Monday, September 29, 2008

Euphoria of the Fix and the Agony of Withdrawal

Many popular songs deal more with what I would call addiction issues rather than substantive issues of the heart. By this I mean that what typically falls in the category of a “love song” has more to do with the euphoria of the “fix” while what would be characterized as a “breakup” song has really much more to do with the pain of withdrawal. Many musicians, even Christian (or should I say especially Christian, and by the way I would include myself), are much too fearful to go beneath these surface impulses and write music from that place. But if we can connect with that place, if we can encounter God in that place, if we can find redemption in our loneliness, in our brokenness, in our fractured selves which cry for wholeness, that place which lies behind the pretending and posturing, and write songs from there, how different the music might be.

Maverick

A person is only a “maverick” to the point that others bestow the title on him. The moment he calls himself “maverick” he has ceased to be a maverick and has become the proverbial "man".

Balance Transfer

It wasn’t too many years ago when credit card companies started offering sweet deals like no interest for a year to transfer the debts from other credit cards to theirs. No doubt the idea crossed my mind that I could possibly make it for a good many months by simply shifting my debt from one credit card to another without ever making a payment on any. While I never actually tried it, I’m sure there are more than a few that did. If our country is already in debt to the tune of nine trillion dollars (that’s 9,000,000,000,000.00, which is more than can be entered into a standard calculator screen) and has not lived within in it’s national budget more than1 year in the last 30, then what the heck is a 700 billion dollar bailout than some kind of mega balance transfer. If it wouldn’t work for you and I, why do we expect that it might work for a national economy?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Can You Spare Some Change?

“Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space in which change can take place.” –Henri Nouwen, from Reaching Out

“Change” is a word which we have heard thrown about quite a bit this political season. There is no doubt a growing sense of disillusionment with the powers that be in our country. And like it or not “change” is inevitable. The question is not so much if or when change will happen but how. Each of us as individuals must assess how lasting change comes in our own lives and from that realization we can move to make change happen in the world around us.

How much energy do we expend trying to change ourselves and others?

We hate things about ourselves and vow year after year to live differently only to fall back into the same ruts of behavior and outlook. Everybody wants change and yet real change seems so illusive. Is it as simple as infomercials and talk shows make it out to be? Not likely, or we would see more change for good in the world.

To use an analogy from a previous blog—change has much more to do with gardening that building. We’ve all heard the saying, “You can’t legislate morality!” With this I am very inclined to agree if for no other reason than seeing the compelling evidence in modern society. Perhaps the best we can do is to create an atmosphere where change can happen—to plow the ground, plant the seeds, and provide proper water, sunlight, and nourishment for the things that matter most.

In my years as a campus pastor at SLU I saw student after student who had been raised in strict religious homes, who had been shielded from the corrupting influences of society by home-schooling or “Christian schools” (and I use that term very loosely because often “Christian” schools have little to do with Christianity or education, in my opinion) who, upon entry into a university for their freshman year quickly abandoned their Christianity in exchange for the path of hedonism and promiscuity. On the other hand I met a good many students who were genuinely seeking truth, who may have been caught up in heavy drinking and drugs and sleeping around then became sincere followers of Christ. And then there was another group of incoming freshmen who had been raised in Christian homes but who were given more freedom to learn Christ for themselves. This third group of students not only kept their faith but kept growing in their faith even in the midst of an environment that was at times very hostile to faith.

If we are to experience change in our own lives or to bring positive change in our world we have got stop trying to impose it on ourselves or on others. I have realized something about myself, and it only took me a good 30 or so years to figure it out—I am incapable of changing myself! As much as I hate certain things about myself—I am powerless over them. If I have experienced any change it has only come from making space where change can happen. This has meant coming to terms and accepting who I am with all my faults and accepting my own inability to change myself. Once that pressure is off then I’m open to the workings of God’s grace. It’s in this place that I experience God’s unconditional love for me as I am—warts and all! It’s ironic that in the very act of letting go, of surrender, of giving up, that the seeds of true change begin to sprout through ground of my heart. With this understanding change is redemption, renewal, restoration that can only be received as a gift. I have a profound understanding at this point in my life that any change that I have made for the better has been a gift—not from my striving and stressing, nor from my shame or my efforts to keep things hidden. What’s more is that as I have experienced this gift of grace I have been able to offer this same grace to others. How many times did I hate things in others only to find that they were the things I loathed about myself?

It is very tempting to think that change in this world is in the hands of politicians and power brokers, bankers and business tycoons. Yet change, true change comes from another place.

As Greg Boyd put it in his book Myth of a Christian Nation,
“When God flexes his omnipotent muscle, it doesn’t look like Rambo or the Terminator—it looks like Calvary! And living in this Calvary-like love moment by moment, in all circumstances and in relation to all people, is the sole calling of those who are aligned with the kingdom that Jesus came to bring. …Participants in the kingdom of the world trust the power of the sword to control behavior; participants of the kingdom of God trust the power of self-sacrificial love to transform hearts. The kingdom of the world is concerned with preserving law and order by force; the kingdom of God is concerned with establishing the rule of God through love.”

We can begin to live this type of love and to bring this type of change as you and I receive it, as we let God accept us, broken as we are.

Prayer:
God give me the grace this day to create hospitable spaces in every area of my life, whether with my coworkers, my neighbors, my family members, or the random people which I run across in the grocery store, on the road, or in the coffee shop. Help me to extend the same hospitality to others that you have extended toward me.
I offer you my fears.
Replace them with your love.
I am your student today.
Let me hear your voice wherever it may come from.
Let my eyes be open to see you, even in the places I wouldn’t expect to.

-Amen

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Bailout Part 2 – A Vicious Cycle

A novice, armchair-economist’s look at the AIG bail out:

1. AIG is a very large insurance company that insures both homes and business real estate.
2. AIG got caught up in the mess of the sub-prime lending crisis along with most of the other companies which are collapsing at the moment, proving that you cannot beat the fundamentals of economics.
3. So now the Federal government is bailing them out to the sum of 80+ Billion Dollars.
4. The federal government in the United States is supposedly “by the people, for the people…”
5. So who is insuring who? And worse what kind of business practices does this encourage in real estate and insurance and investing? Why should any big time investment business bother trying to deliver anything to the American people when they can enrich their pockets by reckless risk taking and fiscal stupidity?
6. So it appears that you and I along with every other American are now in the insurance business, without all of the hassle of having any input in petty day-to-day of running a multi-billion dollar company.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Bailout

I was driving to Church on Sunday morning when I heard a news report about the federal bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mack. The report discussed how the bailout of Mack and Mae is likely to cost taxpayers billions of dollars. The truth is that normally when I hear a report like this I think “wow, what a bummer!”…and then I go on about what I was doing, yet this time as I listened to the report one rather overlooked question seemed to come to mind—“When?”

For all of the bailouts that the government has done of lending institutions, savings and loans, and now in the mortgage industry, when does it really cost taxpayers? While we hear how so many things are going to cost taxpayers billions it doesn’t seem that our taxes are going up. In fact, in spite of how bad things look it doesn’t really seem like our standard of living in America is changing all that much. Obviously someone will have to have to foot the bill at some point and it’s likely going to come down on you and me and our children.

The problem for most folks, myself included, is that the issue of a federal bailout is too nebulous, too abstract, too far away from where we live. Things would be quite different if, because of the federal bailout, my monthly mortgage were to have an additional tax of $100.00 added to it for the duration of the loan. Then all of the sudden things wouldn’t be so abstract. On the contrary I would be feeling the pain of the bailout in a very real way. And because I felt pain I would probably be inclined to do something to stop the pain.

Look at what the pain of rising gas prices has brought about in this country in a relatively short amount of time. All of the sudden car manufacturers can barely meet the demand for hybrid cars and for the first time in years the subject of an energy policy has actually become one of the key issues of the presidential race, and let’s not forget about what the rise in gas prices has done to help the cause of saving the planet. All of these issues were brought from the periphery to the forefront because of the pain that every American has been feeling on a daily basis in our wallets. In just a matter of months, issues that seemed so abstract or unimportant are now getting a good deal of attention from everyday people. I’m no big fan of pain, especially in the pocketbook, but it is quite the motivator.

Obama Palin '08

I am quite interested in how my nine-year old daughter views the upcoming candidates for president. So periodically I will ask her which candidate she would vote for and why. This morning she told me how she really likes Sarah Palin. When I asked why she said, “because she’s a girl (with an implied ‘duh!’)”. She then went on to tell me how she wished Palin was Obama’s running mate because she likes Obama better for president than McCain. So there you have it Obama Palin ’08, my daughter’s choice for the next president.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Right to Complain

“If you don’t vote, you don’t have the right to complain” the saying goes—a saying which has become a fashionable rationale for voting. But this is a really silly saying if you think about it; as if having the right to complain was something to aspire to. In this age of talk radio shows, editorials and blogs (ouch!) it is easy to confuse our skills in the fine art of bitching for making a difference. Granted, I must confess that I am as good at complaining as any (which is a must for anyone who blogs much). Complaining is not necessarily a bad thing because without a serious critique of issues, we are not likely to come up with any new solutions. But it is easy to confuse our highly developed skills in the art of complaining with actually making a difference. Complaining gives us a sense of doing something without really having to get our hands dirty; and if we’ve voted then we can afford to be self-righteous about our complaining because we care more than the average non-voter.

Pardon me a minute while I complain about complainers.

As everyone knows, New Orleans dodged a serious bullet on Gustav and for this I am very, very grateful. This was no doubt the best evacuation on record that this state has seen, which is no small feat considering it was two million people who evacuated from South Louisiana. Unlike Katrina, the government was actually working together this time with every branch from local to state to federal government on the same page of the playbook. That alone would have been reason enough to celebrate, but when you factor in that New Orleans didn’t get hit you would think that this would be the time when folks are dancing in the streets and uncorking champagne. Yet already the complaining has begun.

There were many people who were evacuated out of New Orleans by the city to other places on trains, planes, and buses (all free of charge I might add). And as they returned on Saturday many were angrily complaining at how bad the experience was, at how long the drive to Memphis and other places took, at how hot and crowded it was. I know it wasn’t pleasant but I bet it sure beat the experience in the super-dome during Katrina. And then there’s the folks calling in to the local radio show verbally abusing the representative from Cox cable because they have not had their cable restored. They obviously have electricity and a radio. Can’t they simply be happy with that for a couple of more days?

As we enter this election let us vote, but let us not put so much weight on our vote that we do nothing with our lives save complaining. Let us work to make a difference in the handful of places and people with which we come in contact. Let our satisfaction be in helping things improve rather than bitching about how bad things are getting. I believe it was Gene Edwards who wrote, “The gift of fault finding is a cheap gift indeed….” Maybe you and I could try to aspire to a higher gifting than mere fault-finding and complaining.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

A Great Day for A Swim (Gustav Evacuation Day 3)

Day 3 of our Gustav evacuations had us breathing a collective sigh of relief as it became clear that the New Orleans area had suffered only minor damage. By Wednesday morning, my dad’s lake house in Northeast Texas happened to be right in the path of the recently downgraded Tropical Storm Gustav, but since we were on the northwest side of the storm we received only minor rain and wind. In a way it was kind of anti-climactic after hearing forecasts of torrential downpours and high winds yet it was a welcome reprieve from the typical hot and humid weather one finds in these parts during summer.

Sometime around mid-morning my dad decided a swim in the rain would be appropriate. Ezra immediately jumped on the invitation, getting out to the boat dock as quickly as his little legs would carry him. I, on the other hand, was a bit reluctant because it seemed a little too cool and rainy outside to enjoy being in the lake. But I ended up changing my mind when I saw what fun that Ezra and dad were having. So after giving myself a little pep talk, I jumped in. The warm water in the lake was a stark contrast to the cold windblown rain. In just a matter of seconds I was glad that I had jumped in. After swimming out a few hundred yards from the shore to our favorite log, I felt compelled to swim across the length of the lake. Though I had swam the length of the lake a few months before, something about that day really had me wanting to swim it again. It’s as if there was some kind of fear that I needed to face, some kind of solitude that I needed to find among the wind and waves. So, I said farewell to my dad and Ezra and started off on the mile or so of swimming to the other side.

I started out at a pretty quick pace as if I needed to get to the other side as quick as I could, but after about fifteen minutes my pace began to slow as I found myself in the more turbulent open waters of the middle of the lake. There I was, completely alone, watching curtains of tropical storm rains moving in from the northeast over the choppy waters that surrounded me in every direction. For a few moments my swimming became more like treading water as I began to take the scene in. Both fear and awe seemed to grip me in that moment—fear that the winds and rain might really begin to ramp up making my return problematic and awe at the shear beauty of it all. I was simultaneously all alone and yet very aware of the presence of God. My breathes between strokes became thanks and praise for the holy moment in which I found myself.

After another thirty or so minutes of swimming I made my way to the other side of the lake and back to Ezra and my dad who had been slowly making their way towards me. Ezra was eager to show me his newly acquired backstroke skills—leaving his water noodle as soon as I was in sight so he could make his way to me; reaching me after swimming in the wrong direction a few times. Upon our rendezvous we got the water noodle and made our way back to the dock. It was one of those moments where one feels how great it is to be alive. It was a surprisingly great day for a swim!