theilluminationdilemma

stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. [exploring the endless connections between faith in Jesus and everything else]

Check Your Mouth

I had the opportunity to share some thoughts on words at a church in California last weekend. Words have been on mind.

Which is partly why I find the following to be so fascinating:

Our two-year old daughter is growing more and more verbal with each passing day, but still struggles to fully express herself, the way that toddlers struggle with their emerging vocabularies. It can be frustrating at times. Super cute at others. And, incredible enlightening as well.

For example, whenever Marina is struggling with her attitude, or obedience, or just general human politeness we will ask her:

“Where are your manners?”

Or,

“Where is your happy heart?”

And she will point to her tongue and say: “Mouth.”

This, as I mentioned, is super cute. It is also deeply profound.

In fact, I think there is a proverb about this: [I actually enjoy the King James version here.]

“Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” [Pr. 4:23]

I also think Jesus had something to say about this:

“…for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” [Luke 6:45]

Many times we are asked to examine our hearts. And this is a good and worthwhile practice. But, perhaps we also need to examine our words. Because our words reveal what is in our hearts.

So what are you talking about? What are you complaining about? What are you dwelling on? What subject can you never drop? What conversation do you always find yourself in? Are your words bringing life and joy and peace, or death and frustration?

Where is your happy heart? Check your mouth!

Summer Reading: 2 Disappointments and A Surprise

I’m behind on reporting on my summer reading list (and, honestly, behind on the reading itself), so I thought I’d kill three birds with one post.

First, two disappointments: Orphan Slave Son came highly recommended and for about half the book it more than lived up to the praise. In fact, I would say the sections on Orphans and Salves are awesome. They offer a helpful  and new (to me) framework for understanding some common misapplications of the teachings of Jesus. I found his insights helpful for my own life as well as for people I lead.

After that I had high, high hopes for the third act. But the section on Sonship fell flat in my opinion. Maybe Pasley did too good a job critiquing and re-thinking in the first two sections, maybe I just didn’t have the energy left to go through another round, maybe I need to read it again.

Overall the book is a good book, with a lot of helpful insights, I just couldn’t help but feel a bit let down after being brought to such heights earlier in the work.

2.5/5

——

DisUnity is a book that appeared on almost every ‘book of the year’ list I read. It was one of the first books on my summer list that I jumped into.

Again, this is not a bad book, nor is this intended to be a bad review, but with all the hype behind it, I couldn’t help but feel let down. It didn’t feel fresh, nor did it offer much beyond the classic “birds-of-a-feather” observation and some “hey-let’s-all-get-together” hopes.

[And, now for something a bit controversial. DisUnity was published by IVP press. Some of my favorite books have been published by IVP (including this one and this one and this one). But over the last three or four years I have found their offerings to be lacking.

It’s not a content issue. The ideas and titles and theses continue to speak to me. I keep buying their books!

I’m not entirely sure what the deal is (although I do have some ideas), but it seems like at least two things are true: On the one hand, I think IVP is doing a good job utilizing a wide range of voices. They are going after lesser known authors and giving them a voice. This is a good thing. But on the other hand I think the writing and the quality of the books suffers.]

Cleveland’s a great researcher and this is a HUGE topic that needs addressing. But, for all its promise the book doesn’t deliver to that level. She’s worth watching, and I’ll be interested to see what she has to say after some time goes by and she gets a bit more seasoning as a writer.

2.5/5

—–

Finally, a book that did deliver was Surprised by Scripture. It’s hard to imagine at this point being surprised (pun intended) by something NT Wright publishes (meaning you know you are going to be in good hands here).

This book tackles a number of contemporary issues (science and faith, women in ministry, the problem of evil, politics, etc). It might as well be a top-10-things-college-students-ask-about book. Wright is able to walk the incredibly difficult line of winsome and academic. You may not agree with all his conclusions, but he will make you think, he will challenge you, and he will give you some great tools to help answer people’s questions.

Highly recommended for anyone who finds themselves in apologetical conversations.

3.5/5

Happy Birthday!

Marina turns two today which, among other things, serves as the proverbial, cliched reminder that time does, indeed fly. Today I hit pause for a moment to reflect on two years of parenthood.

The first thing I would like say by way of observation is that nothing has been more disruptive to my life than becoming a parent. College was a time of transitioning and developing. Post-college brought new adulty realities into my life. Moving to Colorado to plant a church required a different level of growing up. And then marriage and moving to Boston accelerated the maturity process in all kinds of new ways.

But, nothing has been more disruptive than fatherhood.

The second thing I want to say is that this disruption has proven to be one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received.

I say this because parenting has challenged me, has stretched me, has disrupted my selfishness and self-centeredness like nothing else. Nothing has revealed the dark parts of my soul quite as brightly as parenting.

I used to roll my eyes when my dad would say things to this effect. And certainly, I know many single people (or non-parents) who are incredibly mature and are light-years ahead of me in terms of character development.

I also want to say that I know many people who for whatever reasons are unable to have kids. Having experienced some challenges with fertility ourselves, I can also say that that challenge is every bit as forming as having kids. Maybe more so.

But, for me, and for many people I’ve talked to and pestered with questions, I understand like never before how important parenting is to becoming a mature adult with a character that has been tested and refined in the crucible of poop and fatigue and disciplining and trying to reason with a tiny, emotional human being.

God, I believe, gives us children to make us more like him.

Now, I know also know many people who had poor parental examples. I know and have heard so many stories of parenting done poorly. I know that simply reproducing doesn’t make you a better person.

But it does reveal what’s there unlike anything else. Some people look at what is revealed and choose to ignore it, run away from it, or deny it.

But if the revelation is embraced it can bring transformation. This I have also seen personally and in the lives of countless friends and family who have become incredibly beautiful people through embracing the challenges of parenting.

The last thing I would like to say, is that beyond life lessons and maturing, I am simply grateful for Marina. At two years old she is already a remarkable person, and we love discovering more about her all the time.

Happy Birthday, Kiddo! We love you!

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Summer Reading: Eleanor & Park

When the author (John Green) of one of the best novels (The Fault In Our Starts) you have read in a long time highly recommends a book you go and read it.

That book is Eleanor & Park.

Rainbow Rowell’s novel doesn’t quite reach the emotional heights of The Fault In Our Stars (what could), but it does add a unique and strong voice to the burgeoning “young adult” genre.

I loved two things about this novel. First, this an author who writes a great high school love story that revolves around real people. There are no vampires, no wizards, no extraordinary/otherworldly challenges that the characters face. These are real kids who we went to high school with (or who we were in high school). Relatable characters can come in all shapes and sizes and in a variety of genres, but I don’t know of any other YA stories that nail real life high school like this does.

Second, Eleanor & Park has been cast as an interracial dating book, and I suppose that’s in there, but this novel is really about class, and class divisions, and the challenges of lower-income families and kids, and the challenges that come when lower-income kids interact with middle-income kids. And I think that is unique too. Class is just as large of a challenge for  us to understand and talk about as race, and it creates just as many divisions. Rainbow Rowell handles it all with very skilled hands.

No spoiler alerts here. Read the book to the end. It is moving in all the right ways.

4 (of 5) stars

Summer Reading: Daring Greatly

Brene Brown gained quite a bit of internet fame due her TED Talk on vulnerability. And for good reason: the talk is amazing. No really, go watch it right now. If you’ve never seen it before it will be 20 of the best minutes of your day.

I’ve had her book, Daring Greatly, on my “to read” list for a while. I was hoping it would provide inspiration for me as I ponder our family’s future.

I was kind of disappointed though.

This is actually a good thing. I think I was expecting a rah-rah-g0-get-’em-don’t-waste-your-life kind of book, but instead her vision of daring greatly is much more mundane, much more normal than mine.

Again, this is a good thing. Instead of let’s go conquer the world, she offers hope and help for people who are trying to make their marriages work, trying to love their kids well, trying to succeed in their jobs. Not as sexy, but immensely practical.

Three things stood out to me. First, her stuff on wholeheartedness is outstanding. Wrapped up in that is the tension between ‘scarcity’ and ‘enough’. Most of us live in a scarcity worldview, when actually there is enough. Her point is that vulnerability and wholeheartedness are inextricably tied together…you don’t get one without the other. So, let’s have the courage to believe we have enough, and the vulnerability to let go of the scarcity worldview (I’ll never be enough, have enough, etc).

Second, she writes a great section on addiction towards the end of the book. One of the more convicting points had to do with how many of us don’t think of ourselves as addicts, but we all utilize coping mechanisms that she calls “taking the edge off.” Whether that’s a couple of extra drinks, or a couple of extra hours in front of the tv, it might not look like an addiction, but when we consistently (daily) rely on those things to “take the edge off” our stressful lives we are essentially addicts, just trying to escape reality. Ouch!

Finally, my favorite part of the book is that Brene is relentlessly honest about herself and her struggle with vulnerability. This is not just an academic topic of study for her. This has been a real life struggle, and her honesty is refreshing and makes the book far more readable than it might otherwise have been.

Take A Vacation

We went camping this weekend. This was M’s first time in the woods over night. She did great.

We ate bacon:

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We jumped off stumps:

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We tried hot chocolate for the first time:

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We practiced the spiritual discipline of looking at a body of water while pondering the deeper truths of life:

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At about 7 pm on Saturday evening, M was asleep, Amy and I were reading good books, all was peaceful in our campsite, and I was beginning to compose a post in my mind about the importance of sabbathing, of getting away, even just for a day, of decompressing. I was feeling it. Space, relaxation, the ability to breath deeply. All had been missing from recent weeks and months.

And then our neighbors came back. They were loud. They used “mother-effer” as a singular, jack-hammer adjective. They had extremely negative things to say about everything and everyone they had encountered during the day.

About an hour and a half later the fireworks started. This is not good writing as I lead into a description of an all-time-camping-neighbors-go-crazy-on-each-other-epic-throwdown fight. This was the 4th of July weekend and there were literal fireworks going off for over an hour. It sounded like war.

M slept through it. Her parents not so much.

And then the snoring. Snoring that could raise the dead. I have never heard anything like this before in my life.

M slept through it. Her parents not so much.

Sunday morning was glorious even though it started at about 5:30 am or whenever the sun rose. I guess this was our revenge. M fell off the table bench and started screaming. We were cooking bacon at 6:30 am. You’re welcome, everyone else in camp!

Sabbath’s are great (although, more difficult with small children), and I am all for them. In fact, I would guess somewhere around twenty percent of the posts on this blog have to do with rest.

But sometimes, you need a vacation.

I enjoyed our quick getaway. I regret that we don’t do this more often. But even twenty-four hours leaves a lot at the mercy of neighbors and weather (we lost one day of this trip to a tropical storm because Boston’s the weirdest) and fireworks.

Make sure you take a vacation.

The Great American Rorschach Test

World Cup season is upon us with play beginning last Thursday afternoon (the US get its first match later today), which means going on facebook or twitter involves wading through a morass of deeply divided opinions and perspectives.

Some of my friends love soccer and are reveling in the World Cup, and others think it is stupid and they want the world to know!

Playing and loving soccer (as a red-blooded US citizen), for the past 20 years, I’ve learned that soccer is the great American Rorschach test.

People will see in it whatever the want to see: everything from feminine floppers and over-paid divas who undermine traditional concepts of competitiveness to the beautiful game enjoyed by all the world. It is either everything that is right or everything that is wrong with the US, the earth, sports, politics, and people. I would argue that this is part of what makes soccer so special and so popular: people talk about it and they talk about it passionately.

(A quick aside: I cannot for the life of me understand why people love MMA or boxing. But they do. I cast my vote with my eyes: I don’t watch it, and I certainly  don’t tweet about how stupid I think it is. If you think soccer is dumb, I have one piece of advice: do what I do with MMA…DON’T WATCH).

Let me address a couple of common issues with the game, and then I’ll give you my true theory as to why American’s struggle with soccer (and why I don’t think it will ever fully catch on here, even if we produce a Cup champion).

Typically, the first target of derision is focused around flopping. I don’t think people who complain about this truly understand what a flop is. A flop is not any time a player falls on the ground. Put 22 men out on a pitch, running around at full speed, chasing a ball, and they are going to run into each other and fall down. Ninety percent of “flops” are, upon seeing a replay, truly fouls or incidents where a player is knocked over (or stepped on, or kicked…none of which, by the way, feels good).

There are flops, no doubt about it. It is a skill and a strategy, and it can be used to great effectiveness and it can certainly be abused. But, sometimes it is the only strategy a team might have if they have any hope of surviving a match. The reality, though, according to the numbers run in Soccernomics is that penalties have a very low determinant on who wins the game. Talent and home field almost always trump referees and penalties.

Which leads to another common complaint: the referees are terrible, too arbitrary, too subjective, and have too much influence on the outcome of the game. The same article I referenced above makes the case that while there are always those glaring exceptions (as there are in any sport), the referees have little influence on the outcome of the game compared to other factors.

Moreover, what is interesting to me is that many of the same people who complain about soccer refs complain about instant replay in other sports. Especially IR in baseball in which the “human element” and mistakes/subjectivity by umpires is almost held as sacred (so what do you want, the right call or the human element?).

The NFL, NBA, and MLB have all had significant incidents of referees directly influencing the outcome of the game, but this is never held as a criticism of THE SPORT, only as criticism of the referees. In soccer, the failures of refs are always as a failure of the game itself.

Undoubtedly both of these issues are frustrating, and to a casual fan I can understand why they are difficult hurdles to jump over.

But, here’s the real reason I think American’s struggle with soccer. It’s not the refs, it’s not the flops, it’s not even the low scoring.

Soccer is about the process. It is messy and gray and the results don’t always match the process. It is, inherently, the most unjust of all of the major sports. And, quite frankly, the rest of the world is a little more familiar with injustice than Americans are.

I love soccer, but the most frustrating aspect of the game for me, is that a team can posses the ball for 60, 70, even 80 percent of the time, play dominantly, and lose 1-0 because of one perfect counter attack by the other team (by the way this is the strategy the US has used to great effect in it’s strong showings at the World Cup in 2002 and 2010).

In other words, one team can dominate the game and still lose. It’s unjust.

The goal of soccer is not goals, it is creating dangerous, high quality opportunities to score. Create enough opportunities and goals will come. Over time, the team that is able to consistently do that will win many matches. A team can’t control goals, but it can control the process that leads to goals.

This is true of any sport. You will hear batters, in baseball, talk about their swings and trying “square the ball up,” knowing that that’s really all they can control. In football, teams focus on execution: blocks, patterns, reads, etc, but no sport is as fundamentally process oriented as soccer.

To be a soccer fan is to embrace process over results, mess over order, and injustice over deserved outcomes. Again, the rest of the world is more comfortable with these ideas than we are.

I hope soccer continues to grow in popularity, but I also know that it’s never going to be huge here in the US. This world cup has already been pretty fantastic and it’s only going to get better from here, so if you are ready, now is a great time to jump in and embrace the messy, injustice of the world’s beautiful game.

Summer Reading: Tattoos on the Heart

Tattoos on the Heart  is now my favorite book of all time. It’s not the best book I’ve read, it’s not the best written book I’ve read.

But, it is my favorite.

I dare you to read this book and not be moved: you will laugh, cry, and be disturbed in all the right ways.

Greg Boyle has been working with gang members for over 20 years in east Los Angeles. It is gnarly work. His stories are incredible because he’s been working in incredible conditions. I find, though, that there is a lot of crossover between his work and my work: broken families, father wounds, dependence issues, the search for community and hope.

There are also some critical differences. My students don’t have “F#@! the world” tattooed on their foreheads. They probably aren’t going to be shot by a rival any time soon. Everything they are engaged in is focused on their future, the polar opposite of the gang member.

I’ve been reading some of these stories to our staff and it raised the question: what is harder, ministering to people who are desperate and broken or ministering to people who are privileged and broken?

I’m not going to answer that question here, but I do want to leave you with some of Greg’s words:

“[We are] inching our way closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognize it. Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those who dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when stop throwing people away. The prophet Habakkuk writes, ‘The vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment and it will not disappoint…and if it delays, wait for it.’ Kinship is what God presses us on to, always hopeful that its time has come.”

Brene Brown Being Awesome

“For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is ‘I didn’t get enough sleep.’ The next one is ‘I don’t have enough time.’ Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically…before we even sit up in bed…we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds are racing with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day.

Scarcity is the “never enough’ problem. What makes this constant assessing and comparing so self-defeating is that we are often comparing our lives, our marriages, and our communities to unattainable, media-driven visions of perfection, or we’re holding up our reality against our own fictional account of how great someone else has it. Nostalgia is also a dangerous form of comparison. Think about how often we compare ourselves and our lives to a memory that nostalgia has so completely edited that it never really existed.

The opposite of ‘never enough’ isn’t abundance or ‘more than you could ever imagine.’ The opposite of scarcity is enough, or what I call Wholeheartedness. There are many tenets of wholeheartedness, but at its very core is vulnerability and worthiness: facing uncertainty, exposure, and emotional risks, and knowing that I am enough.

Daring Greatly

Getting Used to Joy

Greg Boyle writes: “Delighting is what occupies God, and God’s hope is that we join in. That God’s joy may be in us and this may be complete. We just happen to be God’s joy. That takes some getting used to.”

—–

A common theme of this blog has turned out to be joy: losing it, finding it, maintaining it.

Some things that rob me of joy:
Car maintenance (and the cost thereof)
Fixing gadgets (and the cost thereof)

Especially the car. I love driving and I appreciate the opportunities a car affords, but I hate affording the car. It makes me grumpy and joyless in no time at all.

——

We read to our daughter from The Jesus storybook Bible every night. Some would say this is not a “real” Bible, but it is God’s word to us more often than not. I’m not sure how much Marina gets out of it, but I am cut to the heart almost every time we read.

Without fail, it seems, we come across a section called “The Singer” whenever I begin to worry about money, fundraising, our car, something that needs to be fixed, our budget, you name it. Without fail.

The Singer is essentially the sermon on the mount, with a special focus on Jesus’ admonition to “not worry”.

Conviction via the children’s Bible.

—–

I met with a student who graduated recently yesterday and she said, in the middle of pontificating on many things, a sort of off-handed comment: “when was the last time you were really surprised by something? I don’t want to lose my ability to be surprised.”

We got Marina some new silverware and bibs, and she got to try them out a few days ago. Her face lit up like Taylor Swift winning a Grammy.

Pure joy.
Total Surprise.
Joining in God’s delight.

Marina has an ability to be surprised, to not worry about stuff, and to delight that continues to rub the edges off my hard heart.

Those things that rob you of joy: conflict, cars, computer, whatever it might be, name them, but don’t allow them to kill your ability to be surprised, to delight.

We happen to be God’s joy. Get used to it.

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