Desiring Life

Where have you been? Where are you going? And why?

Category Archives: Story

Within the Ambit of a Story

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

The 210 Project

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.

I’ll share a few things that have stuck with me since my first reading of 210Project:

  • Finding our identity and living it out is a community experience.  To pursue such a process alone contradicts the nature of the God who created us in his image.
  • When you have found your calling and purpose, it will serve the same purpose as the UPS man that brings a package to your door.  The delivery is not the UPS man but rather the package.  Your calling and gifts are for the purpose of delivering some sort of package to someone else.  If I’m honest, I want everyone else to be a delivery man to me.  And when it comes to my calling, I want those to whom I deliver packages to celebrate me more than the package.
  • True friendship is an experience of finding the people who are looking for you.
  • In Colossians 1, we learn that Jesus is the image of the invisible God.  Just as Jesus glorifies the Father, our ultimate purpose is to make the Invisible God visible to a lost and hurting world with our lives of love.

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/

Bloody Potatoes

Bloody Potatoes.

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?

Uncertainty

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…”

Baby Jesus Doesn’t Taste Like Chocolate

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.

Welcome Christmas

My wife and I initiated our girls into a WASP Christmas with an evening drive through various neighborhoods to look at decorations and lights.  If Mary only knew that her figurine would one day be inflatable, kept from blowing away by string attached to balloons of Joseph, God, and the animals that came caroling.

All in all, the night left me singing along with Faith Hill.  Where exactly are you, Christmas?  Sure Santa grants wishes at the mall and the traffic turns us into Grinches: true signs of the holidays.  But external merriment can only carry the soul so far.

When Shannon was pregnant I never could envision myself as a father.  I had no awareness of it, no confidence in its actuality.  I took care of her on bed rest for three months, listened to my twins’ beating hearts on the ultrasound, and felt their fists and legs punch and kick my hand.  Yet I couldn’t believe.  I had no grounded perception of the truth of fatherhood.  What it would smell like.  What it would sound like.  What it would feel like.  Though all the signs pointed me to reality, I didn’t believe in reality.  And so I sit quietly in front of my Christmas tree, the room dark except for the tree’s illumination, and I recall another story I do not believe in.

It is a story where the experts of the ancient scriptures were the ones snugly sleeping the nights away as a star twinkled brighter than the others night after night.  Foreshadowing of the type of folks that would have eyes to see and ears to hear and those who would not.  Likely the light would have been out as the wise men passed by my house.

It’s a story of journeys, one long passage by two scared young parents-to-be, another longer course by three deceived gentiles bearing gifts, and yet an even further expedition by Emmanuel.  It’s a story about you and not about you at all.  All paths intersect in Bethlehem at some point; whether they continue into town toward the manger or instead follow the easier, longer road around town lies with you.  As Buechner says, “at Christmastime, the one who confronts us with ourselves and with this truth is…God who is a child”.  And sadly this confrontation fails to impress us, at least not in the cities and towns where it’s protocol to worship a baby every December.  In the ancient Near East, it was customary to present gifts when approaching a superior.  Imagine the President bowing before a baby.  Such imagery is laughable, and yet it is our laughter that keeps us from understanding.

And no story is complete without a dragon.  I’ve never seen a nativity scene include the invisible dragon of Revelation 12:4, primed to devour the foretold child before He could take his first breath.  Scholars suggest the heart and actions of Herod took the form of such a dragon as he trembled upon hearing “It’s a Boy!”.  His rage, induced by fear of losing his throne and power, made him the first anno domini enemy of God.  Herod used the Romans to secure his power, killed family members and associates in attempt to keep that control, and finally committed infanticide in order to defy the prophetic challenger.  Easy, we say, to call him an enemy of God.  We know of no one driven by such selfishness, can’t even imagine it outside of perhaps terrorists in the Middle East.  Surely no one that sits on your pew or lives in your neighborhood or stares back in your bathroom mirror.  But when we look closely at Herod we see a familiar reflection.  His eyes look eerily similar to the ones we possess that covet our friend’s wife.  His hands take the same contours of ours that swipe the last cookie on the family plate.  Surely our complacent indifference to the world’s least of these isn’t quite as bad as his binge of greed, right?

A friend texted me and a few others on Thanksgiving to let us know we were appreciated.  Another fellow recipient replied all, “I could care less about you guys.  Yet I love you more than I could ever imagine.”  He wasn’t joking.  The latter half I expected.  The first part however revealed truth in the depths of you and me that rarely surfaces.  Deep down, I really don’t care about you.  Nor you for me.  I’m going to get mine.  I sail in Herod’s boat, a ship with “Enemies of God” painted boldly across the stern.

Yet God does not sink our boat.  And by that grace I welcome the story we cannot tell enough, a story that believes in me even when I do not believe in it.  A story of a scared teen, a good man, some livestock for dramatic effect, and a dragon, even.  A story of the arrival of Peace that brought war and a war that will one day bring peace.  Welcome, Christmas.

Not All Who Wander

I climbed Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, and I wrote a couple thoughts down as I hiked.  I share them with a disclaimer: I participate here in the age-old writer’s tradition of comparing a mountain to life’s journey.  The pile of rough drafts from writers who’ve used such a metaphor could likely form its own mountain.  You can throw these blogs on top.

Not All Who Wander… (Pondering #4)

Our hike brought to mind Tolkien’s famous line turned bumper sticker, “Not all those who wander are lost”.  As with most things, there are two sides to every coin.  If you’re the parent that watches your teenager try on different identities in search of his own, this bumper stick might better serve on your bathroom mirror.  I remember a season early in my adolescence when I experimented with the inclusion of swear words in my athletic vocabulary.  In one-on-one basketball games with my dad, I responded to my own missed shots with shouts that would redden your ears.  But my dad never scolded me.  In fact, he never spoke of my language on multiple drives home.  As look back I see that I wandered in search of myself without being lost under the shadow of the freedom and grace he offered.

On the other side of the coin, consider this: In the final stretch up Mt. Washington, no one traveled horizontally.  No hiker jumped from rock to rock just to explore or play.  You climb up, hike down, or lay there in hopes of rescue.  I think of 1 Corinthians 9:

“24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

If life is a mountain, throwing pebbles into the steam at the mountain’s base may suffice for a while.  But once the climb has begun, the stakes increase as does the danger, and wanderers get hurt or die.  Three days before my hike last year, a man ventured off path and slipped down the face of the ravine.  While it’s true that all who wander are not lost, many that do are.  It’s interesting to note that of the 100 leaders with enough data to study in the Bible, only one-third finished well.  Most of them failed in the last half of their life.  As we increase in age, may our sense of purpose become narrower and more clearly defined as we live with deep intention founded on the God who bestows our identity.

Someone Farted and Nobody Laughed

I climbed Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, and I wrote a couple thoughts down as I hiked.  I share them with a disclaimer: I participate here in the age-old writer’s tradition of comparing a mountain to life’s journey.  The pile of rough drafts from writers who’ve used such a metaphor could likely form its own mountain.  You can throw these blogs on top.

Someone farted and nobody laughed…(Pondering #3)
There are five stages on the Lion’s Head Trail up Mt. Washington.  The first consists of rocks, dirt, and more rocks at a steady incline with trees blocking any clues to the outside world.  Phase two begins two miles up as you take a right into the thicket.  On this path you must crawl up huge boulders and jump up and off giant logs all the while enclosed in a tunnel of trees.  Phrase three invites you above the tree line with the reward of incredible views and boulders that could measure me as their diameter.  Stage four intersperses a narrow trail through evergreens that scratch your face if you lean too far left or right.  Save the best for last, right?  The last portion of the hike reminds me of Frodo’s climb up Mt. Doom.  It’s as if God broke up a continental sized slab and dumped the jagged pieces onto a pile.  From the base of stage five, you have approximately forty-five minutes of sheer determination.

We entered into the final ascent at stage five.  Fellow hikers passed by headed up and down.  And then someone farted.  Loud.  I pictured a classroom of boys falling out of their chairs in laughter and girls with bright red faces.  Except no one around us laughed; no one cared and everyone understood.  I marveled for a moment.  The exhaustion of the climb rendered the shame and humor that normally accompanies an inadvertent butt-whistle as insignificant.  The bigger the story that we live in, the more trivial things become.

Swim Story

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard her laugh (or seen her smile).”

The swim teacher handed me two dripping and giggling girls.  I led them over the lollipops for their post-traumatic reward.  Both girls focused on getting to the bowl of suckers.  As I toweled them off, they decorated the poolside with Dum-Dum wrappers.  Another swim teacher, Kelsey, questioned me on what I’d fed the girls prior to lessons.  Not because they tore into the candy like starved lions, but because they actually made it through the hour without the neighbors mistaking them for ambulance sirens.  You see, my girls hate swim lessons.  Hate is a strong word, you’re thinking, dislike would be far godlier language.  No, my girls hate swim lessons.  Maren protested with a panicked wail for the entire thirty minute drive earlier in the week.  Sometimes we don’t tell them where we’re going until we’re close.  That works less and less as Summer now recognizes the airport and surroundings schools as signs.  “No, Kelsey, no Kelsey.”  This starts composed and evolves into a whimper.  By the time she sees the red paved driveway, you’d think we just told her that Chik-fil-a was tearing down all indoor playgrounds and canceling chicken nuggets.  Parents are not allowed to sit poolside during lessons for obvious reasons, so we hide on the other side of the fence and peer through the cracks.  Our orphans frantically search for their redeemers while the swim teachers splash, throw, and dunk them.  Okay, that’s a little extreme.  But only a little.  Trust me, the headmaster of the program has earned the unofficial reputation as Swim Nazi.  To end the class period, the SS force the young tadpoles to walk the plank otherwise known as a diving board.  In this simulated accidental drowning exercise, the kids must roll over onto their backs.  Thankfully for our girls, they keep the piranhas out of the water until the students turn three.

So you have a small picture of the terror we subject our girls to during Shark Swim Week.  All of this to illustrate the context for Thursday’s miracle: the girls may have actually had fun.  I peeked in a couple times to see the girls resting on the pool’s edge, up to their own mischief.  They traded life jackets back and forth, clipping and unclipping them.  Kelsey even asked Maren what she was doing.  “I’m cleaning the house!” she replied.  Later, the girls walked over on cue to the diving board.  They had to be restrained from climbing up.  When it was their turn, they launched themselves like frogs off lily pads.

On Wednesday, the girls liked the water about as much as the Wicked Witch of the West when Dorothy melted her with the bucketful.  On Thursday they more resembled Michael Phelps.  What changed?

During Wednesday’s commute, we talked about swim lessons: how they would only last an hour, how much fun they normally have in the pool, and how the world wasn’t going to end.  “Talked” sounds more like a dialogue.  My attempt at encouragement evaporated into their cries.  On Thursday, we talked about Grandma’s birthday party, the candles that would need to be blown out, the presents that would need opening, and the family that would be there.  Summer even reminded her sister at one point, “Guess what Marsie, Grandma’s birthday!”  Upon arrival at swim lessons, we went over the plan for the day: swim lessons, lunch, nap, and the birthday party.  One hour later, I pulled two girls from the pool, not as their rescuer but as their chauffer to Grandma’s Ball.  Maren laughed.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard her laugh,” exclaimed the teacher.

Sometimes we just need to know the bigger story.

Worth 2 Minutes of Your Day…