Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Silhouetted Church

I was driving to work the other morning and saw a beautiful sunrise over downtown Charleston. The city is known as the Holy City because of all the church steeples that line our modest skyline. As the sun crept up that morning, it silhouetted one of those famous churches, shining through the windows of the bell tower. It was beautiful, that silhouetted church, but it sparked an idea -- is this a picture of the state of the church right now?
Here we have an old fashioned building, the way churches used to be designed -- huge steeple that stretched into the sky with a cross on top, reminding all who see where their hope comes from, their safety and their salvation. But churches aren't designed that way anymore, and church isn't performed the way it was back then either. The liturgy of the past is widely gone, and the ornate buildings of old have been replaced by more practical warehouses and shopping centers. But in the silhouette of these buildings, what do we see? The line shines through.

http://www.bestofcharlestonsc.com/historic-downtown-charleston-sc-neighborhood/
Courtesy of www.bestofcharlestonsc.com
In these modern times with our modern buildings, ugly as they can be, life and light line the walls inside. Through the framework of our roots, the old church, we have changed in a way that allows people to see what is good and true about God. Not that the old way is bad or wrong, but as society has changed the church has to change with it, not in watering down truth, but in its way of presenting that truth. People see these old churches, beautiful as they are, but they don't walk in to find a truth that's relevant every day. Admire it's beauty, sure. Find peace, absolutely. But rarely do you find someone going to these old churches when they want to meet God and His community in a tangible way.
Again, not that we are forgetting our roots -- the church and its history is rich and full of wisdom -- but as we examine the ways of old and gleam what we can from them, we press on to communicate this same wisdom in a new way that is relevant to a modern generation. The light through the silhouette.

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Saturday, January 28, 2017

What I Learned from La La Land



"It's easier to be a dreamer in Los Angeles," I told my friend Karl as I lamented my lost status as an Angelino. We moved back "home" to the South last year and it brought about the toughest season of our family's lives. One contributing factor was that I had moved to LA to pursue film, and so in moving back with little to show career-wise, I can't help but feel like some sort of failure. It's not entirely true -- as I told a friend recently, every time I had time to work on a movie, I ended up surfing and skateboarding instead -- I guess our habits have a way of revealing what our true passions are. I also discovered that pursuing something as competitive as filmmaking required a great amount of sacrifice, particularly relationally, which was something I guess I wasn't willing to do.

Anyway, being away from it all and trying to figure out my life has got me thinking a lot about dreaming. As I said, it's easier to dream in LA, where you're surrounded by like-minded individuals. Here in the South, it's far more common to find a normal, productive, good paying job and just do that the rest of your life. Nothing wrong with that of course -- these folks usually make more money and have far more stable lives than I have ever had. But as I seek out these types of jobs, hoping to find some glimmer of creativity in them, something inside just feels wrong. It's not a good fit for some reason, and over the past couple of weeks I've come to the conclusion that the reason is that I am a dreamer. A hopeless dreamer; hopeless because I can't stop, yet unceasingly hopeful in the pursuits of such dreams.

The problem is that people frown on dreamers. We're not in touch with reality. We're irresponsible. On a different planet, we float and drift while we gaze longingly into the horizon, seeking a sunrise, anticipating a sunset, watching for waves or even whales; anything to spark our imagination. Maybe that's why surfing strikes such a chord with me and so many other dreamers I know. And that's where La La Land comes in, the new musical that reminded me that it's okay to be a dreamer. And not just okay, but necessary. The world actually needs dreamers.

People like watching others do things they are passionate about. I paraphrase the film there, and it is so true. This life is so filled with passionless moments, drudgery and the grind. When we see someone who is passionate about anything, it injects just a little spark of life into our own existence that we can't help but be drawn to it. Like moths to a lamp, we float around, wondering what could happen if...watching to see if others try...maybe flying away or maybe, just maybe, getting closer. And closer. Until...zap. You're dead.

And that's the other thing La La Land taught me: to truly pursue dreams requires sacrifice. It was the same lesson I learned in the real La La Land, the one that brought me back home seven years later. I wasn't ready to make those sacrifices, and so here I am.

But I'm still a dreamer, right? What does that mean, then? Will I be caught in this weird limbo of half-trying, half-pursuing forever? I hope not. Really, I think I have some decisions to make:
  1. Kill the Dreamer: Maybe it's time this guy just leaves and never comes back, right? But then I am abandoning a portion of myself that I feel was placed by God. And not just a portion, but the motivator, the spark plug, if you will. Without it, I'm not firing on all cylinders (or firing at all).
  2. Try Again: Maybe I gave up too early. Maybe it's time to give it another go and see what happens. This requires a level of planning I was too immature to prepare for, and, again, sacrifice. But this time the stakes are higher -- I have a wife and kids I'm dragging along with me. Is it fair for me to bring them through what it would take to attain the dream? I'm not sure.
  3. Dream a New Dream: Dreaming is like a journey. You imagine a future that is more wonderful than your own and set out for the new country. But what happens when you get there? Is that home? Or is there another home just beyond that horizon? Or maybe you take a detour, or a few different turns altogether, and realize home is where you never expected it was. It's all a process, and probably should be, lest we end up like the drummer in Whiplash (by the same director as La La Land).
I think I like the third one best.
 

It took several years to realize I didn't have the passion for filmmaking in the avenue that I had originally set out to attain. But in the process, I found other passions, some related and some not. I have a passion for story, surfing, skateboarding, music and watching God move. It's the same passion that led me to starting this website, which is generating zero income for me by the way, but still helping someone in some way I hope. If anything, it's helping me get these ideas out and in the open. (Who said we have to make money off of what we love anyway?)

I think this will be a good year. My focus is narrowing as I mature. I'm completing songs and books I've been working on for years. I'm realizing what sparks my heart and embracing it as a part of who I am, who God made me to be.

The day after Katie and I saw La La Land, I was driving to work and feeling energized by the story. The city was covered in fog as I drove through downtown. But then, I hit a bridge that lifts high above the Cooper River, and as I rose, the brilliance of the sun broke through the clouds. It felt like I was driving to a cloud city, high in the sky with nothing below me for miles and miles. It also looked like the sun was on a path to collide with the earth, destroying everything we know in a glorious explosion. As my imagination soared, I remembered that there was certainly reality below me -- water, boats, rocks -- and that the sun wasn't going anywhere. But the dream was more fun, so I stayed there a little longer. Two fantasies. Two stories. One mind exploring.

Before too long, I inevitably was headed down the bridge, back into the fog. And that's when it hit me -- we all have a choice: to focus on the dream or the reality. Not that dreaming I was driving to a cloud city made it true -- my four wheels were still on the ground -- but the dream made that drive better. It was fun to explore and think and imagine. It's inspiring. And that's what dreams do: make things better. Lately this whole city has been covered in fog.

Maybe it's time the sun comes out and some things get brighter...
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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Jingle Bells


It's always been difficult for me to connect with God during a worship service. I'm not sure why -- I am a musician after all, so you'd think it would be my first choice of meeting God. But for some reason it's rare that I really feel my spirit connect with God's during the musical part of a worship service.
This Christmas season, I found myself at St. Andrew's Church in Mt. Pleasant. I owe a lot to this church, having gone here often in high school and always coming away a better person, as well as being continually impressed with their community. It was actually on a St. Andrew's trip to Creation Festival that I made the public declaration of faith that changed my life. Sixteen years later, I still see the light of Jesus in this place.
Despite the tremendous quality of this church and its worship team, as I stood in the pew with good friends singing Christmas carols and worship songs, I still felt disconnected. We might as well have been singing Jingle Bells! In fact, they gave everyone a little bell to jingle on the way in, which was fun, but didn't help with the worship experience as far as I could tell. And so I started asking God why I've rarely been able to connect during these services; what was in the way?
And then something cool happened as the worship leader explained why we were all given the bells. It symbolized everything we needed to let go of in life (I don't remember why, to be honest...maybe because the jangy-clangy noise?), and so we were all to think of whatever it was that was blocking us from God and toss it in a basket at the altar in lieu of Communion.
Letting go has been a theme in my life for the past several years, and I'm sure it was no accident that this was the theme in that worship service where I felt I couldn't connect with God. The striving that has marked my life for about a decade now has slowly been eroding away as I learn to let go of career, finances and what it means to have a home. I still have so, so much to learn and even more to let go of, but that night I think I got some answers as to what is blocking me from knowing God better.
Maybe you have some of your own things to let go of. I don't have a digital jingle bell to send you, but consider writing whatever it is down and throwing away the piece of paper (or burning it on a Christmas candle, if you want to be dangerous!). Even the simple act of clenching your fists, imagining that detrimental thing and then opening them up can be a powerful reminder of what it means to hand all of that over to God, trusting Him more. Give it a try and let me know what happens in the comments! (Unless, of course, you start a fire. You're on your own then...)
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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Pot Pie & Purpose


How come pot pie never works? It takes forever to cook, despite being counted amongst the most prevalent of frozen entrees; and when it's "done," it's either still frozen in the center or so hot you can't eat it for another hour. I'm not sure why this is the case, but it seems to be a universal truth. And so, as I chomp on my piping hot Trader Joe's pot pie, I am wondering if there are any other parallels that this long-time American staple could relate to (I'm always eager to relate food to theology you know). The first thing that came to mind is a big idea on our purpose in life.
Have you ever done something that just doesn't work? Maybe a job or relationship that goes wrong at every turn. It's like wearing a shoe a half-size too small -- you could get by, but every step is uncomfortable and rubs against your little toe. Perhaps this experience is your pot pie in life. It will get you by, but something just isn't right.
So what do you do if you're in one of these circumstances? First, try patience. I cooked this pie in 12 minutes in a 700-watt microwave oven. I'm sure if I had elected for a 400-degree conventional oven, it would have tasted much, much better (and wouldn't have oozed out watery filling halfway through cooking), but it also would have taken about 5-times longer. If you are feeling off about your life, hold on! God may just have you where He wants you and so it's worth it to wait around and see what happens next.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
The second idea is to stop eating processed food and get yourself a new lunch. Yeah, sometimes you're late for work and just need to grab something quick as you head out the door (hence today's meal). But high-sodium, packaged foods are just not the best, no matter how many frozen peas fill the mysterious spaces within your entree. It would have probably been better to have woken up a little earlier and taken some extra time to make a nice proper lunch -- I didn't and now I'm burning my tongue. Likewise, it could be time for a new job, a cheaper car or more quiet spaces in your life. Whatever is off might be solved through a little time with God and/or some common sense.
As for me, I don't like to waste food or money, so I'm going to finish this pie and probably feel kind of sick afterwards. I'd say that puts me in that first category -- I'm not sure what God has for me right now, but I'm going to wait it out see what's next, finishing the pie I've been given. Hopefully there will be some proper homemade pot pies in my future, the sick feeling will be gone and it will be another year before I write another ridiculous blog post like this one...
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. (Proverbs 13:12)
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Sunday, November 20, 2016

No Risk, No Reward


It was a big day at Redondo Beach, which is rare. The waves were breaking hard and fast on the south side of the jetty, while smaller and a little more predictable on the north side. I paddled out south along with about ten other guys who were already out, or filtering in. You could catch rights or lefts here, depending on how close you were to the jetty. But it was a steep drop no matter what, and so I hung out in places where it looked like I could get a good corner.
Wipeouts abounded before I caught an amazing left. Big, long drop. I was flying - one of my fastest waves ever. My body was wound up perfectly to travel up the wave and do a big snap at the crest. Not that I'm great at doing snaps, but I've been learning. Unfortunately, on that day though, I enjoyed the drop and the speed so much that I didn't want to waste my ride on what would have likely been a failed snap. And so I absorbed the drop, tried to keep as much speed as I could, and rode it out. Unfortunately, this killed all my momentum and the wave caught up to me lickety split. Before I knew it, the wave was over.

So...it may be a little obvious what I learned that day -- no risk, no reward. I took the safe route in riding and it ended up being lame. I've replayed that wave in my mind a few times since then, and every time I would have tried to do the snap. It may have failed. I might have even gotten hurt. But the attempt would have been well worth it. Hindsight is 20/20 I guess...and a sick maneuver.
And so, as you navigate your own waves - or your life - don't be afraid to take the risk on a big drop. Keep that momentum going and go for the maneuver. Ask your boss for the raise. Get married. Move to another city. Sell everything and start a Christmas tree farm. Whatever it is you're contemplating, now just may be the time to act.
I love letting our two year-old pray, because it's mostly a bunch of jumbled words that don't make any sense, with an occasional "real" word; usually a family member, friend or Daniel Tiger. Tonight she was praying and it really sounded like she was saying, "Thank you God for when we go big." A girl after my own heart...
Go big or go home, as the saying goes. Or maybe, sometimes going big may just lead you home.
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