Where have you been? Where are you going? And why?
Well, it has been awhile. Over two years actually. Have you ever had a neighbor pack up and move overnight without a goodbye? No friendly knock on the door. No farewell dinner or even handshake. They somehow even managed to hide the UHAUL truck from your kitchen window view.
I think I am that neighbor. I have not stopped posting blogs. It’s just that I moved and forgot to tell you. Consider this the note I meant to leave on your door before I jumped in my UHAUL and headed West.
Should you find forgiveness in your heart, and in the event that you’d like to visit, you can find me at http://www.lukebrasel.com/blog/. Type your email in the subscription box to the right on the new site to continue to receive posts.
And I promise, if I move again, I will let you help me pack.
Recently a local morning radio show interviewed Coldplay’s lead singer, Chris Martin. The questions ranged from life in the band to his hobbies to his marriage to Gwyneth Paltrow. He handled the initial questions with the composure typical of rock star pedigree. As the questions became more personal, however, Chris interspersed his responses with patches of silence. The radio show hosts pleaded with him to talk more with passive-aggressive pleas. Silence to a radio anchor is like a BP oil spill to a marine biologist. The tension built as Chris tried to respond to questions about his wife only to sputter like a kite without wind. Finally Chris replied in his British accent, “I apologize guys. I’m just not very good at answering these kind of things.”
The anchors rushed to the rescue, “Oh you’re doing great. We think you’re doing just fine.”
One anchor threw another cast with more bait, “Can Gwyneth’s career be intimidating at times as it’s taking off?”
“I just….(silence)….I’m not sure….(silence)….I can’t do this anymore.” And rock star Chris hung up on live radio.
Even over the airwaves, I could see the anchors’ jaws hit the studio floor. I envisioned their disbelieving eyes staring blankly at each other, speechless and dumbfounded. I almost screamed. Their handling of Chris’ heart grated on me like nails on a chalkboard.
Immediately the anchors sought counsel from the resident therapist in the booth. She attempted to analyze Chris and his issues. I wished she had a mirror.
There was no attempt to care for Chris. No genuine interest in helping him make the decision that was best for him. I can’t speak for what the hosts felt, but I know what they wanted: Information. They attempted to know about him without knowing him. Like a jockey that pushes his horse past exhaustion for the sake of victory, they glorified the show over Chris’ needs. The anchors’ presence overwhelmed and suffocated his.
Our presence speaks. In the interest of learning to know one another, it would be wise to listen. The rhythm of our heart plays to the tune of two questions that drive every human interaction. If handled well, the answers become a compass and map for any communication between two or more people, whether it is a radio interview, a teacher and student, or a fifty-year marriage.
I know that I live in a fairy tale world, but I wonder how different the result could have been had the anchors answered these questions for themselves as they conversed with Chris Martin. Though the show likely would not have produced the inside scoop on a celebrity’s life, I would surmise that all ten of us listening at 5:30 AM would have started our own day asking those questions for ourselves.
Why are we here? Is there a God and if so, what is his relationship to the world? Where is history going? The narrative we embrace (or at least assume), along with its attendant doctrines and practices, determines how we can know it. Whether we are explicitly aware of it or not, all of us think, experience, and live within the ambit of a particular story and its dogmas that answer those big questions. -Michael S. Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way
ABC’s Once Upon a Time hooked Shannon and me. I don’t yet think I would put it in the class of 24, but the producers of Lost have succeeded in creating a plot that moves and strikes like Jack Bauer. The show follows the town of Storybrook, Maine, a collection of individuals whose real identity lies in a fairy tale world of happy endings. Only the evil queen has cursed them to this new world where their memories of love have been erased. The show flashes back and forth between the two worlds, Storybrook and the fairy tale world, and both stories hinge upon the other. That’s the short description. The premise of the show illustrates a frightening metaphor for our spiritual lives. The people of Storybrook live blind to their own purposes because they’ve been stripped of their identity.
I share that story as introduction of a book I want to pass along. Or maybe it’s an experience. My uncle recently published 210Project: Discover Your Place in God’s Story. The book begins with two questions that haunt us in the moments when we unsubscribe from the noise of our lives:
Why am I here?
What does God really want me to do with my life?
The authors write that the answers to those questions flow out of Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” One of the things I appreciate most is that the book is broken up into three parts: 1. Identity 2. Good Works 3. Life Mission. When we let any of those three bleed into the other, we develop a warped view of God, justification, and sanctification. And the effects surely lead us away from the freedom Paul proclaims in Galatians and the life that Jesus promises.
The book becomes an interactive experience with online exercises and activities that draw out, confirm, and solidify your passions and giftings. Check out the interactive website: http://www.the210project.com/
I welcomed students back to class today with an intro that directed them to describe their funniest, happiest, and saddest moments of the holiday break in only two words. My three examples? Feline quacks. Powdered diapers. Bloody Potatoes.
Students practically clawed at me to hear the stories connected to my two-word teasers. Their intrigue proved my point: we as humans are desperately attracted to stories. I do not need to remind my students of this, but sometimes it is good to put words to truth. And we need stories most when we can’t find words for truth. Stories speak a language that languages have not words for. So we crave stories like water and drink them like wine. To lose appreciation for the stories around us is to forget part of what it means to be human.
What about you? What two-word descriptions would you give for the happiest, saddest, and funniest moments of your last two weeks?
My wife’s favorite professor in seminary posted this link recently. He said something like this, “If you don’t get this, you’ll probably never understand me.” I think I could say something similar. Here’s to the freedom in living in uncertainty. Not foolishly, but free from the control of knowing everything.
I Want In (link 1)
And another good one:
The Absurdity of Christmas (link 2)
“Yet a more temperate approach to questions of faith and doubt seems somehow to accord better with the story of a helpless babe born to a teenage mother and placed in a feeding trough. This is a story not of strength but weakness, not of certainty but of courage, not of power but of utter vulnerability. So is the Christmas story unlikely, improbable, even absurd? Perhaps. But some of us think that the world needs such a story and is, indeed, a better place for its telling. And so we believe. We do not know for certain, but we believe…”
Jesus is the reason for the season. Good news, huh? Okay, I’m aware that we know this. I’ve heard six straight devotionals drawing me back to the real meaning of Christmas. But I wonder if our focus needs to shift from the scrutiny of our priorities to our actual desires. There’s a difference, subtle as it may be. The admonishing of someone toward a hierarchy of priorities is usually littered with “should’s”, and should statements rarely lead one to worship.
Why is it that walking into Starbucks in December and ordering a Crème Brulle Latte makes me feel like I’m experiencing Christmas? Why does an eager energy warm my soul at the end of November when Christmas commercials begin? Why do red and green M&M’s taste better? I love the culture. Our created holiday culture borrows power from the name of Christ, and that makes us smile, but it is a culture that treats God’s invasion into our story more like an interruption than a rescue. And sadly, we’re okay with that. We often love the culture more than the Christ. Imagine if the Starbucks of Herod’s time created new lattes and mochas every year to celebrate the census. The wise men would not have stopped, but would we have?
Ultimately, in any given moment, we act on our desires. And our culture desires too little. To rewrite C.S. Lewis’ quote, We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with Santa and reindeer and candy canes and shopping when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant Christian who wants to go on drinking a hot cup of Christmas culture with cream because he cannot fully imagine what is meant by the offer of a Savior in a manger. We are far too easily pleased.
Another reason we cling to culture is that the intellectual truth of the gospel feels disconnected, too far out of reach, from the cold reality of our lives. So the Christmas culture becomes a tangible experience, something on our terms, not God’s. Part of the struggle with this disconnection is the sense that all of this celebration and focus around the birth of our Messiah must create some more intimate experience of Jesus than the other wintry eleven months. Shouldn’t Jesus be more accessible with all of this mistletoe and caroling? When December arrives and our hearts feel just as lonely, we turn to the Christmas culture to befriend them.
My toddlers love to look at Christmas lights. Last week I drove my family through our neighborhood on the way to the grocery store. The girls picked out several houses that required stops to view the illuminated snowmen, Santas, and reindeer. Several houses warranted return trips on the way home. Their favorite house is not immaculately lit, but rather has several intriguing characters sitting on the lawn: two gingerbread men, Mickey, Frosty the Snowman, and their favorite, a huge red M&M. As we left Publix, the girls talked about this house. I zipped through the neighborhood in anticipation. I quickly hit the brakes as we approached a nativity scene that we’d previously missed. Our car rolled past at 20 mph and we attempted to spiritualize the season by pointing out the little baby in the manger. But their excitement for the red M&M pushed my foot back to the pedal. Sadly, baby Jesus doesn’t taste like chocolate.
We have created a culture called Christmas that excites us more than the reality. Pornographic movie producers make millions off the same philosophy. The fantasy is better than the real thing. I do not advocate that we throw out Jingle Bells and boycott Starbucks in December. But we do need to watch over our hearts amidst an intoxicating season. It’s about desire, not priorities. Do you desire enough this Christmas? Would you be overjoyed if Christmas morning arrived and Santa had replaced your tree with a nativity scene that invited you to simply stare and ponder the greatest story ever told, a story that needs no sweetening? It starts with desire, a painful awareness that the fulfillment of your longings, hopes, and dreams can only be fully met by that baby in the manger. Stop and stare. Ponder. Gaze on the God who tastes much better than a chocolate M&M.
Satan’s masterpiece is not the crack addict. Satan’s masterpiece is not the prostitute. Satan’s masterpiece is the person who is satisfied with this world. Satan’s masterpiece is the person who is untroubled by all that is in his or her interior world that’s opposed to God. He (the masterpiece) is content with all the resources that he has to make his life work and he’s enjoying respect and recognition and affection and he’s never broken before God to the point where he lives for no one but God. -Larry Crabb