This is why you criticize others

I’m pretty good at it. Criticizing.

I’ve trained for it my whole life.

Like Rocky Balboa trains for a fight.

Rising before the sun knows I’m up, with a beard burlier than the night before, efforts aimed at capturing a deer I’m chasing up a Russian mountainside in four feet of snow, while simultaneously processing the emotional devastation of what this all means for my wife, kids, and the sequel…and then eating said deer, raw.

There’s a lot of time for criticizing, especially if you have a poor work ethic, which I’ve had for much of my life.

Whew. I feel better saying it.

It’s true. My dad tried to get me to work hard. To clean with great detail, build manly things out of wooden materials, “fix” broken stuff.

One attempt on his part to teach me responsibility and work ethic I remember like yesterday. He pushed our vintage Snapper riding mower out of the garage and onto the blacktop.

After driving it down to the field in the rear of our house, the lesson began. Here’s how to start it. Here’s the blade engage. This pedal makes you go. (I nodded, probably overconfidently so as to compensate for my obviously not understanding.) You also want to look back every now and then to make sure the engine isn’t on fire.

I think I cried.

No, dad. I don’t want to do that. The prospect of burning to death for the sake of a neatly manicured 3/4 of an acre didn’t rouse the manual labor muse within.

I didn’t find my work stride until more recently. Part of it is the job. Part of it is the community of folks I’m around. Part of it is my wife–a huge part. If I have any parts left, another one is what I’m reading now. Not theology. It’s more practical theology–like the be doers of what you’re reading, not just hearers, part.

Steven Pressfield has written novels, screenplays, and non-fiction kicks in the rear. The latter is what I’ve been devouring the last month.

The War of Art

Turning Pro

Do the Work

These are gold mines for me. The principles therein are such that I can superimpose them on the last decade of my life and then wish Uncle Rico’s time machine really worked so I could go back and do a lot of things very differently.

At least I found them at 36 and not 46. Those of you who are 46 know what I’m saying, right?

Here I am now. Learning and growing. Growing and learning. The learning usually has to do with some deficiency deep on my withinside.

In The War of Art, I appreciated Pressfield adding this biographical portion about me –

If you find yourself criticizing other people, you’re probably doing it out of Resistance. When we see others beginning to live their authentic selves, it drives us crazy if we have not lived our own.

The War of Art, p. 38

Thanks, Steve. May I call you Steve?

Translation: We criticize others who are moving closer to becoming who they really are.

They’ve pushed through resistance and done the hard work of doing the work. And when I, you, we see someone do that, we can’t help but be envious. So we find something not to like.

Ah, but what (who) we really don’t like is ourselves. In that way, rather than scratching the itch to criticize, let it serve as a built-in reality check. What am I not doing that I want to be doing? What have I not accomplished? What have I given up on? What resistance am I permitting to keep me from becoming who I really am?

Who knows. Maybe you and I will be criticized one day.

The Journey Towards a Better Death (and life)

architect-architecture-black-and-white-1537008The better game is one we all play even though it never promises a return.

We pay for the next better, move cities to find the next better, cheat on a spouse to experience the next better. There really is no end in the quest to find this psychological sasquatch.

One of the ways it has shown up in my life over the years is with church and employment.

Southerners are especially skilled in playing the better game with churches. The perfect one is out there. I’m going to find it. The one where the pastor preaches a strong, theologically rich sermon with hilarious stories, poignant illustrations, priceless application and all in 30 minutes or less, like an episode of that new Netflix show, F.R.I.E.N.D.S.

In my mind, there was always a better preacher. A better worship experience. A better atmosphere. There had to be. This could not be the pinnacle of church.

And I carried that same mentality and quest for better into my graduate education and professional career.

So by 2013, after 7 years of marriage, we’d moved 11 times (a couple of which were in the same city to a different living situation, but my wife still counts those as moves). Granted, at least I didn’t say I was feeling “called” to Nowheresville. We set up camp in Savannah, Los Angeles, St. Louis–all great cities.

My graduate transcript was a registrar’s worst nightmare. It probably looked more like a word search than a transcript.

After all my searching and gypsy-like moving, where did we end up? Daggum Bluff City, TN. You have to say daggum in a sentence with Bluff City.

That’s a very generous use of the word City, by the way.

But there I was. There we were.

I went from megachurch to megachurch in search of better and ended up being most satisfied pastorally and professionally working in this little, out of the way church and at a Christian school.

At Bunker Hill Christian, there was nobody waiting to be wowed. They wanted to be loved. I didn’t hit a home run with that one, but I grew. Oh so slowly. But they were kind, patient, and gracious.

That season was refining in the sense that it exposed the prideful dross that covered every inch of me. That pride kept me from living a Hebrews 11 life. It would keep from dying a Hebrews 11 death.

Even when I thought I was seeking first God’s kingdom, I was very much at home here. I was an earthly citizen through and through, ALL about the tangible, measurable, and quantifiable.

From childhood to adulthood, the next achievement, next girl, next church, next city, the next better was supposed to make me feel like I’d arrived.

My grand realization? Fundamentally, these were all things I could manipulate. All I had to do was say, Well, God’s calling me to California. Calling me to St. Louis. Calling me to break up with you (best.line.ever).

It doesn’t take faith to manipulate. It takes faith to live and move toward that which you do not control.

Hebrews 11 again

10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

There’s only one truly better city, better scenario, better whatever. The city of God.

There is a future that will only be fashioned by faithfulness in the moment. The Architect has the plans drawn up. But He is also the Builder. So what’s our part?

It may sound like this conclusion to Hebrews 11

32 And what more can I say? Time is too short for me to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets, 33 who by faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the raging of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength in weakness, became mighty in battle, and put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received their dead, raised to life again. Other people were tortured, not accepting release, so that they might gain a better resurrection. 36 Others experienced mockings and scourgings, as well as bonds and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they died by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated. 38 The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and on mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. 39 All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us.

What better epithet could you ask for than verse 38?

    The world was not worthy of them

Only a person who has lived for a better world will have that said of them.

But like the folks in the text, I can’t sit idly by and dream of the better place.

So, a word to the dreamer like me who can’t get no satisfaction.

Pastor Darrin in Pooler, GA said something one Sunday while we were visiting. I can’t shake it. Keep your eyes fixed on heaven, but get your head out of the clouds, he said. Mind your business, I thought.

No, it really did hit me. Translation for my life? Stop being a critic without bringing a contribution. I’d made a living doing that. The pay is terrible.

I’m asking God to do something with my imagination other than have it be an idol factory that spawns discontentment and petty thoughts. I want to bloom where I’m planted as those flowery journals at Target quip.

But part of our spiritual journeys is smashing face first into the transcendent reality that the lasting satisfaction and fulfillment we seek won’t be found this side of forever. No thing. No one. It won’t happen.

That realization should be even greater fodder for the fire of exhausting all resources in this life on the journey towards what matters most. And it’s probably not the latest facebook fight or Twitter mud slinging contest.

I have a finite amount of time, energy, and resources, and this is what or who God has put in front of me right now, and I’m going to catalyze those resources to make the most and best of my actual life right now—and by faith it will produce a better life and death.

Eyes on heaven. Heads out of the clouds.

I’m going to cultivate the very ground in which I’m presently planted to see the fruit that God wants to grow in me and through me, for my good, the good of those around me, and for His glory.

Selah.

This Idea Casts a Long Shadow Over Your Life and Mine

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Photo by Andrew Tallent on Unsplash

Many of us, myself for sure, live in the long shadow cast by an idea, a phantom idea, a ghostly, probably not real but it feels so real idea. The shadow of this idea brings a darkness with it that goes where we go and grows as we grow.

I’d go so far as to say we are inculcated–indoctrinated if you will–with this idea.

What is this idea? The shadow-caster? The ghost?

Better.

Better stuff, better place, better people, better toys, better car, better neighborhood, better amenities, better clothes.

Better is in us. It grows up with us, too. Your better may not be the same as your friend’s better, but you both have it. It could have looked something like the following –

  • You were 12 years old and SUPER awkward (because who isn’t) and you were 100% confident that 13 was the magic number when things would be better. But no. Just more awkward.
  • 15, though, 15 is where it’s at! I’ll get my driver’s permit, and I’ll cruise into the horizon (with my dad in the passenger seat because mom gets too skittish when I don’t brake in time).
  • Ugh, I’m sick of driving while my parents hit imaginary brakes on their side of the car. It’s all good. I get my license next year, and 16 is when life will really begin.
  • At least at 18 people will take me seriously, because I’ll be an adult. (Nobody tells us why that’s the age. The government just decided one day.) Now, if I want, I can
    • Enlist in the military
    • Buy cigarettes–make America proud
    • Vote, because Ben Affleck told me to

18-20ish are the first of the serious ‘who am I’ years…what do I want to be, who will I marry. Can I marry her–no, her–no, her…

  • I turn 21 in a few weeks. I’m so glad I’m not one of those pathetic teenagers anymore. Look at how sad their lives are.

After 21, better moves into life stages instead of ages. So, life will be better when I…

  • Get a job
  • When I get married
  • Marriage will be better when we have kids
  • Maybe life will be better with a different wife, a different husband
  • Better with a different job
  • Better if we move here
  • Better if that person would die
    • Shoot, I didn’t mean it! Do I have to go to the funeral?
  • Better when I retire…

And then we run out of better and die.

It really could happen.

You could die always believing that the next better would be better than the better before.

Here’s what I’ve learned about my better, and I’m willing to bet your better is a distant cousin of my better and looks mostly the same.

Better is always a moving target. Better is elusive.

It’s like trying to shoot the squirrels who used my back deck as their personal teeth filing hot spot. Those glorified rats were sneaky. Better senses you’re coming and scampers off, leaving part of your deck chewed up while you’re standing there in pajama pants, holding a BB gun with a heart full of anger and sadness. (no metaphor is perfect)

Whether you want to talk education, politics, economics….someone is always promising something better.

A better plan; better policies; better financing; better curriculum. Blah, blah, blah.

The marketing and advertising world lines its pockets by playing on this intrinsic appetite for better.

This product will make you look better, feel better, think better, hit better, jump better, study better.

Instead of better, we get bitter. We were duped.

Better is the guy who never comes through like he says. Better is the boss who over-promises and doesn’t deliver. Better is the movie with the star-filled cast that you wish you had never seen.

There has to be more to it, right?

I don’t have to live in this shadow forever, right?

Right.

More to come

 

Update on the book I said I was going to write when I started the blog several years ago…

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In the yesteryear of 2011, I wrote a blog about writing a book. You probably remember it if you were one of the 22 blessed people who read viewed it.  Viewed is ambiguous.

Wouldn’t it be exciting to learn that I finished the book!?! What I Didn’t Learn in Seminary: 9 Courses I Never Took but Would Have Failed, is the working title…for the book that I haven’t worked on in, ohhh, five years.

So. Yeah. It’s not done. Not. Even. Close.

I’m not surprised. Mainly because I haven’t written. I should say, I haven’t made a habit of writing.

The finished product is great, in my brains. That’s where the book lives and where it’s gone to die. #Condolences

But I’ve been inspired of late, which I just read has nothing to do with actually finishing a creative work. So that’s a bummer.

Inspiration is cute, like a kitten. Just before you get too close to the kitten’s face while hard whispering “Aren’t you cute? Yesh you are, yesh you are” and then the cat swats you across your puckered lips just to remind you he’s heartless and has no true need of you.

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Photo by burak kostak from Pexels

Clearly what I’m saying is that inspiration is a great excuse to get nothing done.

“I’m not feeling inspired,” you quip to your supervisor. “Oh, by all means, don’t come back to work until your inspiration is replenished, valued worker.”

Nope. You just go to work.

And I just have to write.

So I started again today. Lucky you.

Since legion of you have asked, yes, I’ll finish the seminary bad pastor book. At least I’m smart enough now to know it won’t happen in one super unrealistic inspired weekend.

 

When “one day” is today but was actually every other day

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Headline news—-It’s raining. In Savannah. Again.


Actual blog post:

For the last 10 years or so I’ve said one day countless times.

One day, when I’m not in school and working, I’ll …

One day, when I’m not working and waking up in the middle of the night to change diapers and help with baby feedings I’ll…

One day, when I’m not working two jobs I’ll…

One day, when I’m not working two jobs and finishing another degree I’ll…

And back again to: one day, when I’m not working two jobs I’ll…

Well lah-di-dah, it would appear that “one day” has arrived. “One day” has come. One day has become today.

I have one job. I’m not working at a school and a church. Just a school. A great school. The Habersham School (with a fine new website).

While there is much work to do and plenty to keep me busy, it’s still one day. And that means I have written pages upon pages of a book, right? I’ve researched and taken notes on topics about which I plant to write, right? I’m blogging multiple times a week, right?

Nah. I’ve blogged a couple times in as many months. No pages for a book. Not even a sentence.

I’m writing a blog about how I haven’t written anything, so this should count for something.

It turns out that “one day” isn’t as situational or circumstantial as I thought. One day is about discipline. It’s habit. Which means that one day has been every other day prior to today.

Crap. I wasted a lot of todays waiting on one day.

How, then, do I work, spend quality time with my kids, date my wife, workout, cultivate spiritual health, AND write. Your AND may be something else–dance, create art, start a business, travel, lose 10lbs–mine has always been write (and lose 10lbs).

There has to be something to do to-day that will demystify your one day and make it more achievable. There’s a discipline or habit or practice to start, or, to stop. It’s one less meal…another practice session…500 more words…another page…two more sets…something.

Here’s to your efforts at bringing one day into today!

Approval, acceptance, and you

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I’m not a hunter. I don’t have a moral issue with hunting. It’s just not something I grew up doing. I did own a pair of camo cargo shorts that my wife eventually made me throw out.

Hunting would be more of a sport if you didn’t use the urine of an animal to hide your scent. Also guns. Guns are cheating. At least chase that animal down like a nomadic hunter whose life depends on it and look it that beast in the eyes whilst taking his life and whispering, “It’s all gonna be okay….” #Epic

I have been hunted, however. Not in a “rich guy pays to hunt you on his private island” sort of way. But in a “you want the approval of others and don’t realize it’s going to kill you” sort of way.

Proverbs 29.25 says it like this: The fear of mankind is a snare, but the one who trusts in the Lord is protected.

A snare is a trap  meant to lure you in and kill you instantly or, more likely, keep you in place and lead to a slow, miserable death.

The fear of mankind is the snare of approval. I seek the approval of a certain person, a certain group, a sector of society. Longing and living for the approval of others  leads to death. And approval seeking leads to appeasing, whether that means living for a lesser dream or violating your conscience, it’s deadly either way.

The problem is some of us don’t realize we’re trapped because the death is slow. The death of a dream. The death of a vision God had given you.

The tricky thing is that dying in this sense can look pretty normal. It could mean going to work, coming home, eating dinner, watching Netflix and going to bed. REPEAT.

All the while we hear a faint echo of what we believed God wanted us to do, where He wanted us to go, how He asked us to risk, what He told us to quit, that thing He urged us to start…

But life in the snare has become normal. Safe. And I have the approval of others.
——
I think Jesus knew very well that his disciples (you and me disciples) had a bent towards getting complacent and drawn away into the snare of people pleasing.

So here’s what Jesus instructed his followers then to do as he sends them out to minister in different places and do things that the locals weren’t used to, and I think it’s the same for us now.

Greet a household when you enter it, 13 and if the household is worthy, let your peace be on it; but if it is unworthy, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone does not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that house or town. – Matthew 10.12-14

What do you do if they don’t like what you’re doing or saying? Shake it off.

Shake, shake, shake, shake, shake it off.

Leave their approval and acceptance right there with them and move on.

Don’t stay explaining why it makes sense and how you arrived at the conclusion. Shake it off and head out.

See, we’ve become conditioned to making sure the people around us understand our intentions and the process we went through to make a decision and trying to let them know that we aren’t crazy….Jesus didn’t really do that. He shook it off.

So perhaps don’t spend precious energy trying to get them to where God has brought you. They’ll need their own journey for that, and you’ll need that energy moving forward. Just shake it off.

Have you noticed there are people who are made uncomfortable when you get out of your comfort zone? It’s like they go, “No, get back in the snare. The snare is safe. It’s known.”

Different is scary.

But God’s love FOR us and IN us pushes us beyond our fears.

And that means if God is calling me to risk something, to sell something, to move somewhere, to stop or start a certain ministry, to leave a job, then it is God’s LOVE compelling me to take the next step.

God is faithfully for me, and in turn I can be fearlessly faithful.

And if someone takes issue with that and can’t understand where I’m coming from and that it couldn’t be of God because God would never tell them to do that, then I respectfully shake the dust off my feet and move on to where God’s leading me.

So if you have that move of God in mind and you’re struggling to take a step out of the snare, repeat after me —  The Lord is for me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? (Hebrews 13.6)

  • When you feel the pull to stay right where you are because people might talk….The Lord is for me, what can man do to me?
  • When you feel paralyzed by the thought of taking a step forward even though all the details aren’t lined up…The Lord is for me, I will not be afraid.
  • When you find yourself caring more about what “they” might think than what God thinks…The Lord is for me, what can man do to me?

If the Lord is for you, what are you afraid of? Who are you afraid of?

Be free

The censorship of Christian community

lion-predator-big-cat-cat-162093There is so much I want to say.

So many comments I’d like to make.

More questions I’d like to ask than anything else…

But the Christian community is extremely sensitive. We–I include me in the we–are so sensitive! [don’t use an exclamation point unless you mean it!] What are we so scared of?

It’s like anything we disagree with or anyone who disagrees with us is immediately blacklisted and deemed a heretic or apostate or, dare I say, liberal!!!????!

Scott Sauls, pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church Nashville, tweeted on February 12

“I am too conservative for liberals, and too liberal for conservatives.” – Everyone who follows the whole Jesus

2,400 people retweeted. I can only assume it’s because more persons don’t know who Scott is.

Point being, yes. This is an amen deep in my soul. One  of the hardest aspects of doing ministry of any kind in the South is being pigeon-holed by others, feeling like there’s a mold one has to fit into, and then fearing the backlash of not fitting in.

I get diplomacy, I do. But what if the prophets of the Old Testament had been diplomatic? Would they have been prophets? No. They wouldn’t have been thrown into cisterns or killed. They probably would’ve been…wait for it…promoted.

Prophets speak.

         They are a voice.

                      They ask.

                                They tell.

                                           They prod.

Subsequently…

They are isolated. Lonely. Blacklisted, ignored, imprisoned, fired, demonized, etc.

I guess what I’m saying is, can we Christians–bought with the blood of Christ and freed from the strictures of this political world–be truly free? Can we refuse the titles and categorizations that the world requires in order to make enemies?

Why the titles, the categories, the sides? Because we have to know who’s wrong, right?

Following the whole of Jesus really leaves us as misfits. We can’t be contorted to fit into any one corner or box. Too liberal. Too conservative. Can’t be nailed down. Enemies on every side. Sounds like Jesus.

Here’s the thing. If nobody is upset with you. If nobody is frustrated by what you say. If nobody is really bothered by you. You’ve picked a box.  And turns out it’s a perfect fit.