30 Words In 30 Days: LAUGH

This piece is a part of the series 30 Words In 30 Days

LAUGH.

Yesterday at 4pm, I was chatting with a coworker about some ideas for a work project. We were laughing our way through the conversation when I received this text message from a friend:

Dude. Robin Williams dead. Apparent suicide. *expletives*

The immediate sadness was both unexpected and overwhelming. Based on my Twitter feed yesterday, many shared this same sentiment. I read tweets about friends breaking down crying in grocery stores and shopping malls and having to pull over to the side of the road in order to compose themselves. For some reason this loss felt deeply personal even though I’d never met Robin Williams in person. It felt intimate and close even though we’d never shared as much as a single conversation.

There’s no denying that Williams was a colossus in the world of entertainment. The breadth of his work reveals a performer who possessed unparalleled range. He could make us smile or cry or cringe. He could make us feel safe or adventurous or afraid. But most suggest that his greatest gift was his ability to make us laugh. 

Robin Williams was a comedic genius of the highest order with an infectious joy about him that resonated beyond his words. It wasn’t just that he could say funny things; it was that he exuded fun from a place that felt so genuine and honest to all of us. He convinced us that it was hilarious because he so deeply and truly believed that it was; we laughed because he laughed. He taught us the power of laughter; its ability to grow larger than we could’ve ever seen coming. Like the title character he played in the film Patch Adams, Williams taught us that laughter can heal. He reminded us that to laugh is, in some ways, to live.

And so there is a tragic irony in the very real-life depression that eventually became too much for him to bear. His range as a performer showed itself to be true of his actual life. Maybe this is why so many of us were shocked at the news of his passing. His joy was real and so was his sadness. We the audience saw much of the former behind our television screens and just about none of the latter. But both were real. This was the range of his heart and his life. Maybe this is Robin Williams’s final gift to us – the reminder that this range exists in each of us. We are all full of joy and we are all full of sadness. Both have the potential to overwhelm and overcome us.

So whoever you are and whatever you’re going through, remember to laugh today. Lean into that end of your heart and life’s range. I know this is much easier said than done for some. If that’s you, please know that you’re not alone, this isn’t the end, and as far fetched as this may sound, there are still some laughs to be had in your future.

If you think you might be struggling with depression, please tell someone. Visit the website for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 800.273.TALK.

laugh

30 Words In 30 Days: SABBATH

This piece is a part of the series 30 Words In 30 Days

SABBATH.

How was your weekend?

How was your weekend, really?

Did you rest? Did you have some fun? Did you play? Did you eat and drink? Were you merry?

These are important questions because Mondays can be brutal. And most often, they’re brutal because of our own doing. Or it might be better said, Mondays are brutal because of our inability to stop doing. There’s no such thing as a “work week” any more. Monday to Friday is no longer a marker for beginning and ending because we live in a day and age where people refuse to end their work. There are only pauses, to breathe for a moment so that we don’t completely collapse beneath the weight of ungodly expectations – the expectation to perform and produce and manufacture self worth and significance, measured by output and quality of work. Once we’ve mustered up just enough energy to continue on, we exert ourselves again until the next moment we are out of breath.

In Genesis 1-2, we read a poem about the creation of world. It’s marked off in seven sections, signified by seven days. Ancient Jewish literature often incorporated what’s called chiastic structure, which is a literary device used to emphasize, parallel, and accentuate the most important concepts and ideas held within a written work. Specifically, chiastic structure is used to instruct the audience to pay careful attention to the particular pattern emerging and to what this pattern reveals about the story being told. And so, the chiastic pattern of Genesis 1 goes something like this:

Day 1 – God creates light, the day and the night.

Day 2 – God creates the sky.

Day 3 – God creates the land, the seas, and vegetation.

Day 4 – God says, Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.

Day 5 - God fills the sea and the sky with living creatures. He then mandates them to be fruitful and increase in number.

Day 6 - God fills the land with living creatures and mandates them to be fruitful as well. Then, in his grand finale, God creates humankind in his own image and mandates us to steward well the whole of creation.

Day 7 - Genesis 2v2-3 tell us this about the seventh day: By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

Scholars have gone back and forth on the particulars of the chiastic structure of this creation story but the way I’ve laid it out above is one of the better received proposals. I’ve highlighted a couple of points to help us see the pattern emerging. God creates environments on the first few days and then fills these environments with created beings on the last few days. And right in the very middle of it all, on day 4, there is a sudden break and we are reminded that this creation story is not simply about the physicality of environments and beings; it’s also about the seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, years that pass by without ceasing. This creation story is about time. The chiastic structure makes the point again at the very end, as God blesses the seventh day and makes it holy. And what was the seventh day? It was the day when God was finished creating. He was done with the physicality of making all that we can see, smell, taste, and touch. The seventh day was the day God rested from all the work of creating. The seventh day is the Sabbath.

About the Sabbath, the Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote, Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul. The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone Else. Six days a week we seek to dominate the world, on the seventh day we try to dominate the self. I would suggest that this is entire point of the creation story – that while we may immerse ourselves in the work of creating for six days, the seventh day, the Sabbath, reminds us that there are some things that our physical labor can never produce.

The Sabbath reminds us that while we may indeed control the quality and quantity of the work we produce today, what we do not and cannot ever control is today itself.

The Sabbath reminds us that we are not here simply to create but to be created.

The Sabbath reminds us that while our work may have our hands, only God must have our souls.

The Sabbath reminds us that creation has always been about more than the physicality of space; it reminds us that creation is also about the rhythm of time.

The Sabbath reminds us that Mondays might be brutal but another day is coming, when we stop the chaos, quiet the noise, cease to create and perform and produce. Another day is coming, when we are called to rest and enjoy and care for the seed of eternity planted deep within us.

sabbath

30 Words In 30 Days: EMPIRES

This piece is a part of the series 30 Words In 30 Days

EMPIRES.

Jesus says in Matthew 6v19-21, Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 

A number of years back, I used to write and play music with some good friends. Today for 30 Words In 30 Days, I want to share some lyrics to a song we wrote about the dichotomy between our empire-building and treasure-storing tendencies. Enjoy.

Did you build this in a day, all your riches in array? Kings of earth and rulers all, we die beneath the fall.

Do your empires love you back? Soak the earth with honest tears. Slaves and sinners, we are free. We die beneath the tree.

We bruise and bleed the same, the strong, the weak, the well, the lame. Our piles of gold and earth will fade away to dust and dirt. We crush the feeding trough. We consume beyond enough. But when these empires fall, only love will be standing tall.

Will the earth remember you when your storehouses are bare? All we keep is all we lose. Fools will die with spare.

We bruise and bleed the same, the strong, the weak, the well, the lame. Our piles of gold and earth will fade away to dust and dirt. We crush the feeding trough. We consume beyond enough. But when these empires fall, only love will be standing tall.

empires

30 Words In 30 Days: TABLE

This piece is a part of the series 30 Words In 30 Days

This piece is a guest post written by a good friend of mine, Alicia McClintic. Alicia writes about faith and culture over at AwakeningChurch.com 

TABLE.

Since I’ve lived in my apartment I’ve had a few roommates cycle in and out, and in the shuffling and resettling we’ve had several gaps without a lot of furniture. While it was awkward to not have a couch and our living room walls felt empty without bookshelves, the piece of furniture that was most devastating to be left without was a kitchen table. We tried having picnics on the living room floor… but it just wasn’t the same as gathering around a table to share a meal.

The table is the first thing you see when you open our door; it’s our center and anchor. The table gives us an excuse to sit down, to slow down, to talk, to reflect. It can be difficult to set work and preoccupations aside, but a table (and a meal on top of it) offers us an invitation to just sit around in beautiful inefficiency with no agenda other than togetherness. Around the table we leave behind the singular me and you and miraculously become the collective WE. Gathering around a table over a meal feeds us in more ways than the obvious one.

Several studies have shown physical and psychological benefits of eating together, showing results like children doing better in school if they have regular family dinners or showing how alienating it can be to eat alone. While these studies are really interesting, I think they miss the ultimate point. Gathering together over the table is much more than merely beneficial—it is sacred.

Over the table, I’m knowing God better as I’m knowing people better. Over the table, I acknowledge God is among us and experience God’s grace and peace and rest. I look around and see that this is good. Every time I share a meal with friends I remember the last thing Jesus did with his friends was share a meal. As Jesus passed bread and wine around the table at that last meal saying “This is my body, and this is my blood,” he was letting them know his very presence is revealed when they eat and drink together—and sharing a meal together was the way they continued to remember his death, to proclaim his resurrection, and to anticipate his return. When we invite people to take the sacrament of communion, we still say “Come to the table.” And this table equalizes us and unifies us, because as we share the bread and wine we share in the brand new life God gave us together. We worship God in eating and drinking at the communion table, but I think we also worship God in eating and drinking at our kitchen tables and restaurant tables and cafeteria tables. Augustine of Hippo defined a sacrament as a “sign of sacred reality” and “a visible sign of invisible grace,” and in the words of John Wesley, a sacrament is “an outward sign of inward grace and a means by which we receive the same.” Isn’t that what the table is, what eating together around a table is like?

Every Sunday morning this summer I have passed by my neighborhood park on the way to church and seen people setting up picnic tables for a party or barbeque, and I can’t help think that what they’re doing is just as sacred as what I’m doing. We often talk about worship being food for our souls, and Jesus himself said he was the Bread of Life and the Living Water. So if worship is like food, shouldn’t food be a way to worship? “To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art,” said the 17th-century writer François de La Rochefoucauld. Perhaps to eat “intelligently” means a mindfulness of where your food comes from and of who grew/harvested/made/sold it. But perhaps to eat “intelligently” means simply to eat together, to eat worshipfully. If you follow me on Instagram, I realize I spam your feed with photos of coffee and food all the time, and this is (one reason) why I take so many photos of table-tops. Each photo represents things like the conversation I had with the man who picked and sold those strawberries to me, the time spent in the kitchen with my roommates chopping those vegetables, the moments of laughter we shared as we ate that dish together. My friends make fun of me all the time: “Are you Instagramming this right now?” Yes, I am. #sorrynotsorry. Because it’s a sacred moment full of color and life and beauty, full of good friends and good conversation, and this is one way I intentionally acknowledge the sacredness of this fleeting moment around the table.

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30 Words In 30 Days: RESURRECTION

This piece is a part of the series 30 Words In 30 Days

RESURRECTION.

Sometimes cancer comes knocking on the door. You didn’t expect it or suspect it. But it came. And now everything is turned upside down. Moments have a weight to them that they didn’t have before. Fear and anxiety start excavating down deep in the pit of your stomach, deeper than you knew existed. Some days are full of anger, some days hold a little hope. Every day seems to go by too fast while the wait between lab tests and lab results always goes by too slow. Death is a cruel enemy this way, teasing, poking, prodding.

Sometimes the relationship is beyond repair. You can’t seem to figure out what exactly went wrong but it hurts way too much now. The really frustrating thing is that it hurts way too much to stay together but it hurts way too much to think about parting ways. Rock and a hard place. What will you do with all of the pictures and all of the memories? How will you tell your family? Your friends? Your kids? No one is dying but this absolutely feels like death.

Sometimes the past keeps on haunting you. What you’ve done. What’s been done to you. Shame casts a dark shadow that follows you around like a rain cloud. Guilt shackles your hands and feet so that you can never reach out too far, for help or for friendship or for love. You lose sleep and you lose hair and you lose confidence. You begin believing the lie that this is all there is and it’ll never get better. Yes, you’re breathing. But living? Living is something else entirely and you’re not quite sure if you’re doing it.

Sometimes the future keeps on mocking you. It tells you that you don’t have what it takes to make it. Everything within you wants to surrender and retreat back into the safety of the present. But time marches on and the future always becomes your present, relentlessly, without mercy. It never lets up. It crushes you beneath its weight and keeps you from ever living fully in the present.

To you and to the rest of us eager for the end of death, of all kinds, and the coming of Resurrection, for our bodies and our relationships and our pasts and our futures… to each and every one of us… may we all together remember the words of Paul in Romans 8…

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. [...] For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future,nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

resurrection

30 Words In 30 Days: FEELER

This piece is a part of the series 30 Words In 30 Days

FEELER.

While I like to give off the impression that I’m a thinker, truth be told, I’m a feeler through and through. It’s not that I don’t appreciate logic, reason, and the analytical mind. I do. I really really do. I hold the intellect in high regard. But when push comes to shove, I always seem to find myself feeling my way through most situations. I tend to trust instinct, intuition, and my gut. And I’m one of those secret criers at the movies.

Here’s the thing about feelers. We’re weak and we’re strong.

Sometimes we tell our stories and even to us, they sound like excuses. Sometimes we want to say to ourselves, right along with everyone else, Pick yourself up like the rest of us and get going. Life is hard. It’s hard for everyone. You’re not special. Your wordy self loathing masked in prosaic eloquence is just self centered crap. Stop being selfish and start contributing something to the collective whole. I agree. I’m with you. We feelers tend to get wrapped up in our own little worlds where we only know our own minuscule issues at hand. We’re weak that way sometimes.

But we’re also strong. You see, at the bottom of the pits we dig for ourselves, deep down in the dirt and grime, our eyes adjust to the darkening gray. We begin to see the stuff that can’t be seen in the bright light of day. It’s at the bottom of our shallow selves, when we’ve come undone and our emotions are liberated to run free, that we most often find our strength. It’s a different sort of strength than the kind mustered up by the more steady hand of rational decision making. It’s a sort of strength that bursts forth more so than it matriculates at an even pace. It’s ferocious and turbulent and messy but effective nonetheless.

So forgive us feelers. I know we’re a little crazy and a lot frustrating. But we really do have something to offer from time to time… I think…

feeler

30 Words In 30 Days: SILENCE

This piece is a part of the series 30 Words In 30 Days

SILENCE.

I often wonder why God doesn’t speak in a loud audible voice. Why doesn’t he just say whatever it is he’s got to say clearly and emphatically so that there’s no room for error? Why doesn’t he actually sound like Morgan Freeman so that there’s no confusion?

Thomas Keating once wrote, Silence is God’s first language; everything else is a poor translation. We’re accustomed to lots of words and lots of noise. All the while, silence is God’s vernacular of choice. And we often make the mistake of translating silence as absence. But in the words of Keating, this is a poor translation. God speaks in silence. And while his silence may seem foreign, the truth is that we are the foreigners, treading on holy soil, learning to understand the native tongue.

So what does it mean to hear God in the silence? I think it means slowing down long enough to listen for his voice in all of the places we would never expect him to speak. I think it means being patient enough to not hurry on to the next thing and instead, sit a while in the present thing. I think it means living with a greater awareness of the gift of life held within every inhale and exhale. I think it means becoming quiet enough to hear silence cut through the noise of our busy, self-important lives.

Mother Teresa once said, In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself. Souls of prayer are souls of great silence. 

May we become people of great silence, men and women who face God in silence, allowing to speak to us there, reminding us that we are nothing and that we are empty without him, allowing him to fill us up, with words and with life.

silence