January 30, 2009


"It seems everywhere I look these days I’m reminded of the soul-searing danger of avoiding community...."

Great quote from Stephen Lamb, posted at The Rabbit Room, along with some good thoughts on the necessity of community for truly knowing God.

January 25, 2009


So we've begun watching the first season of Lost on DVDs from the library. What struck me pretty quickly was the recurring "every man for himself" theme. Even the characters who seem the most likable, or reasonable, or heroic suddenly go winging off into the jungle on some personal Quest that just has to be done. Right now, of course. In the rain, at night--it doesn't matter. Of course, the hero's quest inevitably intersects the path of at least one innocent bystander, and moving at such speed tends to make it hard for the hero to even see said bystanders before running them over.

The first lesson I see in this is that "no man is an island" (Sorry!). When trying to survive in a foreign land, we need each other. How well we get along doesn't change this at all; we still need each other. Nobody has all strengths and no weaknesses. Some jobs can't be done well alone--if at all. Nobody sees the whole picture. C. S. Lewis argued that a map--the collection of many people's experiences, stale though it may seem--is more useful than one's personal experience of the sea if one actually wants to leave the beach and sail somewhere. How much more we need others in the church, the body of Christ, if it is God who joins us together and gives to us different gifts and talents.

Furthermore, what we do has an impact on everyone else. How important we believe our fool's errand to be doesn't matter; our actions ripple out across the pond and can't be taken back if we realize it was a bad idea. The kid can't just run off with the dog whenever he's upset with his father, because then the dad has to follow him to keep him from getting eaten by the polar bears and monsters. The doctor's personal demons don't change the fact that people in need of medical care are lying back on the beach. "I just needed to be alone" doesn't cut it when a rescue party has to be sent out after you. Or when someone in the rescue party gets hurt in the process.

The second lesson is not to make important decisions while the adrenaline is flowing. Adrenaline produces many amazing physiological changes to help us in the "fight or flight," but one of them, tunnel vision, is not so amazing when our choices affect others. Not so useful when trying to analyze a complex situation. Not so helpful when when we ought to be thinking through the consequences that our decisions will have on those who are just a little too far to the side to focus on properly. The WORST time to make an important decision is during a crisis, when emotional, while under stress. That's when we are most likely to fight or flee to protect ourselves. When the "I" rears its ugly head.

How often we wish we could take back what we said in the heat of the moment. How much harder to take back our actions. To restore the confidence that others once placed in us. To reassure them that we actually do think they matter. To prove that we really aren't as selfish as we looked. To rebuild trust once it has been lost.

January 22, 2009

Stay in the Boat, Jackson.

I'm the firstborn, so rules and being right come naturally. Add to that my amazing brain power, and it's a wonder that I haven't taken over the world already. As I have become (ahem) wiser, however, I have decided that being right is not so important--is not the main goal of life. I recognize (often much too late) that I have made some terrible mistakes; I know that I am capable of doing so again. But these do not signify the end of the world to me.

I am blessed to be part of a family, a great circle of friends around the world, and a church community. What these have in common is relationship, if we are willing. And relationship provides the means for someone, the "other," whomever that may be, to help me see the plank in my eye--and faster than I might by myself, even if I were willing to look for it. Relationship relieves the pressure to be right all the time. We don't have to figure everything out by ourselves; I don't have to make myself perfect. That won't happen "until we see him face to face" anyway.

Spiritual maturity isn't about being right more often. Relationship isn't happy-happy all the time. And we don't even get to choose the family relationships we are born into--neither our immediate family members nor Adam, for that matter. When I enter into relationship--serious, covenant-type relationship--I "sign up for" heartache, disappointment, and as much nonsense as God knows I can bear. And I know that I will be the source of these, as well.

So, I can be very tolerant of others' mistakes, others' ignorance, others' faults, unhappy though I may be. And I can hope and expect that others in community will extend the same grace to me. I can endure a lot of arguing about where the boat should be going. There is a fundamental requirement, however, in relationship. Not "rightness," and not that everyone agrees with me, even when I'm right. What is required is that we stay in the family, in the circle, in the community.

That we stay in the boat.

Staying provides the opportunity to work out the process. To sharpen the dull iron. To take as long as it has to take. Staying means that we are "there" together, wherever that is. Recall Ruth's willingness to make Naomi's country, people, and even God her own. If we leave, how can we hear reason from those who love us? Who can speak sense into our nonsense? Who will help us? Who will slap us when we need it? Whom is God more likely to speak through than those whom we already know and who know us better than anyone else does? Those whom we have already committed ourselves to.

We don't have to be right, or smart, or lovely, or strong. But we have to stay in the boat.

January 21, 2009

I'm a genius!

I'm a smart guy. Really, I am. My standardized test scores growing up were unreal. But for some reason, I have friends who, on occasion, don't seem to value the thoughts of a smart friend. Friends who would apparently prefer to muddle through with input from others less gifted in the area of intelligence. Now, my wife appreciates my intelligence. She said to mention that. On most days, she attributes this to her own intelligence. "I'm a genius!" she is fond of announcing.

My point is that I feel some measure of frustration at what I view as my inability to be the kind of friend I would like to be--inability that is due to these friends' unwillingness to talk about their questions and ideas before launching out into the waters of a bad decision or adopting some kooky opinion. Frustration at how hard it is to talk someone out of something they've already decided is more important than the truth. For Pete's sake, why would someone want to be friends with me if not to benefit from my genius!

Now, my vast intellect can be intimidating, or so I've been told. I get that, though it kills me. Intimidating is about the last thing I want to be, most days. But one would think that a friend would be able to get past that. If not, how would one ever become friends with such a smart guy?

I also understand the "itching ears" tendency. Everyone likes to be told that what they've come up with by themselves is brilliant. Some might say that I am this way, too.... More on that, later.

I believe that we're born and wired this way, sadly. Self-centered, fearful, and preferring the cave. C. S. Lewis's Dufflepuds come to mind.