Why I Might Not Attend “The Biggest Tour of the Summer”

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Surely this is the big one.

(Always interesting when a music tour is announced in Forbes.)

Many of my friends already have their tickets, and I’m excited for them.

However, I’m pretty reticent about going, and mostly because (ironically enough) of the very words Mr. Bono wrote on a song that came out soon after the Joshua Tree. 

They went something like this:

“I don’t believe in the 60s // the golden age of pop
You glorify the past // when the future dries up
– “God Pt 2” from Rattle and Hum

I loved that sentiment, and the fierce, forward-looking creativity it represented. Achtung Baby came from that attitude, and so did Zoo TV, Zooropa, and even Pop and All That You Can’t Leave Behind. 

Somewhere along the way, however, endorsements started, and tours started to resemble product placements for Motorola and Apple. It was all tolerable and even understandable as long as the music was still reaching for something: something spiritual, as well as musical.

However, I feel like the boys from Dublin have wondered as of late. Songs of Innocence is the only U2 record I’ve ever listened to once and deemed it irrelevant and unnecessary for even a second listen. Lately, I’ve preferred the urgency of October or the explorations of The Unforgettable Fire and No Line on the Horizon.

I get it: I’m just a dude. Just a fan. Nobody cares what I think.

That being said, I don’t want to see my heroes do a 30th anniversary tour for a record that changed music (and life?) for me in a dozen different ways.

Even the Stones didn’t go out and play Exile on Main Street.

(I’ll give you The Who and Tommy.)

Will they just play the record and some other “greatest hits”?

Will they add in some demos and obscure “B Sides”?

(“Everlasting Love” is pure, ecstatic gold.)

I don’t know. What I really want, more than anything, is new, vital music from 4 guys that have carried the torch for so many.

And buried in that is another question: can/would music superstars ever trade tour/financial success for artistic exploration? How about making the music, the merchandising, the shows smaller for once?

How about an unexpected release with no fan fare? Didn’t Beyoncé just try that and hit it out of the park?

I am waiting in the wings for my heroes to drink deeply from the future, to be watered by the wells of artistic freedom.

And who knows? Maybe we’ll all be surprised before the kickoff in the spring?

I can only hope.

 

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The Hard Edge of Grace

Grace makes me uncomfortable sometimes.

There, I said it.

Rare coming from a “believer,” rarer still coming from a pastor.

But when I really boil it down to the essentials, grace hits me hard, and challenges me.

Obviously, I don’t mind grace at all when I need it, when I call out to God and acknowledge my brokenness and shortcomings to Him or to other people. At that point, I’m truly grateful for free forgiveness.

But when I think about the ramifications of a truly loving, forgiving God, of what grace truly IS, it hits me hard, basically because it makes me think of those people that I tend to judge, those people that I try to “cut off” from grace.

It’s one thing when all the “good people” (and believe I know: who is really “good”, after all) get grace, but as my 12-step sponsor likes to remind me, “either it’s grace or it’s not,” and if it IS grace, then that means an awful lot of people get grace that simply don’t fit into my “good” category. These are the people that *I* like to judge, the people who aren’t spiritually curious, who are content in their anger and apathy, who are consumed by revenge and who would choose to remain small-minded and fearful about the universe.

Even they get grace.

It’s similar to the old adage, “Justice or mercy? Mercy for myself, justice for everyone else.”

My own mind doesn’t like that. I’d much prefer a hoop to jump through, or some kind of judgment first.

But then that’s not “grace” is it?

Grace is free. FREE. And WE don’t get to determine who gets it, and frankly the more I learn about this God in whom I live and move and have my being, the more I learn that He tends to be a lavish giver, and He will not be restrained.

I actually think He’s harder to avoid and reject than to discover. He’s sort of relentless that way.

I think when I see the Kingdom fully-realized, there will be so many there… Not just the drug dealers and gay people and transsexuals and church people, but also people from the right and the left, people who have THOSE bumper stickers… The list goes on and on.

Why?

Because GRACE, that’s why.

Morning.

I woke up this morning at… well, 3:15.

I tried to go back to sleep, but by 3:45, I realized it was pointless, and I went ahead and woke up. One of my mentors has always maintained that we should assume that when we wake up, God wants us awake and we should respond accordingly.

They probably never saw me as a teenager when my parents tried to wake me up.

God may have wanted me awake, but that didn’t necessarily mean I had to be thrilled about it.

MOST of the time, in fact, I am able to stave off God, and you know what? He actually respects that. It’s as if He’s like a child: He pokes and prods me like a 5 year old on Christmas morning. “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon get up, it’s happening! It’s here!” Except “It” is simply just another day, and not the once-a-year mad festival of gifts.

But the metaphor breaks down, because for me most of the time if I simply ignore him once or twice, he leaves me alone and I go back to sleep. If he was truly a child he’d bug me unceasingly until I woke up and got the coffee brewing. But as a spiritual master once said, “God is a perfect gentleman,” and so when he occasionally whispers, “Psssst. Hey: why don’t you wake up? I have some amazing things to talk to you about!” And I respond with disinterested grunts, and then roll over to squeeze another 45 minutes of time out of my night, he actually says (with really no disappointment, but with an amazing, unending disinterested love, “Okay… Maybe next time!”

That’s pretty much God. Always there. Always wanting to meet with me. Always willing. Never disappointed. Never shaming. Never quilting.

Just wants to know that he wants to meet with me. Pretty much any old time.

And then again, that’s pretty much me. Frumpy. Slightly lazy. REALLY, REALLY into what I’m doing at the moment, rather than looking up from my work (or my pillow) to see this bright-eyed child who just wants to sit with me, who really just wants me to know that, “Hey, I love you.”

40 Words: Failure.

“Failure” is not a pleasant word; not even close to something like, “Illustrious” (which was my favorite word as a 9th grade English student), or “Sublime” (not so much the band, but the adjective), or “Craftsman” (one of my former bandmates called me that referring to my approach to music, and it remains one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received… or could give).

Nope, “Failure” is a word we like to avoid.

It’s the “DNF” in the race (Did Not Finish).

I’m probably more familiar with failure than I’d like to admit.

It’s easy for me to focus on my “wins” and my achievements, especially over the last 12 months or so:

  • Graduating Seminary (with a 3.8 GPA, even!)
  • Running my first half-marathon
  • Raising two pretty decent kids
  • Becoming a better husband
  • Wrestling with some long-time demons, and achieving some semblance of sanity for the maybe the first time ever
  • Mentoring and teaching a variety of people in my community

Those things are all important, and I’m proud and grateful to have completed them, but I also have to admit that I have a pretty significant history of being someone who struggles to “finish.”

I’m great at starting.

But it’s that middle that tears me up.

I committed to blogging Lent. I did. I can’t take that back. I put it out there for all of the internets to see…

And then I failed.

I lasted what, two or three weeks?

I don’t even know. I don’t want to know, to tell you the truth.

And so the tapes begin:

“You see… you never finish anything

… You quit. You’re a quitter.

… You bail out as soon as things get hard.

… You don’t have enough grit.”

Those are some tapes that play in my head. Lovely, isn’t it? We all seem to have them—little quotes and sayings that invade our headspace whether we want them there or not, and remind us off all the bad things we are and all the good things we are not.

But I also know that’s not the whole story.

It seems to me that there comes a point where you have to make a choice about what it means to be human: are we the sum of our actions and deeds? Are we “sowing a destiny,” so to speak?

OR…

Or are we far more complex than that? Am I more than a failure, even when I fail?

I’d like to think that I am, and I’d like to think that God thinks so too.

So yeah, I failed. I started, and didn’t finish. I had the best of intentions, and they didn’t pay off.

But here I am: Holy Wednesday. I will walk towards that Cross on Friday, and I know that Jesus died for this “failure”, mostly because He knows that being human means not getting it right sometimes (most of the time?), and that we all need a little help.

40 Words #3: “Wilderness” (2.12.2016)

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from the Psalter World Map c.1265 http://www.wikipedia.org

Yesterday’s word was “40”, referring to the length of Lent as well as the length of time both Jesus (days) and the nation of Israel (years) spent in the wilderness.

In Biblical terms, the wilderness is never a comfortable place to be. In the ancient world, there were a lot harsher boundary markers between civilization and the wilderness; there weren’t convenience stores, or cell phone coverage, or highways.

There was, however, a lot of darkness; of wild animals; of the unknown.

One of my favorite images is on medieval maps: outside the borders of known areas, cartographers would put a drawing of a dragon and indicate, “Here Be Dragons.” (Which, by the way is also the name of an excellent historical fiction series by Sharon Kay Penman… I gave you that for free.)

To enter the wilderness is to enter a place where you are no longer comfortable, where you come face to face with mortality and with dangerous creatures that you don’t normally have to face in your “normal” world.

Kind of like Lent.

In the 40 days of Lent, many of us pursue disciplines that are designed to reduce our comfort (like fasting), and contemplate the brokenness in our lives. What’s more, sometimes in Lent you  unexpectedly come face to face with a “beast” that you don’t normally see… And usually the beast is you.

Lent is designed to open your eyes, to bring you into proximity with the areas of your life that you’d rather avoid.

But here’s the thing: In the Bible, the wilderness is also the place of growth. Israel spends 40 years in the wilderness, not just as punishment, but as preparation to be the people of God in the land of Canaan (clearly, they didn’t learn very well). Jesus goes into the wilderness to be “tested” (furthermore, he only goes into the wilderness after his baptism, and hearing his father pronounce him “Beloved”), and afterwards moves directly into ministry.

The wilderness may be dangerous, but most of the time it’s necessary, and even beneficial.

As you go through your journey, resist the temptation to leave the wilderness before the wilderness teaches you everything you have to learn.

Not To Get All “Biblical” on You…

… but wow…

 

Listen! Listen to the roar of his voice,
to the rumbling that come from his mouth.

He unleashes his lightning beneath the whole heaven
and sends it to the ends of the earth.

After that comes the sound of his roar;
he thunders with his majestic voice.
When his voice resounds, he holds nothing back.

God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways,
he does great things beyond our understanding.

Job 37:2-5

Trump vs. St. Paul, Round 1

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It’s election year in United States, and the other day I was having a conversation with my spiritual mentor about the current state of politics in our country. Quite frankly, it’s difficult for me to listen to any of the candidates talk because nobody seems to be interested in talking about any policies or worldviews that are not short cited, or too simplistic and nationalistic solutions to complex into related problems. I don’t feel like anyone speaks for me or to me., And that’s just the reality. Parentheses on a more positive note, I was listening to a the Ted Radio Hour recently that advocated looking at the municipal level-mayors, council people, etc.-to see a place where politics is still working in United States. If you’re interested check it out Ted Radio Hour).

Donald Trump is a decidedly disturbing presidential candidate to me. To be quite honest, with his nationalistic and practically fascist statements he reminds me of the rise of Hitler. However, I was thinking recently about his campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” and it struck me how odd the slogan is. It’s easy to say “let’s make America great again”, but it’s also just as easy to ask, when was America great? Were we great in the 1950s and 60s when we were oppressing people of color in our country? Were we great in the 1980s, when we were struggling to keep up with the environmental damage done by unregulated factories? I’m not saying our country isn’t great. I love the United States, and still cry profusely whenever I sing the national anthem. I am blessed and grateful to have grown up here. But life isn’t about making America great. Life is about simply being the best citizens we can be and trying to make this world a better place. But there’s something at stake that’s even more significant, and that is the question of where we put our ultimate trust. America doesn’t need to be great for me to have a great life. My trust is placed somewhere else. This is not a new thing.

In Paul’s firsts letter to the church at Thessaloniki, he makes a decided dig against the nationalistic leanings of the Roman empire. He makes a remark about people claiming peace and safety when there is none and then a change will come instantly. Though it’s easy to assume that this is somehow about the end of times, it’s enlightening to realize that peace and security was actually a political slogan of the Roman empire, and what Paul is actually doing here is confronting people with the question of where they put their faith. If you decide to put your faith in the Roman empire  (or the United States) you will be decidedly shocked and disappointed when that empire is incapable of really protecting you. The only Kingdom where we have actual security is the Kingdom of God. Granted, that security isn’t always tangible or evident, but ultimately God is calling us to a deeper security, based in eternity.  Regardless, it’s a great reminder that neither our trust nor our security comes from any earthly “greatness”. America can be great (if it decides to take care of the least of these and the outcasts) or it can be not great. Either way, I am called to live my life wisely, to do my best to provide for my family, but most of all to place my trust in a King and Lord whose name is not Cesar nor Trump nor Mr. President.

Please get here soon election day; let’s get this over with.
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