On Parenting

So I spent some time with a child psychologist this afternoon; we were talking about ways to raise our children well, how to love them, how to discipline them, etc.

It was a fruitful conversation until that fateful word was uttered: humiliating.

It was in the context of a parent putting up consequences for his teenage son, in an effort to curb negative behavior. The conversation was intended to provoke “creative consequences” for bad decisions—a way for the parents to designate a consequence before the action occurred, offered as a contract between parent and child, if you will; but one that was supposed to be painful, in the manner that an electric shock is painful—sudden, not terribly prolonged, and never forgotten.

And that was where the humiliation word came in.

The psychologist was describing a punishment some parents offered their daughter, with glee oozing out of every descriptive phrase, the culmination of which was the statement, “It was so humiliating for her!”

Victory won, for the parents, presumably.

There were more stories offered as advice on how to conjure creative and effective punishments—if done correctly, we were told, the behavior would never repeat itself.

This was how we were to approach discipline for our children.

Now, I have a problem with this approach.

I believe, very strongly, that the role of the parent is to model and express the love of God at all times, in every possible manner.

That a parent’s primary role is to conjure up creative ways to love their kids, and to let them bathe in that love.

I believe that to concoct punishments that humiliate is simply an exercise in trying to control a child’s behavior, rather than the deeper issues of trying to discover what’s going on in the inside and how to deal with that.

The difficult part about hearing all of this is, there are so many people my age who have been raised under this paradigm. There are so many people right now, processing the incredibly harmful effects of this system of parenting, not the least of which is a view of God the Father as a stern disciplinarian, waiting around each and every corner, just hoping for the opportunity to point out our bad behavior and punish, punish, punish until dawn.

Now, I’m not talking about physical abuse here, although that could certainly fit the bill. What we were told to do was exactly the opposite. Non-physical, but rather emotional spanking, if you will…

The problem is, God doesn’t operate like that. Not the God I read about in the Bible, who sacrifices his all for the sake of his children. The one who says to let the children come to me, snotty noses and all, because the Kingdom belongs to such as these.

The God in the Bible is the one who grieves when the son leaves home to squander his inheritance. The God in the Bible is the one who looks out at the fields each and every day, for years, hoping that the son will come home. The God in the Bible is the one who rushes out in full sprint when he finally sees him on the horizon, not to rub his nose in the pig shit, reminding him of his failures, but to slaughter the best and to prepare a feast.

God is not a god who humiliates.

God is a god who offers dignity. Respect. Honor. Humility.

The God I read about in the Bible would never, ever try to find ways to rub our noses in it—to provide the electric shock approach to discipline. Every act we see in the Bible is, rather, aimed at trying to cover up shame, rather than heap it on. Every act in the Bible is intended to bring about dignity, rather than strip it away.

This is the love of the Father. This is what our hearts crave, for we need to hear it, all of us, each and every day. For we can never receive too much love, too much grace, too much dignity.

We are made to love and be loved by God the Father, who is, by very nature, Love.

On Pain

(Written on 10-21-09): So I’ve been processing things that I have been seeing, experiencing, feeling, lately. And it saddens me to say that what I’ve been seeing lately has been pain. Lots of it.

I see it in the strangest places.

I see it in my son’s eyes as I tell him I need to go to Market Night. Again.

I see it in my student’s eyes as they share a tragic story with me.

I see it in my wife when we don’t get enough time together.

I see it in my heart as I grieve the 15 year anniversary of my close friend’s death.

It can be daunting. Let me amend that: It is daunting. It can be downright overwhelming, the heart crying out in agony over life and its events. Really difficult events.

And the pain is real.

And it hurts.

A lot.

I read an ancient philosopher who said that the anesthesia to all of this pain, this feeling of being overwhelmed, is hope.
I love the idea of it. I mean, when there is pain, and where there is pain, what would that look like if it were replaced with hope?

Hope for a better way.

Hope that it doesn’t have to always be like this.

Hope that the pain will be gone, someday, somehow.

Hope is one of the most beautiful ideas ever.

It’s just that we seem to have so little of it. It seems so fleeting, so hard to catch.

We might have it for a while, for an hour or even a day, but then reality seems to hit, and the pain that comes with it feels almost weightier than before.

It’s almost as though we are better off without the hope, for then we can at least numb our pain with our vices—those pain-numbing things that only really serve as distractions, band-aids, if you will.

It’s like we all need surgery on the inside, and all we do for the damage is take asprin. The pain is numbed for a while, but in the end, we’re no better off than before.

And then we see some doctor about it, and she tells us that the pain can be gone, that there is hope for a cure. And we cling to that one word: Hope.

Hope.

For a cure.

But when life hits us again, or the pain swells due to unforeseen circumstances, we forget the doctor’s words. We almost wish she had remained silent. For at least then, we wouldn’t have been filled with this false sense of optimism, this feeling that it just might work out in the end.

The pain just gets to be too much to believe that there could ever be hope for such a cure.

Either that or we start to think the doctor didn’t really know what she was talking about in the first place. Our situation is different, we tell ourselves. And the despair and pain get deeper than they ever were before…

And so this ancient philosopher says that the key to hope is actually rooted in an entirely different concept altogether: Perseverance.

I honestly don’t like that word.

Perseverance.

It reminds me of the feeling I have halfway up the long hill on my bike rides to work in the morning, where all I can think of is the intense desire to stop, to take a break, to grab some water. To catch my breath.

How much of our lives do we spend trying to catch our breath?

I need to catch my breath from time to time. But I think what this philosopher was talking about wasn’t so much resting as much as quitting.

Like the internal conflict when I have decided to ride my bike in the morning, and I know it’s going to be really tiring, and I walk outside and it’s a little colder than I thought, the conditions aren’t just so, and my car sits in the driveway calling out comfort, convenience, an invitation to quit on the ride before it even starts.

But ultimately I cheat myself if I accept the car’s invitation.

It’s this kind of perseverance he is talking about. The kind that keeps on, in spite of the pain. Not one that tries to hide the pain—for we cannot admit that we are persevering without some admission that it is painful, uncomfortable.

The philosopher goes on to say that as we persevere, character is developed in us. This is that same character that shows up when a father looks his son in the eye intently telling him “I love you”, even after the son just spit in his face.

It is the husband who sticks with his wife, after they have just been married four months and she gets in an accident and loses all senses from the neck down and they find out that she will be confined to a wheelchair the rest of her life and that kids are now completely out of the equation.

It is the faithful couple celebrating their 75th anniversary together, grandkids clapping in the room in admiration of anything that could have stood together for that much time.

It is character that defines a person.

Character is staying power, it is dependability, it is the foundation, the philosopher says, of hope.

But it cannot be fostered without perseverance, which cannot be fostered without suffering, without pain.

This is difficult to digest. For in this moment, I don’t like pain. I don’t welcome it—rather, I try my hardest to avoid it.

But at the same time, I desperately desire to be a man of character. I desperately want to live a life filled with hope—that kind of hope that radiates outward and tells others that it’s all going to work out, that it’s all going to be OK.

That we all hurt, and that the hurt is difficult. Really difficult.

But the hurt doesn’t have to be the end of our story.

The hurt can be overcome.

The hurt

doesn’t

always

have

to

win.

And for this, I have hope.

What I Saw Today:

• Fake fire in an outdoor fire pit, while we all stared mesmerized. I couldn’t help but notice the convenience of “clean smoke” and switch-on fire.
• Nice homes and nice cars. Everywhere.
• Wine galas at South Coast Plaza where proceeds benefit an Orange County food bank. How many of those in attendance even know where the food bank is?
• Church success measured by how many people attend and how many flat screen TV’s they have in the lobby.
• One church where they are talking about taking on a $10,000 per month mortgage after 3 years of existence. Another, 2 years old, where they can’t afford to pay their pastor and his family. This pastor spends his time feeding HIV patients in the community, while the other…?
• Suburbia = comfort. Is this what we really want?
• Kingdom of comfort, Kingdom of comfort, Kingdom of comfort. Just don’t speak critically of this to Christians engrossed in this. They might try to crucify you.
• A home remodeled to accommodate an outdoor 54-inch flat screen TV that drops down from above at the touch of a button so you can watch your baseball game while soaking in the hot tub.
• More fake fire.
• M0re. There is a mistaken zero instead of an o. This is actually a very interesting mistake…
• An article about how spending money on ourselves doesn’t result in happiness.
• The article gives compelling evidence that when we spend it on others, we find fulfillment.
• A sign that says, “Never apologize for being an American”.
• I take that to read, Don’t quit chasing the American Dream.
• What Dream?
• Why M0re?
• Who is my neighbor?
• Why comfort?
• That’s what I saw today…

On The Least of These

I spent the morning offering my time to a local food bank that gives food to needy families in town. And that statement alone tells all…

“Offering my time” is such a statement of privilege, from a voice implying that all those at the food bank were blessed to have me there this morning, that my time is so incredibly valuable that for me to “stoop” and give to those who are in need was the biggest sacrifice someone of my lofty stature could offer.

And I could not have been more wrong.

In fact, my heart does not want to use the phrase “offering my time”, but my fingers typed it anyway, indicating something on a deeper level that is hidden perhaps from even my inmost being.

The reality is, people were blessed this morning. I saw such a collection of people, from the 50-year old white man with tattered clothes to the most adorable young Hispanic children, full of life and delight at acquiring a new soccer ball (there is a section at the food bank for clothes and toys), to the well dressed African-American ladies who held their heads high and carried themselves with the dignity of someone who was not too proud to go to the shelter for food.

And the one most blessed this morning was me.

Let me tell you a little of the background story: I own a small start-up coffee business. Our aim is to use the profits we make from selling coffee to go back in to the community and bless the people of the fine town we live in. To date, we have donated thousands and thousands of pounds of food to this very food bank.

But I have not had the chance to actually donate my time to the food bank since this business has been going. All I had to offer was a check each month…

Now, please don’t get me wrong. That check is something I am incredibly proud of. I am following my dream of using a capitalistic system to line not my own pockets, but to better the lives of so many right here in our own community. I cannot tell you the sense of satisfaction gained from doing this, knowing that countless families have food on their table each night in part because of what I have been able to do with the coffee business.

But the satisfaction goes only so far after a while.

What is missing with a check is the faces, the names, the smiles. What is missing with a check is the family carrying armloads of grocery bags and trying to find the room to put them in their car.

For their car may very well double as their home.

What is missing with a check is the gratitude of everyone as they walk out with ample supplies of food.

What is missing with the check is the reality that over half of the people offering their time to volunteer at the food bank, serving the needy, are homeless themselves.

Over half of the people offering their time to serve at the food bank are homeless themselves.

Notice: these are the ones “offering their time”, not me. These are the ones with the dignity. These are the ones who get their hands dirty, serving those within the community who are less fortunate than they.

Serving those who are less fortunate than they…

Where have we missed it as a society?

Since when is earning more money the supposed pinnacle of living?

Why is it that cities pass measures trying to “eliminate the problem of homelessness” by sending squad cars around at night, “encouraging” the homeless to leave the city?

I am proud of the city I live in. There is a good-sized homeless population. And the city I live in is one of the most affluent in the area.

Homeless.

Affluent.

Disconnected.

Now, there are those in this fine city I live in who have obtained the understanding that wealth is for others, not for individuals themselves. In fact, the building that houses the food bank was given as a donation, purchased by a local corporation, as a gift to the community.

The owner of that company understands that there is more to wealth than self-indulgence. The owner of that company has set an example for others in our community to follow.

And they do follow.

Anyone who has been around affluence knows that charitable giving is a part of an individual’s “overall financial plan”—that charitable donations are used as a means of lowering a wealthy person’s taxable income, making it appear to the IRS that they have earned less than they really have. It is a perfectly legal practice, since the government wants to promote charitable giving, and therefore offers a tax incentive to do so.

There is much good that occurs from writing a check.

Countless charities have done incredible good in their communities, and in the global community as a whole, as a direct result of people writing a check.

Thank God for those people! And I think we would agree the world could use more of these!

But when all is said and done, there still exists a disconnect.

The person writing the check doesn’t know the names or the faces of the people that check is benefiting.

The people benefiting don’t know the name or the face of the one giving.

And the tragic thing is, I think we all prefer it that way.

It is easier.

Easier to stay in our bubble of comfort rather than have that bubble constantly burst by real life itself.

For when we allow ourselves to be conveniently isolated, insulated from the names, from the stories behind the eyes of the hurting, we feel contented that what we’re giving is enough. After all, if we were to really engage “those people”, we might feel compelled to give more (whether more money, more time, more resources), and the plain truth is that it is uncomfortable to do so.

If I were to give more of my money, how can I afford the nicer car that I feel I need?

If I were to give more of my time, when would there be time for movies, or video games, or watching my favorite TV shows?

It is truth that in America, we all feel “strapped”: strapped for cash, strapped for time, strapped for energy. But what if, by agreeing to give something sacrificially—not out of our extra but rather out of our excess, we were to budget the money, or schedule the time, to give? Sure it’s a bit uncomfortable, but that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?

There were people blessed at the food bank this morning, but I feel none was blessed more than me. As I shook hands with real people, who had real problems, with real needs, and real hunger, it made me hungry as well.

Hungry to make a greater impact.

Hungry to offer more— more money, more time, more resources.

When I saw the adorable little children, brother and sister, with the sister still in her pajamas (they were dirty) and the brother in clothes that didn’t fit (the shirt was down to his knees and the pants were rolled up considerably at the cuffs), something inside me stirred.

Something inside said, with all the passion I could muster:

This

Is

Not

Right.

Children should not live lives of such poverty that it will take them over a year before they grow into their clothes, while my children’s dressers overflow with clothes that fit them now.

Children should not live lives of such poverty that they have to get cast-away toys while mine have an entire room in the house devoted to toys.

Children should not live lives of such poverty that they would go hungry, while my kids throw excess food from their plates and on to the ground.

The heartbreaking thing is that this is not a picture of a third world country, but of people in our own neighborhoods, in our own communities.

We try to ignore them, sweep them under the community’s rug, so to speak, because we are afraid.

Afraid that, once we get to know their names, then we are somehow responsible for taking care of them.

Afraid that, once we see their face, we just might remember them.

Afraid that, the second we see their condition, we may very well feel guilty about our own surplus.

But what if this fear were overcome, and instead moved us to action?

What if we were willing to have our bubbles of comfort burst, if only for a single morning, in order that good deeds might increase?

What if we were willing to search out some local charities in our own neighborhoods, and ask to take a tour, or to find out when they have volunteer hours?

It just might move us to act.

It just might move us to start writing some checks.

Better yet, it might move us to start volunteering our time on a regular basis.

And even better still, it just might move us to start walking with our heads up and our eyes open, noticing those around us who share the exact same humanity as we, whose circumstances are a bit more unfortunate than ours, and we just might take the time to find out their name, to remember their face, to hear some of their story.

And in doing so, as the fabric of our communities begins to become more interlaced, we may just find a bit of our own humanity, our own personal dignity, restored face by face, name by name, in the process…

A tribute to my grandfather, Joe Capraro, who lived 91 honorable years…

The Fighter

Born abroad, traveled by sea
From boat’s deck you saw Liberty
Settled in to a foreign land
And took nothing from an open hand

Chosen, rather, was the road of grit
And you traveled with dignity down it
Everything owned—language, culture, home
Was not from others’ labor—solely your own

You fought in the war for the country you would love and know
With every mission, Providence’s Hand would guide you safely home

Started a family, with beautiful children, four
A wife of radiant beauty, from inside and out
A house of warmth, a home filled with love
The fight for their provision took priority above

Fought for your children’s best, modeling strength
Sat grandkids on your lap, telling stories at length
Celebrated life, lived it well
Gave generously from a bottomless well

You fought in your home for the family you would love and know
Modeling Providence’s Hand to offer warmth in your home

When life’s curtain began to draw, you hung on, you fought
Precious moments with loved ones continued to be sought
But now a different curtain has come in to view
Revealing the agelessness of eternity anew

Legacy’s impact firmly embedded
On your beloved and the direction they’re headed
We grieve your absence and find it hard to let go
But watch on as Heaven’s veil is lifted slow

You fought in this life for eternity you would love and know
Where Providence’s outstretched Hand welcomes you joyously home

The Tree

We recently moved into an older house. It is one of those older homes (read: bigger yard, mature trees) which has been recently remodeled (read: stainless steel appliances and granite countertops).

I’d like to think it’s the best of both worlds; the marriage of the old and the new, reminding us both of the Earth’s stability and this life’s ever-changing nature.

Most of our trees are beginning to turn colors this time of year; if they were suddenly transplanted to New England, the leaves would announce fall with bright hues of red and orange, singing one last song before their slow descent to the front lawn. Here in Southern California, they turn yellow, and then brown, but their unique beauty is a welcome sight nonetheless.

The fall brings about new joys and experiences—I even taught my boys how to rake leaves the other day; there is something so normal, so natural about doing this type of work. Yes, it’s a bit taxing, and I may not find it enjoyable 10 years from now when they would rather be inside listening to their music, insulated from the elements outside, but right now, it is a reality just this side of heaven. They rake, with instruments twice the size they are, forming a nice big pile in the grass, only to jump in it and bring cause to begin the process anew.

In the far front of the yard sits an oak, regally planted between the sidewalk and the street. It is the oak that draws Garrett’s attention this day; he is drawn to the mystery that lies within the branches up high. There is something in a boy that sees height as something to be conquered. And so I lift Garrett up into the first layer of branches; thick stalks that would hold many adults—I am not worried about his three and a half year old frame taxing the aged branch.

After some time of content gazing from above, Garrett takes a step toward a higher branch. Scared and cautious, he manages his way up about two feet from where he began, finding another safe hold for his feet to rest. With a slight look of triumph, he gazes down at me, announcing his new ascent, his conquered quest.

As with any of us, this too becomes commonplace after a short while, and the higher branches tempt him still. As he asks for permission to continue climbing, I assent reluctantly, for I cannot reach where he wants to go; were he to slip or fall, I would have to pluck him out of the air, rather than merely stabilize his footing.

Gaining bravado, he climbs to his desired destination. I, a proud father, look on, watching the seeds of a young man sprout in my son before my very eyes.

It is time to leave now, time for Garrett to get down from the tree. It is here that the dilemma sets in—that same dilemma that paralyzes most adults from climbing anything in the first place: he begins to learn firsthand, that it is far easier to go up than to come down.

I see fear in his eyes as he asks for help down. I remind him that I cannot reach; that this is something that he needs to conquer himself. I offer to coach him through it, but lovingly assert that this tree is his to conquer, and that he needs to do it on his own.
This bred much fear in Garrett, since there is none among us who wouldn’t rather have a helping hand in a situation such as this.
But something far greater began to emerge, slowly winning over the fear. As it began to settle in his mind that my offer to merely coach him down the tree was one made of love, an offer that communicated that I was not going to leave him, that I was there to guide him, to cheer him on in his quest, I saw a flicker of courage snuff out the fear that had captured him.

This courage came and went, then came again. Like the rising tide of the ocean, however, I could sense the courage winning out over the desolation of paralyzing fear.

Listening to my words, and with much coaching, encouragement, and assurance from me, Garrett made the frightening descent to a lower branch.

This left him with a few scrapes on his shins, slightly shaky legs, but with the overwhelmingly proud look of a young boy who had conquered, of a boy who had experienced one of the myriad moments of initiation that occurs in a lifetime, and an initiation that was won, where for a moment, fear had lost, and the seeds of a brave and courageous heart were sown.

Hope’s Flicker

Sometimes
It takes
The elimination
Of all ambient light
Of all manufactured illumination
The total dissolution of conditional hope
To expose the one candle in the room
That can never be extinguished.

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On Less-Hope-Ness

I am writing this at 11pm in Santa Barbara, listening to a Swedish band on my iPod whose language I cannot understand for the life of me, and feeling totally relaxed and at home.

It has been a week of living hell for me and my family. Actually, what seems like two and a half years of an in-limbo state for us, with periods of intense warfare, intense opposition, and other periods of quietude, of relative silence.

But all the while, in limbo. In a transitional state where we know where we are going, we just don’t know when or how we will get there.

And the result is this intense build-up of quiet frustration—you know, the kind that is only exposed by some strange and unrelated spark that usually ends up with me acting out of unexpected rage…

This season has had plenty of those moments, especially lately. The “spark” can sometimes be as innocuous as my son hanging on my leg wanting me to carry him, when all I really want is to get to the kitchen and pour myself another cup of coffee. It can be a little more intense when a traffic jam halts my commute; in either case, the common thread of impeded progress is at play.

And that is what my life’s theme has been over these past two and a half years: impeded progress.

I know, I’m supposed to just wait on the Lord, right?

Go ahead—you try it and tell me how that feels.

Go ahead and let God show you where He is going to place you and what He is going to have you doing, and then just sit and wait for a few years, tasting the possibilities of doing those things, but never getting a full mouthful, and then tell me that a traffic jam won’t set you off, too.

Seriously, I don’t mean to be harsh here, but has this ever happened to you?

The really frustrating part is, it has probably happened to more of us than any of us knows.

And I wonder, how many of us have lost heart while in the transition? How many of us have allowed the utter feeling of hopelessness to gain more and more control with each passing moment?

I know David had to go through much more than this, but wasn’t he some “super-Christian” who had it all figured out? Wasn’t he some spiritual giant who didn’t mind running from town to town hiding from his oppressive adversary? He must have just viewed all of that time as “refining”, as galvanizing his faith, as allowing him quality time with God in the wilderness, right?

Sure—that was David’s deal. Because he was a super-Christian. I mean, God did call him a man after his own heart, right?

Right.

This theory holds true as long we ignore the Psalms completely and cover them up with religiosity, sweeping them under the rug of ignorance…

I have been singing Psalm 40 to myself a lot lately. (Well, U2’s abridged version at least!) The refrain that keeps finding itself in my mind is the phrase How Long? How long to sing this song?

Whether you read the Psalm or sing it, contained within is this constant dialogue between the “How Long?” and the promise that “I will sing a new song”.

I both love it and hate it.

I love it, because it’s honest, it’s true, and it holds to a promise of a better day, of a new song to be sung on our hearts, a song of praise and rejoicing as opposed to one of despair.

But I hate it because it’s honest, it’s true, and it doesn’t say when that better day will be coming, and how long we have to sing our current song before the “new” one is on our lips.

It is this tension that was not in the “membership packet” at my church.

It is this constant tension that was not told to me in Christianity’s sales pitch, or written about in any tract.

But it is reality. For every single one of us who is genuinely seeking God.

And I honestly hate that reality.

Because, deep inside, I know that times like this season us (if we allow them) to handle the assignments down the road. David would not have had battle-tested “mighty men” if he had gone straight from shepherd boy to king overnight.

I intellectually acknowledge that David learned invaluable lessons during his many lengthy seasons preceding his kingship, but there is some arrogant part inside of me that thinks I’m above learning lessons the way humans have had to learn them from the beginning of time. There is something inside of me that believes I am above hardship, that convinces me that battle isn’t necessary, that persistence isn’t for everyone, that certain privileges are handed down to those who “do things right”, that prosperity follows those who follow God with all of their heart, mind, soul, and strength.

There is something inside of me that refuses to acknowledge the truth that there are parts of me, and always will be parts of me, that God will be working on, and that God’s “working on” is rarely comfortable.

There is something inside of me that still wants to believe that we can really learn lessons independent of adversity.

There is something in me that loves to think of his faith being galvanized, without admitting that the process of galvanization literally means to pass through fire, rearranging the molecular structure of a metal, and thus forcing all of the weak spots out.

I want my faith to be galvanized, but without the heat.

I want to learn the lessons of life, but without experiencing them.

I admit that, even though I scoff at the “Prosperity Gospel” preachers, somewhere deep inside, I really want to believe them.

But the Psalm asks the honest question: How Long?

From my experience, I ask that question casually after the first week of a trial, then a bit more seriously after the first few weeks, and progressing in to a more and more intensified plea as the weeks bleed into months: How Long?

As the months become years, the question becomes serious enough to even write about it!
How Long, O Lord?

How long will I have to wait until You come through for me? Until your promise for me is fulfilled?

How long will I be stuck in the mire of my current situation—when will you lift me out so I can really praise you?

And I think that, right there, is the point.

God doesn’t want our conditional love.

He wants us.

He wants all of our hearts.

Not just the part that loves Him when He’s giving gifts, but that one that trusts that He is a Father to us even during the tough times.

I believe He wants our true devotion, all of our hearts’ praise, even when it seems impossible to do so.

O that I would arrive at that place in my heart. Would that I could be able to praise God through the rain, through the storms of life.

I desperately wish to be rid of my skepticism of the Father’s hear t for me. For I know He is good, I know that He loves me, but I sometimes don’t believe that He cherishes me. That He finds me valuable and that He is proud of me.

And I can’t explain how, or why, but somewhere in the middle of this time of trial in my life, I hear the whisper of God, I hear His reassuring words.

It is faint (really faint at times), but it is there—this flicker of light amidst the darkness. This whisper of hope, this reminder of His promises.

The gentleness of God allows me to ask, as many times as I need to, How Long? while patiently waiting for me to hear that there will be a new song to sing, that God is faithful, and that He is good.

Maybe it’s the Swedish music, maybe it’s the cool of the night air, maybe it’s that I’m away from home, but somewhere, if even for this brief moment, I feel like I can hear God’s assurances. They may feel far away in the morning, they may disappear at any moment, but, as every symphony’s dark points accentuate its lighter ones, I feel that at least right now, in the midst of this utter darkness I can see Hope’s flicker in the distance, however faint.

And that flicker assures me that, someday, I will be flooded with a light so intense, so all-encompassing, so magnificent, that darkness will no longer have the courage to linger—that it will flee from the scene in righteous terror, its remnant and influence no longer binding.

And then, at that divine moment, will I belt from the deepest recesses of my heart, the New Song that is crying out to be released, that is being composed even now, and will be sung in perfect harmony with all of the saints who have gone before me, and joined in by King David himself…

On Symphonies

It is a Sunday, a day where my family and I often rest in the mornings, take a nap in the afternoon—we generally try to take a Sabbath from the crazy schedule of the rest of the week.

This afternoon was one of those times—they boys were down, my wife and I had tried our hand at the Sunday crossword, and she decided to go upstairs and take a nap. Sleep sounded good to me too, but I don’t nap well upstairs in bed. It feels too forced or something. My version of a luxurious nap is to lie on the couch, the TV tuned to an afternoon baseball game, and allow the sound of the crowd and commentators to lull me to sleep like a young child.

It may sound silly but it is one of life’s luxuries, if you ask me!

Today’s routine went a little differently, however.

I got myself situated on the couch, grabbed the remote to turn on the game, and found that whatever channel the TV was left on was now broadcasting a symphony—Shubert’s 9th, to be exact.

I was mesmerized.

I had planned on switching straight to the game, but after the first few notes, I just sat there, watching and listening. I had heard that piece many times before, but this time, it was different. I seemed to notice things that I had never heard before, more likely than not due to the camera work that focused on specific instruments, one at a time, allowing me to “hear” more clearly each instrument’s individual influence on the piece.

I found myself with tears streaming down my face as the music would reach a crescendo, then quiet down, only to hit another peak moments later. I noticed particular threads of music teasing the score, bouncing from the flutes to the violins, back to the flutes, and then alluded to by the French horns.

It was absolutely phenomenal.

And when you consider the number of musicians all playing in such accord, it was remarkable. All eyes of everyone in the orchestra, fixed on the conductor, following his lead through the score.

At times the strings would “rest”, sitting quietly while the horns and percussion took the stage. At other times, the horns would return the favor, and allow the attention to be on the violins and cellos. Still at other times, common themes would dance from section to section, a musical dialogue from one end of the orchestra to the other.

All notes were held together by a common musical story line, each section having the opportunity to add its unique sound to the mix. Sometimes minutes would go by without the story surfacing, but it would show up, faithfully, in one form or another, whether a subtle bass line, a soothing horn, or the show-stealing violins.

It all worked.

No ego, no horns trying to steal the limelight from the violas, no timpani being hit too loudly so as to drown out the oboes. It all worked.

I think the reason it brought me to tears was because a symphony can be such a metaphor for life. Sometimes, I feel like my limited perspective places me in the chair of the second violin, right at the point of a musical rest. It seems like everybody else in the orchestra is getting a chance to play but me. I just have to sit and watch.

At other times, I feel like my role is that of the bass—I get to play a bit, but just slow, low notes, while the violins play furiously and attract all the attention. Sometimes still I feel like the oboe—slightly abrasive in my role, standing out as different from the others.

But in watching this symphony from the perspective of the audience, I realized that all pieces worked together for the common good of the score. That without the second violin resting, it would not have given the other instruments their proper place in the ears of the audience. Without the bass keeping the musical theme, there would be no dancing around for the other parts, for they would have lost their way. Without the oboe’s sometime abrasive tones, the cellos would never sound so soothing.
That in order for the symphony to work, every instrument was required to yield to the other, allowing them to shine, while at the same time yielding to the conductor, allowing him to manage the various pieces.

It was a picture of literal harmony—all pieces working individually, creating a masterpiece in their unity.

Ah how I wish we could be more like a symphony in our approach to life. How I wish so desperately that I would be more accepting of my role, whatever that role may be. How I so fervently wish that I could be comfortable with the “instrument” I was made to be, without comparing myself to the other instruments in the orchestra.

How I wish that, when it was my time to play a little louder while the others rested, that I would do so with controlled enthusiasm, allowing not only my individualism to show, but also being aware of the musical theme, allowing myself to dance around the story line.

And how I wish we could follow the conductor’s baton, all mutually submitting to each other, everyone aware that it takes the whole part to succeed.

That the beauty of a symphony is that it is made up of individuals.

Individuals who sometimes get to play solos, who at other times get to rest, still others who maintain the thematic elements written into the score.

Individuals who, together, are capable of such beauty, of such transcendent unity, that we bring Life itself into tears of marvel, tears of astonishment, tears that have no other way of expressing themselves than to stand in ovation, loudly cheering “bravo” for the orchestra, while the conductor stands by, his smile revealing the pride of a father, himself applauding a job well done…

On Hide and Seek

I was driving onto a high school campus this morning, and had the “joy” of waiting behind a long signal. It was one of those moments where I was stuck behind the wheel (I had already been driving through over a half hour of traffic, hadn’t had my coffee yet, and had no time to stop at a coffeehouse) and found myself having to choose between getting irritated at my lack of motion, or opting to just sit and observe.

I chose the latter.

And it was interesting, this moment of observation. I looked, and saw a bunch of teenagers…hiding.
Not hiding behind the bushes, or behind parked cars, mind you—just hiding.

Hiding behind their iPods.

Hiding behind the particular brand name they had on.

Hiding behind the façade of toughness, or popularity, or the number of text messages they received as they crossed the street.

I felt compassion. We were all teenagers once (some of us still may be), and we all know the feeling of insecurity that comes from not knowing our identity. It is an awful discomfort, one that feels like every eye in the world is fixed on us, judging us, yet at the same time feeling the acute notion that no one notices us.

Kids play the friendly game of hide and seek—some unfortunate soul has to count to ten (or thirty or fifty depending on the whims of the rule-makers) while the other kids go and try to hide. They search far and wide for the best possible place to blend in, to not be noticed. They sometimes go to great lengths, bringing themselves to the point of physical exhaustion as they frantically search for “The Spot”. And if it works (i.e. they don’t get discovered) then they go right back to the same spot again and again, as long as success would have it.

It is a wonderful kids’ game.

It’s fun, you get to run around, seek out the best possible hiding place, and get prepared for adult life all at the same time!

Which is exactly the problem—we’re still playing the game. It hasn’t changed; it’s just that the rules are just a bit more sophisticated.

How many of us still find ourselves playing hide and seek—hiding behind our boats, our SUV’s, our new clothes, or our big homes? Perhaps we find ourselves hiding behind our family name, or our spouse, or our jobs.

Whatever it is, everybody hides.

The game hasn’t changed; the rules are just a bit more sophisticated.

And the great part about the adult version of hide and seek is, we find some really great places to hide. I mean—these places are so subtle, sometimes we don’t even know we’re hiding. But we are…
And because these places are so good, so well thought out, we don’t get discovered. Perhaps ever.

Were we ever that one in the game as a kid? You know, where our hiding place was so good that two, maybe even three games went by, and we still hadn’t moved from our place? It was so good that nobody found us?

How did that feel?

Were we a bit lonely, a bit afraid? Did we feel like maybe our friends left us and moved on to another activity? Did we leave our hiding place in search of another, more noticeable place? Not really hoping to be found, but to at least observe the action from a distance?

As adults, we have mastered this art.

We have become so good at keeping our space, making sure that we repel the feelings of loneliness, while at the same time staying just close enough to be…distant.

This is a trait we have learned from Adam… We hide from God, we hide from others. Heck—we even hide from ourselves most of the time.

Why? I think it’s because we’re afraid. Afraid of being found out, afraid of others seeing the real “us”.
I think we’re even more afraid of the real “us” than just about anybody else. For if we were to see ourselves the way God does, it would place such a burden of glory, of heavenly responsibility, that we would prefer to stay ignorant of the fact. And most of us do.

But remember the childhood game? We are sometimes prompted to move a bit—away from our highly strategic places of hiding, and a little bit closer to the action again, to feel like we’re a part of it without really having to engage. It is extremely convenient.

Now, when we were playing the game as children, and we moved from our lonely place in an effort to see more of what was going on, didn’t we find that in doing so, we found ourselves invariably moving to a more visible location?

And didn’t we find that we would eventually get caught once this happened?

We were met with an awkward mix of shame and relief at being found. It was such an infringement to be discovered, and yet, it was also something so affirming. For were it not so, we would never have moved from our original location in the first place.

We were found by the seeker, and then were met with the responsibility of doing the seeking ourselves.

Our role changed from the one avoiding, to the one looking.

And there was something so dignifying about being the one seeking, wasn’t there? Even though we played it off like we would rather be hiding, didn’t we feel inside that we now had a more significant role to play? That our actions would have impact in the lives of others?

Therein lies the hidden joy of being discovered…

And the beautiful thing about our adult lives is, that although we hide, we sometimes get fortunate enough to find ourselves in that desperate situation where we have to get out. We have to move, to change position—to risk greater exposure for our own survival.

And when we get found by the Seeker, the One who reveals all secrets, all hiding places, we find this mixed feeling of shame coupled with exhilaration—something in us feels so good to be discovered…

And once found, we then have the role of seeking for others, delivering them from their hiding places, for the sake of their souls, for the sake of their survival, for the sake of their joy and affirmation.

For we all hide.

But may we learn to be found, and in that discovery, may we turn from hiders to seekers—with eyes open and heads up, drawing out the secrets, bringing light to the darker places, inviting the people dwelling among the shadows into the richness of full, utter, Life.

For our very souls (and humanity itself) depend on it…

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