My Vision Cleared

6 June 2011

I’m sitting in a simple but comfortable room perched on a hillside just North of Pecos, NM at a Benedictine Monastery. A monk name Brother Todd, whom I have yet to meet in person, sent me an email Thursday, responding with a “yes” to my question of “I know it is unlikely, but do you have any space available for a soul longing for silence and solitude this weekend?”

So here I sit in silence and solitude, with the exception of mealtime, where the monastic community and its guests all eat together in silence.

I resolved to speak only when spoken to, but even so, I have been spoken to by several. Linda, who works here, and Edgar, a seminarian stationed here temporarily, who kindly greeted me upon my arrival and showed me to my hermitage. A sweet and very talkative woman (who couldn’t resist speaking to a young lady next to her even during dinner) engaged with me as I finished eating and was making my way back to my cove. Jose, who along with his wife, has been here for a week taking an iconography class, and is staying next week for a stained glass course, offered to show me around. That is to name a few.

Without asking them to know for sure, I found myself formulating the reasons that may have brought them to a monastery. I think Linda is a devoted Catholic and eager to serve in Catholic institutional ways. Edgar was assigned to live here this last year before he graduates, I believe. I think the talkative woman is looking for someone who will listen to her, really listen to her, beyond her words (of which there are many). I think Jose, who lives in Maryland, but used to live in Santa Fe, really wants to support this Monastery, which has threatened to close it’s doors if it can not come up with ways to keep from losing money.

I can only guess, really, as to what brings any of these others here.

But I know why I came. I came to see God.

Now, did I have to drive the 4 hours from my home to do this? Do I think there is some special measure of God’s presence here vs. there? Did the ascent from about 3,600 feet above sea level in Amarillo the 7,000 feet of Pecos somehow bring me closer to Him?

Of course not.

But what I did need, and desperately so, was to exit stage left from the noise and normalcy of my life (as blessed and saturated with God-stuff as it is) in order to narrow my focus onto only one goal, tune my ears into only one frequency, fill my mind with only one thought, leverage my energies for only one project, and pour my whole self into only one relationship. Put simply, I came here to obey with unusual fervor part 1 of the Greatest Command, to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.

And I have.

As I come upon the midway point of expressing this single-minded affection towards God in this unique way, I can see clearly how far I have left this practice in the midst of my normal ways. I needed this departure from the people and circumstances in my life, who were (by no fault of their own) distracting me from seeing God, so that I can return to those people and circumstances in my life, and once again see God in (and through, and behind, and over) them.

The power of this is to once again embrace that I don’t need the people or circumstances in my life to change at all in order to see God in them.

The key is purity within me. My understanding is that when the Bible uses the word purity, it is not talking about sinlessness, but single-mindedness, or singleness of motive in the heart.

Singular devotion to God and God alone.

So, when one desires nothing more (or less) than God… when that affection for Him has no equal and no competitor… then one is operating in purity of heart.

And Jesus makes a promise to us about it: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

Come on up out of the mediocrity of your lives, people, and hear some of the most helpful, bold, and exciting words that Christ ever uttered. With these words, Jesus promises something that God Himself said no man could do and live (Ex 33:20)! And yet here we are, our deepest souls testifying that no man can do without it and live.

Evidently, there is one type of human being that can see God and live…the pure in heart.

Well then…create in me a pure heart, oh God, that I may see You.

My Longing

24 May 2011

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” – CS Lewis

I am blessed and cursed with a very powerful sense of longing. I’ve never found the words to describe it adequately, which is part of the blessing and curse. While generally being the kind of guy who is more likely to use or indulge such non-stop, all-consuming hunger as motivation for some kind of action (be it noble or not), I have also strategically tried to escape its incessant hold on me…

By denying it.

By avoiding it.

By medicating it.

By pushing it down.

By judging it as impractical.

By acting as if it was satisfied.

By pretending it was not there.

By trying to delegate it to others.

But no matter what, I’ve never been able to suppress this thirst. It has been a constant companion. In my youth (past) and immaturity (still present), it has compelled me to do some incredibly unwise, even crazy, and sometimes outright stupid things. I have no regrets in this regard, mind you, for looking back, those things served as a litany of experiments and tests. They have cost me, but they have also enlivened and grounded me, authenticating that this longing in me is real and indestructible.

As I’ve grown older, slower, and more easily tired, I’m so grateful for this relentlessness. It serves as an old friend, one that I depend on as motivation for my worthiest endeavors and achievements.

What is this longing I speak of? As I said, I can’t nail down into one set of words, but that is not to say that I haven’t used some to try.

I long to matter.

I long for love and to love.

I long to see. I long to know.

I long for peace. I long for joy.

I long for healing and to heal.

I long to give. I long to receive.

I long for truth. I long for grace.

I long to experience. I long to risk.

I long for justice. I long for forgiveness.

I long for relationship. I long for reconciliation.

I long for good. I long for great. I long for perfect.

I long for victory. I long for redemption. I long for glory.

I long for a plan. I long for spontaneity. I long for adventure.

I long to be righted. I long for things to be righted. I long to participate in righting.

I long for life…to the fullest extent that it is available to a human being…that is what I long for.

Writing this list of words is quite unsatisfying. None of them, not even all of them, can capture this longing. It is at times subtle, at others obvious. It is sometimes overt, sometimes covert, but always subverts everything.

Certain thoughts, sights, and experiences seem to flare it up…

When I see the hungry. The thirsty. The oppressed.

When I see tears of hurt, anger, despair, or loneliness.

When violence breaks out, in thought, word, or deed.

When someone hurts someone, be it themselves or others.

When injuries happen. When sickness comes. When tragedy hits.

When lies are told. When masks are utilized. When hypocrisy is practiced.

When suspicion is called for. When skepticism pays off. When pessimism results.

And especially death. The death of anything, really, so long as it qualifies as “good”. A dream. A childhood. An innocence. An animal. A relationship. An idea. A motivation. An enthusiasm or spirit. A marriage. A person.

This longing…this hunger…this thirst… it simultaneously must be and can’t be satisfied!

It makes me walk through pain for the joy on the other side, and long for more.

It makes me call my dad and settle things between us, and long for more.

It makes me engage fully with my wife, and long for more.

It makes me present with my kids, and long for more.

It leads me to friends of depth, and long for more.

It drives me to give, and long to give more.

Ultimately, it makes me start movements that have no end, not projects that get done. And they are investments that demand as much or more than they will ever seem to payoff. It puts me smack dab in the middle of “problems” that are over the top, over my head, and overwhelming, while I get to feel under qualified, under resourced, and under the weight of it all. It gets me involved in issues that are so big, they will never, ever be solved…the work will never be finished.

Why do it then? Well, because…I long for it. I must. I guess the best answer would come by comparing the longing to an addiction. Not an unhealthy, self-defeating, chosen addiction like alcohol or drugs or workaholism…but a healthy, necessary addiction, like food or water or sleep.

Something in me knows that I’m contributing to something very worthwhile and satisfying now, and something that will be ultimately solved and satisfied later.

The way Jesus said it was, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

Finally Headed Home

30 March 2011

You have GOT to watch this music video done by one of my best friends in the world.


After that go here and buy all his powerful and original music.

Callie’s Picture Sermon

6 October 2010

“I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.” – St. Paul

During worship services this past Sunday, Callie finished up a couple of drawings and handed them to me.

Modesty1 Modesty4

As a youth minister for 14 years, I was often asked by concerned older members of our church family in Houston to address how our young ladies dressed.

It was not without reason.

So many of the styles that were “in” at the time were so exposing of a young woman’s body. I remember walking into an Old Navy store and the featured “item of the week” as you walked in was a pair of shorts with less than an inch of fabric in the crotch – barely enough to even have a seam. And the shirts being sold all over weren’t long enough to cover a young lady’s midsection (my friend Tod called this “biscuiting”), effectively forcing our girls to either be fashionably “in” but eye candy for males (and not just the teenage ones), or appropriately modest but fashionably “out”.

I always felt like there was a male conspiracy going on behind the fashion industry for women. Like there was an invisible agreement being offered to girls by men that said, “You dress in a way that tantalizes my sexuality, and I’ll look at you in a way that you can pretend means I think you are lovely.”

Occasionally, in our youth group, there were some brave, sincere, “I’m-my-own-woman” type of girls who would create a sub-culture of modesty and make it cool. My favorite was a group of 4 high school girls, beautiful girls, who started buying “boy shorts” because they were the only ones they could find that were modest. They were so humble and confident about it and made it look so normal and natural that it started a little mini-trend among their peers.

Powerful. They took Paul’s advice.

Callie has been thinking about this kind of stuff lately. While she loves playing with make-up and such, just last week she busted out with, “Dad, I think makeup is covering up beautiful girls.” You can see this thought reflected in her pictures, too. Seriously…just take a minute and look back and forth between the faces she drew and try to imagine what is going on inside each girl she’s representing…what each one believes about herself.

I think Callie is so beautiful exactly the way God made her and makeup just can’t improve on it. Please, God, help her believe it. Against all odds, help her believe it.Modesty6

So you can see why I was excited to see my 8-year-old daughter illustrating these things.  I credit my wife who discusses this stuff with her regularly and conscientiously. After I looked at her pics and then over at her approvingly and proud, she jotted this little note…

So there you go, Callie, your little sermon in pictures!

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