Picture*photo Credit http://commons.wikimedia.org
I used to take the train into the city everyday for work. The thing about commuter trains is that no one interacts with each other, even though they're all in it together. Riding the same train, going to the same destination, and mostly for work. But no one talks. Every puts in ear buds, or buries their noses in books in avoid conversation, eye contact, social interaction.

Once I sat next to co-worker on a train and we didn't recognize each other for two stops. This is true and shameful, but it's proof of how people fear anything that breaks them free of themselves.

Once I was riding one of these trains, early in the morning, sitting next to a woman occupying her time with knitting. She never looked up from the yarn and needles for the whole trip.

When we got to the final stop most everyone stood from their seats and waited impatiently for the train to come to a complete stop and the doors to open. While we all stood there in silence, the knitting lady cleared her throat and loudly announced "I hope you like India!"

I assumed she was talking to a friend, maybe someone was going on vacation, maybe she had a blue tooth. 

And then she continued "...cause that's  where all your jobs are going!!" and she proceeded to go on a long solitary quasi-political, very xenophobic rant about the economy, India and whatever else. I had already tuned her out.

What I did notice was how the other passengers also ignored it. They put in their ear buds, looked away, rolled their eyes or pretended it didn't happen.

Ignore the lone nut on the train.

Another morning while riding the El train, another lady in very loud voice called everyone to "repent, and turn towards Jesus!" Again, I looked to the fellow passengers. Same reaction. Rolled eyes, ignore the lone nut on the train.

What's the point?

The point is context. Standing up and loudly telling everyone that they are wrong is fruitless. It gets nothing accomplished. People won't care what you have to say until you prove that you care about them.

This is why we need to "love our neighbors", not preach to, not condemn. Not demand that they repent. Love will make the way in. Love will open the ears and hearts. The way we write off people with words or phrases will never make a difference. It only pushes people away and makes us more solitary.

Only listening to people, opening our hearts and lives to others will make the slightest difference in this world. We are called to bring Heaven to earth. Do it with love.

I know it's scary because when you love, when you care, you are vulnerable to get hurt. That's okay. It's true. Christ made Himself vulnerable.

He laid down his life.

He bled.

We can lay down our comfort zones.

Picture*photo credit http://beheretoday.com
I used to wonder what I was meant to do with my life. I would pray and I would ask and I would demand God to give me direction. I would plead with Him to show me what I am supposed to do with this life, what I was made for.

I was petrified that I would miss my calling. Scared that if I chose wrong then I would miss what I was made for, terrified that I would lose my destiny. 

So I did nothing. 

I took a job to pay the bills. I took a job that I was good at, but didn't leave me fulfilled. Ends were met, bills were paid, still I waited for God to show me what He made me for. I felt allot like a coffee mug that was holding pencils. I was good at holding pencils. None of the pencils dropped. But I wasn't made to hold the pencils. I was made for something else. I couldn't shake the feeling that I was missing my purpose.

One morning I was getting ready for my day, doing nothing in particular when I felt that "still small voice" inside me ask a very simple question "What if I don't tell you what to do?" it asked "What if you choose what you want to do and I will bless what you choose?" 

The choice was on me and I found this terrifying. I was petrified by pressure. What if I chose wrong? What if I picked something that I hated? The problem was I had forgotten how to dream.

When we are kids dreaming comes easy. We play at being firemen, policemen, astronauts. When I was a kid I used to say "When I grow up I'm going to write a famous comics strip." It wasn't a struggle to dream.

The problem is we get so weighed down by disappointment that we stop dreaming. We stop hoping for good things because if we don't expect good things when won't be disappointed when they don't happen. We prepare for the worst and then wonder why our lives seem like nothing good ever happens?

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life."
Proverbs 13:12
Sometimes you've got to give yourself permission to dream. It takes being brutally honest with yourself and sometimes you have to dig through layers of practicality and regret and disappointment  to find those old dreams. But they are still there even though we try to suffocate them and silence them.

If I'm honest with myself I dream of being a writer. Will I ever make money at it? Someday, I hope. I allowed myself to dream that one day I will pull a paycheck with my words.

Until then I can still write. I can still get better at my dream. I can put in the hours and hone a talent.

What dreams have you forgotten? What is inside of you that you have tried to suffocate with practicality? 

As my favorite author once said:
You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream."
C.S. Lewis
Yesterday I spent an hour or so in one of my favorite coffee shops in Chicago. I was waiting for one of my friends to arrive so could discuss things like story structure, what does it mean to be successful, our favorite sci-fi shows and make stupid jokes the way good friends do.

While I was waiting I sipped on my coffee and attempted to read a book on my Kindle (to all the book purists out there, I was once one of you, Kindles are awesome) but every time I would try to read a sentence I would get distracted. A new person would walk in or walk out. Humanity was happening around me and there were behavior patterns that were too interesting to ignore.

I happened to be in one of the more trendy or "Arty" neighborhoods of the city. Not affluent, but young creatives would wander in and out. It was a coffee shop. A hub of culture as it were.

What I found to be so interesting was how desperately people wanted to be accepted. To fit in, to have the right "look", to be told "you're cool, you're one of us." And whenever that desperation was evident then these people were "not cool." 

Nearly everyone there had the right clothes, right shoes, right hair, right facial hair, right tattoos. Perfectly filling the uniform, clearly spending allot of time and effort to put forth the appearance of not caring what anyone else thought. 

Personally, I've always been more comfortable in the role of the "outsider". The new guy, the guy from out of town, out of state. 

Watching all of this effort and all of the unspoken tension of wanting to belong, worrying what others think shows how clearly we are made to live tribaly. Every one there was looking for there tribe and hoping for acceptance.

I strongly contend that the feeling of being completely and unconditionally accepted by another "warts and all", is one of the closest things that we can get to Paradise on this side of the paper sky. Being understood and loved regardless of not having it all together, regardless of our shortcomings makes us better. It makes us want to be more fully alive and more accepting of others.

The challenge is stop seeing how someone isn't enough (cool enough, smart enough, funny enough) and accepting them as they are. As you long to be accepted and understood yourself.

Also be willing to accept yourself...warts and all. To have any kind of mental stability give yourself grace, give yourself love. Allow yourself to believe that the God of all creation actually and really loves you as you are. Not as you could be, not as you might be some day. But as you are. Right now. That He would be willing to let His son die on a cross for the person you are.

I believe in you. I really do.

Picture*photo credit http://communityorganizer20.com
One of the biggest buzz words floating around Christian culture right now is "community". Everyone seems to be talking about community, doing life together, finding your "tribe".

Rightly so, too. 

Community is vastly important. We are made to gird each other up, community creates the checks and balances in our lives that keeps someone from barreling head first off the deep end. "As iron sharpens iron" and all that jazz. In fact when Christ walked on Earth one of His last "commandments" he gave to his followers was to take "communion" and do this in remembrance of me.

Where we tend to go wrong with this is how we pick an choose who is in our community. We narrow down our tribe to those we agree with. Those that look like us, act like us, think like us. Those that are our age, that like the same things as us. 

When we do this we miss some of the really amazing things living in true community has to offer us. The ability to grow in our own humanity.

Human beings are amazing in their diversity. Not just racial diversity, but diversity of thought, of opinions, of beliefs, of preferences.

In progressive protestant Christian culture we have this terrible habit of leaving a church or community if there ever crops up any opinion that we do not agree with. We take off if anything challenges our point of view. 

I think there is so much value to look another human being in the eyes, someone who is as rich and diverse in their thoughts and opinions as you, and say I disagree with you but still honor who you are.

In a real communal living we can let in many people and love them for who they are rather than stumbling over who they are not. Dear friends of mine believe something completely different than me, or they believe nothing at all. This doesn't change the fact that I would die for them.

Love covers a multitude of sins, and I'm not qualified to tell another human what is or isn't a sin. I'm qualified to love them and cover their sins. And my life is better for the diversity of thought, belief, appearance and experience that is in my life.

Picture*Photo Credit http://fineartamerica.com
I am guilty.

Christians are so often dismissed of being "all just a bunch of hypocrites." This sweeping generalization used to describe an entire group of diverse people is stinging. But as it falls to me, I cannot deny it.

I am guilty.

The word hypocrite comes from a greek word that means Actor. Someone who is playing a part. Fulfilling a role. Pretending. I found myself to be guilty of this. Whether it's because I don't want to bother someone else with my problems or when it's painting a smile on my face when I want to scream at the Heavens. 

I pretend.

Last summer I found myself in one of the deepest depressions of my life. For no real reason, which is the hard part. I struggled daily with my faith. I barely wanted to get out of bed. If I did pray it was one or two words, sometimes one sentence. I fought hard to keep my belief that there even was a God and that He cared.

If anyone asked me how I was doing, I would smile and say "fine." I pretended I had it all together. I acted. I was a hypocrite. 

Even when I would go to church. A loving community that is supposed to help each other is times of crisis, I would just stand in the doorway. Silently watching, Listening. Hoping for hope. 

The God I had loved and prayed to a thousand times felt like a trick of my imagination, a psychosomatic manifestation of my emotions. And if He wasn't real, what what the point of my life? Just a few decades, try to live comfortably and die? No one to remember I was even here?

Through this I would still pretend I was fine. Why? Because I didn't want to let anyone down...but mostly I didn't want the lectures. Didn't want to hear "Well, just cheer up, buddy!" Didn't want smiling faces to throw scriptures at me like "The joy of the Lord is your Strength, so just get over it." and "All things work together for good to those that love the Lord"

That never helps when someone is depressed. What helps is sitting with them, listening, mourning with those that mourn. Reminding them that sorrow may last for the night, but will come in the morning. That this too shall pass.

This too shall pass.

I've always retreated within myself when going through a hard time, because I don't want to burden anyone else. But that is hypocritical. That is pretending.

I did break out of that dark season, it was after reading the C.S. Lewis masterpiece Till We Have Faces. Where the main character denounces the cruelty of the "gods" for most of the book and then is shown that she was being prepared for something greater, something better. She was being given a face. Because we cannot stand face to face with the gods "till we have faces." 

The beauty of those last twenty pages kept me awake through the night, and joy came in the morning.

I could have shortened that season, or at least made it less painful if I had been honest. Expressed a need for hope, for peace, for purpose. 

If you are going through a hard time don't be a hypocrite. Find someone to do life with. Someone you can trust to be with through this hard season, remembering it is just a season.

If someone is going through a hard time and they express that to you, don't be glib. Or just throw scriptures at them. Never use these words: "well, clearly what you need to do is..."

Sit with them. Listen to them. Love them. Give them hope. Remind them them the sun will shine again.

The sun will shine again.

Picture*photo credit http://paulchappell.com
As I have gotten older and questionably wiser I have found the key to truth, as in most things, is balance. 

I'll say it this way. I have found the most interesting truths are the ones held in tension between two different truths.

Confusing? I'll give some examples. 

Deep down I long for adventure, to challenge myself, to see what i'm made of. This is true. I work hard everyday to set up a life that is comfortable. This is also true. Two needs completely opposite in nature occupy my heart space. The deeper truth of who I am and what I want is in somewhere between those two things.

My agnostic and atheist friends will sometimes like to challenge me and make statements like "Why would you read the Bible? That book is full of contradictions!" Well, the short answer is so are you, so am I. An individual is complex and contradictory. Multiple things are simultaneously true about them. This is why we call it a relationship, not religion.  

The longer answer is that they aren't contradictions. Not really. They are two statements that simultaneously true and we are invited to go deeper, read between the lines and see the truth between the truths.

Jesus is the "Lion of Judah", Jesus is the "Lamb that was Slain". A Lion and a Lamb are the most opposite of animals. So which is true? Both. He is the ultimate sacrifice and our majestic defender.

Jesus said "I came not to bring peace, but a sword". He also is the "Prince of Peace." Which one is it? Both are true. 

So how do we navigate these heady waters of truth, balance, grace and justice? We have a relationship with God. This is why we are called to pray, to ask for wisdom like it says in the book of James. The Bible should push us to seek God, to ask for understanding. Because few things are as dangerous as truth out of balance. When someone takes one or two verses from the Bible and makes them the sole focus of their being. 

That's how cults are born. 

So, where do we go from here? Pray for wisdom. Seek the truth. Have grace for one another when they are not at the same place you are at. From a world wide perspective remember: We're all in this together. Strive for good and know that truth will bear itself out.

I'll start the next part of the story with a simple observation.                                                  

People of my generation have abandoned the "archaic" idea of going to church. Even those who believe and identify themselves as Christians. I've heard this generation referred to as the "unchurched" generation. People my age simply don't seem to find any relevance in the tradition.

Here is where I disagree. Going to a church and worshipping something greater than yourself with a small group of other people creates a bond, a kinship. You build a tribe, a community with people that can be very different than you but you have one amazingly important thing in common. Something that overcomes differences in fashion, music and race. A  common belief that makes you want the best for the other person. Without my church tribe this flood would have been devastating to my wife and I. 

PictureMy dogs in comparison to their little dog
As we were states away from our rapidly flooding house, one thing I thankfully didn't have to worry about was my dogs. My dogs are not small and easily cared for. One is close to 80 lbs and the other is fuzzy ball of neurosis, fearful still of the abuse that my wife and I rescued her from. My associate pastor Pablo Rodriguez and his family took in my dogs without hesitation, knowing that my dogs were difficult, stressed out and were suffering from separation anxiety. realizing that my house was without power and unguarded they pulled anything of value that could be stolen while we were gone and made sure the food in my fridge wasn't left to rot. I am extremely grateful that these were stresses I didn't need to worry about.  

although I maybe should have worried a little...
The greatest relief of all was another family from my church that runs a company cleaning and sanitizing construction sites was immediately available to begin clean up, including starting work before the rains had even let up. The Mancilla family pulled out our destroyed furniture and carpeting, documented damages, waded through waist deep water and sewage, worked and sweated, and mourned with us through our losses. This is family. This is community. This is worth not getting to sleep in on a Sunday morning. To make connections with other human beings that saw that someone in their tribe had a need and jumped at the chance to help, to bless, to make things better. 

When Christ walked on earth, He taught us to pray. Part of the prayer He taught was "...on earth as it is in Heaven." We are to pray to bring Heaven to earth. These families...this family of mine...prayed with me, worked with me, to bring just a little bit of heaven... to make things just a little bit better.

I didn't come home to rotten food and a basement filled with water and sewage. I came home to a damp empty and a little bit smelly but sanitized basement. I am blessed.

Even though I lost thousands of dollars worth of "stuff". Even though I had to buy furnace/water heater/washer/dryer. Even though my house is now worth much less in property value. Even though I still have many many hours of work ahead of me...Because of my community I can say confidently that I am very very blessed.