Apocalypse & Utopia

This post is entitled Apocalypse & Utopia. The first section is for you Christian Romney voters and the second part is for you Christian Obama voters.

If you voted for Romney please read this:
Late last night as news tickers crossed the screen of my preferred news channel, professionally dressed reporters doubled as reluctant prophets as they foretold what now seemed inevitable. . .
The Imminent Apocalypse of America (sometime in the next 4 years or so. . .)

Luckily for you, using skills I discovered and sharpened in late 1999, I have some prescriptions to help navigate the impending wave of utter doom poised to crash into our almost-had-it-all lives.

I'm just a 21st century Paul Revere telling you to get ready! Stop complaining about popular votes and electoral college mumbo-jumbo, the "British" have already landed!! Quick, follow these instructions for the easiest passage possible through Armageddon. . .

1. Write the first angry vindictive things you can think of on Facebook. Oh, you already did? Well, go check it and see if any of your awesome friends liked it and if they didn't, re-post it! And hopefully you caught a liberal in your snare and you can go google some facts and copy and paste them and slap that liberal with them in a newsfeed debate.

2. It's going to be tough, but you're going to need to change your perspective on what a President is. Purge from your mind those pictures of Georgie Washington on his war boat on the Potomac waxing philosophical about how sweet it is to be a Baptist Founding Father, and honest Abe Lincoln with his goatee and top hat of freedom all dreaming about the day his legacy will be seared onto a copper penny. This President we have (again) HATES America. It's true. I have insider sources who say that once he knew he won again and had duped everyone into voting for him yet again, he chuckled diabolically (something like muhahahaha), steepled his hands in front of his face and cried:
"Now my perfectly planned sabotage of this useless Democratic nation can be fulfilled!"

SO, just realize and get used to the idea of a President who doesn't care at all for his country or isn't making any effort to help people. He's just a mean socialist Muslim bully who wants to kick your sandcastles down. All of them.

3. Go out and buy lots of guns, especially ones that are semi-automatic that you don't really know how to use. Then, find a very remote place and fire those jokers all night long. Why? Well, because they're coming for them. Probably like in February or something. I only got a quick peek at the Flow Chart of the Apocalypse plans and there was definitely an action point of invading all the red states and taking their guns. It was called "Operation Cold Dead Fingers" or something like that. Make sure it's a remote place where you fire them off because if a Liberal hears it, they're going to report you to the Gun Squad. Which doesn't exist. . .yet. . .

4. Make more babies. Then raise them up and send them to Ohio, North Carolina, and Florida. It's kind of a long term prescription, but it involves making babies, which can be nice. The Liberals don't reproduce nearly as much as we do. . .we need to play to our strengths. If we can't vote them out, we'll breed them out.

5. Hide your nativity scene and your poster of the Ten Commandments. The Gun Squad also doubles as the No Religious Anything in Public Squad. Persecution is coming! I can't believe it, a thing like persecution being so present in a nice little thing like Christianity.

6. The Supreme Court is going to be useless sometime in March probably. I was tired of keeping up with all those wordy reports anyways. It would be best to go ahead and start learning how to break laws now (just the dumb ones) because the sense of justice in this country is about to evaporate. The Legal System is about to explode. . .literally, if Obama had his way because I saw a youtube video where he shook hands with a kid who made a pipe bomb one time. . .

7. If you know of a Christian who voted for Obama, point your finger at them and say "It's all your fault!" as often as you feel necessary. They wasted their prayers and freedom and intellect voting for the Abomination of Desolation. They were brainwashed by the Liberal Media and drank the Haterade and now want us to be Communists. Just keep pointing at your Marxist friends until they are shamed into repenting. . .hopefully soon, because we don't have long. . .

8. Pray. Pray. Pray for our country: that we would get rid of all the people who hate life, family, democracy, and hope! Pray we could get "our country" back! And restore it to the days of yore when everyone was a believer and sin and evil were jokes of a bygone age. . .I mean, women were treated poorly and we had slaves and all kinds of crippling diseases and stuff but everyone in the government was a perfectly tithing Christian who rescued dogs from the shelters and went to Washington with a Bible in one hand and a Bible in the other. LET'S PRAY PEOPLE and bring back those days! That's the kind of prayer Paul and Peter were talking about when they casually mentioned in the Holy Scriptures to pray for and respect our leaders during an era of secular empire and tyrants . . .

(Also: Peter meant America when he wrote "holy nation" not an unseen Kingdom of merciful and holy priests who extend across history and geographical boundaries under the gracious Lordship of Christ. . .)

9. Pick up some sugary cereals. They're going to be outlawed soon because some loon in a labcoat said they're bad for you; plus they stack very well in Doomsday Bunkers. Eat what you want because they say they're Pro-Choice but that's just for women who are pregnant. You will have no freedoms left. Also, I would recommend catching a disease or harming yourself so badly it requires major surgery and running to the hospital before they stop offering healthcare. From what I heard, they are only going to treat you if you are really really poor but even then it won't be great. So hurry up and get some medical attention while it lasts. Also, dust off your charts of Revelation and start mouthing the words "End Times" in the mirror. . .it's here, just like Jesus said in Matthew about the Black President in 21st century United States getting elected being the final sign before the Tribulation. . .

10. As of last night, you lost your chance to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. It's gone. I hope you enjoyed that privilege and right while you had it because now all you have left is running water, indoor plumbing, indoor heat, electricity, transportation, grocery stores, well-made homes, local law enforcement, family, church, and faith in a Sovereign Loving and Just God.

If you voted for Obama please read this:

Late last night as news tickers crossed the screen of my preferred news channel, professionally dressed reporters doubled as jubilant prophets as they foretold what now seemed inevitable. . .
The Imminent Utopia of America (sometime in the next 4 years or so. . .)

Look, I don't really have any advice for you. You're the elite forces of Christendom! You don't want to hear my mundane blogspirations! Go enjoy the victory over those Cro-Magnon fundamentalists who only voted Romney because they're greedy capitalists! What? No, I'm not worried they're reading this. . .did you see that post up there? I'll be surprised if they read past #3, there's too many militias to raise and little uncouth critters to homeschool. They don't love God or the poor like you do; they just want to make sure they get Medicare when they're old and you put them in a nursing home because they're an inconvenience. Selfish pledge-to-the-flag-saying bigots!

And the fact is this: We really are better than our ignorant redneck Christian cousins who voted for Romney. Our intelligence and keen insight into the American government and its economic policies were clearly derived by much study and multiple degrees in specialized fields. It's OK to feel a little cocky, those knucklehead Red-Staters probably used FOX News to get their info; they've never even heard of blogs and Time or Newsweek or the WSJ (See! They're looking up WSJ right now! Wall Street Journal you morons!!) They don't laugh at Jon Stewart either. Inconceivable.

It feels good to be right. Now that they know who really has the best prayer life maybe they'll wise up on other things too like stopping the foolish nonsense of reminding of us about the authority of God's Word and keeping those flags in their sanctuaries. Don't they know that Christianity and America don't mix at all? That it's wrong to honor all those people who died and served with their whole lives to hopefully preserve our God-blessed liberties here  and maybe make it better for other people in other countries?

But seriously, back to this Utopia. . .it's going to be awesome! And it starts with us rolling our eyes at all the folks with Romney/Ryan bumper stickers on their cars. Bahahaha. I could get a kick out of that for a while, and by "while" I mean as long as it takes for those economic policies I completely understood to start raining down the gold. So let's grab our favorite microbrewed beer and drink moderately! Or add a little more soy to our single-shot no-whip sugar-free caramel latte and sing the praise choruses (definitely not the hymns) of Obama and his reign of perfection.

Just remember: your vote made all the difference!  Don't worry about your life making a difference the next 1459 days before the next election, all you need to do now is tweet smug remarks about how the utopia would come faster if we had a Democratic congress. Your neighbors are all probably perfectly whole now and not hurting at all since Obama is on the throne and all the poverty in the entire world started drying up the second Florida started turning blue.

In fact, why don't you text King Jesus and tell Him to take His time? Our votes have already got the big stuff taken care of. . .

Matt O.

(If you comment, keep it gentle and respectful. You know gentle right? The fruit of the Spirit? Oh, you thought a fruit of the Spirit was voting and arguing about politics on Facebook or in comment threads. . .sorry, I must have one of those crazy translations of the Bible)

Tricycle Death Race

In keeping with this week's unofficial theme of Summer Camp Game Memories. . .

I was the teacher for a week of camp in a remote part of Florida. We often think of Florida for its beaches, theme parks, citrus and Miami Heat. . .but there are many very flat and very rural parts of the state. I am drawn to speaking in the forgotten realms of the South like a Baptist to a buffet after a service that went past noon. . .

The group that brought me in were very gracious to allow my five year old daughter Micah to travel with me. It was the first time the two of us could go on an extended trip together and she was very excited. . .

We played at the lake (this one was better than the muddy puddle one from SC. . .sorry South Carolinians. . .), ate together in the cafeteria, slept side by side on the dorm mattresses we pulled to the floor, and shared many a new memory as she got to experience youth camp ministry in all of its glory. . .including a masquerade ball where she got to dress up all fancy and steal the boys' swords, a shaving cream fight, and the traditional group scavenger hunt. . .

It was also the first time Micah got to see a full-blown Game Night in the gym. . .

One of the most popular games was the Tricycle race. . .which involved teenage boys racing little tricycles in a mad sprint, knees and elbows bent outward into points, backs hunched over the tiny handlebars, the crowd urging them to the finish line thirty yards away. . .

There were wrecks and tumbles, rowdy fans and photo finishes, it was pretty much the NASCAR of toddler racing vehicles. . .

My daughter loved those races. . .she would jump around at the start and begin screaming and clapping as they pumped those little pedals with over-sized feet. She would pick her favorite racer, asking a teenager the driver's name, then yell his name until the end.

During one race she turned to me and saw me smiling and enthusiastically asked me a question:
"Who are you rooting for daddy?"
"No one really, I'm just enjoying the race," I answered.
"DADDY! YOU HAVE TO ROOT FOR SOMEBODY!" she yelled in disbelief.

It was inconceivable (a correct usage of the word) to her developing mind that I could watch a race and not root for someone. Daddy, you simply must pick! That's how it's done!

Perhaps you've heard we're about to have a presidential election. . .

And in the midst of all the mailouts in my mailbox telling me who conservatives should vote for, debate sound bites analyzed by people who've already made up their mind, Facebook posturing, and absolutist semi-apocalyptic commercials about the economy all I keep hearing in my inner ears is:

You're right. I do have to root for somebody and I do have to pick someone.

And I made that choice a long time ago: I pick Jesus. The King of Kings.

What!! Are you saying you're writing in "Jesus" when you vote?!? Or even worse. . .you're not voting!? YOU HAVE TO PICK SOMEONE!!!!!

I'm not telling you what I'm doing on election day. But I will tell you that other than walking under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, there is no other pressure from the heavenlies to pick someone this election. . .

In fact, believers all across this country will be doing many different things on election day. . .decisions by God's people will be different, even after much prayer, study, and discussion. And that should be a telling sign and reminder to us. . .

We quote the prophecy every Christmas season: "The government will be on His shoulders". . .and that means not just the United States government, but the governing of all people groups. . .

The hope and prophecy of Isaiah is not about establishing leaders in a democracy and a legislature that will be elected by God to an infinite term and have congressional sessions together holding hands and singing Amazing Grace as they pass perfect laws for eternity. . .

No, the hope and prophecy is about the Kingdom of God ruled forever by the gracious and just Creator King made up of the peoples who believe in Him and have found redemption living under His lordship. . .The Kingdom of God is about sacrificial love, humility, justice and hope. . .and right now friends. . .the Kingdom of the United States is not about those things.

"You're just being cynical!"

No, I am not. I have great hope. I am actually doing what my daughter yelled at me. . .

I'm rooting for King Jesus to come in grace in the way I treat my family, my neighbors and my community. . .and I'm rooting for Him to be present in your hearts and lives too, and in this country of greed, materialism, narcissism, and violence. . .
but also in the communist countries of the world, and in the 3rd world (or worse) countries, and war-torn and rape-savaged countries. . .

I am rooting for King Jesus.

Mitt Romney is not Jesus and neither is Barack Obama. . .nor Ron Paul or any other person. . .

If you vote, remember that. . .our hope is in the Risen Savior not the church-going of a presidential candidate or his theoretical economic policies.

And our duty as believers is to the Kingdom of priests that we now belong to. . .not a flag, not a type of government, nor to just casting one vote every four years. We now live in such a way that declares there is another way: the way of light. . .
which is about sacrificial love, humility, justice and hope.

I am not anti-America but I am anti-the-kingdoms-of-this-world because I am Pro-Jesus. . .

Lastly, Evil will "not win" if your candidate doesn't get elected this week. . .evil was defeated at the cross! No matter who wins, next Monday you are still called to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. . .even if they voted for the Bad Guy.

I have a sneaking suspicion in the grand scheme of the redemptive narrative in our world that our hysterics and hype every four years is eerily similar to the mob enthusiasm spent in that rural Florida gym during the tricycle death races. . .

Matt O.

(If you comment, keep it civil.)

Toilet Bowl Sermons

Sometimes people ask me what I think about youth ministry, and I fear they regret asking the question after they receive a wikipedia's worth of ramblings that culminate in principles which raise a defiant fist to conventional practice and offer them little solace. . .

And occasionally I get someone who is even more specific and asks me what I think about middle school ministry. . .that answer is a lot shorter:

"I don't believe in it." (awkward pause)

Then I laugh and tell them I'm kidding. . .which I am. . .barely.

Maybe it's just all the scars speaking. . .

It was a hot, humid, and sandy summer in the lowcountry of South Carolina. . .which may be the most redundant sentence I've ever typed.

I was invited to speak at a middle school summer camp on a murky body of water they called a lake. It sounded so good on paper: bring the family, stay next to the lake for a week, only speak in the evenings, etc.

In reality, the heat all week felt like we were wearing black sweat pants as we sat in the Devil's locker room. . .the humidity was so thick butterflies were wearing headbands. There were bugs everywhere, beetles scurrying into our concrete apartment, dragonflies the size of vultures dive-bombing your head as you tried to avoid the clinging black-grey gritty dirt and the sand spurs (which is like trying to avoid political conversations on Facebook in October).

The concrete apartment we stayed in reminded me of a prison cell, which is appropriate, because the food also reminded me of prison. I bet their head cafeteria worker had a poster of a food pyramid on the wall with hot dogs as the base and carbohydrates you can serve with an ice cream scoop making up the rest of it. My memory is a little hazy but I think the only flavors the soft serve ice cream machine had were Pickle and Foot Stew. . .

 My first night speaking to a room of 200 middle schoolers was also a wonderfully unique experience. The standard Youth Worship Service at these camps, if at full capacity, looks something like this:
Loud Intro Music the Youth Pastor Still Thinks His Students Listen To
(Host Pastor Grabs Band and Speaker so we can "Pray Real Quick")
Opening Video/Announcements Promising Next Big Thing To Be Awesome
Barely Practiced Skit OR Game Found on the Internet or Re-Heated From Youth Events Past
Awkward Transition to Worship Band
17 Member Youth Band Takes Five Minutes Situating Themselves
Lead Singer Prays to Regain "Focus" Lost During Last Five Minutes
3 or 12 Songs Sung By the Band and First Half of Auditorium
Speaker Delivers Paradigm Shifting Prophetic Word of Truth
Songs of Reflection/Commitment/Weird Staring at Band
Closing Comments and/or Re-Preach by Host Pastor

But my Host Pastor had a bit of a wrinkle. . .we just started the singing right away, which I was very encouraged by. . .but then he decided the Game would go next and then me. . .

As the Youth Band finished up a pretty solid set with a blistering combo of Tomlin and Hillsong, the GameMaster got up as he his crew set up the Game. . .which I will now describe to you and give you my usual disclaimer when Truth is about to arrive: I am not making this up.

They brought out 2 toilets, yes, 2 porcelain toilets, that I assume were purchased new and never used. The bottoms of the toilets had been sealed shut and were able to hold liquid, which was fortunate, because they began to fill the toilets up with Mountain Dew. . .Mountain Dew they said represented the other brightly colored liquid usually occupying  toilet bowls.

The next part of set up was the volunteers individually unwrapping bags of mini Baby Ruth candy bars and plopping them into the pseudo-urine filled pots. These Baby Ruths represented the deposits typically made at the First Bank of Porcelain but can also be found in the diapers of toddlers and in places where insensitive dog owners walk their dogs. . .

The Game itself would require the participants to get on their hands and knees and bob by sticking their heads in the toilets and using only their mouths to remove the Lil Surprises from their soup. The winner would be the person who could create the biggest pile of sugar turds. And Katniss thought her Hunger Games were cruel. . .

I forget who won and what the tally ended up being-- I was too busy dry-heaving over my sermon notes. The Game crew came out at the end of the game and removed the toilets and Baby Ruth bombs as the Host Pastor came up for my introduction. . .

"We're really excited to have for our preacher this week, Matt Orth. . ."

No one was listening to him or looking at me as I came up; they were too busy watching the laughing helpers mop up the carbonated pee behind me. . .

To this day, it's probably my best introduction ever.

So what did I do next?

I prayed. Then I taught and proclaimed the Gospel.

Years later I don't remember what message it was or what the response was. . .but I do remember this one thing:
The Gospel was preached right where it always has been and where it always belongs: in the muck and messiness of real people's lives. (just sometimes the metaphor is a tad more literal)

Matt O.

Holy Ghost RSVP

Do you remember getting handwritten invitation cards to birthday parties when you were a child? There wasn't much better than getting that primary colored card with the confetti, balloons, and noisy horn clipart on the front declaring "PARTY TIME!". . .or when you occasionally got the themed birthday party invite. . .perhaps you can remember the accompanying artistic masterpieces with those themes:
(The answers are: Cowboy, Train, and Skate Party)

I grew up before Power Rangers, Dora, Barney, Pokemon, Spongebob, and the Internet. Our options were severely limited. And sure we did have Scooby Doo. . .but if he showed up at your party, it was going to be the dad of the birthday kid wearing a homemade outfit the wife sewed together with fabric from a Thrift store and Scooby's head would be some lumpy paper mache project they paid the art teacher fifty bucks to make. . .

Regardless, getting those invitations for a party were like little mini-Christmases throughout the year. A party! And I'm invited! (Please, please, please have ice cream caaaaaake!)

The standard invitation packs of yesterday have been obliterated in this era of digital photography and accessible technology. Now we have professional level invites going out with our actual kids on the cards. . .and social networking capabilities to instantaneously send out invites for any party. . .who knew?

With the increase of official invitations, there seems to have been a corresponding increase in the number of parties our society has. . .I get invited to engagement parties, wedding showers, the weddings themselves, baby showers, baby birthdays, cook outs for youth groups six hours away, something called Bubble Safari and Sorority Fundraisers for the Troops that involve kissing them. (Thank you Facebook, and no, I did not make any of those up.)

With the onslaught of invitations, it is easy sometimes to forget the joy of being invited. . .for your presence to be desired at a celebratory event, to belong to a fellowship of joy and laughter. There is power in genuine invitation, a power that makes people feel welcome and loved. Correspondingly, no one likes to feel as if the invitation wasn't genuine or sincere. . .that they were just invited because you hit "send to all" or you were worried about their feelings. . .(Just ask some of the hobbits from Bilbo's big party. . .)

My first thought would be to remember the power of invitation in regards to the people in your life, both those who feel included. . .and especially those who feel excluded. . .

But additionally I wanted to write about God and the way we invite Him to our churches. . .

A common prayer phrase I hear at the beginning of our worship services goes something like this:
"And God, we just want to invite you into this place this morning. . ."

I used to get frustrated by that prayer because I felt we people don't really have the power of invitation. . .He is God and He can show up anywhere He wants to. . .

I pictured it like the young child who kept signs on the bedroom door saying "Keep Out" or "Do Not Enter" and the child then pretentiously allows the parent into the room. . .the same parent who gave them life, raised them, pays for the house, and gives them the square footage for their own bedroom and everything in that bedroom. . .

Let me tell you something you little bugger, I can enter this room any time I want to! Who are you to invite me?!

I no longer get frustrated in that way about the prayer. . .because as a parent I get to experience the joy of those moments. . .Even though I can enter my child's room any time I want. . .it feels great to be truly invited into the room. . .

God literally sent Jesus to die to redeem us back into relationship with Himself. . .I believe to be invited into our "bedrooms" is special for Him too. . .even though He is already there and can manifest Himself any way He chooses anytime He wants to. . .

Now the questions for me are. . .
Do we really want Him to "show up" or is it just a polite invitation we give out of ritual?
If He does "show up", how do we know?
and probably most importantly. . .
If He doesn't come to the party, how do we know?

If there's one thing I learned about parties growing up. . .
Everyone knows it when the stars of the party are there. . .and when they aren't.

How to Find a Burning Bush

You've been in a desert for forty years, eyes with a permanent squint from glaring watchfully over your flock, the finest of wrinkles at the edges, hands calloused to the point where they've cracked all over, the only smooth places are where the wood staff is gripped, your one constant companion during your imposed exile.

The pattern of a shepherd's existence has become a rhythm you move to every morning, every day, every evening. Even the variables of new sheep and new behaviors have been assimilated into your silent liturgy--highs and lows, sun and rain, predators and prey, all surrendering to your regiment, a magnetic pull that allows no freedom.  Today, this day, is every day. And the days have embraced you and made you a seamless part of the irresistible tide of the desert. . .

Is that fire? Probably. You've seen fire before, many times. Most of the time a lightning strike will hit a dry patch of brush and burn itself out--occasionally it will be a fellow wandering shepherd who left their coals thinking them covered well. . .

That is fire. And it is burning brightly, consistently, and. . .permanently? Let us go over to it and see what is going on. . .it's just a slight break in the pattern, a minor detour, a one-time anomaly. . .let us go see why this bush burns but does not burn up. . .

We know what happens now, don't we?
Moses encounters Yahweh, the great I AM, and he finds himself standing on holy ground, a place where sandals come off and heads are bowed. The fire, the bush, the Voice, and the calling all shattered Moses' four decade pattern of shepherding in the wilderness. The Burning Bush is the beginning of one of the grandest narratives of the Bible, the Exodus of God's people, the journey from slavery to freedom, from death to life. . .

I was recently at a conference where I met a very articulate, educated young woman who was  practicing law in a big city. We were sitting at a table in the volunteer's room after lunch and I was asking her typical get-to-know you questions. . .

"So wow, you're getting to practice law in a very specific arena, is that what you've wanted to do?"

"Not really. I'm just doing it for now. I'm called to work with orphans in ___________ but I'm waiting for the fire, you know?"

"What if the fire never comes?"

I received a very shocked and blank look.

Only one person in the Bible ever got a burning bush--and he didn't want it. He wasn't even looking for it, and when he got the Burning Bush moment, he tried to reason with God out of it with some quickly put together rationalizations. . .

I told this young lady that if she had a calling to do something, then she might want to consider the next step as doing it and not waiting for miraculous fire sent from on high to settle into her heart. . .

I had limited time with her, and had already shocked her with my statements so I backed off but I could've gone further and said that "Burning Bush Moments", meaning clear definitive times in God's presence where we worship in awe and understand what we are to do, come more frequently when we are already walking and working in obedience. . .rather than when we are waiting for a supernatural passion to arrive. And even then we are not promised those unique otherworldly moments. . .we may get them (once every 40 years?) but we are most assuredly not promised them.

I was still mulling these thoughts and had just jotted them down on my little mini-clipboard with its mini-legal pad when one of the emcees of the event shared a poem. . .about a burning bush.

It is from Elizabeth Barret Browning and it goes like this:

Earth's crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God;

But only he who sees, takes off his shoes - 

The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

And here is the real secret of the Burning Bush. . .the real secret of experiencing heavenly fire and walking in wonder and awe. . .

Are we willing to slow down our frantic pace, take off our efficiency and profit goggles, switch off our consumer engines, turn down the noises of a million media devices and power down the screens of isolated connectivity enough that we can see the fire all around us and smell the roses of this spectacular garden that has been granted to us? Will our sandals stay pragmatically on as we pluck the blackberry and see only a pie for our appetites. . .or will we fling them away in joy and awe seeing in this bush a miracle of Creation? (Which will make them taste all the sweeter. . .)

The sacred spaces are all around us. . .Lord, give us eyes to see. . .

Matt O.

The Night the Tooth Fairy Didn't Come

Raising children is a complex stew of consistency, sacrifice, endurance, creativity and joy. Each moment in the relational process of raising your child contains at least one of these elements, and sometimes even all five. The first concept there, consistency, is a huge one, because it encompasses everything from discipline to family traditions. . .and woe to the parent who breaks the pattern of tradition. . .

Our oldest daughter, Micah, was around six, highly verbal, extremely imaginative and quite passionate, and she instantly loved the concept of family traditions. For her, if we did it once and she enjoyed it-- it was thereby a Tradition which must be repeated. . .and the more creative it was, the more it should be concreted into the patterns of our existence.

It was the perfect storm then: a child who loved imaginative and repetitive activities and the childhood sacrament of The Tooth Fairy. . .

Wait! I go through the pain of losing this bloody wiggly tooth and I get to hide it under my pillow and a whimsical creature from the Other comes while I sleep and pays for my shoddy first edition dental work with cold hard cash? Sign me up!

We added to the allure by paying her in gold Sacajawea dollars (You remember those right? A surefire top ten entry on the Bad Ideas of the Millennium List, ranking up there with peanut butter and jelly in the same jar, George Lopez getting his own late night show, or this product which has a firm grip on the #1 spot) You ever try to pay for something with Sacajawea dollars? People look at you like you gave them a handful of buttons. Nonetheless, my daughter loved getting those 2 gold coins, it was like pirate's treasure (delivered by an orally fixated pixie of course).

It was the night of Tooth #3. . .we had established with the previous teeth the pattern of bedtime hide and morning reward with the Tooth Fairy, and Micah was excited for the tradition to manifest once again. My wife was working late that evening on her animal business and I had some friends over for a sporting event and general male ballyhoo. We tucked Micah in for the night, finished our assorted activities, and went to bed late. . .

Our alarm clock the next morning sounded really weird. . .it sounded like a wailing kindergartener was standing by my ear. . .I woke up in my normal way, which is like a dimwitted bear after a winter of hibernation, and realized there was a wailing kindergartener standing by my ear.

My daughter was at eye level with her palm held out, a tiny misshapen piece of enamel known as an incisor lying there desolate and alone, her mouth contorted into the Saddest Frown Ever, with the following words being bansheed into my ear canal at a volume usually reserved for tornado sirens:

"She didn't come. She didn't come. SHE DID-N'T COOOOOOOME."

My wife and I bolted upright then and gave each other the patented Marriage Look known as the I Thought You Were Going To Face. We followed this up with the We're the Worst Parents in the Galaxy Face and the She's Going to Start Piercing Body Parts at Age 8 Because We Didn't Love Her Enough Face. . .

That moment may have been the worst I've ever felt as a parent. . .the sheer disappointment radiating from my child was completely my fault. . .I straight up forgot a cherished childhood tradition. . .

Shannon and I recovered nicely, her swooping in with the compassionate hug and tone of voice that moms seem to have intuitively better skills in, and I came up with a Plan B which began a few minutes later with a knock at the door. . .

Shannon calmed Micah down enough to hear the knock on the door and said,
"I wonder who that could be? Would you like to answer the door?"

Micah shuffled all teary eyed and red faced to the door and opened it. . .and there on the porch was a letter addressed to her. . .

It was a letter from the Tooth Fairy explaining why she didn't come (The Boogeyman delayed her), apologizing profusely (She normally would never let this happen) and here was a quick treasure map to the gold coins, just leave your tooth there when you find them (I had to hide the gold so the Boogeyman wouldn't get it).

We got dressed and had a fun treasure hunt together, and then went to the computer and started a children's book called The Night the Tooth Fairy Didn't Come (a work still in progress). That morning of disappointment has turned into one of our favorite family memories. . .

One of the things I like to study is the effect and role of unmet expectations in our lives. . .
We all have expectations and the vast majority of the time we genuinely expect them to be met. . .and when they aren't, our responses usually include any combination of disappointment, disillusionment, anger, frustration, bitterness, whining, or isolation.

Expectations and how they are fulfilled or not fulfilled affect us every day. . .even to the simplest things. . .
We get angry at the red light not because it is red but because we expected it to be green.

We get disappointed at the movie for not meeting the expectations we had after we saw the preview, at the meal for not looking or tasting like the commercial showed it or the menu described it, at the product we just purchased because it didn't function the way we wanted to or make us feel the way we thought it would. . .(or the TV show LOST didn't end the way we wanted it to and we're still cynical about committing to any drama in primetime ever again. . .)

But even more insidious and destructive is the way our feelings can fester and cause isolation in our relationships both with people and God. Unmet expectations poorly handled have derailed many a faith journey, marriage, and friendship. . .

We cannot realistically expect people to never hurt us (by forgetting the "tooth fairy") nor can we expect God to always act in the way that we want Him to (That would make us God and Him a circus performer on our leash). I am not saying we walk around only with the expectation to be disappointed, but it would make many of us way more healthy all around if we stopped placing lofty and mostly unvoiced expectations on God and our relationships. . .and concurrently stopped wailing inwardly about those expectations when they are not fulfilled the way we want them to be. . .

In fact, I think many of us are missing the "knocks at the door" because we are too busy screaming "She didn't cooooommme!". . .and if you don't hear the knock, you can't enjoy what might be one of the best treasure hunts ever. . .

"I wonder who that could be? Would you like to answer the door?"

Matt O.

Quick Bonus Story if you aren't tired of reading yet. . .
I think it was Tooth #5 where Micah knew the Tooth Fairy was just us, and she concurrently was very into fairies in general. So that night I put on her little costume fairy wings she had, grabbed her fairy godmother wand and had Shannon take a picture of me sneaking into her room as the Tooth Fairy. I printed off the picture, folded it, and placed it with the Sacajaweas. The next morning she came out of her room not laughing, but screaming, and yelled:
"The Toothy Fairy is NOT A BOY!"
. . .and proceeded to tear up the picture and leave it in the hallway.
You see, once again, unmet expectations!

And I just found this:

Binkies for Wrinklies (Part 2)

The danger in pacifying by preference is that you can end up with a congregation of babies.
The power of pacifying by love is you build a community of worshipers who belong to one another.

We left yesterday with those main thoughts as we told the tale of Evelyn Cash & The Cup. . .a few more thoughts before I head to the beach for a week of vacation. . .

The goal of your pastoral leadership should never be to make everyone happy, or to remove all reason for complaint. Spirit-led leadership is about shepherding people to love the Lord God with all they are, and to love their neighbors as they love themselves. This has to mean that there will be differences in preferences amongst the flock, otherwise we are only loving those who are just like us. We cannot  truly love unless we are laying down life, and you can't lay down life if you are surrounded by people who all have the exact same preferences as you.
The battle that used to rage in church communities (and still does many places) between Hymns vs. Choruses is a great example. . .instead of learning to serve each other by insisting that the other receive their preference, we pacify ourselves by creating a service for our specific preferences. Or we plant a church that caters exclusively to "our people". . .(I'm a church planter and I recognize this tendency in me as well: the people want something, give it to them quick, before they become upset!)

The older generation and the younger generation continue to separate by preference and personal details because they desire first and foremost to have it their way.

We need diversity to learn what love means. Unity isn't being homogenous, it's about different and unique people becoming One Body because they serve One Lord. We need to learn to build bridges with love when the complaints come rather than racing around to put out the fires of superficial discontentment. The guilt is on leadership for taking this approach too often. . .but the guilt is also equally shared (and sometimes more so) by those of us who sit in services and act like babies demanding their bottle and "pacy" and not giving our leaders the freedom to shepherd. Or having the patience with each other to bear with one another in love. . .

We often think the state of immaturity in American Churchianity is due to theological issues. . .

But maybe it's just because we're immature.

Binkies for Wrinklies (Part 1)

She sat halfway back, right on the aisle, an elbow crooked over the side. It was her seat. The congregation had become familiar with her presence in that location and thus had conceded the spot to her dominion, sort of like squatter's rights for church pews. It was a 200 year old congregation, and Evelyn Cash had sat in her pew for 199 of them. Give or take.

She was always early, which was a good thing, because she wouldn't have been able to give the church bulletin a thorough pre-service edit otherwise. Evelyn had a perfect helmet of hair, "done" every week, gray and white, with highlights of ashy blue mixed in. Large glasses accentuated the predator's eyes, which roamed the sanctuary for the out of place: a fallen offering envelope, missing flags from the stage perhaps, or a youth pastor with an untucked shirt or an unwanted goatee.

Once the "out of place" were located, any listeners unluckily caught in her whirlpool of grumbling got to hear about them from a perfectly pinched and wrinkled mouth, like she had been born smoking an invisible cigar and told to never let it slip from her lips lest she die.

I was the untucked and goateed youth pastor who knowingly swam into the whirlpool each Sunday morning, hoping each week my chipper can-do attitude would break the chains of complaining. . .

"Good morning Evelyn, how are you?"

It's cold in here.

It's hot in here.

I don't know any of these songs.

I saw some of your kids running around outside behind the gym.

You think he's gonna preach past twelve again this week?

Where's the choir? We haven't had the choir in a month.

No organ? These songs don't sound right without the organ.

When are you going to shave that?

Slowly, Evelyn became my enemy and her negativity just an accepted part of my Sunday morning liturgy. Arrive early. Help the Pastor get ready. Meet my students. Tell my students not to run around behind the gym. Get an earhole of complaint from Evelyn Cash.

I began complaining about her complaining. She was becoming a joke to me and the students, like a church version of the old men in the balcony on the Muppets, except without the humor. I wish she'd get with the program and stop being so negative.

"Good morning Evelyn, how are you today?"
"They moved the water fountain out of the foyer."
"Yeah, it was leaking on the floor, and now we have more room to greet people."
"Hrmmmm. Well, now I can't get a drink when I come in."

I just walked away gritting my teeth and shaking my head. And then a thought occurred to me, Evelyn Cash is my enemy, what am I supposed to do with my enemies? Love them.

I went downstairs and got a cup from the kitchen, filled it up from the water fountain and brought it back to the sanctuary. . .

"Here you go Evelyn."

 A pause. Something resembling a tentative smile crept onto her face, a coy look softening her hawk eyes. . .

"Thank you."

One cup of cold water was all it took. I got pre-service hugs each week instead of complaints about my casual attire. Some weeks I even slid into the pew beside her and flirted a bit. . .

"Whatcha know good looking?"
"You stop it!"

A highlight of our holiday youth group caroling that year was stopping at Evelyn Cash's and everyone getting hugs from a teary and gentle saint. (Pic below, complete with my Youth Pastor Hair Blonde Edition 2.0)

I remember the story of the cup of cold water that turned an enemy into a friend often, because it speaks in multiple ways to life in American Churchianity. . .

I've already commented recently on the lost art of listening to those who have stories to tell (https://static.squarespace.com/static/51684840e4b0e454d76e5461/51795ac7e4b0ef3dce089be4/51795ac9e4b0ef3dce089c3c/1346881383000/) so I won't go into that any further. And the lesson on loving your enemy rather than complaining about them or avoiding them speaks for itself. . .but another thought. . .

Pacifiers (or Binkies) are what we give babies to stop them from crying, to pacify them, to calm them down. They are momentary fixes in the emotional development of the child, and parents with toddlers who love pacifiers have to not only potty train them, but also eventually get them off the binky.

Did I pacify Evelyn? Without being condescending, I did to some degree. But how did she go from crying to contentment? With an act of love, with a bridge of relationship by serving her. She was not pacified by me succumbing to her preferences. I did not order the music team to play the 17 organ-led hymns of Evelyn's worship canon every service for the rest of her life.

The danger in pacifying by preference is that you can end up with a congregation of babies.
The power of pacifying by love is you build a community of worshipers who belong to one another.

Tomorrow we will journey a little farther along with these thoughts. . .

Matt O.

How Are You?

"How are you?"

How am I? How am I?

Will you wait for an answer
or will you walk by grinning
knowing I'm just fine,
just like you, just like him, just like her?
We're all fine.

Good, good, and you?

"How are you?"

How am I? How am I?

Stand here and listen as I keep your hand in the grip of the shake you meant to release,
as I hold on and answer the question you asked but didn't really mean. . .
You have asked, and I will answer,
I will look you in the eyes and open my heart and my mouth and you will receive an answer,
a piece of me and we will no longer be
strangers bumping politely in the same dark ocean. . .

How am I?

Drink deeply from the wells of life was once the magnetic drumbeat of my soul.
The echoes of the Creator are everywhere, dance accordingly.
Yet other drummers crowded in, other rhythms to move to,
although it was no dance. . .
It was a trance, a shuffling, I became a zombie of the highest order,
craving not the flesh of the living
just content to flail along slowly to the next numbing destination.
Alive, yes, but unaware.
How am I?
Well that drumbeat has returned. . .
At first an uncertain thump off in the distance
like a clap of thunder from a storm whose rain you may not feel. . .
Thum. Thum.
I took a rest from aimless wandering, a pause from coasting on momentum from memories past
and I turned that ear of the spirit towards that far off call.
Thum. Thum.
A Wind rustling browning leaves, 
An alarm clock long forgotten
waking a weakened sleeper.
I grabbed my pilgrim's compass and found it faithfully pointing still towards
rich soil, high seas, and colors that could paint the gray world alive. 
How am I?
I am stretching out folded wings for the first time in ages, shaking dust off tools long forgotten and reclaiming paradigms and epiphanies of an eternal vocabulary. . .
restoring mental faculties filed away flippantly by the dictator of real life.
I am allowing the muses and the rainbows to restore the joints of flight and fancy
with their otherworldy magic,
to whisper whimsically the nameless things in my life and make this tin man dance again.
Drink deep from the wells of life.
He is good. And He gives good gifts. 
And they are present in every sparrow, every hair, every breath.
Each joy, each pain, each hope, and each death.

How am I doing?
Oh friend, I am fine.Very fine, thank you very much.
But now I ask:
How are you?
Matt O.

Gambling with Orphans

"There is a youth group in Southern California who decided to adopt an orphanage in Brazil and support them with prayer, service, and monetary giving. The teenagers help get monthly sponsors for the orphans and they organize one big mission trip to go there every year. In addition to just serving the people who live and work at the orphanage, the youth group likes to arrive with a large financial donation. I'd like to tell you the way the youth pastor and his students fund their trip and where the money comes from for the donation. . .
One Saturday night, every month throughout the year, they hold a Casino Night. The Gym gets transformed into a gambling casino complete with lights, decorations, card games and dice games. The teenagers dress up in formal wear and are the dealers and hosts for the event, running the games, handing out mixed non-alcoholic drinks, etc.
They invite the church and the whole community to attend and it's a big hit. The deal is this: any winners get to keep what they win but whatever the "house" makes goes to support the orphans, 100% of it. So far, they haven't had to do any car-washes, and the orphanage is thriving thanks to this youth group. So, our first question is. . .what do you think about this youth group?"

These were the opening words of an Ethics class that my partner-in-ministry-crime Seth and I taught over ten years ago in a local church. The room was packed. It was a Sunday School room for 45 but there were at least 65 people in there, from senior citizens and college students to homeschooling moms and blue collar dads. I blame the high attendance on the announcement we gave from the stage in Big Church the previous week. . .
. . .the announcement where Seth and I threw out to the crowd various ethical questions like "Is it ever right to lie?" or "Should we ever disobey the government?". In the midst of that announcement, Seth went in slang mode, cocked his elbows in the air, mimed pinching a cigarette in one hand and yelled "Can Christians ever burn one?" The crowd erupted in laughter, and ten days later we had an overflowing class. Was it our humor they were drawn to or did they really want to know if they could burn "one"? We may never know.

We started off the class with a "What do you think?" question about the gambling Youth Group in California. To this day, it might've been the most electric 60 minutes of Christian Education I've ever been a part of. . .it was like we had all the Republicans and Democrats of the world in one room and told them we could only nominate one person for president and it was going to be Lady GaGa.

You know those small groups when a leader throws out a question and then ends up answering it because they waited for two minutes and all they got was one mumbled cliche from someone staring at the floor? Well, this group was the opposite of that with gas thrown on it. . .

People had opinions and they let 'em fly. The following are some quotes as best as I can remember them. The one about smoking crack is the only one I'm sure I got right verbatim. Yep, the one about smoking crack. . .

"I don't see what's so wrong with it, as long as the money is going to a good cause."

"Gambling is wrong. End of story."

"Show me in the Bible where gambling is wrong."

"What's the difference between spending a few bucks a month on the lottery and gambling thousands of dollars a year on the stock market."

"There's a difference! One's an investment!"

"Really? I thought it was you taking a chance of making a ton of money off a smaller amount of money. It's like a lottery for rich people."

"We're supposed to be influencing these kids for good. Might as well take 'em to the street corner and teach 'em to smoke crack!"

The class went back and forth, with Seth and I occasionally jumping in and playing Devil's Advocate (or assuming the role of  Referee of Civility) and I'm pretty sure we could've filled a second hour. Maybe a third.

We calmed everyone down at the end to give our closing speech which went like this. . .
"There is no youth group in California doing Casino night. We made that up. We are not endorsing gambling or even saying that the ends justify the means. We did want to start this Ethics class off with a dialogue that made us examine what we believe and why we believe it. But we also wanted to point out that life is very complicated and sometimes the easy answers or the cookie-cutter answers we've always had or heard don't satisfactorily answer all the questions. 
This class is going to be about navigating some big questions with grace and understanding, teaching us to think through our decisions and actions in a way that is true to the Scriptures but not necessarily what we've always heard."

The class eventually dwindled to about 30 people. After the first class, we had one older gentleman who had a severe hearing problem leave the church in anger saying we were promoting gambling. I tried to invite him back but he didn't hear that either.
The quote of the night, however, came from a middle-aged woman, who didn't leave the church but did leave the class. . .
"I didn't know it was going to be like that. I thought they were going to tell us what to believe."

Christianity at its core should not be a religion (though it manifests as very religious most of the time) but rather a relationship. And relationships require relating with another personality personally. We cannot be content with others telling us what God is like, or just telling us to behave in a way that pleases the Big Guy Upstairs, we must walk in the relationship ourselves. . .and we'll probably end up with the same conclusions most of the time anyways. . .but I like actually drinking the Pumpkin Spice Latte as I walk amongst the falling leaves as a crisp wind flows around my newly unearthed sweatshirt. . .rather than just saying "Oh, yeah, I just love Autumn, too!" because my favorite news reporter or blogger said "that's what we do, we love fall!"

And there aren't always perfect blocks to put into all those weird shaped holes that life keeps showing us (more and more as you get older). . .I don't want other people's factory-issue blocks to cram into those spaces, I want to have a personal relationship with God where I trust Him in such a way that we can fashion blocks together even using my doubts and uncertainties in the process.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go place a bet on a horse named T Party. . .my preacher said he's real fast. . .

Matt O.

Playground Preachers

In late 2000, I began to be blessed with opportunities to go on the road and teach about following Christ to teenagers. (I was also blessed because someone bought all the Twinkies and Spam I had left over in my Y2K bunker.) The prayer process back then of deciding where to go to preach was similar to many single young men's prayer lives: "Lord, if they want me then I want them".

I drove all over the Southeast, most of the time to remote places, ending with me trying to read tiny painted signs at night on a deserted and wooded road. This was pre-GPS and smartphone, so all I had were the old school Google directions which printed out 64 extra lines of copy and gave you a map the size of a postage stamp, and my internal compass which had I been a sailor would have caused me to be thrown overboard.

I remember one event from those early years I had been asked to speak at, a youth revival in a hidden county in Tennessee that I U-turned and christian-cursed my way to. . .

I arrived and met the gentle and unassuming youth pastor as well as the keyboardist and his wife who would be leading the singing (Back to back keyboardist blogs!). The standard protocol for these events after meeting each other and judging whether or not you have "buyer's remorse" already (Ex: "This guy looks like one of those worship leaders" "I bet this youth pastor can't even spell CHUBBY BUNNY" "This preacher doesn't look like an evangelist, heck, he looks like he could be on the chess club at the high school", etc.) is to then go over The Event  and make sure we're all on the proverbial same page. This is usually followed by 1 of 2 different kinds of meals:

1. Pizza, with side dishes of chips and soda, often times off brand soda like Mountain Moon Drops or Dr. Thunder. Often the pizza is picked up by a well-meaning Soccer Mom who in her never-ending thirst for perfect planning picked the pizzas up 85 minutes early just in case something goes wrong. Nothing will go wrong lady, you just stack them on the tables. This leads to cold and cardboard like pizzas. Also, you eat with the students, who do not want to eat with you because you are lame and old and they have no idea if you're going to be a Yell At Them and Get Me Saved (Again) Youth Preacher or a Funny Stories From College That Usually Involve Pee, DooDoo, or Puke Youth Preacher. You don't want to sit with Option A and things are unknown at this point. (Unfortunately, I was neither A or B and went for Mad Prophet Youth Preacher and ate with one hand, standing on a chair, bugging out my eyes and pointing with my other hand and mumbling the words "hidden sin" as I chewed the cold Domino's sausage cardboard.)

2. The Last Supper This is the opposite of the Pizza meal. The youth pastor and you know this is the last meal of sanity and decorum you'll have all weekend, and the last meal that doesn't involve the words Make Your Own Sub or Italian in it. This meal is usually at the YP's favorite restaurant and involves appetizers and pieces of properly cooked cow because the YP has been given the Church Credit Card for the night and he refuses to be remembered as the wicked and lazy servant. . .

Back to the narrative: the rundown on this Event, however, had a slight wrinkle. . .before Pizza or The Last Supper, the YP said we needed to meet the senior pastor because he wanted to talk to us. He said it in a sheepish way, like he was embarrassed almost to bring it up. My spidey sense began tingling. . .

The worship leaders and myself entered the Senior Pastor's office, the large dark wood desk greeting us as we entered, looking like it had taken the hymn A Mighty Fortress literally. The walls were covered with the prerequisite family photos, nature shots, and framed Seminary degree and the back wall had the standard issue book shelves full of books the pastor had read, wanted to read, had been forced to read, and ones he wanted others to think he had read.

The black leather swivel chair was turned away from us, facing the computer screen, and had a high back, like a throne, making it impossible to see the Preacher. . .

He swiveled around dramatically. . .and. . .
He was wearing the Phantom of the Opera mask.

I'm kidding. Sorry.

He swiveled around dramatically and, I'm not making this  up, had his hands steepled in front of him like Mr. Burns from the Simpsons. I won't describe his looks too much but if I was brought in to a police line-up consisting of 500 males and told to pick out the Preacher, I would've picked this guy in my top 3 without seeing the other 499. . .

We were looking up at him in all of his Pastoralness because his chair was purposefully set above ours. He unsteepled his hands, placed them menacingly on the edges of the desk palms down, then said hello and immediately launched into this speech (and again, I am not making this up. . .):

"We're glad you're here. But I want to tell you something, you're here to serve. You're not here to just do your thing at night and then play golf with your buddies. We're gonna work ya. Understand? And I want you to know. . .This is my sandbox. If I feel I need to step in at any time I will. If I think I need to take the microphone away from you, I will. Do I make myself clear? This is my sandbox."

Yes. Yes you do. Perfectly clear. And I couldn't answer then because I was young and rendered speechless by your Power Play but I've got an understanding now that I'd like to share with you wherever you are. . .

That church was not your sandbox. It was a collection of God's people, God's flock, that He gave you the privilege of shepherding with gentleness, humility and faithfulness. It was not your personal playground for you to build sandcastles of statistical success in, so that you could feel worthy or accomplished or silence those feelings of insecurity you've had your whole life because of hurts received in the past from your home or school. The church is not a territory you must mark with your spiritual bigtalk or a domain you must protect and expand for your ego's sake. . .it is a small mustard seed you must nurture and care for. And I know you think you were just protecting your flock from possible "wolves", but I know you now, and I now many others like you, you are not humbly protecting your flock like a parent with a child, you are puffing your chest up and sitting on the hoard of your treasure like a conqueror with his sword out fearing that a rival may snatch what is yours if you turn your back for a moment. . .The church is not a sandbox, a stepping stone, or a trophy of validation, it is a beautiful and imperfectly green pasture you are called to nurture for God's Kingdom and Glory. . .

The church is not a sandbox, although that day it felt like it. . .as I listened to a child warningly kick sand in my eye and let me know there would be no sharing taking place as long as he was there.

And because of our time with Pastor Sandy, we didn't have time for a Last Supper. . .bottoms up Mountain Frost.

Matt O.

Just Jesus

The old high school gym had the classic look, the banners which no one reads anymore intermittently hung from the rafters, the glossy yellow wood floor contrasting the ascending rows of dark brown bleachers, the multiple sets of double doors and exit signs, and all of it illuminated by the bright artificial glow only gym lighting can provide and smelling of decades of losses, victories and the sweat that made them happen.

The old school gym location was appropriate because I was there for something old school, but it wasn't basketball. I was there for a classic Youth Rally. My friend, who we'll call Ric, was asked to "bring the Word" at this youth event, and Ric had invited me to join.

The Youth Rally has been around a long time and had various manifestations in its history. It is no longer called a Youth Rally in most youth ministries, but its parts and intentions still exist. This story happened in 2001, so it still had no problem calling itself a Youth Rally. Whatever they are now called, the essential core remains the same and remains true to its original moniker: They exist to Rally the Youth. It may take loud music, pizza, hilarious games, hilarious-er videos, hyped youth workers, whatever, but you got to get them teens rallied up.
It's similar to a pep rally for the football team's Friday night game versus their division rival, except in this case the offensive line is 87 pound middle school boys and the enemy is Mammon or that ole Devil. Philippians 4:13 is still relevant in both scenarios of course.

Ric and I sat down front like good preachers and entourages should, and behind us the bleachers shook and squeaked as the stadium rows were being filled with teenagers from all the local youth ministries. The praise band had set up centered on the floor, just about ten feet off the front row. Ric and I were very close to the action.

As the patented 7:00 start time struck, a very non-cool looking man humbly walked to the keyboard, and was followed by equally postured teenagers who arrived at their various instruments and microphones. It was nice to see them all acting so reserved and unassuming about their role as worship leaders. The keyboardist began to play softly on his electric piano and the moderately volumed house PA system projected it somewhat garbled out onto us rally constituents.

The worship leader began to speak over his tickling of the heavenly ivories:
"Guys, these rallies are often about hype, and getting fired up and being passionate, with loud music or a great band, or cool speakers or games or whatever. And it's really easy to forget why we're here, and that's Jesus."

(awkward applause from the Pentecostal church present which died out when not properly backed by the Baptists)

"So tonight, we don't want it to be about us, or getting crazy, or winning games. We want to bring it back to the heart of worship, which is about singing to our awesome Savior, Jesus. Let's pray."

I don't remember what he prayed because I was just really impressed with his intro and how he was conducting himself. He seemed to really want to bring the students to a place of reverent humility and away  from vaporous hype.

He said amen and began to play Heart of Worship (which you probably saw coming if you remembered it was 2001) and lead the rally to a place of reflection.

What happened next? Revival? 500 teens getting on bended knee and crying out to God? Heavenly clouds appearing and parting and a dove descending in glorious light with messages for each of us in its talons?

Nope. I'll tell you what happened next and not one bit of it is hyperbole. . .

The three youth pastors who sponsored the event came rushing in from the lobby doors carrying a water balloon launcher and a trash bag of balled up T-shirts. They were whooping and pointing at the crowd and ran to the edge of the keyboard and set up to begin launching t-shirts into the crowd.

The worship leader just kept going with his subdued and authentic rendition of Heart of Worship with the three highly amped leaders right by his piano. Remember that the keyboard was about ten feet off the front row. They didn't care. The youth guys just started loading up their launcher with t-shirts, pulling back hard on those bungee cords and began letting the cotton fly.

The crowd became this surreal mix of people holding up hands to bless the Lord and teens holding up hands to receive the blessing of free clothes. I think the youth pastors assumed all of them were the latter. The scene turned into a bizarre mix of news footage of a protest mob being dispersed with tear gas and a crowd of people arriving at an armored car wreck with cash floating on the air. The shirt bombs were flying at them at insane speeds, people diving to avoid getting hit, others scrambling to get the free treasure.

The front rows were throwing themselves to the ground like they were playing dodgeball with rocks once they saw an eighth grade girl go down holding her face like she'd been punched by a bear. We reached our concussion quota for this youth event in the first two minutes.

The youth pastors kept firing and the worship leader kept singing.

"And it's all about you Jesus. . ."

Kaboom. Pow.

"I'm sorry Lord for the thing I made it. . ."

Kaboom. Pow. Ka-Boom.

Ric and I turned and watched the chaos. We laughed ironically and tried to follow our lone keyboardist and his timid little band of poor musicians. It was tough to do, being in the middle of an America's Funniest Youth video and all, but it became easier as the youth pastors exited with one last cheerleader like hand-raise and head bob, and dashing back through the lobby doors, no doubt congratulating each other with high-fives. Another successful youth rally and the Word hadn't even been "brought" yet. . .

"O Lord, help us all to be outdated irrelevant keyboardists of sincerity, and protect us from the passionate missiles of distraction launched our way. Amen."

Matt O.

(If you're cynically wondering what font they used at the Youth Rally, this was Pre-Papyrus era, when Comic Sans reigned. . .)

The Grit

I've now lived in the South as long as I ever lived in the North. In fact, each day down here my y'all gets a little more y'all-y. I guess I have dual citizenship now. . .I hope a civil war doesn't break out or I'll have the awkward decision of what team to root for, although it might be flattering to be recruited ;)

Going back to the little rural church I wrote about in "I Love You Gob", I'd like to tell you about my unwashed Northern ways and the first time it truly let me down in the culture of the South. . .

I had only been working for the church a few months when the men of the church decided it was time to raise up and forge that hairy beast known as the Men's Prayer Breakfast. I could probably write 18 paragraphs of jokes at this point but we'll just say that most of those beasts are all bacon and no bible.

Our deacons were the main impetus behind the movement, all three of them, as well as an older gentleman named Paul Pruitt. Paul was truly an original. I'm guessing he weighed 300 pounds and couldn't have stood more than five and a half feet. He had been in a wreck and had trouble with his neck and spine, in fact, it looked like he had no neck, his massive head just sat tilted to the side between his hulking shoulders, so much so that he would seem to strain and look up just to look at you in the eye. He had a voice like he was chewing rocks and had salt and pepper rose bushes for eyebrows.

Paul had two main passions besides his wife and Jesus: watermelons and vacuums. He collected old vacuums and then used the parts to tinker around with other peoples' vacuums and hopefully fix them. A visit to his house was like seeing the laboratory of a Mad Maid scientist, a museum of mismatched skeletons of sweepers of old.
And every spring, Paul would make runs in his tiny knockaround pick-up truck down to Florida and come back with a bed full of watermelons. It was a great sight, the massive hump shouldered man joyfully rolling out of that little truck with early treasures for the warm nights. He sold some of them, but you could tell he loved giving them away more. . .

Well, Paul and the deacons started up the Men's Prayer Breakfast (it requires all capital letters), and the deacons told Paul that they and the youth pastor would handle all the cooking. The youth pastor meaning ME. I got to the Family Life Center (see also Gym) at an hour when the roosters were still in REM, and asked what could I do to help. . .

The deacons had already been up for an hour praying and farming and probably giving Yahweh a few pointers for all I know, and so the battle plan was already set. I think they may have fought for the right to make the gravy for the biscuits, but I didn't press too much in order to avoid opening newly scabbed wounds. I got the honor of doing The Grits. Which to this day makes no sense to me--give the new Northerner who has never eaten a grit nor seen one, the crown jewel of southern breakfast delicacies?

The deacons got lost in their own culinary worlds, and so I only got to hear 2 things about grits:
1. Grits are good. They stick to your ribs.
2. Grits are easy, you can just put in the crock pot til the breakfast, they'll keep.

Regarding #1, I think grits need a new PR person if your first selling point is "they stick to your ribs"--yeah, so does paint and caulking, but you don't see me dipping my eggs in them. . .

And as for #2, all I heard was "crockpot". So, I mixed the grits in water and placed the white grainy soup in the crockpot and turned it to high and watched as the deacons danced the Martha Stewart together as smells of bacon grease and buttered eggs filled the air.

We put out our bounty in a glorious buffet and the guests arrived, our mish-mash assembly of hungry and spiritually disciplined males, emphasis on hungry, and we gathered around the awkward rectangle of church tables and "blessed the food. . .and the hands that prepared it". (My hands did feel kind of tingly and good after that prayer. . .)

As soon as the Amen descended, the fellas and I dug in to the cultural beauty known as a Southern Breakfast  (and to be honest, the South does have everyone licked in this department). Let's just say I loved everything. . .except the grits. Gross. How do you people eat these things? It was like eating sand from the beach, except the grains were more like pebbles made of newspaper. I employed the "Used Napkin" technique and covered my shamefully uneaten grits and went back for seconds on bacon (which is one of my Love Languages).

But then I noticed I wasn't the only one deploying the Used Napkin to hide unwanted grits. Everyone else had pushed theirs away too. . .everyone but Paul Pruitt.

A kind of hushed stare collectively permeated all of us as we watched ole hunchbacked, crook-necked Paul try to gag down my horrible grits. . .

Finally, mercifully, deacon Len said "Paul, you don't have to eat that."

And he said, "Oh, good", and pushed it away from his plate like he suddenly realized it had rabies.

We all laughed for a solid ten minutes at the Yankee boy's attempt to cook grits. Apparently, you put the grits in the crockpot after faithfully working them in the pan for a few days, and then just "to keep". . .you never cook them in a crockpot. They called my grits "The Grit".

They asked Paul why he kept eating it even after he knew The Grit was awful. He said because the new Yankee youth pastor had made them and he wanted me to feel welcome.

Now that my friends is hospitality, and that is making the effort to love someone. Any time I'm struggling with loving another person, I remember one thing:

Paul Pruitt ate my grits.

Matt O.

A Poem for Peters

"I am Simon Peter and I love you Lord!
See my devotion as I swing this sword!"

Simon Peter, I love you and know thee,
Rooster crowing, you deny you know me.
Foot in mouth and boldness broken,
Fear not, Peter, grace has spoken.

"I am Simon Peter and I love you Lord!
See my devotion as I swing this sword!"

  Simon Peter, do you love me more than cheese?

Cheese Lord? Yes, Jesus, I love you please,
I love you so much more than cheese.

But Peter, your stomach, your belly,
It really really wants PB and jelly,
By your appetites you will be led,
It's so hard to follow full of bread.

"I am Simon Peter and I love you Lord!
See my devotion as I swing this sword!"

Simon Peter, do you love me more than ease?

Ease Lord? Yes, Jesus, I love you please,
I love you so much more than ease.

But Peter, we know, ease is so easy,
Suffering is tough, it makes you queasy.
By your leisure you'll fall asleep,
Can't bear a cross if comfort you keep.

"I am Simon Peter and I love you Lord!
See my devotion as I swing this sword!"

Simon Peter, do you love me more than Wiis?

Wiis Lord? Err, Jesus, what are these Wiis?
I think I love you more than Wiis.

Peter, Wiis are techno-innovation,
Techno-worshiped in adoration,
 By your fascination you're directed,
In your distraction, I am rejected.

Simon Peter, I love you and know thee,
Rooster crowing, you deny you know me.
Foot in mouth and boldness broken,
Fear not, Peter, grace has spoken.

Do we truly love You more than these?
Your grace should bring us to our knees.

Wax & Bottles

There are two travelers in the woods at night. They both wish to arrive safely to their mountain homes. Rain falls steadily through the canopy of leaves, sheets of droplets drenching them, running into their eyes, adding irritation to their already lost sense of sight.

One traveler relies on the flashes of lightning to get him home. They come in spectacular streaks of luminescent brilliance, staggered over time, their patterns matching their intermittent arrivals.The light of lightning inspires a sense of awe every time, the traveler stands and marvels, eyes seared by the perfect image, a sending from heavenly places, unable to be controlled or explained.

He was blind and groping before, but now, with the intense flash of pure energy gone as quickly as it came, his lack of sight is full as well with swimming spheres of light, after-images accompanied only by the answering thunder.

For that one brief moment, as the bolt arrived, he could see! The world of the woods, with its roots and snarls, its brush and mysteries, was illuminated perfectly! Yet, for all that clarity, for all that crisp detail, he now stumbles again even worse than before. . .the roots and the snarls are no longer framed by lightning in his mind, they are jumping from the earth and grabbing his ankles. . .

If only he had a bottle, or something, to catch the perfect transcendent lightning in and have it with him always, to guide him home. . .but alas, he does not- - he wanders, tripping, unable to see the woods and wondering, when, oh when, will lightning strike again?

The second traveler reaches into her pocket and pulls out an ugly nub of a candle, wax clumped in misshapen forms, like flooding rivers captured in still as they left their natural beds. She sits on a wet stump, and strikes her well-worn tools with practiced hands, waiting for a sputtering spark to catch the wick of the tiny wand she holds. She does not move from her spot, simply waiting for the ritual to run its course, knowing in time it will light.

It does light, the dark wick sheltered by her hands, giving birth to the smallest of flames, growing into a steady but shifting brightness, one she can walk by if she holds her body protectively and does not move too swiftly. Her eyes focus not on the candle itself, but on that which the light bathes, defining it with detail she never knew in the midnight darkness.

The roots have texture and purpose, twisting and turning like serpents at play, feeding the massive sentinels above them with food transformed magically from sun, water, and decaying sacrifices in the rich dirt. She no longer fears the roots as enemies of her journey, but she delights in their unheralded complexity. . .as she steps over them smoothly.

She continues this pattern, walking slowing by her faithful and flickering waxy companion, appreciating the wonder of the world as her mountain home grows steadily closer. When it fails her, she finds another stump, sits, works, and waits for the flame to appear again and then proceeds on as before. . .

There are two travelers in the woods at night. One worships the lightning strikes and wanders tripping and cursing through the forest, hoping that he will one day arrive at the place he seeks. One walks in intentional deliberation, by the light of an imperfect but illuminating candle, seeing the woods for what they are, and with a steady gait towards home. . .

Matt O.

Gob Loves You

The first seven years of my journey in serving the Lord were spent in the trenches of the battle known as youth ministry. From volunteer to paid intern, to part-time guy for part-time pay, to overtime guy for part-time pay, I was there teaching passionate Bible studies, poorly washing cars at fund-raisers, doing crazy things to my hair for the sake of the kidz, and rocking lock-ins left and right.

My first full-time, fully in charge, here are the reins to our teenagers youth ministry was at a small church in very rural Georgia. They had completed their Family Life Center (see also: Multipurpose Room, Fellowship Hall, or Gym) and constructed three classrooms on the second level which overlooked the gym floor. I was given a tour of the classrooms and told that two of them would be Sunday School rooms (naturally) and the third could be. . .The Youth Room.

This was in the mid-90s, DC Talk had just recently released Jesus Freak, so the wave of CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) and praise bands in local churches was just forming, and the student ministry phenomenon and rite of passage known as The Cool Youth Room was also in cultural gestation. We were pumped to not have a Senior Citizen Sunday School hand-me-down room for our gathering place and to be on the cutting edge of "real" ministry. . .

I promoted the big Decorating of the Youth Room for a few weeks amongst our nine students as the first can't miss event of our journey together. I didn't really have a budget or anything close to resources near by (see above: very rural) so I began pillaging materials from The Closets of Cantatas and VBSs Past for our extreme makeover bash. I ended up with a patchwork art supply quilt of metallic silver pens, dehydrated markers smelling like chemical fruit, and primary colored poster paints. The big night came and the youth took my meager offerings and became the Rembrandts of teen faith expression as local Christian radio leaked out of my tiny boom box plugged into the corner.

Our walls looked like they had been in the middle of a war between fired Christian T-shirt designers and chimpanzee graffiti artists whose only knowledge of color was a Twister game they found in the jungle. Walking into the room, your sight was assaulted by a vision of sprawling bible verses, silhouettes of middle schoolers, dripping bumper sticker cliches, John Hancocks proudly blazed, and wallpaper designs as conceived by 8th graders and their gasping markers.

We loved it. We were proud.

We kept the supplies in the room for a few weeks, so the one or two students who hadn't been able to make it could add their Monet-like thoughts. And that was our mistake. . .because one morning in youth sunday school not too long later, someone pointed out a new phrase on the wall, barely noticeable, tiny letters written at an angle by an unsteady hand:

"I love you Gob."

We were incensed. An unregistered and rogue artist had violated our sanctuary. . .and with a sacrilege: a misspelling of God's name!!

Turns out the delinquent was the younger brother of one of the students, who on being questioned and cornered, said he just wanted to belong too. . .

Don't we all?

And don't we all at times scribble furtively in the dark our little prayers, feeling unworthy as we write them, a mix of uncertainty and ignorance, missing something. . .like God's name or a vital phrase crucial to making the prayers actually work?

Over the years, the story of the little vandal has repeatedly brought a reassuring smile to my face in times when I most needed it. . .
. . .when all I can really say is: I love you Gob.

And then, in those moments, I sense that Gob loves me back. . .

And Gob loves you too.

Matt O.

Biology Class

Most of my formative years happened in the obnoxiously distinctive decade known as "the 80s". It is no surprise then that my wardrobe choices and fads over the years have been less than timeless (though I have held the line with the fall flannel shirt pretty courageously. RIP Kurt).

One of my more prideful (at the time) and humorous (now) clothing collections was frog shirts. No, not those Johnny-come-lately Peace Frog shirts, the Earth Day type frog shirt and my personal favorite, the poison arrow frog shirt! I loved it when kids would want to pick out which little rainbow frog they liked best, or when girls would stop and read the dire environmental warning silk-screened gloriously across my scrawny chest about frogs being an indicator species for unhealthy changes in nature. . .

I don't know when the obsession started with frogs, but I know for sure when it didn't start:
Biology Class. We had a legend in our school named Mrs. Grove, a grizzly bear crossed with a tsunami, a hungry hawk perched on high and we the field mice, a cranky grim reaper wearing a six foot grandma disguise. . .who sometimes masqueraded as a sane person who knew some things about nature and yelled them at pubescent bags of bones trembling like mugs of coffee sitting on an unbalanced washing machine. . .

But enough about those lingering memories (nightmares), we are talking about frogs.

Biology Class is where you got to dissect animals for the first time. Most of us started with the earthworm, or maybe a cow's eyeball (What are we, witches?), but wherever we started, we almost always went the way of that rite of student passage known as frog dissection. I've heard of "really cool" schools who provide baby pigs or even sharks to dissect, but I think coolness can be a relative term sometimes (I'm looking at you skinny jeans. I know you're an easy target these days, but wow, I feel less shame about my John Stockton shorts than you'll feel 15 years from now with those pants. Trust me. Children of the 80s have a good feel for these things.)

Remember the smell of pasty green frogs in the air? The precarious feel of the over-sized safety goggles on your face? The tiny shake in your hands holding the scalpel as it hovered over the belly of the worshiping amphibian?

A few hesitant slices later, a few sticks of pins, and you were staring at the circuitry of life. Your teacher (or Force of Nature in my case) was asking you (or growling spit-filled verbiage in my case) to identify the parts of frog anatomy. There's his little frog belly where all those flies go, and his little bowels (which, if nicked by a blade clumsily wielded led to other mysteries of life), and the powerful muscles where hops come from. . .

I definitely did not fall in love with frogs (or their Tshirts) in Biology class.

I loved their otherwordly eyes, their vivid greens, their smooth and comical underwater swimming strokes you could only see on a sunlit day in a happy creek after you'd startled one off the bank with your noisy approach. . .

I may have learned what the insides of a frog looked like in that class known as Biology, but I learned what Frogness was from delighting in frogs. You have to kill an animal to dissect it.

If you've made it this far (long blog post, I know), here's my heart:

Life in Christ is a live frog and if you start messing too much with the insides, trying to define exactly what it means to be a frog, you kill it. This is not a statement against systematic knowledge, but it is a compassionate plea to smell the air for embalming fluid when you are seeking knowledge from others for what life in Christ is like. . .

My growing suspicion is that God is more pleased by our amazement in the thrilling leaps of  frogs though we do not know how or why than He is in us being able to accurately express the technical terms for amphibian guts. . .

What is Biology again? The study of life.

Welcome to class.

Matt O.

Lost Quotes: Post #5

I am not what folks would call a morning person. My eyes do not shoot open at the first tinkle of sound from my alarm clock, my body does not bounce out of bed bright-eyed and bushy-tailed ready to face the day (What are we, squirrels?). I wake up disoriented most mornings, and the darkness does not help (yes, I still get up early even though it isn't smooth like your grandma. "I've already read the paper and had 4 of those tiny cups of coffee!"). The darkness laughs at my pre-dawn clumsiness, obscuring the shoes I didn't quite tuck under the bed and aligning my path with the half-closed door. . .

Imagine living in complete darkness. There is never any light. You have no ability to rely on your sight to navigate, your only hope is to memorize where objects are by the unscientific method of groping with hands and banging with shins. Household items become painful enemies or at best, mysterious unknowns. The blindness does more than render your motor skills next to useless, it makes the usually simple acts of finding food and water a daily search for a holy grail. . .

Now imagine a whole mass of humanity in the same darkness, and in their blindness, just as desperate to find food and water, cursing over the same obstacles, panicked and fearful of the same unknowns. Would we trust each other? Would our voices alone be able to make peace with the strangers in the night? Would hunger trump trust? Would we all be monsters? It is not hard to imagine the answers to these questions. . .

For the last of the Lost Quotes series, I wanted to share this little line I found hastily written on a torn piece of paper, folded and forgotten in the back of a drawer:

"Light brings unity."

When light comes, the enemy can be truly seen. It is just the coffee table. It is just the stairs. It is just my neighbor and they too are hungry. The world we stumble around in is the same for all of us, and we are all the same. But it takes light to bring unity amongst people. . .it takes light for us to truly see each other, and to truly see ourselves. They were the monsters, but I was the monster too.

Light brings unity, a sense of union with another person, we are together, we are not enemies.

John writes in his first epistle:
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7 NIV)

People can only have true fellowship with each other in the light, if they remain in darkness, everyone is an adversary to be tricked, to be used, to be avoided, or to be harmed.

Jesus says in John 3, after describing being born again, seeing the Kingdom, and receiving eternal life:
"This is the crisis we're in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won't come near it, fearing a painful exposure." (John 3:19-20 Message)

We fear the exposure of the light, so we remain enemies in the dark.

Only the Light of Christ can bring us into union with the triune God, and only in Him can we have the fellowship with others for which we were designed. In fact, Paul indicates life only really begins when we are in the light of Christ, until then we shuffle around as spiritual zombies, dead but hungry, hurting ourselves and fighting anything we meet in the darkness. . .

But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: "Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."
(Ephesians 5:13-14 NIV, also read 5:8)

There is no unity with God and people without living in the light. And that light is Christ and is only found in Christ.

Matt O.

(Further reading: There are so many light passages! Too many for a simple blog! Follow the trail of LIGHT in the gospel of John starting in 1:4 and be amazed at this metaphor, chosen by God, to communicate the truth of knowing God and human living. Or the gospel of Matthew starting in 4:16  or 2 Timothy 1:10 or 1 Peter 2:9 or. . . )

Lost Quotes: Post #4

Our cable shows have made going to flea markets and antique stores a hot fad by showing professional pickers and treasure-hunting contests between eccentric personalities, but I've always loved that scene. I still do.

This past Saturday I got two wigs, a fluorescent tiger-striped fur trench coat, and a pair of school-marm glasses from the 60s all for about 3 hours of wandering and seeking (I collect wigs and costumes in case you were wondering). I even picked up a pair of hedgehog sculpture bookends for my wife (She raises, breeds, and sells hedgehogs in case you were wondering).

I came across a quote this weekend as well, ironically, that I had written from an antique store on one hunt long ago:
"We now live in a world where we see antique furniture and we want to turn it into a profit without ever hearing the story of the owner or the piece."

This quote has multiple levels of meaning for me, so it was interesting to see it lived out in a literal sense at the antique markets this past Saturday. There were many booths and tables of junk, with folks just heaping piles of unwanted items that they had purchased for a lump sum at a yard sale or that they had raided from a relative's home. As they stacked their trash, they hoped it would become someone's treasure.

No stories, no interaction, just dollar signs and stained merchandise and castaway toys. And to be honest, if I found a "treasure" there, I would have bought it and walked away. . .both of us happy with the transaction.

But at the good flea markets and the real antique stores (not just the ones selling snowman crafts or candles that could be purchased at Cracker Barrel type stores) there are folks who know their wares. They have hunted and studied, traveled and haggled, cajoled and connived to put this motley menagerie together. Walking the rows can take on a magical and whimsical feel.

Also though, many of them have lost grandfathers who fought in forgotten wars or family homes where life took an unfortunate turn.They bring together chairs where their parents learned to drink from a cup or favorite knick-knacks their crazy great aunt would let them get down off the shelf when they visited...they bring together a museum of memories, and the true treasure in their chests are the stories. . .
They don't just want to make a dollar off the material goods of their heritage, in fact, I would say many don't want to sell at all, but reality has forced their hand. What they really want is to share their lives with people. . .(I got the story on the tiger coat by the way, in case you were wondering)

We are losing the ability in our culture to engage people in genuine conversation, to freely listen to their stories, to understand that when someone tells you about their past they aren't always being egotistic, they're actually being vulnerable and hospitable. . .inviting you into their story.

I wrote that quote in an antique market as I watched people speed through looking for the hidden buck that the vendors had somehow missed. I found it sad that we looked at these valued nostalgic pieces from past moments as just pragmatic goods to be transferred. . .

But then I realized with sadness that in today's world we can look at people the same way. . .
I don't want the story, I just want to know what you can do for me.

Matt O.

The Lost Quotes: Post #3

"God loves for us to be fully human in His presence"

I remember writing this one now that I've come across it again. . .

I had been wrestling in prayer. Correct that: wrestling with praying.

Wrestling in prayer is the saintly practice of Jacob-like grappling with God over some spiritual issue, usually involving compassionate intercession for the lost or outcast.

Wrestling with praying is a daily tango with the snooze button followed by a rodeo where my wandering mind is the bull and I end up being the clown. It ends up as a cocktail of equal parts dozing off and daydreaming with a sprinkling of spiritual sounding outbursts thrown on top that may or may not have a Bible verse involved.

But the cocktail is always washed down with a tall glass of spiritual guilt.

I once saw a motivational poster at the YMCA that said "No matter how slow you're going you're still faster than the person on the couch." The prayer version of that poster is how I used to defeat the guilt from my sporadic and chaotic prayer times. At least I'm up and trying to pray. . .unlike those slug-a-bed believers who probably can't even spell Oswald Chambers. . .

The motivational poster works maybe for workouts, but not for our walk with Christ. Anytime we're seeking validation for our spiritual lives through the spiritual disciplines themselves we're in trouble. We're doubly in trouble when we seek additional validation by comparing ourselves to others.

So, where did my lost quote come from?

It came from a realization that the full range of human experience and behavior (discounting participating in sin) is a delight in God's eyes. He made us and knows us, and He knows our weaknesses, foibles, and struggles. His desire is to be known in it all.

I don't get upset when my infant daughter tries to walk and crashes (repeatedly), in fact, even though I want her to walk so bad, I find great joy in the process she is engaged in. . .

What?! You are delighting in her failures??

Yes. And No.

I am delighting in her as she fails. I am not finding delight in the failures themselves, or taking pleasure in her defeat.

I would put forth (not as well as other heroes, saints, and mystics who have gone before me, Nouwen I believe somewhere has written some thoughts on this) that God, even as we miss the mark of our intention of the perfect "sweet hour of prayer", finds all minutes sweet where we wrestle in His presence. Wind blown daydreams, holy naps, poor prayers and all.

I am not advocating a lack of effort in becoming more focused in prayer, by both silence and petition, but I am offering the idea that the process itself towards becoming a real pray-er of substance may be more blessed than we realize. . .

. . .and realizing that may make those wrestling matches a bit more enjoyable and those cocktails a bit more drinkable.

Matt O.