Writing Down a More Beautiful Life

14 April 2014

“Write down the revelation.” – Habakkuk 2:2

“Everything in life is writable about if you have the crazy outgoing guts to do it, and the vivid imagination to improvise as you go.  The worst enemy to creativity and excellence is ‘stuck-ness’ caused by self-consciousness and self-doubt.” – Sylvia Plath

I have not taken the time to write much as of late. And the quote above from Sylvia confronts me in this. I have just not had the “crazy outgoing guts to do it,” having allowed myself to settle into a “stuck-ness” caused by an unhealthy self-consciousness (cleverly disguised as a healthy self-awareness) and an debilitating self-doubt (cleverly disguised as humility).

I have some very good excuses for not writing much, all of which are unarguable and easily defendable, but I will spare you them, because, if you go but one thin layer underneath, this is not about that.

If my writing is about a selfless sharing of my life, and about the raw need to keep it real, and about my desire to improve on the truth that I have found in order to adopt what is truer, then there is no excuse that can satisfy my own spirit.

No one can “hold me accountable” to writing. There is no moral imperative they can appeal to, no literal life and death that they can point towards, nothing so detrimental about “not writing” that they can show me, no “job description” that I was hired to do that can be threatened. Not to mention that any effort at offering accountability for anything is more than easily dismissed by the one being “held.”

You can’t make an elephant move by saying it must, or should. The elephant must want to move.

And we are all elephants.

So I must do the work of wanting to write. I must be about the journey of attributing it some sort of value, if there is indeed any to be had. Any use that it has for others is nice, and sometimes encouraging. But that is not enough. Having a witness or two to my life interested just enough to read about it is important to most. But it’s not enough to keep writing either.

Ultimately, I have some lonely work to do that can only be done by myself and God.

He and I alone must wrestle about meaning. About life. About ease and suffering, and when each is called for. About potential vs. kinetic energy within me. He and I alone must wrestle. He against me, and me against me. I’m grateful that He and I are on the same side, because it will take both to subdue the part of me that is growing old enough to not care anymore. To not try anymore.

I don’t want to not care. And I don’t want to not try. But the gravity toward it is so strong. And I’m scared to mess something up, at this point, by acting too boldly.

You all get that this is not about writing, yes? I do. I totally get it.

But for me, today, it is the useful prop that God is using as a heart-excavating probe. You have one, too, if you’ll just have the guts to see it.

So I cannot speak for tomorrow… but today, when I didn’t feel like writing, I wrote. This is God and I warring against the part of me that would just as soon go about life doing the bare minimum, or just hurriedly meet the many demands coming my way so that I can justify myself from any sort of higher calling, or just do the house chores while watching TV and call it being a good husband while getting others to agree with me, and then calling it a day.

This is personal. It always is. I can write about it, but there is a part of it that cannot be shared. It can only be known, and explored, and exploited by me and God. It is our work to do. It is our battle against not caring. Against not trying. Against not dying before I actually die.

It is a battle against not loving.

May God help us.

Underneath My New Mask

10 April 2014

“To the doubting and afraid, there is no vision.” – Your Truly

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” – Old Proverb

There are certain things that can stop me. Vulnerabilities of mine have never stopped surfacing and re-surfacing all my life, although they come in new disguises, sneaking in through new circumstances. In the past, they have been obvious and large, and therefore pretty easy to spot, and through practice I have learned to steel myself against them. I am at a place now where they are subtle, unnoticeable to anyone, oftentimes to myself. These new-old enemies are hidden not behind a good and productive life, but within it.

Doubt and fear are their names.

In my life, doubt disguises itself as humility, and fear as wisdom. Since I have a strong desire to be both humble and wise, I’m very vulnerable to doubt and fear stealing my life for long periods of time without me noticing.

My dad was a US Marine. He also has a limited version of color blindness that had him always asking me and my brothers whether two dress socks matched or not. This color blindness, somehow, gave him the ability to spot a shooter out in the brush who was wearing camouflage. He said his commanding officer, when scanning the horizon would say, “Mashburn! Front and center!” My dad would look where everyone else had and seen nothing, and then point and say, “Right there.” Identified and exposed, of course, this meant doom for the enemy.

I want that ability with my new versions of fear and doubt.

I remember a student in my youth ministry that was dating a guy who was bad to her, proving himself incapable of loving her, to the point of physical abuse. But even with this unquestionable and inexcusable behavior to clearly point at, my young friend suffered from doubt and fear. She doubted whether the boy’s behavior was her own fault, and she feared losing him for a variety of (false) reasons.

Her doubt and fear blinded her. She could not see the simple truth. And she was perishing.

One day, she found enough courage to speak the truth meekly to me, who got to play the role of “trustworthy, truth-telling friend” (Side note: my desire to have these makes this role one of my favorites). It was just enough for truth to come rushing in, which brought with it sight, filling within her a brand new reservoir of bravery.

Sight and bravery! I pause here as I write, moving to a place of worship. The thought is breathtaking to me, for whenever I’ve seen (or been) a person with these, the Kingdom comes. Goodness falls with a earthshaking crash. Evil is confronted, fear no longer strong enough to stop it. Ahhh…sight and bravery.

I went with her to his house, and though I offered to do it, she wanted to ring the doorbell and face her fear herself (wisdom), though she promised to not step inside the house out of my sight (humility). The return on facing her doubt and fear? Nothing short of a brand new life.

We all need people playing the role of “trustworthy, truth-telling friend” on occasion, especially when we are first learning these secrets to life, but as we make a habit of overcoming doubt and fear, and we become more addicted to sight and bravery, we have a ever-growing need to become our own trustworthy, truth-telling friend. 

Of course, we will still need others. But I am learning that I am in ever-increasing measure needing the integrity to do it myself, because with experience in overcoming, come new skills in hiding. Hiding becomes easier, and we become adept at doing it in plain sight of everyone, appearing to not be hiding at all. And as always, there are plenty of people around to conspire with us, agreeing with us, joining us in our delusion that we are doing and being and becoming all that we are supposed to be.

Are you doing and being and becoming all that you are supposed to be?

Others can tell you whether they think you are or not, but for someone to do that proactively and effectively is rare. It is a bit more possible when you take it upon yourself to invite others to tell you, but even then it is rare to find someone who will, because few are skilled at it, let alone willing, and the request is so uncommon.

We swim in a whole culture where fear and doubt are disguised as humility and wisdom.

So… here is to my continuing adventure at becoming someone who is able to look at the landscape of my “good life” and spot the “camouflaged shooters” of doubt and fear.

I welcome any and all who want to join me.

The Do-Gooder’s Battlefield

31 July 2013

“To be doing good deeds is man’s most glorious task.” – Sophocles

“For we are God’s workmanship , created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” – St. Paul 

The first battle that must be won for a person to become an unstoppable force for good is the battle over self.

From the moment we are born, we are concerned with, consumed by, and communicating what we perceive to be our needs and wants. Sometime between birth and the successful arrival of a person as good, he or she has come to grips with this truth and overcome it.

The second battle that must be won for a person to become an unstoppable force for good is the battle over pride.

Ironically, this is a second battle over self. Doing good has this incredible tendency of making you feel good, and on top of that, it gets you a lot of praise from others, which also feels good. As a result, it is difficult to not end up finding your value from these things. This makes the doing of good a means of feeling good about yourself, making it prideful. Some get stuck here, becoming masters at doing just enough good to feel good and/or impress others. But many realize their doing of good has ceased to be for good, and they overcome pride.

The third battle that must be won for a person to become an unstoppable force for good is the battle over effectiveness.

For statisticians or capitalists who require a good return for their labor, becoming an unstoppable force for good is not possible. The doing of good is the do-gooder’s reward, not the results. By definition, if you require a good return, then you will be stoppable in your doing of good if there is not a good return.

The fourth battle that must be won for a person to become an unstoppable force for good is the battle over judgmentalism.

Nothing stops a do-gooder quicker than his or her own judgment of the worthiness of a recipient. Do-gooders do not judge the worthiness of recipients, they assume the worthiness of a recipient. This allows him or her to never waste energy discerning whether to do good or not, and directs it towards what is the good that needs to be done.

The fifth battle that must be won for a person to become an unstoppable force for good is the battle over self-martyrdom.

Even though a do-gooder knows he or she cannot do all the good that needs to be done in the world, they do want to feel like they are doing all that they can do, so each one seems to go through a season (if they trust a guide, it is shorter, but for most, it is horribly long) where they say yes to just a bit more than they can or should or are called to handle. Do-gooders are paradoxically strong and fragile, able to maintain a decent performance at “too much” for long periods of time, the cost being their inward peace, their emotional steadfastness, their physical health, and their energy for God and loved ones. The payoff of this self-inflicted, just-over-the-edge-but-sustainable schedule is the ability to say with (delusional) confidence, “I am doing all I can,” pointing to their self-martyrdom as their proof. Burnout and bitterness is the inevitable result of this, and it must be conquered if one wants to be a life-long doer of good.

The sixth battle that must be won for a person to become an unstoppable force for good is the battle over diminishment.

Many do-gooders feel under-qualified, or dis-qualified, to do good. What’s more, there is usually at least one “foe” who will be glad to validate and even try to prove that this is true. Doing good, however, is never a matter of qualification, but willingness. There may be certain good things that a person needs that you can’t do, but there is never nothing good for you to do for them (even if it is sometimes the doing of “nothing” – which it often is). There is a fine line between humility and diminishment, and do-gooders become masters at separating them.

The sixth battle that must be won for a person to become an unstoppable force for good is the battle over demand.

Life long, unstoppable do-gooders naturally become very good at doing good. At some point, a tipping point is reached, and opportunities for doing good, that he or she used to search for eagerly, not come knocking, calling, and emailing, most all of them legitimate and worthy. Add to that, the ideas of brand new ways to do good start rushing into the do-gooders imagination, each one possible needing a lifetime of investment to pursue, develop, and leave behind as a legacy. Many do-gooders shrink back at this point, drowning in opportunity, paralyzed in inability to prioritize one above another. The strategies for doing so are almost as numerous as there are do-gooders, but if they are to be unstoppable, they win this battle somehow, someway.

I’m certain there are many other battles ahead that I have yet to experience, and some current that I have yet to identify. Anyone have some?

Hello, World

4 April 2013

“When awaking from a deep slumber, forces conspire in opposition.

It takes courage to wake up, fortitude to get out of the proverbial bed.

The bliss of the moments between sleep and awareness are seductive,

We want them to last, and when they must end, we want them to end with more sleep.

Those eager to wake up are motivated by one of two things: driven-ness, or life.

The former wake one up from a place of resigned, robotic desperation…

…desperate to succeed.

…desperate to not disappoint.

…desperate to maintain.

…desperate to impress.

But the latter, those who awake for life, full life, those are the pure in heart.

They see God.

…in all circumstances.

…in all people.

…in creation.

…in themselves.

May I see God? May I be pure in heart? Oh, how superior this sounds.

You have tasted life from the dead place of sleep walking. And you have tasted life from the living place of purity.

It was when you were young. You woke to each day saying hello to it, welcoming it, and offering yourself shamelessly, creatively, moment-by-moment, with eyes twinkling and wide open. I did not need to look or feel grand, it just was, and you knew it and embraced it as a child.

The Kingdom of Heaven can not be enjoyed, will not be yours to enjoy, unless you change and become like children.

- from the pen of Yours Truly, effortlessly, with wonder about what it means

 

I took my daughter to breakfast this morning, and we shared both roaring laughter and tender tears. She is the real deal, engaging in life, dealing with her surroundings, learning about her emotions and the hearts and wounds of others. And God.

Part of the roaring laughter (and somehow the catalyst for the above piece), was this video she spontaneously made yesterday. I still can’t stop laughing, watching the combination of her using her creative, story-telling mind and her mom’s creative, visual-altering software:

 

“Nikki” complaining about “Chlorine” stealing her boyfriend

Have a fully alive day.

My Plan for 2013

3 January 2013

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life ? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” – James, the brother of Jesus

My plan for ending 2012 and launching 2013 is pretty comical in light of how I actually spent them.

December 30 and 31 I spent with a 17 year old girl and her 21 year old brother. These two lost their dad to cancer on Christmas Day, and they “needed a preacher” to do his funeral on New Years Eve day.

January 1 and 2 I spent in my bed. I was coughing, and sneezing, and blowing, and aching, pouring all kinds of fluids and pills into my body to try to stop it all.

It’s not my plan was bad. My plan was to spend the last two days very intentionally with my family (some of which I still got to do), and the first two days planning my year (none of which I got to do). It was good and God-centered plan, I thought. With good and God-centered intentions.

But it wasn’t God’s plan. And there is a difference.

Now I’m not knocking God-centered planning. This was just my crystal-clear reminder that I shouldn’t ever get so committed to my God-centered plans that they take the place of my commitment to God’s plans.

I woke up this morning, the 3rd day of the New Year, already completely behind is my plans are the benchmarks. But if I’m dying daily, listening for God daily, hearing Him and simply obeying, I’m right on time.

I ended up on the phone with a friend over my lunch hour, sharing my deepest thoughts and heart, and from within this trusted friendship, this space-making listening, and Christ-centered brotherhood – I heard God’s plan for me for this year quite clearly.

He said, “Spend more time with Me. More time listening. Then do what I say.”

What a beautiful way to end 2012, loving on and serving two newly orphaned “kids” who don’t have a “minister”. And what a beautiful way to begin 2013, flat on back helpless to do anything but submit to the healing that my body was so desperately dependent on God for.

May my whole year go so well. And yours, too.

The Bible before the Bible

19 December 2012

“Our diligent study of the Bible comes from our belief that it was delivered and orchestrated by God to tell us about God. By that reasoning, creation should be diligently studied first, because God saw best to deliver and orchestrate it first.” – Yours Truly

“The ‘Bible’ of nature and creation reveals God and who God is.” – Richard Rohr

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.” – Paul, in Romans 1:20

“Through Jesus all things were made; without Jesus nothing was made that has been made.” – John, in John 1:3

It’s too late for most of us.

Most of us who call ourselves Christians are too late to take in and study the revelations of God in the order he revealed them.

Creation first. Bible second.

So we can’t know what the experience would have been like.

What would it have been like to look around at creation and “read it” for what it tells us about God? What would we have learned from the elements, the weather, the different landscapes, the different seasons, the different life forms, the interplay of darkness and light, and the consistent rhythm that the Sun provides? What would we have “read” in our own bodies about God when we found ourselves bursting with energy in one moment, and then helplessly lost in a state of unconsciousness in the next, only to awake with a new burst of energy, only to fall out of consciousness once again?

And once we learned all that we could from creation (the chief lesson being that we will never exhaust the lessons), what would it have been like to then crack open scripture?

We may never know, because most of us were born into, and continue to live in, an environment designed specifically to keep us untouched by nature. Goodness, if nature has lessons on “God’s invisible qualities” that can be “clearly seen”, then I have no chance to see them from where I sit right now. I’m in a nice, quiet, contained area that doesn’t even have a window out to God’s creation. I’m staring at at window, of sorts, called a computer screen, but it is a window created by man looking “out” at a bunch more creations of man. Just last week, a powerful storm that blew down trees and made the day look like night hit my homeland that lasted about 20 minutes, and I would have never known had I not had to move for the bathroom. Even then, nature only got a momentary pause out of me before I went about my business. And that business was in a room that man designed inside this fortress I work in to keep me from having to experience nature even when nature calls!

From within this fabricated, man-orchestrated, climate-controlled mansion, a big box that keeps the first revelation of God at bay, you know what I spend my time doing? Reading and studying God’s second revelation – scripture.

It is great, and I am blessed. But I wonder how much I get wrong in my interpretation of it because of this?

After all, a baby is born incapable of experiencing the study of the Bible, and only capable of experiencing the things around her. As that baby grows, it doesn’t jump right to the ability to read or study or imagine ideas, but instead moves slowly through a process of observing, experiencing, and “reading” the environment she is in. It seems to me that the order of our naturally developed abilities observed in our growth as human beings supports this idea that we should study God first in nature, and then in scripture.

So maybe we are all late, but it’s not too late. Maybe we have done it out of order, but there is still an order to be had and known and experienced in the first revelation, even if it is the second one we are studying.

Get outside. If you can burst out of the physical matrix we’ve all been conditioned to breath in with a revolutionary charge and zealous yell of “freedom!!!” then do it. But start small if you need to.

Just get outside.

And not just when it is comfortable (comfort is why we created the boxes we live in), and not just when it is convenient (convenience keeps us in the boxes, it does not move us out of them, ever).

You are missing out on getting to know God through His first revelation.

 

That is Not True

29 November 2012

I was visiting a friend who is in the hospital this week, and ran into another friend who is one of my true allies in the mission of love that I am on in my life.

With a mixture of horror, gratitude, and awe, she briefly recounted an experience from the day before. She was by the bedside of a young boy around 14 years old who was dying. This boy’s older sister was sitting in the room next to the wall, the mother was standing over the bed of her son, howling with uncontrollable tears and sobs, desperately pleading with him to “not leave her.”

Pause. Let’s acknowledge the fact that most people in the world do not experience these kinds of moments. By “these kinds of moments”, I’m speaking of moments that are unescapably raw and real. Moments that are so unconsciously intense and gripping, that a necessary, uncontrollable, and un-censorable emotional honesty, that does not care  how it is comes across to those around them. Can not care. So do not judge. Just witness.

The mom, in the actual, real-time face of losing her beloved son, was wailing and desperately appealing to everyone with reasons why this must not happen, using as many different sentences as her urgently distraught mind could come up with. My friend is standing by the bed, facing her, with the woman’s daughter in her view just over the shoulder of the mom. My friend was doing her best to “be with it all” – witnessing this desperate pain, undone with the magnitude of her task to give care, coming up empty when searching for words to accompany the sorrow and tears that she was sharing with this family.

Then it happened.

Something completely understandable, and entirely false, came out of mom’s mouth. She looked up, drowning in her pain, right at my friend and said, “He can’t die! He is the only joy that I have in my life!”

My sister-at-arms found herself glancing quickly back and forth between the piercing eyes of the mom and those of the daughter (who’s head jerked up to meet hers at this latest pronouncement). And with a surprisingly authoritative voice, equaled only by a loving compassion in her tone and eyes, she looked right at the daughter and said, “That is not true,” and then looked right into the eyes of the mom, and said it again, “That is not true.”

The mom looked over her shoulder and saw her precious daughter, instantly realized what she was saying, and ran to her, hugging her, instantly letting her girl know that she knew that what she had just said, sure enough, was not true. And she embraced her daughter, allowing the untruth of what she just said be washed away by their shared suffering and tears. Mom, who was losing her son, realized that she was not losing her daughter, and that her daughter was losing a brother. And with this, the potential wound that could have been inflicted on her daughter’s heart based on an understandable, but completely false statement innocently spoken while drowning in emotions…didn’t happen.

Because someone was there to speak the truth out loud. Someone was there to expose it as a lie.

As far as I’m concerned, my friend is nothing short of a peace-bringing hero. A relationship saving, heart-protecting, love-advancing, healing-inducing hero of epic proportions.

She didn’t plan this. She couldn’t have. She just had to be willing to be there to let it happen. She had to be willing to walk into the uncomfortable place of human suffering and pain. She just had to be there and not run. She had to be there and not find and use a reasonable excuse to leave the room. She just had to go and stand in that space with people in their most vulnerable and intense experiences.

And she did. And she does. It costs her. It costs her some tears. It costs her some time. It costs her some comfort. It might even cost her some sleep.

But…

She saved people. And saving people, in my book, is worth any cost.  I don’t do it perfectly, this walking into things, and neither do all my allies, like this sister. But it’s what our friend and teacher, Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ did. And we want to be like him. We want to do what he did. We want to do what he does.

We want to save people. Like we’ve been saved. Like we are being saved.

All she had to be was willing. The words came to her when she needed them, precisely when they were needed, and – boom – a miracle.

Dear reader, would you please join her?

Dear God, would you please help us?

Harding University’s New President

26 November 2012

When I was at Harding, I was a member of a social club that could sing. And boy did they sing. I sang, too, but not as well as those in the chorus of folks that surrounded me. While my voice didn’t add much to the quality of what was being sung, I did feel as though I belonged, and that my voice was welcomed and perhaps even useful, and that I was a small part of something that mattered, and that in the end I did contribute something unique.

On Rich Little’s blog, a few folks (including friends of mine that I really respect, like Mark Moore, Dusty Rush, Sara Barton, and Mary Beth Picker) have expressed some concern about the appointment of Dr. Bruce McLarty as our new president. The concern is not with Dr. McLarty, mind you, but with the priorities used by the majority of Harding’s Board of Trustees to make the appointment. As I’ve read all of these very powerful (and equally gracious and hope-filled) posts that have articulated so well some of the thoughts and feelings that I have about Harding (and the Church of Christ in general), the thought that I should add my small voice to this chorus of very strong ones has lingered. Perhaps I’m still looking for my place to belong at my beloved alma mater, longing for my voice to be both welcomed and useful, desiring to be a part of something that matters, and that in the end, perhaps I do have something to contribute that is unique.

So here I put on a robe and join this chorus of great singers on the risers, hopefully harmonizing with them, and perhaps with one small solo – that is, one more angle on this that has yet to be presented, and one that I feel uniquely positioned to give a voice. photo

I write as a proud Harding Alumni, like all of these others. I cherish my experience there, for how it grew me up in Christ, gave me a spiritual family, and launched me into a life of Kingdom impact and ministry. They were simply the greatest four (and a half – I’m slow, and didn’t want to leave) greatest years of my life.

I write as a parent of three kids who already want to go there, following in the footsteps of their dad, their grandmother, and their preacher great-grandfather. So my hopes are significantly invested in Harding’s near-future, since the most important people to me and my wife will be saturated in the environment that Harding creates.

I write as a former youth minister. I spent 14 years with “the next generation” and have not had one year where students that I have been blessed to call friends haven’t been at Harding, most of them now alumni themselves.

I write as a minister of a “mainstream Church of Christ.” At least I think I am after reading the Christian Chronicle’s interview with Dr. McLarty. Our church family practices what he lists there as “the distinctive convictions of baptism for the remission of sins, acapella music in worship, and male spiritual leadership in the congregation,” making us the very kind of church that Harding specifically says it wants to show solidarity with, as stated in their “Expanded Mission Statement,” that he quotes. Further, our church family has Harding alumni on staff, in our eldership, and in our membership. We have students that have returned from Harding, are currently at Harding, are about to attend Harding, and our youth group is taking a trip to visit there this coming weekend. We are a real life, living and breathing brochure of what Harding wants to produce, complete with an atmosphere that promotes and ensures Harding’s continuation into its bright future.

I write as a follower of Christ. While this is the most important identity marker for me in my life, and in this list, it is not the last one I’ll mention, because this next one (which is the natural result of this and the previous one) is more to the point of what I’m compelled to contribute to this conversation.

I write as a minister trying to serve the Church of Christ in a way that is faithful to both the Church of Christ and to Jesus Christ. And it is from this experience that I offer one more verse to this chorus that has been present in many of these posts, but not stated explicitly, and it is this:

When our loyalty to a Church of Christ value and our loyalty to a Jesus Christ value collide, it is the Church of Christ value that should give way.

Ironically, I learned this from my Church of Christ heritage. I grew up being taught to be wise concerning any religious belief suggested, to never blindly put the weight of my salvation upon other people’s convictions without weighing them against scripture. I, and a vast army of my peers, took this to heart. But when we applied this Church of Christ teaching to all Church of Christ teachings, we found that some of our teachings were only “distinctive convictions of the Church of Christ” (who we rightly love, appreciate, and want to be faithful to), but they were not Biblically-unquestionable distinctive convictions of Jesus Christ (whom we rightly love, appreciate, and want to be faithful to even more).

Since Bible demands this, it should surprise no one that the mainstream Church of Christ has begun to demand this, because we are above all else, people of the Book. It is our continued study of and persistent faithfulness to the living and active contents of this Book that keeps our movement faithful to its heritage. This and only this will help us to remain faithful to our name, that is to remain a church that is “of Christ.” 

Dr. McLarty, in the Christian Chronicle piece, makes this powerful observation and corresponding commitment: “As part of my doctoral work, I studied the tendency of faith-founded colleges to drift away from their founding church, to abandon their core mission, and often, to become enemies of the ideas and principles on which they were started. This solidified my resolve to do all I could do to see that this does not happen to Harding.”

I love our new president’s resolve to not allow Harding to drift away from the Church of Christ. Let’s stay a family, and keep Harding in the family. We can remain open to all without having to drift away from the Church of Christ. And let’s certainly not throw this association to the wind in order to attract more students or become more academically or athletically prestigious. Amen! While I appreciate his concern, I don’t sense Dr. McLarty will have to fight as hard as he is preparing to protect this. I’ve not heard any among our Harding family that wants to go the way of Duke, or Yale, or Harvard, each of whom did lose their attachment to their founding church affiliation, and then eventually lost their attachment to Christ and the Bible. If a call that threatens this comes from some segment among us in the future, I will gladly be counted among the folks who will ensure that he does not stand alone in his resolve. But I haven’t heard anyone call for or even have a desire for this. I know that I and those like me do not. All we are asking for is that Harding would (officially) agree that when loyalty to a Church of Christ value and our loyalty to a Jesus Christ value collide, it is the Church of Christ value that should give way.

What is the “core mission” he doesn’t want abandoned? Is it the mission to exalt Jesus Christ? Or is it the mission to exalt some distinctive doctrines of the Church of Christ?

What are the “ideas and principles” he is resolved to keep Harding from becoming an enemy? Are the person of Jesus Christ, the Kingdom, and the Gospel message the ideas and principles upon which Harding started? Or, are a distinctive set of Church of Christ doctrines and worship practices the ideas and principles upon which Harding started?

This really matters.

The mainstream Churches of Christ, many of which are full of Harding students – past, present, and future – has necessarily learned from the Bible that it must distinguish between these things. Only the “rigid legalism on the Right” in our fellowship would assert, for example, that there is no difference between the Gospel message and our historically distinctive Church of Christ worship practices. One is centered on Christ; the other is centered on Sunday morning gatherings. One is worth dying for; the other is an edifying practice that our churches utilize to worship God. One saves souls, the other does not.

Dr. McLarty continues by saying: “In the reflection chapter at the end of my dissertation, I wrote that my research had crystallized within my thinking the following goal: ‘To prepare Harding University to remain Christian in our core identity until Jesus returns.’”

There is none of us in any Church of Christ, even those who are extremely “Right” or “Left,” that would disagree with this crystallized goal as it is written. Further, this is not even a uniquely Church of Christ statement.

Why is this important to note?

Because, another historical heritage marker of our fellowship is the taking of universal, Biblical, and Christian words and packing them with uniquely Church of Christ meanings. If his phrase “remain Christian” means “remaining faithful to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ,” then great. But if he intends the phrase to actually mean, “remaining faithful to the distinctive doctrines and worship practices of the historical Church of Christ,” then many of us in the mainstream Church of Christ cringe, concerned that Harding is not being faithful to a Word of God that is still living and active, and to a scripture that is still useful to teach us, rebuke us, correct us, and train us to a fuller and truer righteousness as a fellowship.

In the article, Dr. McLarty quotes the 2008 Expanded Mission Statement (proving, I guess, that we can expand our mission statement should our followership of Christ call for it) when it says: “Though we live in a time of significant confusion over our brotherhood’s identity, we are determined that Harding University will become captive to neither a rigid legalism on the Right nor a formless liberalism on the Left. ‘With gentleness and respect’ (1 Peter 3:16, NIV) we continue to affirm such distinctive convictions of the mainstream Churches of Christ as baptism for the remission of sins, a cappella music in worship, and male spiritual leadership in congregations.”

The mainstream Church of Christ that I serve has not changed these distinctive practices, but we have prayerfully and necessarily moved with regard to our distinctive convictions. With gentleness and respect, we affirm such distinctive convictions as Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, Christ-honoring music in worship, and Christ-centered spiritual leadership in congregations. This shift has come, not from some slippery slope caused by a move away from scripture’s authority, but by a slow, methodical, and diligent study of scripture and a stricter adherence to it. As a result, our traditional tight grip on baptism has become tighter, but with a focus on Christ rather than on baptism. Our traditional practice of acapella music has not been replaced, but moved from being a Biblical requirement for salvation (demanding our judgment of those who practice differently) to a beautiful and chosen preference, allowing us to better follow the Biblical requirement of not passing judgment on disputable matters, which has kept lessor issues from hijacking our soul-saving focus Christ who saves. Our tradition of male spiritual leadership in the congregations is still practiced organizationally and positionally, but we are learning how to not hinder the powerful exertion of spiritual giftedness that is so obviously placed in both men and women by Christ, who’s Kingdom seems to operate in a way where it doesn’t distinguish between male and female (Galatians 3:28), and seems to teach and promote the priesthood of all believers, not just male believers.

These are examples of the tension that is currently present in the mainstream Churches of Christ.

It is our faithfulness to scriptural authority, the most important and cherished value of the Church of Christ, and the one upon which all others are measured by, that has moved us here. If Harding wants to stay connected to the mainstream Church of Christ, well, this is what we are doing and learning and struggling with.

As a child of this movement, a son of Harding, and a minister out here working to be faithful to both the Church of Christ and Jesus Christ, I really need Harding to help me. I don’t need it to be super sure of itself regarding where our constant Bible study will lead us in practice, nor do I need or want it to be hasty about dismissing our conclusions or practices from the past. What would be useful is for Harding to use its talented resources and faculty, its momentum in successfully ministering to our kids, and its powerful Kingdom influence to lead and provoke these hard introspective conversations that our brotherhood’s constant Bible study demands. It is exhilarating to experience Harding when it is the instigator of such honest, probing, and integrity-filled faithfulness to Bible study. But it is disheartening and discouraging to experience Harding as the entrenched guardian of the honest conclusions of our father’s and grandfather’s Bible study.

It is important to note that among almost all Christian movements, a commitment to an external religion, with all of its forms and rituals, attempts to replace that movement’s commitment to Jesus Christ alone. While I am somehow encouraged that we in the Church of Christ do not have a monopoly on this problem, I have been discouraged by our movement thinking that its commitment to scripture made us immune to it. This is hard for all of us to swallow, but humble Bible study demands it, and humble Bible study is doing so in the mainstream Church of Christ, to the praise and glory of God.

Some of the comments on Rich’s blog are asking why so many students, including those who’ve posted concern on his blog, are leaving Harding so spiritually successful, and why enrollment continues to grow, if this commitment to traditional Church of Christ doctrine and worship practices are so desperately needing to be revisited. They suggest that Harding “must be doing something right” or this kind of fruit could not be produced. Let me conclude my thoughts by offering another possible explanation.

When I was at Harding, there was a distance between the Board (and the values that they voted to have officially sanctioned by Harding) and the students (with our need to have the space to safely question everything if we were, in fact, to be “educated for eternity”). It was this distance, not Harding’s stance, that allowed me and my peers to find our own faith in Jesus Christ. So instead of Harding’s officially stated core convictions being the proactive, involved, and fully alive instigators of my spiritual growth, they served instead as representative of a static, entrenched, and superficial set of church practices that I was actively searching for a God to save me and the world from. Much like Christ, who chose to use the Pharisee’s Bible-justified, but non-life-giving, non-soul-saving, missing-the-point religious convictions as a backdrop for his disciples to learn about the real and vibrant Kingdom of God, I suggest that Christ had created space on campus for students to use Harding’s Bible-justified, but non-life-giving, non-soul-saving religious convictions as a backdrop to teach me about the real and vibrant Kingdom of God, too.

So I’m in a dilemma, because I agree with the observation that there are many alumni who went through Harding’s environment (that at least half of the Board has now voted to maintain) and have come out the other side very convicted, Christ-centered, Kingdom-promoting, Gospel-sharing citizens (as opposed to very convicted, CofC-centered, CofC-doctrine promoting, CofC-worship-practice-sharing ones). Something about this environment works to produce people committed to creating truer environments.

So the dilemma: do I want to change this backdrop that Harding’s official positions provide to create this faith-forming space between the Board and the students? Might this be a developmentally appropriate environment for the 18-22 year old to be in? Do our sons and daughters, like the disciples, need a somewhat rigid-Right institutional position to use for their own spiritual “teething,” providing a useful, off-the-mark ecclesiology upon which to discover a truer, more scriptural one? I must admit, nothing drove me into the scripture more than when my honest questions about deeply entrenched Church of Christ doctrines were met with pushback from some of the powers that be at Harding. It was perfect timing for me, and a perfect environment for me to zealously find my own faith in Jesus Christ. I don’t need an answer to this dilemma. I’m grateful for it, because it makes me both unafraid of and hopeful about, and finally, trusting God for where this all goes.

I can disagree with some convictions of some of the Board and still trust them as powerful and loving and Godly contributors to our student’s spiritual growth. One thing is for sure, and I want to be absolutely clear about this, I believe the motives behind their convictions are the exact same as mine. A desire to love God and be faithful to scripture.

That said, I would much rather Harding be a place that has stated core convictions, a Board, and a president that teaches our students, in institutional word and institutional deed, that the mainstream Church of Christ is all about faithfulness to Jesus Christ, no matter what. And this, even when that means that the Church of Christ must itself be transformed by the renewing of its corporate mind, because our movement-long commitment to being people of the Book will not be abandoned, even if that Book requires that we abandon other, lesser, movement-long commitments once seen as requirements of that Book.

While these thoughts and feelings are addressing issues that pre-date my knowing Dr. McLarty’s name, since I have mentioned him and his words in this piece, I wanted everyone to know that I am sending him these thoughts in letter form, addressed to him for his consideration. I don’t know Dr. McLarty personally, but people that I respect, respect him greatly, and I intend to continue to support Harding and him during his tenure there, which I know, one way or another, will exalt Christ and advance the Kingdom. I will be forever grateful to him for being willing to serve the Kingdom in this way.

May God bless us all, and may His grace fall over us, and may love abound even in our disagreements.

How Will I Best Impact People

29 August 2012

I admit it. I want to impact people. I want to impact people for good. I want to impact people for a particular kind of good. I want to impact people with Christ. With his life, his message, his example, and his ways.

But…how?

Should I write? Should I write books? Should I write blogs? Would this be how I could best impact people?

Should I talk? Should I preach at a local church? Should I teach at a local church? Should I accept speaking engagements? Should I do training seminars? Should I be the guest speaker at retreats? Should I host my own retreats based on a variety of meaningful themes? Should I continue my education and become a professor at a college? Would this be how I could best impact people?

Should I lead? Should I organize a church family in a way that impacts them and others through them? Should I spearhead a ministry program or push and initiative among people, getting them to buy in for their good and others that they end up serving? Would this be how I could best impact people?

Should I counsel? Should I walk into the mess of people’s lives and help them navigate it? Should I create and multiply support groups for the wide range of specialized needs that I encounter? Should I continue my education and counsel professionally? Would this be how I could best impact people?

Should I mentor? Should I clear my schedule for nothing but one on one relationships? Should I proactively and lovingly pursue people who need mentoring? Should I reactively and lovingly respond to people who pursue me for mentoring? Should I create mentoring groups? Would this be how I could best impact people?

Whatever I do, do I do it here in my current hometown? Do I do it in my old hometown? Do it find a new hometown? A new country? Would this be how I could best impact people?

“Just pick one!” I hear myself say to me. Okay. But how?

“Just do whichever one you like the most!” I hear myself say to me. Okay, but that just seems either selfish, or hard to discern. I “like” them all.

“Do them all!” I hear myself say to me. Okay. But I know for a fact that a yes to anything is a no to something else, and the doing of everything is the choice to do nothing really, really well.

“Just stop thinking about it so hard!” I hear myself say to me. Okay. And on this one, I really mean, okay. Because the possibilities seem so vast and weighty and overwhelming that it certainly is just easier to flip on the TV and forget about it.

But it just keeps coming back. Nagging. Inviting. Pushing.

And for this I am grateful. It means I still care. It means I still love.

And above all else, no matter what I do, no matter what I choose, no matter where I land, live, or linger – I want to keep loving.

How should you make your difference?

Tired of Hearing Myself Talk

27 August 2012

“When you begin to feel like you know nothing, you may finally be learning something.” – Yours Truly

“I am unworthy-how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer- twice, but I will say no more.” – Job, after saying far too much, when he found himself before God

What is a preacher to do when he is tired of hearing himself talk?

Lately, I’ve felt a desire to not speak in situations where I usually must (and willingly do). It has been refreshingly good.

I’m not sure where this is coming from. But I’m not panicked about it. I’m actually excited. It feels like a transition is happening inside of me. Some more growing up that has been a long time coming. More revolution. More transformation.

While excited, I am a bit nervous. It seems when I get a feeling like this, no matter what the subject is and where it comes from, it is always followed by a tsunami of conviction into a new landscape of truth that I have no choice but to redesign my life around. I never know how small or large the implications may end up being, so… I am a bit nervous.

But still, excited. I have found my life to be much more abundant, clear, peaceful, prioritized, and impactful when I willingly submit to the tsunami as it comes exploding from the invisible depths and into the surface of my life, obliterating and then washing away all the well established routines of my life that I’ve created, killing them (hear: killing me), and then requiring a massive rebuilding effort in the sunshine of the aftermath of the storm (hear: resurrecting me with new life).

What does it mean? Well, I could guess, and throw out several predictions based on my experiences from the past, or based on the trajectory of my life, or based on the deepest desires of my heart…

…but I’m tired of hearing myself talk. I’m tired of being like Job, who though he is in the midst of a powerful drama involving himself, his family, his God, and his friends – a drama that truly does matter to him and to those around him – I’m tired of being like him, who “opens his mouth with empty talk; without knowledge he multiplies words.” (Job 35:16)

So I’ll just wait and see.

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