary.

But there is more than that fear.