Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

“I’m so humble, it’s crazy. I’m like the Kanye West of humility.” – @AnnaKendrick47 tweet 4 Nov 2014

My wallet is more Hoarders than Mise-en-place, full of just as many memories as items of practical use. Among the bank and insurance cards, there is a note from my son scrawled in blue marker that reads (with an inverse P) “Sheq I ♥ You” and a mini-letter that my Mom snuck into my belongings when I first went off to college, always good for getting choked up, “I love you more than words can tell. My oldest son who was once so shy that he wouldn’t leave my side. You have grown up and become a fine young man. Thank you for being you! I’m proud to call you my son”. Others can have their streamlined wallets and flat pockets, but I prefer the Oompa Loompa look if it allows me to carry precious people with me wherever I go.

But also buried in my wallet is a token of a different type. A grayed parking garage ticket from the Woodland Hills Cheesecake Factory stamped 9/27/03 PAID: $5.00, overlaid in bold faced red crayon print, a loud reminder from my past self that “I AM AN IDIOT!!” I AM AN IDIOT!!

We were in the valley that evening to celebrate our good friend Wednesday’s birthday. Jaime and I were just six months away from being engaged, but you never would have known it judging from my behavior and her justified disgust. I am not the most self-aware guy even now, but over a decade ago I was certainly blind to the sheer intensity of my own faults. We had gotten into an argument of some sort walking back to the car, flustering me greatly. As a result upon getting into the car I was unable to locate the parking ticket provided to pay the attendant. There was a sign up that noted loss of a ticket would result in paying the maximum garage price, and as we were in L.A., this was an unreasonable sum for borrowing some concrete real estate for a couple hours.

So I did what any hot-headed, arrogant, complete jerk would do. I quite naturally assumed, genuinely believed and was outrageously adamant that this was NOT my fault. Clearly, the parking garage attendant had neglected to give me a ticket. I stormed over to the poor fellow who appeared to be a immigrant from either the Indian subcontinent or Asia-Pacific, but I couldn’t tell you definitively because I was clearly not preoccupied in any way with this gentleman’s humanity. I absurdly bullied this man with a lie I believed and did not relent until my parking had been validated, though my version of events had not. I found the actual ticket in my car later that evening much to my dismay.

What had I done? What kind of man treats another human being that way? How could I expect to be in a relationship with this woman I loved when I could not look past myself to listen to her advice? Advice which had been loud and clear in both speech and body language in that garage.

I could not. So I wrote myself a note on the fabricated ticket I paid $5 and took someone’s dignity for and decided to carry it around for the many times I need to be reminded of my great tendency to get in my own way, despite the best intentions of those around me willing to help. This week was one of those times.

You would think, especially seeing as I officially lost the first 17 disputes of our marriage as confirmed by Google and phone-a-friend tactics, that I would have wised up to the reality that not only is my beautiful wife a good-willed person, but she is most often right. Both first-born siblings, she was the first to regularly call me out on the use of what she deemed “big brother facts”, the times when elder siblings use their aged status as pretext for fabricating all manner of knowledge in order to increase or maintain status over younger siblings. She would have none of my confidently asserted falsehoods, for she too had played that hand.

But approaching 10 ½ years of marriage, I still can act quite the fool, as evidenced at least three times just this week:

Sunday evening – Against All Odds: Wham! Lamb! Thank You Ma’am

With my brother-in-law Robert in town for a visit, we settled in for some Catan on our well-worn board. Early on I felt confident of my positioning, with settlements on all five resources and a couple of prime probability real estate properties including an “8” Wheat hex. With the first Development Card action of the evening Jaime deployed the robber though not to the Wheat of higher probability, but instead blocked accumulation rights on a less probable “9” Sheep patch.

Jaime chooses to block a less probable hex, and of course makes the right decision relegating me to last place

Jaime chooses to block a less probable hex, and of course makes the right decision relegating me to last place

I literally asked her, “Out of curiosity, why did you place the robber there?” Insinuating the Wheat stoppage would be better game strategy, after all “No Wheat Means Defeat.” Jaime was unfazed and said she felt like blocking the Sheep. I made an offhand comment that it was a move I wouldn’t have made. Insert foot in mouth here.

As fate would have it, that Sheep would remain blocked for the majority of the game along with a plethora of “9” dice rolls. Without an ability to collect Sheep I had little D Card prowess, thus unable to deliver my Sheep from the thief. Meanwhile, my vaunted “8” Wheat produced a grand total of three rolls throughout the entirety of the game, solidly cementing me in last place while Jaime and Robert vied for the title. In retrospect, I should have asked my wife, “Out of curiosity, with your brilliant unorthodox strategy there, should I just retire early to bed? Because you have effectively and preemptively shut me down. Well done.”

Tuesday morning through Wednesday morning – Out in the Cold

Even after a decade of living in cold weather climates, I still have a tendency to act foolishly when it comes to the bitter winter months. My wife of more practice and wisdom often tries to help my ignorance, which I then foolishly ignore.

Monday was my 32nd birthday, Jaime and Robert tag teamed to prepare fish tacos and mint chocolate chip/chocolate/coffee milkshakes affectionately referred to as Dead Frogs. We then went out to see Selma capping a lovely evening. Earlier in the day, Jaime had gifted me a nice shell jacket, which is basically shorthand for something you could wear in the Fall on its own merit, but should practically be used as a layer in winter months. But because it was new and I am an idiot, I thought “Hey, why not wear just this?”

Jaime of course, quickly caught my mistake and warned me it was cold out. I big brother fact-ed that it was indeed warmer out, based not on any meteorological evidence or research, but more on the feeling I had that I wished it was warmer out. While I did not freeze, I certainly was not comfortable at various points in the day, which easily could have been avoided. Rather than immediately admit my mistake, I elected instead to focus on the relatively little time I had to spend outside.

Even better, the temperatures dropped into the single digits overnight. Sometime in the early morning hours, Jaime whispered. “I hope our pipes don’t freeze.” I immediately responded that they would most certainly not, for just last week the temperature hovered at zero for a day or so and the house had handled things just fine. Predictably by now, I ate a large helping of humble pie for breakfast upon waking up to find toilets that would not flush due to frozen pipes. Cue flashback of parking garage ticket.

Friday night – Don’t Bring a Baby to a Gunfight, Please

So even after I thought I had re-learned my lesson, Jaime and I were lounging on the couch last night putting the kids to bed when she stumbled across one of those terrible Buzzfeed car wrecks that you cannot not click on.

This one was a series of pregnancy announcement photos with the tag line, “Some things you can’t unsee.” Aside from one strangely mesmerizing photo of what appeared to be a pregnant mom draped in a white satin curtain flowing in the wind, atop a horse somewhere in the Shire, there was all manner of pictures I wish I could remove from my memory. Not the least of which was a picture of a man pointing a gun at the photographer while reaching around to caress the pregnant belly of his lover. This was so alarmingly bizarre that when a second photo later in the collection showed a similarly dressed bare bellied mom-to-be with her admiring gaze on her man and her hand on a firearm in his waistband, I could not reconcile that this could possibly be two different couples. I said as much. Jaime countered and of course was correct upon review.

So what have I learned?

Being wrong is a part of life. But the manner in which I am frequently, confidently and immediately wrong, especially in interactions with my loving and patient wife is something I am dedicated to improving on. As much as some of the above may seem trivial or laughable, the fact that my behavior has been consistently poor in this regard over the span of a decade is not funny. It does not amuse me when upon finally apologizing to my wife for not listening to her, she is able to matter-of-factly state that she is used to my foolish attitude and actions.

Jaime deserves better. My children deserve better. Our son Shepard who wrote me that little note in my wallet is now 5 years old. He crawled up on my lap at one point while writing this. He is watching how I treat my wife and taking notes about how to value the thoughts and input of women, of his mother. Much the way his younger brother Miles will as well. My daughters Clara and Lucy are also watching, looking to see how it is they should expect to be treated by men in their lives. If I hope for better behavior and action for my sons, in their interactions with women and significant others someday, I must model it for them. I cannot simply hope to change. More so, I cannot only hope my kids will see my foolishness for what it is, folly and not a blueprint. They will repeat and replay whatever it is I show them.

Often before the kids leave for school we review our family rules. Rules I unapologetically lifted and revised from friend Bret Wells of the Missional Wisdom Foundation. “Pay attention. See Jesus. Be Jesus. Do not be afraid to mess up. When we mess up, we help clean up.” The monastic wisdom gleaned from the Rule of St. Benedict teaches the need to listen to the people we live with, that life together is an opportunity for the presence of God to be made manifest. As Joan Chittister continues in her book, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, “Not to listen then, is not to grow. But more than that, to be unable to listen is to be unable to give as well.”

I pray that I can pay attention to my wife, see Jesus in her, be Jesus to her. To model this for my children.

But prayer without action is empty, so In an attempt to clean up my own mess, I am trying on a new philosophy of saying yes. Much to my initial chagrin, Jaime proposed completing a video workout together. Whereas my Seasonal Affected self would much prefer to only bundle up and eat chocolate, I agreed. In so doing, I discovered that apparently jogging a 5K once a quarter does not translate into physical fitness. After 20 minutes of a rather basic cardio workout, plus a push-up challenge I was so physically spent that I had to lie down for the next 20 minutes in order to avoid vomiting. I’d say it was embarrassing, but the glowing look in my lover’s eyes communicated, “I am being heard.”

Maybe there is hope for this idiot after all. I certainly have more to give.

“Sports fandom is a fantastic gift with almost immeasurable value… it’s a proxy for real life but better, it renews itself, it’s constantly happening in real time, there are conflicts that seem to carry real consequences but at the end of the day don’t, it’s war where nobody dies, it’s a proxy for all our emotions and desires and hopes. I mean, heck, what’s not to like about sports?”

– Steven Dubner, author of Freakonomics , on the 8-23-11 “Games” episode of NPR’s Radiolab

Sports run in my blood.

Both my parents were collegiate scholarship athletes and long advocated that if I was to afford a postsecondary education at a University that it would have to be on the back of my own athletic full-ride. In the first grade I was bribed to start playing Tee-Ball with a box of unopened baseball cards to begin tapping into my athletic potential. As a third grader in flannel shorts, I started playing in the Boys and Girls Club basketball league. I played sports, both organized and recreationally, throughout childhood, into high school and beyond with some success. But looking back, as much fun as it was to play, I think I was always equal parts athlete and sports fan at heart.

As a kid I played out entire Major League baseball seasons in my front yard using a wiffle ball bat, baseball glove, tennis ball and a box score inspired imagination. I loved going with family and friends to Jack Murphy Stadium hearing “Line Drives and Stolen Bases, Diving Catches, We’re Goin’ Places, C’Mon!” before the announcement of the Padres’ starting lineup. I would constantly beat out the Pistons and Celtics in my driveway for the Larry O’Brien Trophy as I became Magic, Kareem and Worthy. I recall repeatedly chanting “Go, Chargers, Go! 6 and 0!” before climbing into bed as the Bolts got started on their only Super Bowl season in ’94-‘95.

Clara and I visit Mr. Padre Tony Gwynn's Hall of Fame Plaque in Cooperstown, NY in May 2008

Clara and I visit Mr. Padre Tony Gwynn’s Hall of Fame Plaque in Cooperstown, NY in May 2008

Sports were more than a pastime for me; they were part of my identity.

It’s been a while since those days. Making the decision to get rid of cable years ago certainly drastically reduced time spent watching sports, but for a good portion of the last decade I still found solace in the box scores. At the end of a long day or when avoiding important tasks, ESPN.com or CBS Sportsline provided a window into another world. A world where “pitchers and catchers report” is synonymous with hope and the Opening Day bunting whispers anything is possible.

I found this to be especially true every time I moved farther away from home. As awful as the Friars have been, without a No-Hitter, a batter hitting for the cycle or a World Series trophy since their inaugural season in 1969, as heartbreaking as the Bolts have been over the past decade with McCree season ending fumbles and Kaeding missed field goals in the playoffs, these were my teams. Checking the scores, reading the game recaps, watching the highlights were all measures of solidarity with friends and family in America’s Finest City.

When Jaime and I were first married I would frequently sit in our Montana apartment literally watching a pitch-by-pitch Gamecast of Padres games on the internet. For non-sports aficionados, this basically entails sitting by yourself waiting for small dots and sentence fragments to appear on the screen and relay what is happening in a game you are not actually watching. Thrilling, no?

In the years to come we would move four times and add four children to our growing family. I slowly came to admit that in my life circumstance, spending significant amounts of solitary time watching other people playing sports was irresponsible when I have a family of my own that needs my limited energy and attention.

Thus, my 2014 New Year’s Resolution was to stop watching sports.

I was not going to stop watching sports because they were evil. I was going to give up watching sports because I had become dependent on them and my addiction had become an evil. If sports were in my blood, then perhaps it was time for a transfusion.

I had also become concerned at the role sports have come to play in our American culture and society. Is it possible that our major sporting leagues and events such as the NFL and Super Bowl are the magician’s wiggling fingers on one hand to draw our attention away from the other covertly covering the severity of our nationalistic xenophobia and military industrial complex?

But as happens with addicts, my inner voice of rationalization was at the ready once treatment had been seriously proposed.

Aren’t sports a great source of recreation and bonding? Sports are a form of social currency – if I give them up, I will lose opportunities for relationship building and a basis for camaraderie. What if my team finally wins after three decades of disappointment? What about the moments that transcend sport such as a reconstructed Drew Brees and the Saints providing a welcome distraction and Super Bowl ring to rebuilding New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina?

I found confirmation of my resolution though when I cracked open theologian Walter Brueggeman’s most recent book and read, “Sabbath is not only resistance. It is alternative. It is an alternative to the demanding, chattering, pervasive presence of advertising and its great liturgical claim of professional sports that devour all our ‘rest time.’”

I resolved that I was ready for an alternative rest.

I set out some ground rules in hope of getting into balance and having a realistic shot of fulfilling the goal:

#1 I would not watch/follow any professional sports or participate in any corresponding fantasy leagues (including game highlights or reading recaps, box scores or standings)

Note: College athletics would not apply. Not being a college football guy, I spend zero percent of my Autumn Saturdays watching football. However, the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tourney, aka March Madness, is one of my favorite things ever (in large part to my kids bracket picks each year). I agreed I would not watch any regular season NCAA games, but for March and March only, all bets would be off (or should I say on).

Likewise, from the outset I granted myself permission to watch the 2014 World Cup in Brazil as I am not normally a huge Fútbol fan, and the World Cup is both a global and time-limited event.

#2 I could however talk about sports with others, and if others were to inform me of an outcome of a particular game or play, then I would be able to engage in that conversation (Similarly, if someone made a comment on social media about a game that would be fair game – though following teams on Facebook etc. would not be allowed).

# 3 Should there be a good opportunity to hang out with a friend revolving around a sporting event or attend a sporting event live, consideration would be given to allowance of a limited exception to Rule #1.

#4 Playing sports would be allowable under all circumstances

That’s it.

The goals weren’t meant to eliminate sports from my life, just to eliminate my dependence on them.

Test number one came early with the Chargers improbably making the playoffs and scheduled for a first round game at Cincinnati in the first week of January. I got some grief about my decision not to watch, follow or read anything about the game. I did happen to call my brother Eric late in the day just to “see how he was” and found out we had won, but received little additional detail. I was saved any further temptation when San Diego lost the following weekend.

March Madness came and went with my 3 year old daughter Lucy besting the entire family with her bracket picks on the back of a UCONN National Championship. The family winner gets to pick the location and lunch menu of their choice. Lucy went with Peanut Butter and Jellies at the local children’s museum KidCity. Yes, I lost to a toddler and it was awesome.

I didn’t miss much in the Spring with Lakers eliminated from playoff contention by March. Though San Diego State alum Kahwi Leonard apparently reportedly played out of his mind as part of a beautiful Spurs team performance in the NBA Finals that thwarted the Heat attempt at a 3-peat. Maybe I’ll catch it on ESPN Classic someday.

My heart stung a bit not watching on baseball’s aforementioned Opening Day, which should easily outdistance Columbus Day as a Federal Holiday. No qualms not paying attention to the mediocre Padres though. Early in the season Matt Souto came over and started talking baseball. I informed him I wasn’t watching this year, but that after a quarter-century of supporting for the Padres I could probably guess their record. Matt informed me San Diego’s season was 19 games in, I figured that likely meant we would be about 9-10. Nailed it.

My first real Major League Baseball news of the year came as a result of the unfortunate passing of Mr. Padre himself. Tony Gwynn lost his battle to cancer this past June and an entire city and sport fell silent.

The following month it seemed no one was silent as LeBron James announced he would be leaving Miami to return to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. I’ll confess this seemed bigger than sport, a narrative that transcended the NBA into meta-Prodigal Son territory. Four years after making himself a spectacle and a fool with The Decision, the best basketball player in the world was this time quietly making the tough decision, the right decision, to go home to Ohio in an effort to bring a title home to one of the few U.S. cities with a more pathetic pro sports history than San Diego. I followed the story, but there were no games being played so I considered myself in the clear.

Football season rolled around and I backed out of all Fantasy leagues. Since I started playing Fantasy Football back in 2001, I have learned that most often the real Fantasy isn’t the make believe stat-based point system as much as the idea any time invested after the draft is actually yielding deeper relationships with any of the folks your playing with. Competitive juices end up far more likely to bring bad blood than a sense of deeper friendship and thus I signed myself up for a season-long bye from even the family league. I bequeathed my team “Christopher Walken” to my little sister Miranda and did not miss playing. In fact, without Fantasy Football as a distraction I went entire stretches of the season actually present enough with my family and church family that I didn’t even know who the Chargers were playing, let alone if they won. It was liberating. In the meantime, my sister brought more cowbell and won the league title in her first attempt.

In the end, it turned out to be the Kansas City Royals that made me officially relapse.

In the end, LBJ would open the door, the Royals would cause relapse and new Padres G.M. A.J. Preller would provide hope. Little sis takes over and wins the Fantasy League!

In the end, LBJ would open the door, the Royals would cause relapse and new Padres G.M. A.J. Preller would provide hope. Little sis takes over and wins the Fantasy League upholding the legend of Christopher Walken!

 

My good friend Nathan Miller’s favorite team, the Royals told a story too good not to follow as summed up in an article entitled, “These Royals Make You Believe in God” by Angela Denker. Ms. Denker wrote “It’s been said that sports are America’s religion and that this idolatry is our downfall. Maybe that’s true when the Yankees win the pennant or the Patriots take the Super Bowl. But when the Royals win the Wild Card and play in October for the first time in 29 years, Jesus smiles back at George Brett and James Shields. Jesus won like the Royals win. He rose like the Royals rise, when everything seems impossible and people don’t even know what state you’re from.”

Making their first postseason appearance in nearly three decades, I read the KC playoff box scores, watched the highlights, changed my Facebook profile picture, and basically broke all my rules. I did everything short of contacting Nathan directly because you don’t jinx a no-hitter in progress by talking about it and up until the World Series, the Royals went a perfect 8-0 in the Postseason. Their magical run finally ended with a runner on third in a one-run loss in Game 7. Despite not taking the crown, the Royals were my sports story of the year. Nathan summed up the journey nicely, “If you would have told me in March the Royals lost game 7 of the ‪#‎WorldSeries, I would have kissed you on the mouth. ‪#‎CelebrateNoMatter Thank you ‪#‎Royals

If new General Manager A.J. Preller’s aggressive offseason moves pay off in similar fashion for the Padres in 2015, I’ll be in a kissing mood myself.

In the end, I almost made it a year.

Seems I can’t get sports out of my blood entirely after all. But I do feel more in balance and that the progress made in addressing my dependency on sports was a step in the right direction for our family.

On deck?

A big league challenge to outsmart a growing dependence on my smart phone.

When Hurricane Irene stormed the East Coast three weeks ago, she caused major flooding and power outages from the Outer Banks to New England, cementing her status as the storm of a generation. Her fury blew into Connecticut on the last Saturday night in August and maintained a stranglehold of fear and awe through Sunday morning. She lost her hurricane classification upon landfall, but try telling that to the folks in East Haven whose homes were swept into the sea with the storm surge. While Connecticut missed the worst of Irene, which spun west of her initial forecast, approximately 840,000 people were left without electricity in our state alone. Many of our neighbors continued to be without power for nearly a week, some in the state still had no electricity or running water after two weeks.

Fortunately, our household did not lose electricity and we were able to facilitate a home church service during the storm for those who were willing to brave the strong winds, torrential rain and downed trees. Including one tree in our backyard which could have done some serious damage to the house had it fallen in the opposite direction. This video taken just down the street shows how close we came to losing our power.

 

But in the hours and days following Irene, as the damage was surveyed it became apparent that Irene would not be labeled primarily a wind or water event, but a power crisis. My place of employment located on the New Haven coast sustained significant water damage and power outages, forcing us out of our workspace for nearly three days before cleanup crews and generators allowed us to return. School openings were delayed for days as the electricity could not be quickly restored. Food went bad, perishable items had to be stored in coolers packed with ice, and folks took cold showers if their water was running at all.

Having not lost our electricity, our home felt an island with a unique vantage point, a hill from which it was possible to observe Irene’s impact without much feeling it. This came as somewhat of a convenient disappointment, convenient in that our own hot showers were uninterrupted, disappointing to my wife who was secretly hoping for a chance to hone some post-apocalyptic survival skills. But viewing the crisis from within the eye of the storm allowed the societal concept of power to rise to the forefront of my thought.

Growing up in Southern California, I am no stranger to power outages, blackouts and rolling brownouts as our electric grid was often ill-prepared for hot weather and the resulting energy consumption. However, I couldn’t help but notice during the aftermath of Irene how frequently the term “power” was used as a euphemism for electricity.

There were outcries for the restoration of power. Voices united in an attempt to get their power back. Neighbors expressed concern for each other, especially the elderly and disabled, who had lost their power. Radio stations changed their programming to air simulcasts of the evening news for the benefit of the powerless. Utility company crews worked through the night to restore power. Electricians arrived from across the nation to get power back into the right hands. Power. Power. Power.

While electricity and utility resources are certainly indicators of measurable power, the overuse of the word caused me to think about the real connection between power and resources in our country. It has been said that those who control their resources control their destiny. But how often do we collectively stop to think about how our resources are being allocated? Or perhaps how these resources, this power, is being attained or who it is being stolen from? Is it possible that our manifest destiny is just a winner’s take on highway robbery?

I am writing this as a white man cognizant of the irony and tension in those questions. I am also a white man with Cherokee blood running through my veins, the same blood that was spilled on a Trail of Tears nearly two centuries ago. The inhumanity my forefathers impressed on others, the institutional racism that persists from which I benefit daily, can only persist so long before in a very real sense it becomes a part of you. I may be 90 percent oppressor, but also10 percent oppressed. And so from within this internal conflict and for this tithe of my bloodline I will question. I will speak.

Undoubtedly, there is an uproar of attention and assistance when people who are used to being in power lose it. Fine. However, the poor and oppressed are not aware they can speak up because they have never held power. Never been allowed to taste it. Their voice can rarely be unified as they are too occupied with survival or are drowning out their harsh reality through poor decisions that create a cyclical environment, a generational imprisonment. Who speaks on behalf of these brother and sisters?

Whose voices cried out for the powerless in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina? Who among us is united on behalf of the youth in our failing schools that are more segregated today than they were a half century ago? Who is expressing outrage at the maltreatment of our elderly and the lack of access for the disabled, at times other than immediately following a hurricane? How do we go about changing our social programming and services to benefit the powerless rather than simply sustain bureaucracy? Who stays up through the night praying on behalf of the disproportionate number of people of color who are murdered in our inner-cities and sentenced to inordinate prison sentences for first time drug offenses? Perhaps we need not to worry about getting the power back into the right hands, but acknowledging that we all have a hand in distributing power and that we need to take care of each other.

Why?

After all, there are many of privilege who would now claim that equal rights have been achieved. That the playing field has been evened. That we even have a black President as proof.

An answer in short. One third of black males born today in the United States are projected to become incarcerated during their lifetime. Forty-eight percent of black males are growing up without a father in their household. Eighty-six percent of black fourth graders in our country read below grade level and 58 percent are functionally illiterate. In the Spring of 2011, only 15 percent of Connecticut black youth met proficiency goals on the standardized math and science tests compared to 60 percent of white youth. By 2050, half the population of the United States will be comprised of people of color, yet 90 percent of our lawyers and 80 percent of our law students are white. We still have a problem.

Elizabeth Eckford walks alone to join Carlotta Walls and the rest of the Little Rock Nine to integrate Arkansas' Central High in 1957, three years after the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision

On September 16, 2011, I was privileged to attend a symposium on “Educational Disparity and Minority Youth” hosted by the Quinnipiac School of Law and Yale Law School. Present was Carlotta Walls Lanier, of the Little Rock Nine who first integrated the Arkansas school system in 1957 amidst threats of being hanged by a hateful mob. Hearing her first person account while taking in her grace and dignity made tears of justice want to roll down my cheeks.

Susan Taylor of of the National CARES Mentoring Movement and former editor-in-chief of Essence Magazine was also present and noted “we have lost our way, we have lost our minds, and we need to admit that.” Ms. Taylor stated that at age 65 she wishes she could rest, but that she will not so long as “the village is on fire and our children are in dream-crushing pain.” She poignantly asked, “What are our ministers doing? What are our churches preaching?”

I pray that we can preach Jesus in our actions above our rhetoric or expressed values. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6). This should give us the courage to be good news for the poor, to proclaim freedom and forgiveness to the imprisoned, and to restore sight to the blind. As the good folks at The Village Nation preach in Northridge, CA, when asked “Am I my brother’s keeper?,” our answer must be “Yes we are.” We must stand up for the powerless, because they are our brothers and sisters, their blood is our blood. Their pain is our pain.

One can disagree if they wish. Some will continue to keep their politics in a vice-grip. But consider Japanese author Haruki Murakami’s words:

“Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg. Yes, no matter how right the wall may be and how wrong the egg, I will stand with the egg. Someone else will have to decide what is right and what is wrong; perhaps time or history will decide. But If there were a novelist who, for whatever reason, wrote works standing with the wall, of what value would such works be?”

This sounds like the Gospel to me. Why the news of Jesus Christ is good, why God’s works holds value. For He too stands with the egg and not the wall. I pray that this truth can produce within us a stranglehold of fear and awe such that the strength of our resulting unified action and service can be compared to a hurricane force; a force bent on restoring power to those without.

In mid-March 2011, I traveled to Lower Manhattan for work purposes and decided to walk over to Ground Zero during my lunch break. I had last visited the former site of the Twin Towers in 2004; when the “Freedom Tower” design had recently been unveiled, but clean up was still underway. As I walked down Vessey Street with St. Paul’s Chapel on my left, I stopped in my tracks and reached for my camera. The construction of the “Freedom Tower”, known officially as One World Trade Center, was already reaching into the heavens at approximately 700 feet with 58 stories completed and the beginnings of the building’s glass curtain starting to take shape.

The Freedom Tower takes shape in March 2011

Though far from the planned 105 stories, I already sensed the city’s proud buzz over the tower’s progress, an already but not yet phoenix rising from the ashes of 9/11. The new structure, even unfinished, radiates attitude and strength. The scene begs and bleeds emotion. I sat down in front of the Millenium Hilton and ate my turkey and cheese watching as history unfolded, contemplating the ascent of the new towers and imagining what the old must have looked like.

I walked over to St. Paul’s, erected in 1776, standing less than a hundred yards from Ground Zero. The chapel miraculously remained standing in the midst of the 9/11 attacks. It was on these church fences that the New York City firefighters hung their street shoes before entering the towers, but never returned to them. It was here that first responders organized to provide assistance in recovering victims, before they too would fall ill from inhaling the toxic debris. Inside the church was an exhibit displaying badges from various first responder units. There had representatives from Santa Monica and Los Angeles County, near my location at the time of the attacks. Officers had been present from now familiar Connecticut communities such as Bridgeport and Stratford and units from as far off as Tokyo and Germany. There was a badge from my mother’s hometown in Santa Ana, California and from my paternal grandfather’s childhood home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. A national tragedy had summoned a global response.

From the churchyard, I spotted the 9/11 Memorial Preview site and headed over to gather more information. The gallery boasted a timeline of significant events in regard to the World Trade Center site and digital renderings of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum (NS11MM) and the four structures which will comprise the new World Trade Center. None of the new buildings will be constructed where the Twin Towers stood. The footprints of the Towers are being transformed into large recessed pools with streams of water flowing into an abyss below and the pools are to be surrounded by a continuous ribbon of named victims.

3D Model of the new WTC featuring the footprints of the Twin Towers to be utilized as memorial pools

I picked up a couple WTC Progress flyers, while an attendant employed at the Preview site confidently announced the NS11MM would be ready to open this September on the 10th anniversary 9/11. The memorial is expected to be the most visited site in America with nearly 1,500 visitors per hour. Passes reportedly will become available for reservation as soon as this July.

Digital artist rendering of One World Trade Center and Four World Trade Center

For any Tower Glass folks who may be reading, get this. Upon completion, One World Trade Center will boast an exterior cladding consisting of over one million square feet of prismatic glass. Over 12,000 glass panels, larger than 5’x13’, will be incorporated. The building was designed so that the “façade panels will form eight tall triangles of glass and steel, which will grow alternately wider and narrower as they approach the top of the building.” The tower’s exterior will “refract light and change its appearance depending on the weather and the viewer’s position.” Heavy.

New York is certainly no stranger to pushing architectural limits. The Chrysler Building (1,046 feet) was the tallest freestanding land structure on the globe for two years after it was built in 1930, before its record height was eclipsed by the Empire State Building (1,250 feet) which held the world record for nearly four decades. The original twin towers surpassed both the Chrysler and Empire State buildings with the North Tower standing at 1,368 feet (1,728 feet antenna included) and the South Tower at 1,362 feet. The colloquial Freedom Tower’s spire will stand at a symbolic 1,776 feet making it the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the fourth tallest in the world.

As I walked back toward City Hall, I discovered the One World Trade Center structure is already visible on the New York city skyline as viewed from the Brooklyn Bridge. I stared in wonder at this work of man and felt perhaps I could now better relate to this passage from Mark 13:1-2:

“As He was going out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.”

The Temple, the pride of the people and center of worship, had already been destroyed once in 586 BC by a “terrorist attack” when Jerusalem was sacked by the Babylonians. The Temple was rebuilt in approximately 515 BC after 70 years of captivity and in Jesus’ time was in the midst of a decades long renovation and expansion project under Herod.

The historian Josephus records that the rebuilt and renovated Temple was constructed of white limestone blocks measuring 37.5’ long, 12’ high, 18’ wide, each weighing nearly 400 tons. No small architectural feat for the time. In fact, Josephus himself, appears to be have been smitten by the Temple’s grandeur, writing in his Antiquities of the height of the Temple’s Pinnacle contrasted against the depth of the Kidron Valley which it overlooked:

“This cloister deserves to be mentioned better than any other under the sun; for, while the valley was very deep, and its bottom could not be seen if you looked from above into the depth, this farther vastly high elevation of the cloister stood upon that height, insomuch that if any one looked down from the top of the battlements, or down both those altitudes, he would be giddy, while his sight could not reach to such an immense depth.”

Some believe the altitude referred to was in the range of 700 feet, the same height as the partially constructed One World Trade Center in the photos I took in mid-March. This Pinnacle is where Jesus was taken by Satan in Matthew Chapter 4 and in the Midrash is reported to be the place the Jewish people believed that Messiah would manifest himself.

From other Gospel reports we know Jesus was not anti-Temple, most notably in John 2:13-16, Jesus drives out the money changers from the Temple grounds and rebukes those who are “making my Father’s house a place of business.” Jesus probably had some fond memories of the Temple. Our only glimpse into His childhood (Luke 2:45-50) records that at age 12, Jesus spent three days at the Temple in the midst of its teachers, listening and asking questions. When his clearly upset parents ask him why he had decided of his own accord to stay in Jerusalem unbeknownst to them, he replied, “Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” The text states that His parents did not understand the statement which He had made to them. It wouldn’t be the last time that Jesus’ words were not understood (check out Mark 9:30-32).

Looking back to the John 2 passage, immediately following Jesus clearing the Temple of the profiteers, He is asked by what authority He is doing these things. “Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body. So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:19-22)

It seems everyone is consumed with their own finite life, including the current construction projects and cultural icons, but Jesus appears to be consistently dwelling on his death and the sacrifice that would be required in order to reconcile us back to Him. A Creator Himself, He may well have appreciated the craftsmanship of the building and its beauty. The Temple had long been a house for God, but Jesus knew that for all its lofty architecture it would not stand the test of time (it was destroyed again in 70 AD). Alas, something infinitely more impressive was in their presence, but went unrecognized. The Temple had clearly become less a place of worship and more an icon of identity.

Today marks the 160th anniversary of the first World’s Fair. It was the during the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City, 72 years ago, that the “world trade center” pavilion was first dedicated to “world peace through trade” paving the way for the Twin Towers which were finished in 1970 and 1971. While a nice slogan, global trade in a capitalist market has not accomplished world peace but in many respects has contributed to further oppression of the world’s most vulnerable peoples. Whenever we seek glory for ourselves in place of contributing to God’s design of shalom, we are bound for eventual destruction, regardless of how much prismatic glass or pristine limestone on our façade. This was the lesson of another famous skyscraper, The Tower of Babel, in Genesis 11.

With a common language and purpose, mankind had set out to “make a name for ourselves” and laid plans for a “tower with its top in the sky.” Perhaps Jesus remembered the Tower of Babel when he looked at what the Temple had become, and certainly the continual rising of towers in New York warrants our reconsideration of the story.

Will O’Brien of the Alternative Seminary in Philadelphia points out that the Tower of Babel was likely a ziggurat with a wide base structure that ascended in smaller bases until a pyramid-like point was reached. The ziggurat’s pyramid structure is also symbolic of the typical human power structure in which the wide base of society is made up of the powerless supporting a small point of elite and the ruling class. The ziggurat, much like our current skyscrapers and other famous phallic symbols was a structure constructed to attract awe.

O’Brien also notes that the Tower of Babel story can be viewed as an anti-imperial text. The phrase “make a name” indicates mankind was interested in creating their own glory. As such, God came down and thwarted the effort. In contrast, Acts 2 presents an alternative power structure in which the architecture of the Tower is reversed and instead the Holy Spirit descends from above and then disperses equally among the wide base of the people, the symbolically and traditionally powerless, led by uneducated fisherman with the equivalent of a thick Southern drawl. O’Brien suggests that the Holy Spirit, which Christ came to send, is literally the inverse of imperialism and Empire building. It is at Pentecost in Acts 2 that we see the dawn of God’s church, where language and communication is restored not confused, and people are reunited not scattered.

There is no denying that the new World Trade Center will be impressive from man’s vantage point. The National September 11 Memorial & Museum was thoughtfully designed and will powerfully remember all those who were lost. But perhaps we as the church would do well to remember our Builder and set the rising structures of awe aside. To dwell in the true beauty found among the poor in spirit and the mourners. To recognize that true power is witnessed in the resurrected Christ.

“This man stated, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days.’” The high priest stood up and said to Him, “Do You not answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?” But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said* to him, “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Matthew 26:61-64

Last year, I began dwelling on the Biblical theme of light and dark and increasingly became convinced it may be the central literary theme in the Bible as well as the primary metaphor through which we might be able to place this life in context. Living in an entertainment-driven society, this topic takes on highlighted importance as the interaction of light and dark as narrative is ubiquitously recognizable in pop culture and current events. Of course, my meta-awareness of this motif could just be an example of the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon (which occurs after one first learns of a subject and then repeatedly encounters that subject shortly after discovering it).

The January 7, 2011 episode of the Colin McEnroe Show on NPR covered the topic of the planned publishing of a revised version of Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” in which offensive language including the “N” word will be eliminated. McEnroe introduced the show by noting the censorship is troubling and stated “Twain intended for us to pass through darkness to get to the light.”

This came on the heels of the December 22, 2010 NPR Morning Edition segment entitled “Music We Missed This Year.” Highlighted in the piece was 29 year old jazz trumpeter Maurice Brown whose record “Cycle of Love” I purchased after hearing the following:

“Well, The Cycle of Love for me,” he says, “is my interpretation of the different stages we go through on our quest for true happiness, you know?” First, he says, we embrace a big change, and then life goes well. Then we face a choice, he writes, “between light and dark.” Later, we find out we never really had a choice at all. It sounds a little like the musician’s own life.”

I submit this sounds not just like Brown’s life, but a strong summary of Life, yours and mine included. So where does this come from? What does choosing between light and dark mean? These questions inspired the title of this blog and much will be written on the topic. But today, let’s gain some insight from an exegesis of John 18:1-6 (HCSB):

“After Jesus had said these things, He went out with His disciples across the Kidron Valley, where there was a garden, and He and His disciples went into it. Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with His disciples. So Judas took a company of soldiers and some temple police from the chief priests and the Pharisees and came there with lanterns, torches, and weapons.

Then Jesus, knowing everything that was about to happen to Him, went out and said to them, “Who is it you’re looking for?”

“Jesus the Nazarene,” they answered.

“I am He,” Jesus told them.

Judas, who betrayed Him, was also standing with them. When He told them, “I am He,” they stepped back and fell to the ground.”

John’s narrative of Jesus’ betrayal shadows the story of the betrayal of God in Genesis 3. To begin, both scenes are placed in gardens in which God often meets with man. In Genesis 3, God seeks out Adam and Eve in the wake of their sin and God asks “Where are you?”. In John 18, it is now Adam and Eve’s descendants seeking out God. Yet, where Adam and Eve hid from God out of their shame in the Genesis account, Jesus, whom John clearly and repeatedly identifies as the Light in the first chapter of his Gospel, rises to meet the darkness-filled mob and God is again the first to speak, “Who is it you are looking for?”

There is inescapable irony here, as in the middle of the night, the religious establishment believes themselves to be the bearers of the light. They are literally carrying lanterns and torches in an attempt to shine light on their perception of Jesus as an evil and dangerous blasphemer. But Jesus did not hide, and when he answers “Ego eimi” in the Greek or literally “I am”, all the power and light of the burning bush in Exodus 3:14 is brought forth and the apex of human history is underway as the Christ has resolved to officially fulfill his mission to meet the darkness in mankind and overcome it (John 1:5).

In the Old Testament context, to name something or someone was to gain control over it, so God giving his name in Exodus 3:14 to Moses as “I AM WHO I AM” tells us as the reader a little something about Who is in control. Jesus clearly invokes that Exodus interaction here, answering, “I am”, but does so with a twist as He simultaneously announces His authority and yet will allow Himself to be captured, thus indicating the Passion to follow is indeed His plan.

I have always been fascinated that Jesus’ statement “I am” was so powerful that it knocked the soldiers backward onto the ground. However, I have also been curious why such a strong image would be left out of the synoptic Gospel accounts if true, especially since Mark seems to have geared his entire account to show the power of the Messiah. Like your mom told you, good things come to those who wait, and I love when God illuminates a Scripture through illustration years after I first pose Him a question.

Last Friday, Shepard the early riser made a foray into our bed before sunrise. The young man appeared to think himself wide awake and was thus climbing all over my head as I attempted to wake myself. At seventeen months old, my son is fascinated with the two small IKEA lights that are screwed into the wall above our bed and was using my nose as a stepping stool in an effort to turn those lights on. Not desiring any more feet to face interaction, I decided to help him out and sat up to turn on the master switch. I flicked the lights on without considering the ramifications and like dual laser beams, light shot directly into the little guy’s face. He immediately crumpled into the fetal position and dove under the covers. Quite simply, the transition from dark to light came too quickly and powerfully for him to adjust to while remaining standing and inadvertently I received a visual of what Saul must have looked like on the road to Damascus when he met the Light in Acts 9:3-4.

Given John’s obsession with the Light/Dark theme in his Gospel, I don’t believe it an accident that he alone includes this fact as I believe he is attempting to show the moment when the soldiers own darkness is exposed. Just like Shepard, who quickly recovered and giggled in awe at the power of the light but stood right back up to face it, the mob stands back up to Jesus and continues with their mission. And just like Shepard believed himself to be awake before being blasted with the light, the soldiers’ own physicality betrayed their self-perception of being alert and righteous men.

Even more amazing is that immediately prior to the events in John 18:1-6, the Synoptic accounts (Luke 22:40-46 for example) tell us that Jesus’ disciples actually were sleeping. This sets up an incredible juxtaposition, as Jesus finds Himself between His own physically asleep disciples and the spiritually asleep mob. Both parties have failed Him as their Creator, and the only thing distinguishing the disciples from the soldiers is their knowledge of their fallen state in relationship to the Lord. Jesus then simultaneously and briefly like the Green Flash became the Sunset for his Disciples and the Sunrise for all humanity moving from the spiritually enlightened to the spiritually dark and void, a bookend to the Creation Story and a fulfillment of the prophecies about Him.

Where in Genesis 1:4, God originally separated the light from the darkness, the true light now had fully come into the darkness of the world as outlined in John 1:4-5, 9-11. Additionally, while we often search the Scriptures for Jesus as both the literal and symbolic fulfillment of the Scriptures foreshadowing the Messiah, it seems to have been overlooked that the soldiers’ actions in John 18:6 may be a literal fulfillment of Simeon’s prophecy upon seeing the infant Jesus in Luke 2:28-35 when he speaks that the child would be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” and that He was destined to “cause the fall and rise of many in Israel.”

The Biblical narrative of Jesus Christ does appear to intend for us to pass through the darkness to the Light. While we have an option in how we respond to God, it appears Maurice Brown may be right in that there is no choice to get away from Him. Regardless of whether we hide from Him or seek Him out with less than upstanding intentions, He is there to encounter us, to ask us where we are, and to prompt us with the question of who it is we are looking to for fulfillment.

In John 8:12, Jesus says, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” The Light is here. It’s time to get up. Lord, help me get up.

“Good evening. The first clue anyone had was the woman at the bank; she came to the window to withdraw $15,000. Then in a calm manner, she told the teller that men were holding her family hostage in their nice suburban home. Tonight, a Connecticut jury has done something very rare. They’ve handed out the death penalty for one of two men charged in one of the worst home invasions in memory. That woman at the bank was later murdered back at her home. So were her two daughters. Only her husband lived after a savage beating.”

– Opening lines from November 8, 2010 broadcast of NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams in a segment titled “Killer at Peace with Death Penalty Verdict, Says DA”

The 2007 Cheshire home invasion Brian Williams spoke of involved the brutal torture, rape and killing of Jennifer Hawke-Petit, Hayley Petit (17) and Michaela Petit (11) by two men, including Steven Hayes who was sentenced to die this week. The crime and the resulting criminal court proceedings have received a fair amount of national news coverage as demonstrated above and have been especially heavily reported on here in Connecticut as the tragedy occurred in our own backyard. The crimes were committed approximately eight miles from where I and my family live, but the case hit even closer to home on Monday morning.

I work in an unpredictable field and can honestly say that three and a half years in, I have not had two identical days on the job. But some days journey beyond unpredictable into the unbelievable and November 8, 2010 was that kind of day. Through a series of highly improbable circumstances, I found myself in the cell block of the New Haven District Courthouse Monday morning with the same Steven Hayes that would later headline the evening’s national news.

I had been escorted into the holding cell area by an attorney and was told I would have to wait to complete my affairs, when I looked up and locked eyes for a brief moment with an inmate that seemed strangely familiar. The man was pacing in a holding room less than ten feet from me and I nodded in his direction as an acknowledgment of his presence and a sign of basic male respect. He faintly narrowed his eyes in receipt of my gesture, but his response was not one of contempt as much as it seemed to be one of bewilderment. As if he had not received so much as a non-threatening glance in some time.

I knew from entering the Court earlier in the day and walking past a dozen local and national news trucks that a jury was deliberating this day on whether Steven Hayes’ October 2010 conviction of six counts of capital felony charges warranted execution. I also knew from a previous visit to this same Court holding cell area, which room was designated for holding Mr. Hayes when he was not present in the Court room and this man was occupying that room. Instinctively, I knew it was Hayes, but could not be certain as the appearance of the man before me did not exactly match the mug shot of the completely bald and overweight criminal that has been so widely circulated in the press. The man before me had unkempt dark hair growing from the sides of his head and appeared much thinner and unhealthy than the photo of Hayes we have all seen in these parts. I wanted to ask one of the correctional officers if this was indeed the notorious Hayes, but thought better of it as the door to the unidentified inmate’s door was open and I was easily within earshot of the man.

While waiting for further instruction from the Correctional Officers about how to proceed with my own task, I found myself convinced the crazed man nervously pacing back and forth in the tiny room must be the convicted killer. He had a bestial quality about him; specifically striking were his cold and beady eyes that seemed to dart between the area’s inhabitants and yet simultaneously presented as distantly focused on heavy and sorrowful thoughts far from his current material reality. I felt pity for the man as it was apparent his spirit was not well.

My own thoughts drifted briefly and I thought of our new friend Robbie James of the Higher Point Christ Fellowship in the Northeast Denver area. Robbie was present at the Mission Alive Theology Lab last month and is the type of guy that you decide you like before you even get a chance to speak with him. My intuition was confirmed when shortly after his arrival, Robbie asked if he could borrow a copy of The Message from our table and I granted him permission but noted it was a only a copy of the New Testament. Robbie just smiled and replied, “That’s okay. I like the New Testament. It’s in my top two Testaments.” Robbie then went on to share that practicing the presence of the Mission of God begins by consistently being in an intimate relationship with the Father and being attuned and attentive to the Holy Spirit. Robbie said that practically he asks as he comes into each place, “Father, what are you already doing here?” Followed by the question, “Father, what have you authorized me to do here?”

I asked God what he was doing here and became distinctly aware that as I could not explain how or why my life path was crossing with the path of Steven Hayes at this moment, that perhaps God had ordered my steps in this direction on this day for a reason. In asking what I was authorized to do, I felt compelled to pray peace into this man’s life and found myself attempting to literally breathe the Spirit in His direction. I prayed that whatever he was being haunted by in the moment, that he might be able to experience a wave of peace, a release from the grip of anxiety as he awaited his fate. I wanted to speak to him, or perhaps to even physically touch him, but thought either of those actions were sure to get me kicked out of the Courthouse.

It was then that a Correctional Officer invited me to sit and pointed to a chair just outside the door of the inmate’s room. I suppose I should have felt fear, but instead readily accepted my seat and continued my prayer. The atmosphere reminded me of the film Dead Man Walking and of my interaction in 2002 with Sister Helen Prejean, the nun on whom the story is based, which forevermore changed my thoughts on capital punishment.

The Correctional Officer sat across from me looking directly at the prisoner and confirmed that the inmate was indeed Steven Hayes. I now fully realized that only a wall separated me from the killer, as he paced less than a yard away at times. I could see his reflection in a glass pane across from me and found myself studying him. Despite the awful atrocities that the man has committed, he appeared to be consumed with despair and perhaps remorse and I found myself wanting him to find forgiveness. Yet, feet from the man, I asked myself, would I die for him? Would I trade places with him if it meant saving him?

I thought of my beautiful family. Of Shepard, who at fifteen months gives Howard Dean-like squeals of delight when he sees a cookie or ice cream cone and wants to follow me wherever I go, including to work each morning. Of Clara, who proudly reported to strangers last weekend while visiting a children’s museum that “me and my dad, we’re two peas in a pod.” Of my strong and amazingly beautiful wife Jaime, who is my anchor and motivates me daily by the way she picks up her cross and yet still shares her contagious joy by laughing so genuinely that she inspires everyone to laugh along with her. Of our unborn child, whose own blessings we are just beginning to experience through fervent kicks from the womb. And quickly and resoundingly I knew that I would not die for this man Steven Hayes. Yet, the mind blowing truth is Christ did.

I was again struck by the amazing grace of our Lord and Savior. I was so dumbfounded for a moment that I barely registered the presence of four Correctional Officers who congregated to escort Hayes back to Court. Eventually another man, sharply dressed, referred to later by a Correctional Officer as the “Boss” entered the room. His pointed confidence was only briefly deterred when he questioned who I was, rightfully questioning the presence of the only non-officer to share this moment. A moment that I realized shortly thereafter, was the last moment Hayes had before learning that he would be executed by the State of Connecticut. Hayes walked inches in front of me as he was taken back into the Court to face his sentence and Dr. Petit, the man whose family he killed.

The experience of being in one’s presence while their fate is being decided by others, and knowing you are free to leave, is extremely powerful and humbling. And thus, in a strange way, I felt grateful to have been there. I could not however escape the weight of the encounter which affected the remainder of my day. Especially so, as I considered the fact that perhaps I had just participated in some level in a very real spiritual battle and hoped that I had acted as an acceptable proxy for the Kingdom of God. Therefore, I found solace in news that perhaps others found disturbing when I learned later that Hayes had reported after the sentencing that he felt “at peace” with the death penalty decision.

“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?

While listening to Morning Edition on NPR on Monday morning, I heard the following during a segment on technology:

Mr. Smith: Seniors, for instance, are the fastest growing group in terms of their use of social networking sites. And we also found, in this study, that six in 10 seniors own a cell phone.

Steve Inskeep: Okay, the study says that the typical American under the age of 45 owns four gadgets – things like smart phones, mp3 players, and e-book readers like the iPad or the Kindle. Smith says these new media gadgets are continuing to change the way Americans live.

Mr. Smith: You’ve got a few minutes free, you can text your friends, you can call someone, you can play a game on your cell phone, you can listen to music on your iPod. So, you know, the times where you were just, you know, sitting at a table, you know, kind of doing nothing or just contemplating the world, I think are becoming fewer and further between as more of these technologies permeate our daily lives.

Renee Montagne: No more contemplating.

Ms. Montagne continued to speak after stating “No more contemplating,” but I found the statement so shocking, I didn’t really hear the rest of the segment. In part, the shock was caused by the recent time spent dwelling on contemplation as a necessary component of spirituality while Jaime at I were at Mission Alive’s Theology Lab in Dallas last week.

As a Christian living in a western culture, there is quite a lot to learn from Jesus’ commitment to a contemplative life. Scripture appears to indicate that Jesus’ time spent alone in prayer was not only a large component of His life, but that it was necessary to His success and enabled His incredible service and attentiveness to God’s will. I think many of us admire Jesus’ commitment to contemplation in the Gospels, but rarely give thought to the work and discipline such a life requires. We especially seem to give little regard to the connection that Jesus’ prayer life appears to have with fasting and meditative breathing. But in the land of the obese and gadget-obsessed, we have no discipline or time for such a lifestyle. And then we wonder why we are so unhappy.

It doesn’t figure to get better any time soon. I saw a 12 year old almost crash his bike the other day while trying to ride and talk on a cell phone. No joke. Soon there will arise a generation in our country who will never have known a world without the internet, Google, instant answers and social networking. As NPR noted, now even our seniors are getting in on the loss of contemplative time. While I do not believe technology to be intrinsically good or bad, it appears that in the face of increasing technology we may be facing a continuing loss of our humanity.

Tod Vogt of Mission Alive shared this excerpt of a T.S. Eliot work with us during the Theology Lab that I believe illustrates the point:

“The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All of our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us closer to death,
But nearness to death, no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.”

Eliot wrote this in 1934. Imagine what he might have written after witnessing the 21st century.

As Tod pointed out, contemplation is not everything. For without action “(contemplation) can degenerate into mere escapism,” but without contemplation action is reduced to a “frenetic attempt to impose one’s will on others or the world.” I believe there is a strong case to be made that our cultural pendulum is approaching its extreme in favor of action and that this mode of operating is unsustainable.

As entropy in our relationships and social structures progresses through continuing technological innovation, I pray God will use His church to show us back toward a contemplative life and ultimately toward Himself. For as Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove of the New Monastic movement writes, “Contemplation is not about a “quiet time” when we can feel safe with God. In contemplation we learn to trust God precisely because we need him.”

Wilson-Hartgrove in his chapter of Schools for Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism goes on to say, “Contemplation is the flame through which our own souls find liberation.” In the face of our greatest trials and doubts, Jonathan notes that it is the through a life of contemplation that “we can trust God. We can believe that the darkest darkness may indeed be a light so bright that it is blinding our weak eyes. We can believe that beyond death there is resurrection.” Amen.

No more contemplating? No thank you. Let’s turn off our gadgets for a while and practice being silent so God can speak into our lives. Let’s give Him an opportunity to rescue us from ourselves.

There has been a fair amount of infighting among church-goers Catholic and Protestant over the years, resulting from differing views on scripture and authority. But it never ceases to amaze that doctrinal differences dissipate when Christ’s teachings are applied in the form of a sacrificial life. Case in point, I have met many Christians with critical feelings toward the Catholic church, but I’ve never heard any of them say a bad word about Mother Teresa. Her life of complete sacrificial service has transcended dogma because in her life we were all able to witness the person of Jesus.

Last month, I was fortunate to be able to stop by an exhibit at the Knights of Columbus museum in New Haven honoring the life of Mother Teresa. I accidentally worked through the exhibition in reverse and ended my journey discovering the origin of Mother Teresa, born Gonxha Agnes Bojadijevic in 1910 in Albania.

Writing of her missionary beginnings, she wrote, “I was only 12 years old then. It was then that I first knew I had a vocation to the poor.” In 1928, at the age of 18, Gonxha committed to becoming a nun and wrote in her application letter to the convent, “I don’t have any special conditions, I only want to be in the missions, and for everything else I surrender myself completely to the good, God’s disposal.” The story I read of Mother Teresa’s departure from her hometown of Skopje at the age of 18 reported that the entire town gathered to see her off at the train station. There was no information provided as to whether this occurred due to a common custom of the Albanian people or if in just 18 years, Gonxha had somehow managed to touch the entire village. I like to imagine both being true.

Gonxha was renamed after St. Therese of Lisieux and would go on to touch many more as her love became world renowned. In September of 1946, at the age of 36, Mother Teresa felt God calling her to deeper commitment to serve the poor, specifically to leave her convent with the Loreto order and to live among and serve the poor. This resulted in her founding the Missionaries of Charity, which existed to care for, in her own words, “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.” Mother Teresa described the poor as “not only hungry for bread, but immensely hungry for love.”

I was honored to have a chance to read some of Mother Teresa’s writings displayed in the museum and found myself in awe of her genuine voice and selflessness that was reflected in her attitude toward suffering and displayed in her commitment to living a life of poverty. Once such excerpt that caught my attention read, “I wish to live in this world which is so far from God, which has turned so much from the light of Jesus, to help (the poor) – to take upon me something of their suffering… for only by being one with them, we can redeem them, that is bringing God into their lives and bringing them to God.”

This reminded me of Jesus’ comments to Peter in Matthew 16:18 when He said, “Upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” The way the term “gates” is used here seems to indicate that these “gates of Hades” are keeping something or someone trapped inside and that Jesus expects that the church will be attacking (with love) these gates, not the other way around, in a rescue mission to bring good news/gospel to the afflicted/poor, bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind and freedom to prisoners/oppressed (Isaiah 61:1/Luke 4:18). I would argue this seems to be Mother Teresa’s understanding, that the Light will not only not be overcome by the Dark, but that it is expected that the Light will meet the Dark in its own house and that this is the essence of the Jesus Way. Perhaps this is illustrated best by her own writings, such as her statement that “I have come to love the darkness – for I believe now that it is a part, a very, very, small part of Jesus’ darkness and pain on earth.”

Much was made after Mother Teresa’s death of her own claims that she did not often feel the presence of God in her later years, but I found this excerpt of a letter she wrote to Jesus fascinating:
“- My pain of my separation from You brings others to You and in their love and company – You find joy and pleasure. Why Jesus, I am willing with all my heart to suffer – not only now – but for all eternity – if this was possible. Your happiness is all that I want – for the rest – please do not take the trouble – even if you see me faint with pain – all this is my will – I want to satiate Your thirst with every single drop of my blood that you can find in me – Don’t allow me to do You wrong in anyway. Take from me the power of hurting You. Heart and soul I will work for the sisters – because they are Yours. Each and every one are Yours. I beg of You only one thing – please do not take the trouble to return soon. I am ready to wait for You for all eternity.”

The letter was signed “Your Little One.”

How many Christians have you met whose prayer is for Jesus to NOT return soon because they are so committed to doing the work of the Lord? Or who would offer to suffer for “all eternity” if it was possible as an offering to God? Christianity was truly an all or nothing proposition for Mother Teresa.

In a letter dated April 1, 1988, she wrote “You are welcome to share and give until it hurts – and this really (is) love in action.” Speaking further to this concept, in a 1992 speech given in New York City, she expounded, “Jesus said very clearly, ‘Be ye holy as my Father in heaven is holy.’ And holiness is not the luxury of a few, it is a simple duty for you and for me.” In case you were wondering where to begin in a pursuit of holiness, Mother Teresa said, “We give our hands to serve, and our hearts to love. And that is the beginning of holiness.” And while she mentioned her hands, that wasn’t all she offered in her service.

In November 2009, I had the opportunity to participate in a New Monasticism “School for Conversion” facilitated by the Simple Way and Camden House communities in Philadelphia, PA and Camden, NJ. During the weekend, I had the opportunity to listen to and talk with Shane Claiborne. The entire weekend was mind-blowing, and one small part of that experience was hearing Shane speak about the time he spent volunteering with Mother Teresa in Calcutta. Shane reported that each morning began in prayer and that it was during one of these prayer services he noticed Mother Teresa’s rather severely deformed feet.

Afraid to ask, Shane didn’t get the full story until one of the sisters asked him if he had noticed Mother Teresa’s feet. The sister explained that donations of shoes periodically arrived in Calcutta for the Missionaries of Charity and that when a shipment of donations would arrive, Mother Teresa would sort through the shoes in search of the pair in the worst condition. Mother Teresa would then claim that pair as her own out of her desire to make sure that no one else would have to suffer by wearing them, and that consistently practicing this had disfigured her feet. Just Mother Teresa again providing a tangible example of what it means for the church to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

What if we were to take Jesus seriously? What if we were to follow Mother Teresa’s example of following in the footsteps of Jesus? I imagine much of the petty arguments and doctrinal differences, whether between individuals, or between Catholics and Protestants, would seem insignificant if we actually committed ourselves to living out the gospel. I want to witness Christ, to have a vocation to the poor, but I hesitate to pray for Him to fully live in me the way He did in Mother Teresa. Lord I believe, help my unbelief.

Field Work

Posted: October 7, 2010 in Faith, Work
Tags: ,

Social work is a tough field, but it sure does produce some great stories. A few years ago, I was charged with the task of locating a gentleman to inform him that a paternity test had confirmed he was the father of two children. Unfortunately, I also had to inform him that neglect petitions had been filed against both him and the mother of the children in Court for not adequately caring for the kids. After celebrating the confirmation of his fatherhood, the man took issue with the neglect petitions.

“Glenect?!?” he protested. “How can I glenect my kids if I don’t even see ‘em? That’s not my ponsibility.”

Aside from some creative pronunciation, I had a difficult time maintaining my composure after hearing his defense against the neglect case consisted of his own report that he didn’t spend any time with his kids or attempt to care for them. Obviously, the guy didn’t get it. Taking care of his kids was his “ponsibility” whether he recognized it or not, and for the next eight months it became my “ponsibility” to assist him with understanding his role as a father.

I definitely had sympathy for him though; because while neglecting one’s parental duties is no small matter, one has to wonder how much of this father’s failures were a direct result of his own lack of experience with anything remotely resembling a good dad. But, perhaps the largest contributing factor to my sympathy was the simple fact that all too often I am the guy who just doesn’t get it.

Just last week, I was scheduled to be present at the New Haven District Court for a hearing and so I arrived at the normally scheduled time and place, only to find a Court Officer blocking the entrance to the Courtroom. The Officer reported the room was filled to capacity and indicated I would have to wait in line before entering, which I found strange but didn’t question. Only after waiting for approximately a half hour, did I remember someone had mentioned that the Courtroom I was waiting to enter was also the largest capacity Courtroom in the building. I then pieced that information together with the fact that network news trucks were parked outside the Courthouse from ABC, NBC and CBS.

If you have been paying attention to the national news, you may well be aware of the media coverage that a high-profile home invasion trial involving a triple homicide in is receiving here in Connecticut. Turns out I had accidentally been waiting for (and very nearly gained) entrance into the Courtroom that was being closely monitored by thousands throughout the country. Not only did I feel like an idiot, but I “glenected” my “ponsibility” by missing the Court hearing I was supposed to be attending.

For the longest time (and still on occasion now), I tried to pretend I was perfect, though I was the only one who fell for the act. The clueless version of myself would likely have been angry at the father for “glenecting” his kids without wanting to assist him in becoming a better dad. The arrogant version of myself would likely have blamed the Court for not putting a sign up or informing me that the hearing I was supposed to attend had been moved. But getting angry, judgmental or accusatory doesn’t help anyone.

Though I grew up going to church, I was quite often a self-righteous kid, especially in non-public spheres. If you had given me a Myers-Briggs personality test, rather than being an ENTP or INFP, I would likely have been labeled a JERK. I used to think I had all the answers. Now, the fact that I thought it was even possible for anyone to have all the answers is laughable. Part of my attitude and behavioral change was simply growing up which (usually) helps maturity, and a large part is due to the patience of my incredible wife, but the majority of the credit has to be given to really getting to know Jesus.

Despite a great spiritual foundation being laid for me by my parents and church family, simply having an academic knowledge of the Bible didn’t translate into my life looking like the life of Jesus. In fact, both the story of my “glenectful” client and my experience at Court illustrate it is possible to be in close proximity to something of great significance and somehow still not realize or experience it.

I think many of us who grew up going to church may have been in close proximity to Jesus, but maybe we didn’t truly experience Him through the religious system that was handed down to us. Jesus fundamentally changed the people he touched. Those who have really met Him cannot help but be moved. Jesus changes your relationships. He didn’t fraternize with people who could have granted Him a greater social status, but instead preferred and was the poor. Jesus changes your budget. He never had any money on Him, didn’t purchase a life insurance policy and had no equity in real estate, yet He still fed the poor and gave all He had. Jesus changes your politics. He didn’t claim allegiance with the zealots nor with the empire. He wouldn’t register as a Republican nor as a Democrat. Jesus doesn’t make things easier, He makes things beautiful.

Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus doesn’t love me anymore now than He did when I was an arrogant kid. He doesn’t love me any less on days that I act like a jerk. His love is not based on my performance. But because of his love we can stop judging others by their performances and shortcomings. Because of His love we can forgo pursuits of power, success, recognition and comfort and truly love each other with forgiving and empathetic spirits.

Often referred to as a “worker” in the “field” of social work, I recently took great encouragement after reading Luke 10:2 where Jesus tells His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” I am feeling a strong call to continue to revision my vocation as a “worker” in his “field” regardless of my job description. No matter your employment, I believe God has the same call and hope for us all. Let’s not “glenect” our “ponsibility” to show each other the same measure of forgiveness and grace as Jesus showed us, so that we can be attend the Harvest party and invite some others along as well.