Friday, February 25, 2011


As I write this, I'm sitting in my favorite coffee shop, staring out of the window on to the main thoroughfare that runs just across the parking lot.  Cars race by in the evening light, as people make there way home on a quiet late winter Friday.  The sky blends from blue to orange, as I catch a small glimpse of the horizon just behind the Mediterranean Cafe and High Times Smoke Shop.  There seems to be a twinge of Spring in the air, which coincides with the groundhog's recent revelation of winter coming to a close.  I feel a sense of nostalgia and find that my mind is racing about with various thoughts.  Why has winter slipped away so quickly?  Why are the holidays only but a blur in my memory?  Should I be out on a date with my wife, rather than sitting here by myself?

The sky is becoming purple now, and the street signs are becoming more bright and vivid.  The dim lights of the coffee shop are beginning to illuminate my small work space and the ambiance is transforming from late afternoon staleness to early evening vitality.  It's funny how drastic changes in the day cause our moods to follow along.  It's almost as if God purposely adjusts the lighting throughout our day.  He dims the light as the day fades to melancholy and adds one extra lamp when our souls need to be lifted.  The rhythms of our lives coincide with the preset pulse of the world.  It continues whether we like it or not.  No partiality to our preconceived schedules or order of the day. 

The sky is now dark, a thin layer of remaining sunset peaking just above the dimly lit strip center across the street.  Night has made itself known and the first few stars are making their first appearance of the evening.  Ella Fitzgerald is serenading me in that style that always makes me want to go out for a night on the town.  I wish that I owned a tux, and had a reason to wear it tonight.  My stomach is beginning to remind me to fill it and I feel an even more strong sense of peace as I begin to contemplate what this blog has to do with God, or theology in general.  Maybe it's more clear as the light fades.  Maybe it developed as I stumbled through this blog.   

But the holy aspects of this evening bear witness to why I am here in the first place.  As I recline in a comfortable chair, drinking Vietnamese coffee, enjoying good jazz music and being absorbed by the peace of this room, one thing remains clear to me: I'm a glad to be alive right now.  I'm glad that God created me exactly how I am, to walk through this world as somewhat of a confused wanderer.  I'm learning that the wilderness is not always a bad place to be.  Yes, it can be a barren wasteland of dry and empty spaces.  There are times when the wandering seems pointless and lacking in fulfillment.  It can be brutal and unforgiving as the sun beats down on our backs.  Storms pop up out of nowhere and cause us to seek shelter, wondering why we wandered off in the first place.

But the beauty of this evening would never have been made apparent to me had I not been somewhat of a wanderer in the wilderness.  Even the wilderness has an occasional oasis that we happen upon.  God sets the lighting for us in a manner that captures each and every nuance of the surroundings.  He bows the head of the day, allowing night to take center stage.  He winks at us from each star above and embraces us with the cool of twilight's breeze.  And at least for now, at this particular moment, He fills my spirit with the assuring conclusion to this blog, "I know the wilderness is hard.  I know things seem very uncertain.  I know that you long to return to the past, retreat to familiar comforts and rest your head against a nostalgic memory.  You're afraid, aren't you?  You want to go home.  It's OK.  I've got it for tonight.  Just rest and know that I'm here.  I'm real.  Just as tangible as the world around you, but just as mysterious as the day that's just faded.  It's me.  I'm home."                    

Monday, February 21, 2011


Do you have recurring dreams?  "Clean" recurring dreams?  Be careful now!  A common one for me are floods.  It’s almost a direct correlation to what’s going on in my life at the time of the dream.  Dream of floods = Overwhelmed with life.  The subconscious takes me to aquatic symbolism as I feel wave after wave crashing over my head.  The more I struggle, the deeper I seem to slip beneath the surface.  Without words, I can hear myself calling out to God, raising my arms upward in hopes that His grip will meet mine.  I taste the saltwater.  It burns my throat.  The smell of the ocean penetrates my nostrils and as I reach the point of submission, I suddenly wake up.  Not wanting to connect the dream to my reality, I get out of bed, go about my day and try to forget.  At least for the moment, my head is above water.

The floods of life come unexpectedly, don't they?  We never expect when the storm surge is going to hit.  One minute, we’re safely aboard the boat that is our normal life, navigating the waters, confident, commanding the vessel and comfortable with our destination.  And in what seems like an instant, we get knocked off the deck by a rogue wave that leaves us dazed, bewildered and sometimes unconscious.  The ocean takes us under and with every amount of strength we can muster, we fight to reach the surface once again.  Panic stricken, we helplessly grasp at the liquid that surrounds us, hoping to take hold of something that seems physical, normal, solid.  And when we realize that the fight is useless, we submit.  At least that’s what I do in the dream.  I never drown.  I never reach the shore.  And I never seem to get back on the boat.  But upon waking, I realize that the dream is over and the flood has ended.

I love the wording that Eugene Peterson uses for Psalm 18:16 in The Message. “But me he caught—reached all the way from sky to sea; he pulled me out of that ocean of hate, that enemy chaos, the void in which I was drowning.”  I guess there are times when we just walk around in a dream.  The flood rages around us and pulls us under.  We struggle.  We fight.  We breath in ocean.  We spiral in the undertow.  And then we submit.  We surrender to the flood.  And we wake.  But one thing I've learned from these dreams is that all of my struggles are pointless when you get right down to it.  No matter how hard I try to control the elements around me, I continue to sink.  I continue to be overwhelmed until all of my strength is gone and I give up.   

I'm learning that life can be chaotic, out of control and sometimes really sucks.  It's filled with disappointments, struggles, tragedies and Happy Meal Toys that serve no purpose what so ever.  Some things in life just cannot be defined with a perfect A + B formula, especially in faith.  And I'm learning that's OK.  When we stop trying to make sense of everything that won't fit into our perfect life "box", we begin to see God for who He really is: mysterious, uncontainable, a little chaotic and in many ways, undefinable.  But that's His problem, not ours.  He just wants us to be who we really are: little children; confused, frustrated, rambunctious and always filled with wonder and awe.  (See Matthew 18)  Children accept life as it comes to them and God as He is.  Sometimes it's not without a little rebellion, but when we quit fighting, quit struggling and finally just submit, that's when He shows us who He is.  The flood stops.  We're back on the boat.  And we're again confident and comfortable at the wheel.  But there's still that question of purposeless Happy Meal Toys.  

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Psalm 88 is the most dark and depressing of all the Psalms.  It's a suffering cry of a person that expects his future days on earth to be few.  Abandoned and isolated, the character calls out to the God of his salvation, with the expectation of hope that seems to never come.  Sounds like an average day?  

Psalm 88 is the only Psalm in the Old Testament that does not eventually end with the author's usual revelation of redemption, and the subtle shadow of joy and hope.  There is no climactic realization of God's goodness and provision that is the pattern of most Psalms.  There is no eventual release from pain.  There is no usual epiphany that God's reality overshadows the darkness in which he finds himself.  The Psalm is a progression of pain and suffering that does not rise and fall, but is a static lamenting plea of a mournful and despondent character.  This is a person in deep distress, abandon of friendship, love and, from his clouded perspective, abandon by God as well.  Ever felt that way? 

In reading this Psalm many times, I concluded that such misery, without apparent eventual relief, is not consistent with most Scripture.  The essence of the Bible is a string of redemptive love stories, causing us to believe that despite our circumstances, God's transcendent love will eventually overwhelm our pain as we allow His Spirit to propel us forward.  To me, the Bible is the ultimate love story of a God that calls out, romances, delights in and showers His children with the unconditional love we all long for deep within the recesses of our soul.  Surely, there must be some hidden redemptive truth lying somewhere just below the surface of the character's pain in Psalm 88.  And I think there is.

More than likely, Psalm 88 is a picture of a person who has possibly fallen to his lowest point of his life.  Whether it's bad decisions, consuming sin or emotional sickness that has overwhelmed him, he stands defeated, crushed beneath the weight of a darker side of life and racked with the grief of his life situation.  The spiral has pulled him down into the pits of suffering, and despite his attempts at clawing his way out, he only slides further beneath the surface.  Helpless, he cries out to God, as a child begging his father to take the pain away.

Why is there no climax of relief?  Why does God's light not shine though the darkness and alleviate the authors pain?  Why does he appear abandoned by God?  I think the answer lies in the word "appear".  As a father, there is nothing I would not do for my two boys.  If they feel pain, emotional or physical, I will do anything within my power to remove it from their lives.  But there is certain pain that comes from choices made and situations they stumble into, especially as they grow older.  My love and identity as dad never changes, but sometimes my ability to turn the "pain switch" off is limited.  To them, it may appear that I'm sadistically standing by as they hurt in their isolated dimension of suffering.  But in realty, I suffer with them, feeling pain that equals the love I have for them.  Dad never stops loving his boys, and never stops being dad. 

The overwhelming realization is that for the author of Psalm 88, God never stops being God.  He remains who he is throughout this dark scenario, and continues to be God when the Psalmist laments the fact that his friends have abandoned him.  In his isolation, the writer does not seem to lose sight of that basic fact, and perhaps this is the redemption that will eventually carry him through  to the obscure hope we fail to apparently see.  This forthcoming redemption is the missing hope that we see in most of the other Psalms.  The author, acknowledging his very real pain, also acknowledges God's power and attributes as they truly are.  The unchanging and consistent existence of God is the thread that brings forth the hope we might miss in Psalm 88, and the author may fail to see as well.  

God doesn't change; we change.  As we live our lives from day to day, we sometimes get sucked into the darker corners of existence.  Places that we don't want to remain.  Places from which we long to escape.  Sometimes we change.  Sometimes to don't.  The point is, even if we decide to remain isolated, unmoved and indulging in our self made darkness, God remains just as He was before we decided to allow the spiral to plunge us below.  Psalm 88 is the quintessential image of a person that suffers, like many of us do from time to time.  And regardless of the duration of the author's suffering, the light of hope still shines through.  I wonder if he knew it at the time?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Yesterday was a very difficult day for me.  I found myself having to make a decision that was very painful, but realized that there was no other option in the scenario I faced.  Because of this decision, I'm experiencing somewhat of a loss, so in many ways I feel as if I'm mourning.  Throughout the day, I made my way from distraction to distraction in order to try and alleviate the pain I was experiencing, but nothing seemed to fill the void that had been created.  The pain has been deep.  The pain has been real.  And it appears that for now, the pain cannot be avoided.

Pain is one of the byproducts of decisions we make.  Right or wrong, most of us make decisions that eventually shake us from peaceful apathy, and create a series of events that cause pain in our lives, as well as others. When the full force of the pain is overpowering us, sapping our strength, making us ill and sometimes rocking the very foundations of our lives, we seek relieve in any form it can be found.  Some of us find consolation in prayer, some in exercise, some in talking with friends, some find the edge taken off by alcohol, drugs or other forms of self-medicating.  But one area that I have found peace in is music.  I have very little musical talent, but have always been consumed by the music of others that have the gift of touching the heart, stirring the soul and calming the storms that rage within me from pain.

Since yesterday, I've found comfort in many artists that I've found healing in over the years.  One in particular caused a profound effect on me.  It caused me to close my eyes, drift away from the pain I felt, if only for a moment, and imagine a world that did not exists at the time.  I found solace in not only the words of the song, but also in the haunting melody that seemed to lift me from the pit I was in.

It's no surprise to many of you that know me, but I'm a pretty emotional person.  Most of the time it's a blessing, but from time to time, like today, it can be a burden and a curse that weighs me down and causes me to question why God made me the way I am.  I guess that's why I relate so much to the life of King David.  Reading through each Psalm that David wrote, you can hear every human emotion in vivid description and eloquent poetry.  David was by no means afraid of expressing his emotions, regardless of how high the mountain top might have been, or how low the pits of despair may have found him.  David was an emotional man, and through that emotion came incredible creativity, imagination and strength.  One of those areas of creativity came in the form of music that he had been gifted with at a very young age.

In 1 Samuel 16, we read a story of a man named Saul, who was the first King of Israel.  Saul had been faithful to God but made a series of bad decisions that began to effect his mental state.  The Bible says that an evil spirit came over Saul, because God's Spirit had left him.  We can probably assume that Saul was consumed by overwhelming fear and depression.  We know nothing about what alleviated the pain that consumed Saul, except for one thing: Music.

1 Samuel 16:23 says, "Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him."  Think about these words for a moment.  Saul is struggling through the shear agony of depression, fear, panic, anger and frustration.  The choices of his life have overwhelmed him as he realizes that God has all but left him completely.  He's drowning in his sorrow and helplessly grasping for a life ring to save him.  And when the waves are about to crash over him one last time, he hears the sweets sounds of David's harp.  They call to him from above the surface of the ocean, he is captivated by the enchanting melody and is swept to place of peace.  A place of escape from his pain.  If just for a brief moment, the music from David's harp, soothes his anguishing soul and bring the relief he longs for.

You may not connect with music in the way I do, but chances are there is something that touches your soul in the same manner.  Whatever it might be, realize what David's harp is for you.  Who is a "David" in your life that can come beside you and easy the pain that can come from life's journey.  We live in a chaotic world, don't we?  To think we can escape pain is unrealistic at best.  My pain will soon dissipate.  I will rise above the waves that have crashed over me for the moment, and at least for the time being, David's harp sings melodically to me, as I close my eyes and rest, and let the peace envelop me, if even for one brief moment in time.  God has placed a healing refuge in my life and I thank Him.  I thank Him for the melodies that dull the sharp edges of pain.                               

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Circle of Trash

There are specific times in my life when analyze myself, take account of the ups and downs, put myself on figurative trial and I realize just how severely messed up I am.  I've realized that there are extended periods of time when I will coast through this life, thinking that I have it all together.  I peer into my my soul, look at my moral condition, and say to myself, "You  know.  I'm doing OK.  I've got a handle on this thing called life.  I've grown to where I want to be.  I'm not who I once was."  But just like that, in the flash of an instant, the house of cards falls, a cloud envelops me and the curtain is drawn back.  It's as if I briefly step outside of myself, look at the man next to me and I suddenly become aware of just how prone I am to falling into a pretty depraved state.

I know what you might be thinking.  This is going to be a blog about sin and the negative aspects of how it effects our lives, right?  Well, yes and no.  By definition, and according to Christian doctrine, sins are transgressions that go in opposition to our religious beliefs.  And most of the things that I'm referring to, are in fact sins.  Sin is not a very popular topic among modern Christian circles these days.  None of us like to view ourselves through the proverbial sin microscope because if we're honest with ourselves, it reveals our imperfections, faults and the corruption that lies just below the surface.  Personally, I see it most clearly when I become complacent and apathetic to what I allow myself to think, say and do.  Before long, thankfully for short periods of time, my life looks nothing like the image of Christ.  But this blog is really not about sin by definition, when you get right down to it.  It's more about sin on a philosophical level.  Let me explain.

By nature, most of us are selfish people, right?  When it comes to our own happiness, peace and general well-being of life, we usually consider ourselves first, if even for only a brief moment.  We live in a culture that enables this kind of thought on a regular basis.  Most things we hear, read and see direct us to the self and what will give us the most pleasure, usually at the expense of someone else.  We are constantly slammed with advertising each and every day that convicts us to look within and screams, "It's about YOU!"  Before we know it, we develop a construct of living that places us at the center, leaving everyone else endlessly circling around us and demanding the focus to be put on them.  The problem is that the circle gets eventually gets cluttered with trash.

The self-constructed cocoon of individuality is not so appealing when it's polluted and starts to stink.  Our apathy toward others and even God might produce a temporary high of self sufficiency, but eventually we come down and have to go through an emotional detox.  And usually when this happens, we realize that we never wanted to be at the center in the first place.  Yes, being at the center puts the focus on us, but that's the problem, isn't it?  The self puts us on stage, and while we enjoy the cheers of the crowd for a while, the spotlight reveals more than the makeup can conceal.  

Diogenes Allen once said it like this: "We remain captives within a mental framework that has actually been broken. We are like prisoners who could walk out of prison because all that would enclose us has been burst open, but we remain inside because we are asleep."  You see, the circle has no walls.  It's just a facade we painted on the ground.  We can step over it whenever we like, but we remain, knee deep in the rubbish that we've created.  Freedom lies on the outside, in communion with others.  But we chose the self.  We chose what the self wants, rather than the best God offers us.  We chose bondage over freedom.
The Apostle Paul said, "For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it."  In essence, Paul is saying that he found it easier to remain in the circle of trash.  He clearly knew the freedom that existed on the outside, but sometimes it was more appealing to lay among the piles of trash he created.  He saw the fields before him; clean and open.  He saw the multitudes calling his name, to run freely along his side.  But there were times when he could not escape the mental prison he sentences himself to.         
I admit that I've been in the circle.  I've been not only living in the trash, but somehow enjoying it.  I can see the freedom on the outside.  In fact, I've been there very recently.  I can see others that are running freely just outside the circle walls.  I hear them calling to me and questioning why I remain.  But for now, the circle of trash keeps me enclosed.  Like Paul, I know what's right.  I know what's best.  I know what God has called me to do in this life, and the circle is the last place He wants me to remain.  But, I see you on the outside of the circle.  I can hear you calling to me.  Trust me; I'm listening.