Posts Tagged ‘Donald Miller’


Posted: January 1, 2015 in Faith
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On a recent trip into the city, I came across a postcard advertising a New Year’s Eve celebration in Harlem. Written on the black card in bold white caps was the word “BECOMING.” A subtitle was followed by the question “what are you becoming?”

what are you becoming?

What am I becoming?

As a family in recent years we have been failing forward in attempts to observe the liturgical season of Advent. Hoping for a period of hopeful anticipation wrapped in peaceful reflection. Instead what still seems to occur to a large extent is a month-long stress fest of Holiday gatherings, gift buying, vacation planning and playing the role of community Social Worker to family, friends and the church. A side note for anyone interested in going into the field of social work – what the books do not tell you is that social workers aren’t just on the clock for an 8-5 (and normally more) gig, but you become the default social worker for everyone in your extended network. It is an honorable yet incessant profession.

A fringe benefit is the ability to turn your own social work assessment skills onto yourself. Over the past month or so, amidst the stress, I have noticed I have been more prone to flashes of daydreaming. This is a recognizable coping mechanism, a subconscious effort to flee stressful moments. One of these mental escape visions occurs most frequently and I wondered what it might say about who I am currently.

It’s Game 1 of the World Series. Top of the first. I am leading off, batting left handed. First pitch fastball low and away. I gracefully, confidently, prepare to drop the barrel of the bat into the strike zone while beginning to lean my body toward first. I absorb the velocity into the wood, transferred into my left hand before returning just enough force to lay the ball down. A bunt. The ball slowly advances up the third base line. Centered between the grass and the chalk. The third baseman double clutches before deciding to let it roll. Hoping for a foul bounce that does not come. Indefensible. I run through the bag and return with a half drawn grin, ripping the Velcro of my batting gloves before lightly fist bumping the first base coach. I can’t hear them, but I am sure the media in the press box is marveling at my brazen execution. In a game of momentum, we suddenly have the lead.

My wife laughed out loud when I shared this with her. Specifically that in the vision I am batting left handed. Outside of front yard wiffle ball games and a few select rec league softball games I did not bat left handed. Nor for that matter did I bunt. I had good speed playing ball as a kid but I also had good power. So despite often batting leadoff, I always preferred to hit a first pitch fastball out of the park rather than lay down a bunt single. Certainly, I quit playing long before ever having a reasonable shot at playing professionally and nowhere in the 2015 forecast is there a chance of signing with a big league ball club, especially one World Series bound. A fantasy for sure.

But why this one?

Playing baseball at all harkens to a simpler time with less real responsibility and more overt praise of my skill set and potential. Batting left handed tells me I am feeling vulnerable approaching life’s important moments from a position that is learned, not natural. By the book, batting leadoff means you take the first pitch. Breaking this rule in a situation of great importance says I long to take more risks. But the unorthodox success that follows in the dream shows I am less interested in actual risk taking and more occupied with succeeding in risk taking. Being seen as a brilliant strategist capable of flawless execution. Not so deep down, I desperately want to be viewed as an elite and valuable player with an attitude certified as confident rather than arrogant.

But I am not confident in this moment. I am afraid. I do not have all the answers, I may not have any. The bunt itself actually belies any good intentions, manipulating a maneuver largely associated with sacrifice into an occasion for self aggrandizement. Perhaps the truth is I want to be on a winning team, but only if I have a starring role. Worse, the vision entails no such reference to team or to victory. It seems I may be satisfied to be viewed as a competent and talented martyr, playing as an individual on a team headed for defeat.

What I am becoming?

In sharp contrast to my daydream is a memory I have of a co-worker eight years ago. We had just moved from Montana to Connecticut and I was in training to work at a school for adolescents with mental health and behavioral issues. We were asked to participate in an ice-breaker activity in which a deck of cards with pictures on them was passed around the room. We were then asked to identify the image we most associated ourselves with. I remember choosing a picture of a palm tree on a white sandy beach set against a bright blue sky. It reminded me of my San Diego home in a time that a new arrival to New England and a new job afforded great unfamiliarity.

Shola was a fascinating middle-aged woman from Nigeria. Her thick accent a tell of her non-Western upbringing and values. When it came time for Shola to share her chosen card, she spoke slowly and pointedly. She had selected a picture of a lamb. The lamb had been forewarned by one of the trainers as looking crazy, so when I saw it with its big strained eyes and open mouth I had dismissed it rather quickly, not finding myself in the strange looking sheep. But Shola did.

She noted with all sincerity, without an ounce of presumption, that she had selected the lamb because of its gentle nature and its willingness to be obedient. I wrote in my journal at the time that it wasn’t hard to see her servant-nature and noted my prayer was to be able to grow into that kind of maturity.

This is what I hope to become.

I will remain committed to failing forward. Aiming to become a better listener. A more humble servant with a better sense of boundaries. A more vulnerable person.

I believe Social Work Researcher and TED Talker Brené Brown when she says, “Faith minus vulnerability and mystery equals extremism. If you’ve got all the answers, then don’t call what you do faith.” (Thanks to Debby McCrary for sharing this quote).

I am listening to the recently penned words of Don Miller that “I can only do three big things in a year. That’s it. Just three.” Accordingly, I am trying to remember that to excel in one “Yes” may demand a thousand “No”s.

I am wishing to quiet my inner turmoil and be liberated from self-importance through simple obedience. I am hoping to be able to hear the still small voice of the Spirit via communal discernment. I crave to know the meaning and value of Sabbath as a Spiritual Discipline.

Help me out. Let’s fail forward together. Let me learn from you.

What are you becoming?


“Wait a minute Doc. Ah… are you telling me that you built a time machine… out of a DeLorean?”

Exactly a quarter century ago, on October 26, 1985, Marty McFly traveled back in time thirty years in Back to the Future. The film and the concept of time travel captured my imagination as a kid and continue to fascinate me today.

Doc Brown shows us how the DeLorean works

While the Back to the Future trilogy is entertaining, I enjoyed most anything with a time twist or space time continuum plot line including the late 80’s TV sitcom Out Of This World (starring a girl named Evie who could stop time by touching the tips of her index fingers), the Bill Murray film Groundhog Day and various X-Men comic storylines. Heck, I even remember liking the 1994 Jean Claude Van Damme movie Timecop. More recently, I appreciated both the “time turner” action in Harry Potter, the vastly underrated Meet the Robinsons and who doesn’t love Hiro Nakamura? But what is it about playing with time that is so enthralling?

Nearly a decade ago while attending Pepperdine University, I was introduced to Redemptive Cinema and the concept that anything worth watching is usually enjoyable due to some underlying theology supporting the plot and characters. So what might our interest in Back to the Future or the rest of the time related plots above teach us about the nature of God?

Donald Miller has written and spoken a great deal on the redemptive aspect of story and has also commented on the subject of God as He relates to time. The following is from a sermon Don gave at Imago Dei in Portland, Oregon in November 2004:

“God spoke light, and light appeared. God saw that light was good and separated the light from the dark. Okay, so here’s this nothingness. God creates something in the middle of the nothingness. And then the first thing he does with the something, is He puts light in it. Okay, let’s think about this… let’s just think about light. Light. What are the qualities of light? Light travels at the speed of light, we know that. Right? Okay, but that’s something else to think about though… light, because it travels at the speed of light, exists outside of time. So light is not affected by time. What I mean by that is that if a human being were to travel at the speed of light, time would no longer affect him. It’s just a physical law, it’s just a truth… Time because it has a relationship with speed, slows down the faster you go. If you go the speed of light, time will stop. So light is eternal… We know that light is not made up of matter and we know that no physicist on the planet understands light. They can’t explain it… all we know is the quality of light… here’s something you experience but don’t understand. And all the way throughout the text, like a genius, He calls Himself light.”

This excerpt nicely illustrates that in accepting God’s own description of Himself as Light, it follows we should have no issue with believing God exists outside of time as we know it; opening up a world of possibilities and explanations regarding Biblical texts.

For example, in Exodus 3:14-15, when asked to give His name, “God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God, furthermore, said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever, and this is My memorial-name to all generations.” There is a lot going on in this interaction, but for our purposes, the text appears to indicate an omnipresent God throughout time.

Author, Leslie Marmon Silko, was recently interviewed by Tom Ashbrook on the NPR show “On Point” (10/18/10) and stated, “Linear time itself is a fiction which I find tedious and simple minded.” When asked to comment further, she said, “Well, as best I can understand, what they’ve discovered at the subatomic level… past, present, and future are at that level, it becomes just present… past and future don’t really exist as we know it, what exists is right now… this present moment.”

Now, neither myself nor Ms. Silko are scientists, and this is not meant to be a scientific paper, but what she noted appears to fit with an omnipresent Creator who weaves Himself consistently through the fabric of the human narrative.

In fact, all four gospels are written in the present tense in the original Greek. According to the New American Standard Bible’s Principles of Translation notes, it was believed the “Greek authors frequently used the present tense for the sake of heightened vividness, thereby transporting their readers in imagination to the actual scene at the time of occurrence. However, the translators felt that it would be wise to change these historical presents to English past tenses.” What if, more than a stylistic language choice, the text itself is also attempting to point toward the ever present nature of God, as if Jesus didn’t just say things to his disciples, but that he perhaps literally continues to say them to us today (“and He says to him, Follow Me!” Matthew 9:9).

So God is present, which is comforting, but does he have a sense of past or future? Going back to the concept of God as light, we can know that God amazingly exists outside of time, while simultaneously He is present in all of it. This is where my mind is blown in an attempt to understand His greatness. A God who can see both the future and past while being fully present in this moment, means we have One who is capable of doing some incredible things on our behalf and we see often see this in answered prayers.

I suspect most Christians believe God will hear our prayers for the present moment and that on occasion He answers immediately, and that they also believe God hears and grants petitions in regard to the future. But for a God who exists outside of time, and is somehow still fully present in the past, is it improbable that we might be able to pray into the past and that He would still grant our requests? I don’t imagine God may alter the past significantly enough based on our prayer to change the course of human history, as timing is His business, but might it be possible to pray for deceased loved ones that God may give them an extra sense of peace during a moment of particular crisis during their life now expired life on earth? This doesn’t seem any less plausible to me than the idea of having visions of the future (and if you doubt that glimpses of the future can be given, please feel free to explain the phenomenon of déjà vu).

In the grand scope of the Biblical narrative, it appears God through Jesus and the Spirit is moving forward with the restoration and reconciliation of Shalom, or the way things were created to be interdependently “good”. Only now when humans again arrive in the Garden of Paradise, we will find ourselves matured and more beautiful for having grown through adversity and for being purchased back by Christ’s blood. So in one sense, we are all being restored and are headed back to where things began, but in another, Heaven will be an entirely new creation and a place we’ve never been. Seemingly time is moving backward and forward simultaneously.

Perhaps to address the longing some of us have to gain access to a time machine to right past wrongs or alter history, Timothy Keller notes that when Jesus returns it will be with such power that the “very material world and universe will be purged of all decay and brokenness. All will be healed and all might-have-beens will be.”

Keller then goes on to quote C.S. Lewis who wrote, “They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.”

A God who exists simultaneously outside of time and is present with us in each moment? A God who can answer prayers for the future and the past? A God who is working forward into the future to create a new reality and yet restore an original design? A God who will work backwards to turn agony into glory? Great Scott! That’s some heavy stuff, eh Marty?