2017

June 16, 2017

Age & Expectations - Part 3




I wrote some years ago on the topic of age and expectations. It's an idea that has been coming up again recently, so I thought maybe it would be a good thing to revisit.

I keep hearing, "I'm so-and-so age and I haven't done so-and-so," typically centered around the milestone of turning thirty. I can't say I'm not immune to this thinking though, as life certainly hasn't turned out the way I planned ten years ago. My career is pretty much non-existent. Actually, the whole idea of having a career has been slowly flying out the window before me. I think this is something God has been bringing me through personally, so I don't want to make any comment on careers here; but really just dealing with this idea of believing I would have hit a certain milestone by this point in life is tough. My struggle is career, for others it's relationship status or having kids... Actually, I can't really think of any other milestones that come up in conversation -- those seem to be the big two. But I have to ask -- Where do these expectations come from?




The answer I come up with is that they are societal norms that turn into personal pressures. Most people at thirty have gotten married, had a couple kids, bought a house and have a pretty stable career that they spent most of their twenties working towards. Well, if most people have done it, why haven't I? But I have to ask another question -- What does God say about it?
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is -- his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)
That pretty much says it -- this world and its expectations will likely differ from God's, and so we need to be comfortable in those differences. That's not to say that God's will and those milestones, some of which may be genuine desires, might not always line up. Most of these things we want are pretty good things, and we probably have good logical reasons for wanting to attain them by the time we have set out to do so. The problem is that I keep seeing friends get down on themselves about what they have and haven't accomplished at their age, and I don't think it's right. God has you where you are for a reason. Period. And that's hard for me to write because, if you read this blog at all you know, I'm coming out of a really hard year. But that's one of the lessons he's been teaching me and I think it's true. You are where you are for a reason. Even if some seemingly poor choices you made brought you there, those choices did not surprise God.

Guided by the hand, you will be led through this life, sometimes knowingly, sometimes not. There will be dangers on the path, dark cliffs and hidden vipers. You may, at times, feel the mist of waterfalls and bask in the shade of green trees looming overhead while birds chirp away songs of joy and hope. And then there will be days in the desert, where a lonely death seems right around the corner. But we have to have faith that these things work out like this for a reason, and trust that God will bring us where he wants, when he wants us there. If we don't, then all the anxiety that our generation is so thoroughly saturated in will surely consume us as we attempt to design our destiny around what we think it should be. Really, it all boils down to trust.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)

June 8, 2017

God Honors the Bold



Let's talk about boldness.
I haven't been much for boldness, evidenced by my dating track-record. First was the girl I never called because I was afraid my parents would find out I had a girlfriend (they didn't care). Then there was the one who I was not bold enough to ask out, but rather told a friend who knew her to spread the word that I had a thing for her. She came up to me at lunch one day, and the rest is history. That is, until I got tired of her and, not being bold enough to actually break up with her, was just mean to her until she brought up the subject.
My lack of boldness continued through college until I met my wife, where I was still not so bold as to ask her out, but kept hinting at it until we decided to have the DTR (define-the-relationship). Things worked out with her, but I still have a ways to go...
In scripture though, it seems that God rewards boldness. Jesus said in Matthew 11:12, "From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it." To be a great man or woman of faith requires some degree of boldness. To be a follower of Jesus requires boldness too -- in Mark 6, the disciples have returned from being sent out in pairs. They go away to a solitary place to get some rest, and tons of people meet them. Jesus teaches them, but the disciples bring up the fact that it's getting late and the people need to eat. Jesus replies with, "You give them something to eat." (Mark 6:37b). What?! Are you serious Jesus?! Yes. In faith they obey, and it all works out.
It seems a lot of lessons Jesus taught His disciples involved God providing for their needs, even in ridiculous circumstances. It all required boldness and trust, which God seems to reward.
In the Old Testament, David was called a "man after God's heart." (1 Samuel 13:14) He was humble and bold, but also incredibly flawed, going on to commit adultery with his own soldier's wife, and then having that man killed to cover it up. With this same woman, though, David would have Solomon, through whom God's covenant would continue.
The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father and he will be my son...Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever. (2 Samuel 7:11b-14a, 16)
What strikes me about David is his consistently strong faith and regular worship -- he wrote about half of the book of Psalms. It is amazing that he can do this, even in the darkness of his deepest sin, but maybe that's the secret to getting past it. That's another blog though...
A lesser-known man of boldness...Joseph of Arimathea (which spell-check wants to change to Joseph of Aromatherapy), who "boldly" asked Pilate for Jesus' body after he is crucified (Mark 15:43). Scripture reports him as a "prominent member of the Council," the same Council that sentenced Jesus to death, though it reports that he did not consent to their decision and action (Luke 23:51). It also says he was a disciple of Jesus (Matthew 27:57). I have to wonder, though, why did Mark say he "boldly" went to Pilate? Every other account just says he went there; what about the action was bold? (Mark does note odd things and leave out others, such as the guy who ran away naked from the garden of Gethsemane after Jesus was arrested [Mark 14:52].)
Maybe he was there when Jesus was sentenced (it's not known if he was or not), and didn't say anything to the contrary. Perhaps his act of boldness was a little too late. Or maybe he wasn't there, and when he found out, he decided to do something for his rabbi, a proper burial being the least he could offer. I suppose this still would have been a bold act, as the Council would certainly have found out and he would likely be have been rebuked, reprimanded or put out of the synagogue. Either way, he is mentioned in the synoptic gospels, and therefore honored for his boldness.
In scripture, I think God honors the bold, and this is because it requires faith. You can have faith without boldness, but you can't have boldness without faith. Faith in what? That whatever decision you make, no matter how brash, will turn out alright because God is taking care of you. This takes a lot of trust.
Boldness also takes honesty. As David sings after he is rebuked by Nathan the prophet for his adultery and murder.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51: 1-6, 16-17)
In our pursuit of boldness, it also helps to have a partner. Jesus sent out his disciples in pairs more than once (Matthew 10Luke 10, Luke 22:8-13Mark 11:1-6). When you have someone with you, you are automatically stronger with someone to back you up. Even after Jesus ascended, Peter and John are noted as doing a lot of work together (Acts 3:1-108:14-17), as well as Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:2) and then Paul and Silas (Acts 15:40-41).
Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them. (Matthew 18:19-20)
Even in marriage, our wives are called our "suitable helpers," (Genesis 2:18b) and God knows where I would be without my wife.
The first time I realized how much help a partner is in being bold was at El Porto with my good friend Zach. There is one way in and one way out of the busy El Porto parking lot, and a guy was stopped, waiting for some folks to pack up and vacate so he could park there. This dude was totally backing up traffic, waaay up the ramp. I thought to myself, What a douche...this guy needs to just keep going and find a spot later. I rarely say what I mean though (another mark against my boldness factor), but with Zach there to back me up, we were both bold enough to call the guy out and tell him he should keep going. Something small and simple, but it struck me that having this partner in our cause was what led me to speak up.
So to summarize this rather long blog post, boldness takes trust, honesty (with us and God) and a partner. So go out there and be bold! Maybe something good will happen!

May 31, 2017

Imperfect World


It's been a hard year. A rude awakening of sorts. A lot of work, not much pay. No time. Out of balance. Things are changing, but one of the things I have noticed this year is that this is a common story. I work with folks who devote hours and hours to multiple jobs, and still struggle to make ends meet. It would be one thing if they were choosing this life in order to afford an ultra cool loft and a Maserati, but most of these people are just feeding their families and paying off a modest mortgage. I suppose there are always ways to cut back, but outside of moving to Costa Rica and living on a farm, I'm not sure what else to do about it.

Photo by Don C.

So one day I'm standing on the ramp at the airport (one of my jobs) and watching a plane get ready to take off. By my side are these same men and women that are barely scraping by. In front of me is a sleek travel tool, man's invention. To operate it takes thousands of guys like us, wearing our hands and backs down just to move metal. A spectacle of human ingenuity. Man's best.

But then, behind me, the wind blows through a cluster of trees and all the green leaves sway like ocean swells. In the sky the sun rises behind grey hazy clouds, kicking up the breeze like dust on its feet. This is God's creation and, if you ask me, it is infinitely better than what we made. It works, in perfect balance. Sure, there are seasons, life and death, rebirth, renewal; storms and destruction next to tranquil breezes and still water. But somehow it all works. Not like life in this broken world, where fathers miss a third of their children's lives while working in offices they dread located miles from their homes. The cluster travels, weary, burdened -- the workforce drowning. That is man's creation, and when you see the two juxtaposed so starkly, it just makes you want to sit down and rest. No wonder that's what Jesus promised -- he was just bringing things back into balance, the way they are supposed to work. God's intention. Not laziness or lethargy, just rest in balance with work.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30) 
We live in an imperfect world, a result of the fall of man. We can't do much about it except pray for God's kingdom to come -- not as in the "end of all days" kingdom (I guess that's part of it), but rather what Jesus was speaking about: an easy yoke. A proper burden. The thing God designed for you and me to do. It's a life in balance. An imperfect world with a perfect God in perfect love.

May 2, 2017

Day Off



I was in the middle of a 20-day work streak, tired and ready to have a day off with still a ways to go. But sometimes good things come to those who wait, and though I wasn't expectant, one good thing just popped up -- my company gave me an unexpected day off for Good Friday! Awesome! I had a choice though -- my boss said I could work the extra day if I needed the money (really it's a small staff, and I know she wanted the help), which normally isn't terribly tempting for a guy like me, but we could have certainly used the money, and it would have likely been the responsible thing to do. But if you read this blog at all, you know me -- I rarely choose money over time -- and so I declined.

As I entered the blessed 24 hours of no work, I wondered if I had made the right choice. It only took about 20 minutes to come up with the answer to that question...YES! I had breakfast with my wife and kids, went to the beach, surfed a little (until I saw a gnarly looking jellyfish), hung out with my dad, ran errands and even changed the oil on two cars! Productive and fun? Can every day be like that?!


Future shredder. Taken on the day off.

I'm sharing this because I think we live in a world where work is king, and the amount of work you do is indicative of how successful/productive you are perceived as being. But God and my wife have been teaching me over the past 4 years that time is infinitely more valuable than money and stuff. Our modern society doesn't really jive with that idea though, where careers really do take over people's lives, often in the name of "providing for the family." I often wonder if I'm in the right on this topic, but my wife continually reminds me that provision is more than just money, it's time, attention, communication, health; ultimately, being there.

So if you're faced with some decisions to work more when maybe you can get by without, really consider your options. A man recently told me that everyone has the same 24 hours in a day, and it's up to us to decide how to use it. And those decisions should be based on what our priorities in life are. If having lots of money is your priority, then yes, work will also be the priority. But if time with family or surfing or creating stuff is a high priority, then work may take a back seat from time to time. Of course I'm not saying that everyone should quit because they are working too much, and I also know there are times when we are required to work a lot, but I just want people to think about it more.

So go think about it. And let me know what you think.

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.

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...