“The Game is On…”


Recently, my son and I have been watching the recent BBC version of Sherlock together (it’s become a bit of a family tradition: we did the same with my daughter a few years back). It’s just excellent in so many ways: innovative directing and camera work, great storytelling, impeccable acting, and enough “Easter eggs” and clever references to keep us all entertained.

In the “old school” Sherlock stories, whenever the detective sprang into action he would declare to Dr. Watson that “the game is afoot!” The modern version updates that phrase to “the game is on!”, and whenever Holmes (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) exclaims it, the action always takes a great leap forward and the characters move into the story, the mystery, and in a variety of ways proceed to confront villains, solve problems, and in a general way bring some justice and resolution to the storyline. It’s a great time, and thoroughly enjoyable.

A few years ago, I was reading Thomas Merton’s autobiography when I ran across an exchange that gave me a pretty significant pause. Merton is talking with his friend Robert Lax. Lax asks Merton what he wants to be, and after Merton replies that he wants to be a “good Catholic,” Lax tells him pointedly, “What you should say is that you want to be a saint.”

Merton protests, declaring, “I can’t be a saint, I can’t be a saint.”

But Lax drives the point home: “Don’t you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let Him do it? All you have to do is desire it.” 

Does that strike you as much as it struck me?

(For the record, Merton bounces Lax’s idea off of another wise, monk, who verifies the truth of it.”

Forgot all the challenging traditions and baggage you might know and feel about “saints”: the occasional over-emphasis on relics and veneration; the supposed miracles that are associated with old bones and mystical visions. Set all that aside for just a minute and think about what (or who) a saint actually is. 

What images come up?

What names come up?

Francis? Mother Theresa? Paul? Peter? John?


“The Apostle Paul” – Rembrandt (courtesy Wikimedia)

Maybe there are some unofficial, modern ones as well: Martin Luther King Jr.?

I always think of “saints” as men and women who had essentially learned to live out of the radical reality of God’s love.

They had grown beyond the masks and identity traps that we fall into, and simply grasped the simple fact that they were/are “The Beloved” of God (just like Jesus).

After that, they just started to work out the implications of that reality in their own context…

“If I truly AM the Beloved… 

… Then I am free to live in poverty

… Then I am free to fearlessly look at my “shadow side” 

… Then I no longer need to hype God up, or scare people into the Kingdom of God

… Then I am free to speak truth to power

… Then I am free to see people the way God sees ME: as broken-but-beautiful; cracked-but-precious

… Then I am free to be compassionate to all 

… Then I am free from the fear of death

… Then I am safest in the arms of my Father in heaven. I have nothing to fear. 

(A note about one of those implications: I used to think that being a “saint” somehow meant that you somehow floated above life, and you no longer had to worry about things like “brokenness” or “sin.” However, the more I learn about the men and women who have achieved sainthood—officially or unofficially—the more I learn that they were actually incredibly in touch with their own limitations and brokenness. However, they were able to relentlessly place those limitations in the context of their Beloved-ness, and therefore resist the guilt and shame that plagues most of us. Rather, that awareness helped to unlock new levels of gratitude, appreciation and understanding of God’s free gift of grace, which in turn spills over into ever-increasing compassionate love for and service to the world that God loves so much.)

So now, think about that: God wants to make a saint out of you (no matter what Mick Jagger might say).

Now, make no mistake: when Robert Lax tells Merton, “All you have to do is desire it,” there is an awful lot packed into that phrase.

Because if we are honest with ourselves and each other, we desire an awful lot before we desire sainthood.

Here’s just a short list of my “desires”:


chips and salsa


quality music releases

a richly satisfying marriage


safety and maturity for my children

a secure retirement

a good vacation this summer

a healthy church

better leadership out of myself

a better workout habit

a richer prayer life

grass that mows itself

a teenage son that cleans up after himself

a book project that effortlessly writes itself

3 more hours in my day to be productive

3 more hours in my day to sleep

a 24 hour, free, soccer channel

comedy specials that actually make me laugh

a community that governs itself

(… and all that is BEFORE 9AM!)

But make no mistake: there is something that stirs in my heart sometimes, that gnaws at me, and that just sticks with me constantly.

Maybe it’s the growing desire to be MORE. It’s the growing desire to let God “make what me what He created me to be.”

And that thought has begun to stir my soul. It gets me out of bed in the morning (or rather, HE gets me out of bed in the morning), and into the presence of this God, this Love, this mystical and mysterious Presence that wants to grow me into something that He always intended me to be.

So I pursue prayer.

I pursue worship.

I pursue confession.

I pursue submission to a spiritual director.

I pursue service.

I pursue community.

I pursue study.

I pursue meditation.

Yep, as Sherlock would say it, “The game—of growth, of maturity, of spiritual evolution, of transcendence—is on.”

Where are you at with your spiritual growth? Do you believe—and trustthat God wants you to be a “saint”?


Thanks for liking // sharing // commenting.

Under the mercy.




Sherlock and Leadership “Clues”

Surely we can agree: Benedict Cumberbatch is the Dreamiest Sherlock Ever.bbc-sherlock-1600

Okay, so I’m pretty addicted to the latest version of Sherlock Holmes, courtesy of the BBC. Robert Downey Jr. not withstanding, it’s a really great iteration of the story. A modern-day Sherlock and Dr. Watson (played by Martin Freeman, aka Bilbo Baggins) solve crimes around modern London and England in that oh-so-distinctive (and deductive) way: Sherlock perceives the clues and hints surrounding an “unsolvable” case and eventually comes up with a solution.

One of leadership’s most crucial tasks is to “interrogate reality.” That is to say, a leader’s job is to be able to take the pulse of his or her team/organization by asking questions like:

What’s succeeding?
What’s failing?
Where are resources needed?
Who needs encouragement?
What needs vision?

And so the list goes on. The main point is to be able to assemble an accurate portrait of what’s going on. Really going on.

Kind of like solving a crime.

A repeating theme in Sherlock (or it’s California-equivalent, Psych) is when the police rush to a decision because they have reacted to the most obvious clue. Sherlock then shows up to show how they’ve missed 5 other clues that would lead them down to a different suspect.

A different reality.

Similarly, one of the most common mistakes I’ve seen leaders make is when they attempt to interrogate reality using only one—usually very obvious—clue. It’s the ONE conversation with their favorite employee; it’s the SINGLE e-mail that says something disastrous (or something amazing); it’s the one metric that determines their paradigm.

But just like inspector Lestrade, this singular clue is most likely leading them to a skewed version of reality.

I’ve been around leaders who have contentedly announced, “Sue is so happy here!” while at the same time I’ve heard from 3 other people that Sue is frustrated and feels like she’s not listened to.

It’s easy to blame Sue and say, “Well she’s not being honest.”

But here’s the deal: you’re the leader. You are the one who is supposed to provide an environment where Sue can be honest, or at the very least you should be disciplined enough to talk to multiple people about Sue’s state of mind.

The thing leaders need to do is to step back and look at the wider view; to assemble a multitude of clues from which they can more accurately deduce the truth. What employees are they not hearing from? Which segment of the church population does not have a voice? What metric is being ignored?

Interrogating reality is not easy. Facing the truth is a bit scary, and merely mustering up the energy to observe multiple “clues” can be exhausting. At the same time, that essentially is one of our charges as leaders and influencing.

It’s elementary.

(did you like how I did that?)