the love of friends / my new guitar

In my last post I shared about how my beloved guitar was sadly stolen from our Volvo on Thanksgiving Day in a smash-and-grab theft.

Today, I want to share about how I’ve experienced the cycle of hope that I alluded to in that post.

Not long after I shared on my blog and in social media about the smash-and-grab, a great friend, Mark Aubin, took it upon himself to act. He quickly set up a GoFundMe drive to allow folks to help me replace the guitar and cover the $290 that the window cost to repair.

Within only a few days, we covered the $1000 goal. Then, Continue reading “the love of friends / my new guitar”

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smashed window / stolen guitar / the cycle of cynicism / the cycle of hope

As is my habit, I’m reflecting on a life event from a hopeful perspective.

I couldn’t find a great title for this post, but it’s at least descriptive. 

The story starts with Kaile leaving early this Thanksgiving morning for a sunrise service – a religious gathering honoring indigenous people and their experience in the Americas. Taking Silas out of his bed early, they drove to San Francisco and, to Silas’s absolute joy and three-year-old delight, boarded a ferry for Alcatraz Island. 

They watched as the dancers and worshipers sang and prayed, honoring this beautiful culture with their presence and curiosity. In their prayers and dances they confronted their painful history of displacement and genocide with a desire for harmony and newness. 

Those traumas live on in the lives of all of us, in the form of our personal narratives, whether it’s a trauma related to our personhood, our faith, our sexuality, or our possessions. The traumas live on in our ethnic narratives. They exist in our family cultures, whether or not we’re willing to take note. 

Sometimes our pain leads us to seek some kind of hope that is larger than us. Other times we try to drown it out with chemicals injected into whatever vein we can find, or melt it away with alcohol. 

I can be reasonably sure someone’s personal tragedy, which led to addictions, led them to smash our Volvo’s rear hatch this morning, searching for something of worth to steal. It’s getting toward the end of the month, so money was probably running low. I surmise the added pain of missing family members or feeling the weight of homelessness surely drove them back to their substances of choice – and that substance has a price tag. 

They did indeed find something: Continue reading “smashed window / stolen guitar / the cycle of cynicism / the cycle of hope”

Saying Goodbye / Searching for Home

On Halloween, I said goodbye to a great friend, Mehmet [rhymes with Emmet]. He and I had grown close, sharing the life experience of parenting young children – in my case, two energetic [read: loud] boys and his situation one spirited girl.

As I said goodbye I realized how difficult goodbyes can be.

What was more difficult was watching my son, Silas, insist on giving Mehmet’s daughter a hug. He simply would not leave the playground until he had hugged Nur. It was as if he knew she was leaving, though I had avoided telling him about it.

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Saying goodbye to Mehmet, I was reminded how I had just said goodbye to Alvaro, who moved with his young family to the East Bay. Because of the distance, he and his family will find a new church community. Our friendship had really grown, and I felt a bittersweet sadness when the news of his departure settled on my consciousness.

I also remembered staring into my friend Marco’s tear-filled eyes not long ago as we parted ways in Grand Rapids three years ago. He and his wife Kari left our little going-away party [we were headed to San Francisco] at our bungalow home in Garfield Park for Continue reading “Saying Goodbye / Searching for Home”

power & powerlessness: the male journey

Father Richard Rohr has popularized the need for male initiation rites, and the following quote tells us why:

If a young man never experiences his own powerlessness, he will eventually abuse his power.

I’ve been dwelling on this concept for some time now, and it has really struck home with me over the past couple years.

In these past couple years, we have experienced a lot of change as a family. We have moved four times in the past two and a half years: Grand Rapids, Michigan to San Francisco; a cross-city move to the Sunset neighborhood; a move to Sunnyvale in Silicon Valley; and finally a move to a first-floor unit in our apartment complex a week ago [yeah it was close by, but trust me, there is still a lot of work involved!].

I lost a job. I struggled. I somehow maintained a calling. I gained a job. pq7sfvavsisn3hrlalgsuw.jpg

We added, in God’s grace, a second son to our family. Yes, he’s cute; he’s also in the middle of tantrum season.

Though it taken some time to realize this, out of the four of us, I think all this change has especially affected me. Continue reading “power & powerlessness: the male journey”

science / God

Something not many people know about me is that I went to a STEM-focused high school. It was called the Math Science and Technology center, and to get in you had to write an essay. Mine wasn’t very good, and my confidence in my math skills was already waning as my pre-high school progressed.

At some point I received a letter – I was on the waitlist! 

This wasn’t awesome news, since my older brother John had already been in the program for a couple years, and he was flourishing in all subjects STEM-related and otherwise. But it wasn’t terrible either, because there was still a chance that I could join my immediate family’s new academic tradition.

Finally, a week before school started, I came home from soccer two-a-days to another letter:  Continue reading “science / God”

A Few Thoughts on Being Male in 2018

Recent cultural trends have led me to ask the following question:

What is the essence of masculinity? 

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That question has led me on a journey, and I felt compelled to reflect further here in my blog. Here’s my brief disclaimer [I’m no expert, just an observer!].*

To the right I thought it would be fun to throw in a quick picture of Kaile and me trying to get our two boys to take a picture. These little guys are intense! [By the way, we never did get them to look at the camera].

Okay, just setting the context! I’ll begin on a personal note.

As I came of age, I remember noticing men functioning distinctly different than women in the culture that first shaped me. There seemed to be different rules and regulations for men than for women. From what I observed then [and actually still observe today], the rules or maybe I could use the term, “cultural script” for men included:

*An emphasis on emotional stoicism: anger, apathy, and ambivalence were each acceptable emotions. Humor, in certain forms, was also okay, as was happiness. Not deep, joyous wonder, but basic happiness was fine-especially when it was sports-related. When one’s team wins, celebrating-and even complete buffoonery okay.  

*Providing financially for one’s family was always underscored, though providing emotionally, spiritually, relationally was not much of a category for male participation in the home life.  Continue reading “A Few Thoughts on Being Male in 2018”

God is Shaking the Hell out of Earth.

Imagining what God will one day do is a compelling thought, is it not? Picturing how God is at work long-term puts our present-tense actions into perspective.

Ultimately, God is ushering in a kingdom that cannot be shaken!

Along the path to this kingdom there are two compelling mountains. In Hebrews 12:18-29, the author contrasts the mountain of fear with the mountain of joy.

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a mountainous overlook deep in the Santa Cruz mountains only severalmiles south of Silicon Valley

The Mountain of Fear:

18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.” 

Clearly, there is something terrifying about experiencing God! Moses was terrified at Mount Sinai as he felt God in his bones. He hid his face. According to Proverbs 9:10,

“The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” 

Just like we fear and respect a burning fire or powerful animal, so do we fear [respect] God. We revere God as the creator of the ENTIRE COSMOS as it continues to expand into Continue reading “God is Shaking the Hell out of Earth.”

Spiritual/Mental [Un]Rest

The Scream, painted in 1893 during a time of intense personal pain, has always haunted me. There is something haunting in the face of the painting’s subject, something sos evocative about the open mouth and hands held over the ears.

The_Scream.jpgSome psychologists conclude that, over his lifetime, Munch experienced bipolar disorder with psychosis. This particular painting was inspired by a visual hallucination in which he perceived the sky turning to blood. As everything crunched together in his imagination, terror struck him: he is quoted as having said,

“I stood still, leaned against the railing, dead tired. Above the blue black fjord and city hung clouds of dripping, rippling blood. My  friends went on and again I stood, frightened with an open wound in my breast. A great scream pierced through nature.”  

Munsch’s experience and his artistic representation of that experience both serve humanity, allowing us to see into the kind of pain others may feel. Though we often hide it well, each of us experiences various kinds of loss and hurt. It may not come in the form of a visual hallucination, but it may more often come in the form of loneliness, isolation, distrust, hopelessness, or lack of self-worth.

We moderns are not the first to experience deep pain and alienation from ourselves, others, and God. Elijah, an ancient prophet, and Jesus, who we Christians understand and believe to be the incarnate Son of God, both experienced deep pain and rejection both from other people and from God.

In I Kings 19, Elijah is running for his life, terrified of an evil queen and complicit king, feeling unguarded and alone. He cries out from his soul,

“I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors [I Kings 19:4b].”** 

That’s heavy stuff. It’s along the lines of suicidal ideation, to be sure, though thankfully he voices his anguish to God [a safe place if there ever was one!]. He’s ready to die, alone, afraid, and exhausted from the depths of his soul to his physical body and psychological center. He is absolutely spent, desiring death, yet courageously-and surprisingly-places this desire in God’s hands.

We’ll take a look at how God responds later.

Right now, let’s zoom forward quite a few centuries and check out a dark moment Jesus has right before his arrest, trial, torture, crucifixion, and burial.

He’s with close friends, praying before, quite literally, all hell would soon break loose and come tempt the world into believing evil is the larger power in the cosmos. In his darkest hour, he wants the support of friends to pray with him:

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me [Mt. 26:38].” 

Jesus is pretty low, from my read. Overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death sounds like spiritual and mental breakdown. Was it an acute bout of anxiety-a panic attack? I don’t presume to know, I’m just an observer reading the text and wondering out loud.

Soon, he asks for relief from God:

…he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will [Mt. 26:39].” 

So let’s hop back to Elijah, who had just told God he’s ready to die. How does God respond? The response is immediate, timely, fitting. God gives Elijah a snack and lets him continue his much-needed nap:

…an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again [I Kings 19:5b].

Elijah wanted to die, but God wanted him to live.

Instead of death, he gets a nap and a snack.

And that’s not all.

A few chapters later, instead of experiencing the death he once wished for, Elijah is either the only or is one of just two people [Enoch being the other, but it is less clear] who are taken directly to be with God:

As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind [2 Kings 2:11].

Ironically, after begging God for death, Elijah never dies.

Now let’s move back to Jesus, who we left praying in Gethsemane. He gets very different treatment than our Old Testament friend, Elijah. God is silent, allowing his own son to suffer at an overwhelming juncture:

  1. He doesn’t get a nap, but his friends fall asleep on him [twice], failing to pray when Jesus most needed spiritual support.
  2. He doesn’t get a snack, just some gross vinegar wine whilst bleeding out on the cross.
  3. He doesn’t even hear a word from God, at least not one that’s recorded in our text. He is utterly alone for his final hours, dying alone with only a few friends left to honor him at his final hour.

God does not take the cup from Jesus, spare him this crushing, torturous aspect of his earthly ministry, and we don’t even know if there was any consolation offered to him from anyone, save the sympathy of Pilate and his wife, both Romans. And Pilate’s sympathy certainly didn’t stop him from enabling the religious leaders in their mission to kill this man claiming to represent a kingdom not of this world.

But Jesus is raised from the dead. 

God was at work despite the total despair Jesus felt at the end of his life.

There is so much to learn here, but here are some things that stick out:

  1. Like both Elijah and Jesus, our laments [and yes, any emotion including anger, joy, jealousy, yeah-anything] is always safe with God, and better expressed and externalized than repressed and hidden.
  2. God doesn’t always answer in the way we desire, but we do know our advocate before God, Jesus, has experienced unanswered prayer-and the pain native to humanity. Jesus identifies with our pain but also knows the supreme joy that comes with being “the firstborn over all creation” [Colossians 1:15]. He has seen torture, loss of friends, and an excruciating death-but also the triumph of new life and victory over evil.

The resounding joy Jesus experienced as the firstborn over all creation means he knows what it’s like to move through human life, death and through death into new, full, whole and transformed life.

And, as sisters and brothers of Jesus, we get to follow him on this life-giving and hope-filled path.

***

 

 

 

 

*Heller RH: Edvard Munch: The Scream. New York, Viking Press, 1972, p. 109)

**All biblical quotes are from the New International Version.

Let Go? [Never!]

Silas, our 3 year old, learned to ride a bike yesterday.

He asked a little girl, Autumn, if he could borrow her pink Frog bike. As she consented, I thought about how to make sure to preserve the integrity of the bike itself since it was clearly on the more expensive end of kids’ bikes.

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I was shocked at what happened next.

As I released the handlebars and relaxed my support on his back and arm, reality unfolded at a pace my imagination could not match. He was balanced and stable, moving faster than I could keep up with at walking speed.

I let go.

Silas was on his own, and he proceeded to ride all over the playground.

After recovering from the shock, my first instinct was to tell Kaile, which I immediately did as soon as I got home [I didn’t cheat and send a text message!]. She was, of course, delighted, so now we are left to brace ourselves for the task of keeping up with him.

Today, in the wake of this moment, I cannot help but continue to reflect on his newfound two-wheeled freedom.

Looking back a couple years, was meaningful when our boys first learned to walk; it was unadulterated joy to watch them first craft words [both boys] and sentences [still waiting on Maelin for that!]; it is presently an incredible gift to observe them interact positively [ie *not* hitting or pushing one another for any length of time].

But there was something so poignant about first riding a bike. It’s an either-or kind of skill. Unlike speaking, reasoning, and walking, riding a bike without training wheels is, unlike so many things in this world, rather binary. You’re doing it-or, well, not.

Suddenly, I was transported to a sloping driveway in Big Rapids, Michigan, in the very early ’90s. Probably not wearing a helmet, I remember piloting my $5 purple banana-seat down the driveway after my dad let go.

They let go.

I let go.

There really is something profound about this process of letting go.

Over a lifetime, each one of us either chooses to or is forced to let go of identities, occupations, relationships, habits. Parents have the very visceral experience of letting go as their children move to new levels of independence.

Along these lines, it seems letting go of one’s child is a process that comes with cultural expectations. As an American with many generations going back in time on both sides, my culture tells me I need to let go, to promote autonomy, to encourage my kids to find their voice and engage their world. While I have some nuance that I place on this strong push for independence, I generally agree.

And yet, for my family and community of faith, we have a special narrative framework in which all of this letting go / autonomy-seeking is couched. The story of God’s creation, preservation, and ultimate restoration of the world and the cosmos through Jesus is my larger framework, and any letting go I do fits into this bigger picture.

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As I reflect on the present-tense grace and long-term hope that my faith offers, my mind also wanders to that time later in life when letting go hurts. Frankly, I assume my kids are going to reject my voice in their lives, whether gently or overtly. In the maturation process, I can’t imagine even most of childhood, latency, and adolescence to be free of challenges and heartache. I’m open to being surprised, but I brace myself as I hear so many stories from other parents.

I think of a friend who has a child in the Army. She worries about him, as one might expect, and prays for his well-being, certainly his physical preservation, even as she also prays for his spiritual, emotional, and relational journeys.

She let go.

I [am/will] let[ing] go.

And when my son rides off on his bike on his own, it’s a picture of my limitations as a parent. I felt tears come to my eyes as I walked home with Silas on his bike and Maelin [somewhat] content in the stroller, imagining our toddler at other milestones in his childhood and later years.

Back to the narrative framework of Christian faith/hope.

So many times in Jewish/Christian Scripture we hear the biblical authors referring to God as a Father. Some texts also give a deep sense of maternal qualities as well, and we conclude how something about God’s character is like that of a parent.

But here’s the problem.

Not all human parents are good. And sadly, some die before having the chance to parent, or they leave, or they’re separated as refugees, or they’re conscripted into a war, or…

Anyway, I’d contend that every parent [myself especially included] inculcates their child with habits and predispositions that are harmful. We could call it the filial passing-on of the sinful nature. Yes, we of course pass on tons of good qualities as well; but it’s a mixed bag, isn’t it? We are beautiful, good beings, created in God’s perfect image, yet we, to varying levels, are simultaneously corrupted at our core by sin.

It sounds old-school sometimes to say it this way, but the term *sin* can be quite helpful. In short, sin separates us from God and each other. Conversely, because of God’s transforming grace made apparent in Jesus, we are reunited with God-and with one another as well. As we experience the massive forgiveness God extends to us, we cannot help but keep one another’s sins in perspective.

Remembering God’s grace toward us, we are left with no other option than to extend it to others. 

But God doesn’t just forgive; God also restores. God gives 2nd and 5th and 194th chances, “grace upon grace” as John 1:16 phrases it. The grace we receive helps us pause, take note, then [eventually] search for opportunities to extend that same grace to others.

Back to letting go.

I think one of the most meaningful steps in the journey of faith is when a child’s faith becomes their own. The training wheels-mom and dad and church friends-eventually come off as we launch into an educational journey, military service, or a regular job, and at some point, so many of us discover there was something real and life-giving and salvific happening throughout our entire life, and we didn’t even know it.

On that same *letting go* concept, I’m struck with this closing thought:

Parents let go. Then their children, who often become parents must also let go; and the pattern continues. But God, from what is revealed in written Scripture, is and always will be a good and loving and patient parent. And he even loves us enough to always correct and restore and redeem our wandering selves. Instead of bracing for a future moment of letting go, we can be sure that in God our future is secure and safe, that through Christ our Lord is making all things new through the power of his Spirit.

Unlike Kaile and me and all human parents,

God doesn’t ever become disinterested;

God doesn’t become impatient with us; 

God doesn’t get disappointed in us;

God doesn’t leave us;

God doesn’t let go. 

***

 

 

 

Pelted with Hail [with our Toddlers]

I had an exhausting, exhilarating Monday.

For me, Mondays are full days. After a busy Sunday spent leading, connecting, and doing random tasks at my church, Monday is Kaile’s study day-from 8:30 to 5:30, she’s out at a local coffee place working on coursework while I care for Maelin and Silas.

For those of you who know or have even seen pictures of our toddlers, you have surely gathered at least some hint of their energy levels [high]. Sometimes Silas gets so wound up he yells at the top of his lungs while swinging his arms, which are sometimes attached to toys, which sometimes fly out of his hands and crash throughout the house-or on Maelin’s head.

Maelin, you must know, has one of the most piercing and distinctive crying sounds I’ve heard in my limited experience. It is quite loud, loud enough that to warrant sympathy from neighbors and friends-and a few threats to call the police on us. I suppose that’s a story for another time.

The weather today forecasted rain, so we were forced to remain inside until about ten in the morning. By that point we were all beyond ready to be outside our 800 square foot apartment, so I put the boys in rain slickers and Batman boots, and we sought our fortune at nearby Sylvan playground.

Events unfolded with relative peace: Silas found and proceeded to carefully, almost scientifically inspect a tiny fly, Maelin careened through puddles on his three-wheeled scooter, and daddy was thankful for the change in weather that had allowed us to be outside.

Initially was gorgeous.

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The sidewalks were dry, and the boys and I were more or less carefree.

It was moments after having snapped this picture that I became aware of the interesting cloud formation in the distance

I heard a dull roar in the distance.

Maelin! Silas! We need to get going!

The boys ambled along distractedly, as is normal, so I coached them unceasingly.

“Mr. Tiny [Maelin], come on! I’m going to count, 1-2-3!”

“You guys, we have got to go!”

Here’s the picture I took right before the deluge. Note the dark blue clouds to the left side of the frame.

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Soon the rain hit, crushing and cold. As I heard the sound, I realized it wasn’t rain at all.

It was hail.

Pea-sized pellets began to pelt us.

Unfortunately I had parked our stroller rather far away. Silas was beginning to cry out, “daddy, the ice is hitting me! The ice, owiiee! Help me!” Maelin was just sort of crying, lacking the words to express what he was experiencing.

As the hail blasted them, I was thankful they had their helmets on as I presently found myself running, holding the handle to each boy’s scooter with my two hands. They cried as I coached, and we raced to the stroller which has protective covers.

They would soon be safe and warm, but at that moment things were bleak.

For me, I was a little frustrated at being cold, pelted, wet, and now faced with a lot more work once I made it home. A bath would be in the works, plus drying their small clothes, not a typical mid-day thing.

Once they were in the stroller for a couple minutes, the hail stopped. And on our way home they were incredibly calm, stunned-no, catatonic! after thinking back on what had just happened.

Their calmness allowed me the presence of mind to reflect on some of my own life experiences, times when I have felt closer or farther from God, closer or farther from others. Interesting how proximity to God and proximity to others seem to correlate rather closely!

And it was during the the walk when I again realized how God parents me, how God watches over us. Our family, though certainly stretched thin at times, is together and quite intact. We are tired, probably undernourished from a diet consisting of far too many chicken nuggets and peanut butter & jelly than is healthy [but oh so convenient!], and don’t always have some of the conveniences we might like.

But we are okay. Kaile is growing massively in her graduate program in drama therapy; I am growing in my vocation and the related skillsets, and our boys are making real progress not only in their growth and development but also in their relationship with one another.

And during recent stormy seasons, God’s goodness has been especially clear.

Like the time we were in San Francisco, stranded with two kids, no family around, and the news of no job.

Like the time I prayed for a renewed sense of community, and God reveals new relationships and blesses them.

Like how our kids, who we pray for all the time, and who are really high intensity, pause and say “daddy, I love you.”

The words of Jesus in his cosmos-shifting Sermon on the Mount ring as true as ever:

“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. [Matthew 6:30-33]

Watching as my boys trusted completely in me during the hail storm with their white-knuckled grip on their scooters reminded me of the kind of trust I have to place in God.

And here’s the best news of all: as a parent, I’m grumpy, inconsistent, frazzled…

…and God isn’t.

***