What We’re Not

Did you see it today on Twitter? It was one of the greatest moments in our nation in decades; a moment I, for one, didn’t think I’d ever see again in my lifetime. Somewhere, pigs are flying over a frozen hell-scape.

First, Mitt Romney tweeted this:

Take down the at the SC Capitol. To many, it is a symbol of racial hatred. Remove it now to honor victims.

And then, Barack Obama – yes, Mitt Romney’s 2012 nemesis – tweeted this:

Good point, Mitt.

Isn’t it exhilarating! Go back and read it again if you want.

Two politicians, two former enemies who said pretty snarky things about each other and spent nine months polarizing our country, agreed on Twitter! This is seriously big news, folks. Our politicians were publicly supportive of one another!

I’m getting all misty-eyed over here.

Can you imagine what this one interaction could do for our insanely divided, fearful, angry, prejudiced, media-saturated country? Without cable, I’m not sure if 24-hour-soul-crushing-news-media is covering it or not, so I’ll just run with the dream of the Sean Hannity’s and Keith Olbermann’s sitting across from each other for a segment called, “WE AGREE ON THAT”

I can see Red Sox and Yankees laughing in the streets.

Crips and Bloods hugging it out.

Christians and Muslims picnicking in the park.

Cats apologizing to dogs.

Oh man…I dream.

KNOWING WHAT WE’RE NOT

It makes sense, though, because it’s way, way easier for a group of people to agree on what they’re not than on what they actually are. I’m a pastor, so I’ll use church as an example. It’s easy for people to all agree that they’re not a certain religion or denomination or sub-group of a denomination. Everyone can sit in the same room and say, “We are definitely not Hindu.” Nothing against Hindu’s, but it’s pretty clear when a person practices or does not practice Hinduism. And people feel a sense of belonging by being with other people who are not what they’re not. (Grammar nazi’s, fire away on that one).

The friction comes from deciding what the church – or people group – actually is. While everyone in the church agrees that they’re not Hindu, there might not be such agreement on, say, how to treat the poor, or what to believe about the Bible, or how to teach people about the multi-layered intricacies of nursery duty.

WE NEED A VILLAIN

I’ve heard it said that any society of human beings – a nation, a church, a tribe, a PTA board, whatever – needs a villain. In fact, most groups of people won’t survive without one. Nothing will rally humans together more than someone with whom they all disagree, or an ideal they all disdain, or an agreed-upon source of all the problems in the world. Where would MSNBC or Fox News be without the opposing party? They’d have nothing to say. Neither network gets ratings by saying things like, “Yeah, I know they’re in the other party, but I agree with them.” Their jobs depend on being divisive, and the survival of many people groups depends on identifying a villain. As a people, humans need a collective enemy if we’re to stay united.

So, sometimes, it’s helpful to remind ourselves what we’re not. And today, politician after politician opted to make an enemy not out of a person on the other side of the aisle, but on the ideals upon which the Confederate flag flies. Both Republican and Democrat called for the removal of the Confederate Flag from the government grounds in South Carolina. They stood as one nation and proclaimed, “We are not tolerant of racism.” Before you fire off your rebuttals about how racism just takes a different form now, or what to do about gun control, or why Benghazi is tied to all this, let’s just pause and enjoy it. Everyone seems to agree that the Confederate flag has no place in our government. That’s great news. That’s a big step forward in history.

As is always the case after horrific events like the shooting in Charleston, something good rises. Life resurrects from Death, and Light shines in the Darkness. It always does. So let’s spend a moment soaking in the Light as we watch the Confederate flag come down in South Carolina, and maybe – just maybe – see a divided nation find its way back to each other by remembering what we are not.

Why I Can’t Read Matt Walsh

THIS POST HAS BEEN READ OVER 4,000 TIMES SINCE I FIRST WROTE IT OVER A YEAR AGO. SO I DECIDED TO UPDATE IT A BIT AND REPOST IT. I HAVE SINCE AVOIDED MR. WALSH’S BLOG  AND HAVE BLOCKED HIS POSTS FROM MY FACEBOOK PAGE. IF HIS BLOG IS NO LONGER WHAT IT USED TO BE, THEN DISREGARD THE COMMENTS BELOW. I HAVE A SUSPICION, THOUGH, THAT IT’S ONLY BECOME WORSE. NEVERTHELESS, HAPPY READING.

I try not to attack people, especially through social media. Jesus is clear: if you have a problem with somebody, go to them directly.

It could be argued that I’ve done so, by which I mean I sent an email once. I acknowledge the unbiblical spirit of my words even as I type.

Yet I cannot remain silent. A large number of my Facebook friends read and share Matt Walsh’s blog daily. I’d like to point out something that troubles me about this, and share thoughts about the blog that I hope you’ll keep in mind if you’re a Matt Walsh reader.

If you’re unfamiliar with Matt Walsh and his blog, spend some time reading it and make your own decisions about what he has to say. He’s a gifted writer, easy to read, and is certainly engaging. He writes about current topics, and takes a firm, traditional stance on most issues.

What his posts sorely lack, though, are love, mercy, and gentleness. The first time I saw Mr. Walsh’s blog shared, it was his response to a high school student who wrote him asking for advice. His health teacher was teaching safe sex rather than abstinence, and the young reader wondered what his response should be. Here’s an excerpt:

“Speaking of adults without character, please ignore everything your “health teacher” says on this subject. I have to put quotes around her title because it doesn’t sound like she’s doing much in the way of teaching, and whatever she’s blabbering about has very little to do with “health.” She seems to think there’s a “safe” way for emotionally immature juveniles to have casual sex. Maybe she’ll follow up this performance by advocating “safe drunk driving.”

Most of the response continues with this juvenile tone, demonizing the young man’s teacher.

Healthy disagreement is good, even necessary for us to grow. But Mr. Walsh shames and belittles anyone he believes to be wrong. Regardless of the truth he claims to speak, truth without love is irrelevant (GREAT BLOG ABOUT THAT TOPIC HERE). Truth requires generosity if it’s to be received by others. When it’s spoken with immaturity and an antagonistic spirit, Truth lacks authority and does great harm to any opportunity for civil dialogue. Not one person is swayed to a new way of thinking by being insulted.

Mr. Walsh’s blog is toxic and serves no productive purpose in our society. It is only meant to rile up the anger of people who think like him without offering anything original, thus deepening the division that already poisons our world.

Mr. Walsh’s influence seems to be growing, and that scares me. Is this the way we want to speak to people with whom we disagree? Is this the way Jesus spoke to anyone: with adolescent, narcissistic sarcasm and petty name calling? When those who reject Jesus and the Church read the posts we share on Facebook and Twitter, are they more likely to follow Jesus or will their view of Christians only be confirmed?

If you are a person who enjoy’s Mr. Walsh’s blog, I encourage you to read cautiously and resist adopting his attitude toward the people he vilifies. And if you choose to share his thoughts via social media, consider what others might see in him, in you, and in Jesus when you do so.

Religious Freedom

I am a big fan of religious freedom. And, in Jesus, we are never without it, no matter how emperors may oppress or what laws might pass.

As a follower of Jesus, I have freedom in droves.

I am free to model my entire life after His, as a disciple follows a rabbi (Matthew 7:24).

I am free to model Jesus’ practice of sitting and eating with those society has marginalized or deemed less than human (Matthew 9:11).

I am free to model Jesus’ practice of throwing no stones because I myself am no better or worse (John 8:11).

I am free to live as one who sees the humanity in people and makes compassion and empathy common practice (Matthew 25:35).

I am free to give my time, resources, and care to anyone in need (Luke 10:37).

I am free to model Jesus’ teaching that hate and lust are far worse than murder and adultery (Matthew 5:22).

I am free to live out Jesus’ teaching that the plank in my own eye stands out more than the speck in my brother’s or sister’s eye (Matthew 7:5).

I am free to practice Jesus’ teaching that some things are to be valued more than rigid adherence to the Law: justice, mercy, faith (Matthew 23:23).

I am free to live fully into the two greatest commands: to love him, and to love my neighbor in the way I myself want to be loved (Matthew 22:39).

I am free to model Jesus’ practice of loving people before lecturing them, and welcoming all to the Table (Matthew 22:1-14).

I am free to practice wholeness, and to participate in restoring all people and all creation back to its Oneness with God (Luke 19:8).

Against such things there is no law.

WHY I OPPOSE HB 1228

I believe HB 1228 is not a representation of the “religion” Jesus taught his disciples to practice. I believe it draws a line between imaginary Good Guys and Bad Guys, a line Jesus died trying to erase. He clearly taught that separating the “Sheep” from the “Goats” is a task left up to the angels. Not to mention that “Sheep” are those who see the humanity in all people and treat them accordingly.

While I am no legal scholar, I find the bill redundant. Businesses already possess the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason, and Arkansas does not currently have any laws that explicitly protect people from discrimination based on sexual preference or gender identity. What, then, is the need for this bill in Arkansas?

I am also no economist, but I cannot imagine that bills like HB 1228 make much fiscal sense. Look at what’s happening already in Indiana – Angie’s List withdrew a $40M expansion of its company in Indianapolis. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, has denounced the bill and would surely follow the way of Angie’s List. Corporations will think twice before furthering business in states that pass such laws. What, then, is the good of this bill in Arkansas?

For these reasons, I oppose HB 1228. It’s a contentious issue, but it need not be. Surely in the year 2015 we can have reasonable dialogue with all sides agreeing to see the Other with compassion and empathy. Surely as Straight, L, G, B, or T Americans, we are capable of living together in ways that bring out the best in each other. As followers of Jesus it is within us to see the Image of God in all people, whether or not we agree with their lifestyle. We ought to be on the front line of showing the world the power of love and generosity. We’re capable of living in a way that points us more toward what God intended Earth to be, a world filled with his glory, love and shalom.

And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. The greatest is love.

A Coward’s Guide to Confrontation

Yesterday our boys were out of school and I stayed home with them all morning. They invited friends over, so we had nine boys running around the house most of the day. At 9:00 the man in charge of maintenance on our house – I’ll call him Bill –  showed up with his crew to install new doors to the room on our deck. I’d put Bill somewhere in his late-50’s or early-60’s. He’s got a deep, booming voice and tattoos on his forearms. He’s shaped like a construction worker: massive hands, broad shoulders, thick chest. He has the look of a guy who probably spent a lot of time on a submarine or driving trucks. A real man’s man. He and his crew started removing the old sliding glass doors and within an hour had new french doors up, awaiting a frame. They left to get framing supplies and when they returned I noticed something – Bill had a cigarette in his mouth.

Christina and I are not smokers. We are friends with people who smoke, and we love them despite knowing they’ll die young in a phlegmmy-coughing-fit. Nevertheless, non-smokers know that even 2nd-hand smoke lingers. It gets in your clothes and stays in the air long after the cigarette’s gone.

Not only are we not smokers, but our 4-year-old has a history of asthmatic-like symptoms and has been to the ER twice with inflamed airways. He used to receive breathing treatments twice a day, and cigarette smoke only makes breathing worse.

I had a decision to make. Our boys and their friends had all migrated to the room where the crew was working. I watched for a moment as Bill worked with the cigarette dangling from his bottom lip. I was on the fence about saying something because he was technically outside. But then, for a half-second, he stepped inside to check the door, cigarette still lit. So I made a decision.

hate confrontation. I’m not the alpha-male, my-way-or-the-highway type. I’m not an analytical thinker or quick on my feet. At barely six feet, I’m not exactly intimidating, and my look says more “mathlete” than “athlete.” I’ve forced myself to confront others only a handful of times, when there was absolutely no other choice. Those moments were tough and I was scared out of my mind, but I was always – ALWAYS – glad I did it.

Healthy confrontation is a must. We cannot survive without it. Imagine our world without healthy confrontation; it’s horrifying. But we fear confrontation because we don’t want to make things weird. We fear the other person’s response. We fear our own ability to stick to our guns. We fear that we ourselves lack credibility to make such an argument.

Fear.

Fear.

Fear.

So we say nothing. Our fear forces us to go on accepting what we do not like in order to avoid what we will not do. But that’s not a good trade. It’s never better to accept something bad because we’re afraid to make it good.

So, as one who is terrified of confrontation but brings myself to do it anyway, here are a few things my experience has taught me about good confrontation:

1) BE PREPARED – If possible, set an appointment to speak with the person. If you’re afraid they might know something’s up, great! Something is up. It’s better to be able to thoughtfully consider your words, and giving yourself a deadline by setting an appointment is a great way to force yourself to be prepared. Know exactly what you’re going to say, and stay on script.

2) HELP THEM FEEL SAFE – Avoid confronting people in front of others, especially their children, spouses, co-workers, bosses, etc. The person being confronted will already feel defensive, so the last thing you want to do is add embarrassment or shame by calling them out in front of people they care about.

3) CALL A SPADE A SPADE – I love this old southern phrase. It means have integrity when talking to others. If you need to confront someone because they offended you, don’t pretend the discussion is about how they offended “your friend.” Or, if a person is not performing well, don’t pretend you’re firing them because corporate is making you downsize. Have the integrity to call a spade a spade, or else the actual issue will never go away, and you’ll just need another excuse next time it comes up.

4) WORK TOWARD A SOLUTION – This one often gets lost because in our defensiveness we just want to win the fight. But when we’re only interested in winning, we miss out on finding healthy, sustainable solutions. Go into your confrontations ready to work toward a solution whether you win the fight or not. By doing so you’ll minimize the need for future confrontation and acknowledge that you value your relationship and want it to improve.

Now, my showdown with Bill…

I decided I didn’t have time to set an appointment with Bill or even pull him away from his crew. So, in violation of Point 1, I went to him and said, “Bill, would you mind not smoking? Our 4-year-old has asthmatic symptoms and cigarette smoke can inflame his airways.” Bill’s face went expressionless, and one of the guys on his crew stared at us, bug-eyed. I don’t think they’re used to hearing anyone “order” Bill around.

Bill took the cigarette out of his mouth and said, “Those kids can’t be out here while we’re working.” Then went back to sawing the frame. He was obviously annoyed, but I was so glad I confronted him. Our 4-year-old’s health is more important to me than Bill’s approval, and that was the bottom line. We didn’t work toward a solution, but in the future I’m happy to let him smoke in his truck or out on the street. He’s the handy man our landlord has chosen to care for his house, so we’re going to deal with him whether we like it or not. But now he knows where I stand and will, hopefully, not smoke near our house. Sometimes a little confrontation is all a relationship needs to muscle through.

The Rhythm of Prayer

King Saul is a fascinating figure. He reigned as king over Israel for 42 years even though A) he was horrible at it, B) was corrupt, C) was full of pride, and D) was more than a little paranoid. He never asked to be king, or even considered the possibility. One day he went out looking for his father’s lost donkeys, and when he came back he’d been anointed king of Israel. (Seriously, read 1 Samuel 9). His only credentials seem to be that he was a head taller than everybody and, apparently, easy on the eyes. But from the start it was clear his reign would not go well:

▪When he was inaugurated before the people, he hid from everyone “among the supplies.” (Seriously, read 1 Samuel 10:20-22).

▪He repeatedly disobeyed direct commands from God and the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 11-15).

▪After David killed Goliath, Saul did everything he could to kill David, a threat to his throne. (1 Samuel 18-31)

▪After driving out all the witches and fortune tellers from Israel, Saul went to a fortune teller at night so nobody would see him. (1 Samuel 28)

Eventually, when Saul’s sons were dead and all his men abandoned him in battle, he fell on his own sword and died so as not to be taken captive by an enemy army.

A shameful end to a shameful reign.

RED FLAGS

We see red flags from the beginning of the story of Saul. He was never going to be a successful king because his eyes, his heart, his mind, his spirit had no capacity for the spiritual realm. Saul lived in the physical world and governed like a person with no expectation that God might break through and do something miraculous. He trusted himself and what he could see, rather than God and the realm that is unseen.

You and I aren’t that different, are we? We lose sight of the unseen. We forget that we have limits while God is limitless.

Perhaps our biggest red flag that we’ve lost sight of God is the absence of prayer.

RHYTHM OF PRAYER

I’ve heard it said that the church’s dirty little secret is that we don’t pray. We do lots of good things, but we are mostly capable of doing them whether God is present or not. So our lives develop a rhythm of self-sufficiency. Church happens with or without God. Work happens with or without God. Families are raised with or without God. All this by we who call ourselves followers of Jesus. Eventually, without reminding ourselves of God’s ability and desire to break into the present realm, our world begins to look a certain way.

Prayer is an invitation into the realm where God lives and moves and has his being. Even the simplest prayer before a meal is an act of humility, acknowledging that God has, in fact, seen you, cared for you, and loved you. A lot of us give up praying because it feels like one more command us normal folks cannot keep. So most of us feel guilty for not praying and, in some cases, even fear God’s punishment.

But prayer is an invitation into “the ineffable,” the indescribable place where God’s supernatural power is the norm. Praying because we’re “commanded” to is fine, but eventually it becomes one more thing we’re capable of doing with or without God.

We also give up on prayer because we don’t always get what we ask for. But getting our requests is not the function of prayer. If it were, Jesus would have avoided the cross, Paul would have had his thorn taken from him, and psalmist after psalmist would have avoided the phrase, “How long, Lord!” Seriously, from what we read in scripture, you’re far more likely to not get what you want than you are to actually get it.

But that’s not what prayer is for.

Prayer is a rhythm. It’s a rhythm that keeps our minds, hearts, spirits, and souls centered in the unseen realm. Prayer reminds us that what we see is not all there is. When we create a rhythm of prayer for ourselves, we begin to see that ineffable realm more clearly. We’re not surprised when God shows up and does what God does. When we create a rhythm of prayer, the line between the natural and the supernatural fades. Prayer is the key to God’s world.

A SMALL RHYTHM

If you’ve lost (or never created) your rhythm for prayer, will you start this week? Make it simple; you don’t need to carve out five hours a day or get up at 3:00 in the morning or buy a prayer shawl or even keep a journal. Start small. Make a decision now to speak briefly to God once each day – at a meal, in the car, tucking in the kids. It’s like the bass line of a good song: subtle, simple, the foundation to something beautiful. As you feel your connection with the Other Realm intensify, expand your rhythm a little at a time, all the while opening your eyes to the realm of God.

Don’t do it because the Bible says to; do it because God invites you to see the world as he sees it. Don’t do it because you feel guilty; do it because you want to feel the presence of God. Don’t do it because you want to be a better Christian; do it because you want to experience a life that can only happen because God made it so.

The Rhythm of Baptism

About five months ago I wrote a recap of my sermon on baptism. It’s a subject I can’t seem to escape, so I updated the post a little, expanded a couple ideas, and decided to re-blog it today. 

Enjoy.

CREATION

Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

Genesis 1:2 says, “Now the earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”

Genesis 1:3 says, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

The first thing God created, according to the creation poem in Genesis 1, was light. But something existed before light – water. God never spoke water into existence. Yet in the very first verses of scripture, God’s Spirit is there with the water.

WATER AND SPIRIT AFTER THE FLOOD

Then in the story of Noah and the flood in Genesis 6-7, God destroys the earth with water. After a very grim description of the carnage brought by the flood, Genesis 8:1 says:

“But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.”

That word wind is the same word as Spirit in Genesis 1:2, the Hebrew word ruach. When the world was first created, there was water and Spirit; when the world was created a second time after the flood, there was water and Spirit.

WATER AND SPIRIT IN THE GOSPELS

Fast-forward to Jesus sitting at the table with Nicodemus in John 3. Jesus tells Nicodemus that anyone who wishes to see the Kingdom of God must be “born again” (what a loaded phrase that has become!). Nicodemus protests: “How can I be born again when I’m a grown man? Can I enter into my mothers womb?” But Jesus tells him that if he really wants to see the Kingdom of God, he needs to be born of water and spirit.

Creation. The flood. Jesus.

In each story there are elements of both death and life; destruction and creation; chaos and order. And in each story there is water and there is Spirit.

baptism3

In my heritage in Churches of Christ, we’ve often been guilty of reducing baptism to one message: get baptized or go to hell. But surely there’s something more to baptism than that. Surely it meant something more to Jesus.

In the broader narrative of scripture, water is used for three purposes that, like a good Church of Christ preacher, I’ll explain using the letter P:

PRESENCE, PURIFICATION, PREPARATION

PRESENCE In the Hebrew scriptures, every time we see water, we see God. Again, consider creation and the flood, as well as Jesus’ baptism when God spoke from heaven. You should also read a really cool story in Ezekiel 47. Each time God’s presence is there with the water. So when we are baptized, we are drawn in to God’s presence.

PURIFICATION The Hebrew scriptures also teach that water is used for purification. The Law of Moses commanded the Israelites to wash with water when they were pronounced clean from infectious disease, or when they were about to eat, or when they entered the Temple to worship. Priests went through a rigorous washing ceremony before offering sacrifices on behalf of the people, and then again once the sacrifice was complete. And in the Christian scriptures, especially in Acts, we see baptism as a form of purification. Churches of Christ hold fast to Acts 2:38: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, for the forgiveness of sins.”

PREPARATION If a Gentile wanted to become a Jew, he had to do three things: 1) be circumcised, 2) seven days later be baptized, and 3) offer a sacrifice as an act of worship to God. Baptism purified the Gentile in order that their worship might be acceptable to God. Worship was the end, baptism the means. When Jesus was baptized, he was immediately led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted. His baptism prepared him for that act of worship, and it also launched him into his earthly ministry. In the same way, it prepares us to be what Paul calls living sacrifices. 

…TO SEE AND ENTER THE KINGDOM OF GOD

Now, back to Jesus and Nicodemus. Baptism is about far more than simply punching a ticket to heaven or, said in another way, avoiding hell. Jesus said that to see the Kingdom of God we must be born of water and Spirit. This is no arbitrary command. It connects us with the rhythm of creation going all the way back to Genesis. Through baptism, we are drawn into the presence of God, purified of our sin, and prepared for a life of worship. Baptism is about entering into a newly-created life now, today, in this life. That life is called The Kingdom of God.

What, exactly, is the Kingdom of God? Jesus said it’s everywhere, it’s all around us, it’s among us, it’s within us (Luke 17:7). He also said it’s like a woman who lost a coin, swept her house until she found it, then called her neighbors over for a party because she found something so precious (Luke 15). It’s also like a man walking through a field who stumbles upon a treasure. He runs home, sells all his possessions, and buys the field (Matthew 13:44).

In other words, the Kingdom of God has no border, it has no definition. It is both here and now, and also in the age to come. It is spiritual and physical. It’s visible and invisible. It is in you, around you, above you, below you. More importantly, the Kingdom of God is worth everything you have. There’s nothing on earth greater than life in the Kingdom.

And we enter into this Kingdom through a mysterious act of worship called baptism – through water and Spirit – because, from the very beginning of time, those have been the ingredients for a true, God-breathed life. It’s not a ticket to heaven when you die, but rather welcoming heaven into your life here on earth – on earth as it is in heaven.

That’s baptism. And it’s way better than simply avoiding hell.

Happy New Year

Happy New Year 2015

“I’m going to get up early and take a picture of the sunrise,” I said to my wife on New Year’s Eve. I checked Dark Sky and sun-up would be 7:17 am so, to be safe, I set my alarm for 6:00. I would walk our dog, Gertie, down the street to the place where a new subdivision is being built and I have a clear view of the river through the trees to the east. As the sun peeked over the river, I’d snap a picture, spend a moment quietly pondering the year ahead. Say a prayer asking God’s blessing over what’s in store for us in 2015. Then head back and make breakfast for Christina and the boys.

When my alarm rang at 6:00, I turned it off, fell asleep, and didn’t get up till 8:00.

I really wanted that picture. Something about welcoming in the New Year at sunrise felt important, like it was something I needed to do. Because a new year brings new hope, new dreams, new possibilities for who we might become. Sunrise on New Year’s Day is when all that begins and I wanted to be there to see it. It’s when life seems free for the taking. On New Year’s Day we assume the best parts of us will emerge, and we’ll finally be that person we always wanted to be and do that thing we always wanted to do. “This is the year!” we tell ourselves.

But I didn’t take the picture. Before I ever woke up, I already failed the New Year. So what does that mean?

CAPABLE AND WILLING

Resolutions are interesting because they point to something we believe we’re already capable of achieving but, for whatever reason, never did . We can be skinny. We can be runners. We can be writers. We can be debt-free. We can be holy. We can get up to snap a picture of the New Year’s sun. We believe we’re capable. But being capable only matters when we’re also willing.

New Year’s Day brings a collective jumpstart for a willing humanity. This week gyms and workout centers across America will be flooded with people. Blogs will be updated for the first time since last summer (like the one you’re reading now). Churches will see new faces. Savings accounts will open. Joggers in brand new dri-fit clothes and colorful shoes will slam into one another while figuring out their Nike+ app. This will be the new normal for about a month, but by February all the hype will settle and we’ll return to our regularly-scheduled lives.

We’re a capable people, but our willingness needs work.

A NEW RHYTHM

It’s hard to start an entirely new routine. I’m a person who recoils at routine as though it were roadkill served up for dinner. The thought of doing the same thing at the same time in the same place every single day makes me claustrophobic. I have a routine of sorts because my job as a preacher requires it (I must have a sermon ready every Sunday). As a whole, though, routine is a four-letter word.

But it’s often a routine that breeds the necessary willingness to stick with what we set out to do on New Year’s Day. In routine we find rhythm, and rhythm is a very holy thing.

All life is set to rhythm. Time moves in rhythm around our clocks. There are rotating seasons and ebbing tides on a planet making its way across the same path in space year after year. There’s something about being caught up in a rhythm that sets us right with God, with creation, and with each other. Creation requires rhythm, and so do we. Without it our lives are chaotic.

Some people are really good at routines; I am not. Rhythm works for me where routine fails. Sure, it’s a bit of a semantics thing, but routine is about discipline while rhythm is about life. Perhaps our New Year’s resolutions shouldn’t be about our weight, fitness, or achievements. Perhaps they should be about our ability to persevere, to find rhythm, to re-make ourselves from the inside. If you’re interested in a “New You,” it’s going to require more than cosmetic touch ups and a few less pounds. A New You requires a new take on life, a new heart, a new rhythm. If the same Old You is trying to reach a goal, you’ll never make it. The Old You never did.

Instead of making New Years resolutions, what about creating an entirely new rhythm? What if you offer parts of each day to God in prayer and meditation; parts to friends and family in shared, selfless community; parts to your work so that you’re productive and contributing something to humanity as a whole; parts to creation so you’re living in a responsible way with what you wear, what you eat, what you consume, and how you enjoy all that God has made; and parts to yourself so that you’re healthy in mind, body, and spirit? Until we change our rhythm, our resolutions will never see February.

May God bless us as we enter into this new year with all its hope, anticipation, and joy. May we align ourselves more and more with the rhythm of God and creation. May our world find peace, and may 2015 be the year that life on earth becomes as it is heaven.