Colors

“It was chaos in color. His eyes tried unsuccessfully to find some order in this blatant disregard for certainty.” – The Shack, pg. 130

“From the sky we look so organized and brave”— Ain’t that the truth. Well, at least, according to Jason Isbell. It never fails that on every plane ride, this song makes its way onto my playlist, mainly because I’m staring through a window over evidence supporting his claim. Miles and miles of land, cities, roads, and highways that have our fingerprints all over them. Trophies of what we’ve made. There’s something comfortable about the order– beautiful, even. Boxes and rectangles that we have so carefully organized our world into. It’s logical, it’s efficient– it makes sense.

It goes without saying that we crave order– not just in one sphere of life, but in all spheres. If we are honest, we would admit to wanting life to fit the molds and timelines we have thought up ourselves. Because, in our heads, those snapshot expectations are beautiful– they’re logical, efficient– they make sense. But, perhaps that’s precisely the problem.

It’s no wonder that when we approach the conversation of spirituality and religion, we seek that same sense of organization. That same sense of comfort and control over the inevitable messes we so certainly encounter. By means of religious ritual and habit, we are able to give ourselves the platform to begin understanding things that are, by nature, more than us. Bigger than us. And yet, we still explain those overarching realities through a man-made lens of perspective, through which we conclude and maintain our truths and convictions. Why? Because its logical, efficient– it makes sense. But does it?

I’m not sure why I’m saying all this– it’s been months since I’ve felt up to putting words to paper. But, for the moment, I’m going to blame Will Reagan and United Pursuit. If you haven’t taken a few minutes to watch the video posted above, I’d suggest you do so. This band has become a personal favorite of mine, and for good reason. Their words and sounds are nothing short of prayers that echo joy, challenges, and a yearning for more of this unfathomable God that we seem to so incompletely fathom. We fear admitting what we don’t know about God so much, that we compromise faith with the god we box Him in to be.

Help me let You go, help me give up control… of the God I’ve made You, when my fear has contained You.

Mmm. The moment we think we have our finger on who God is, we’re on the wrong track. We’re creating something that is only a fragment of what it should be. There is no thought we can conjure that expands to such length, width, or depth, no revelation we can conceive that fully encompasses His nature, and no order we can make of His beautiful mess. Accepting a reality in which we don’t understand is perhaps the perfect invitation for faith in its truest form. An invitation for the colors of God and his realities to find us. We somehow have learned faith as a strong-willed stance on a certain set of beliefs. But I’ve come to understand faith as something quite different– a nimble thing, rather. Something that embraces the ever-stirring uncertainties rooted in the supernatural. Something that can’t be explained or organized outside of an experience. Something that doesn’t always play well with logic, efficiency, or sense. And something that is more real than the most tangible realities we can hold in our hands.

For me, faith comes in brief moments of unspoken understanding– bits and pieces of God’s presence and personality, always illustrated and conveyed in the most profoundly simple environments. Almost as if to say that my misperceptions of the simple further affirm my inability to see all that it holds. It’s a steady interaction with things I don’t understand– a never-ending hallway riddled with doors full of possibilities I can never entirely explore. It’s not a strong-hold on anything– it’s a letting go of everything, a submission to something bigger than my brain and the false sense of control it conjures to offset the fear of not understanding.

Recently, I’ve re-read The Shack years after my first encounter with it. And as much as I’ve enjoyed the spiritual roller-coaster it has taken me on, it has uncovered some inconsistencies in what I say about God and the way I experience Him. Over the past year, I have found myself expecting God to move in certain ways, to reveal His plan at a certain time, to comfort and provide in a specific fashion. When, in reality, experiencing God in those moments had nothing to do with holding onto those expectations. In fact, I’d say it was quite the opposite– throwing those expectations to the wind and realizing that God is smeared with the moment in which we find ourselves allowed me to understand our adept ability to fog our eyes from the possibilities of God. The Shack has reintroduced me to the unorganizable reality that is Him. It has reminded me of a Maker that cannot be squeezed into our thought processes and definitions. A Father who is “different, by far, than our broken conclusions” (thank you, Will Reagan and United Pursuit). It has crumbled my walls that boxed things in, walls that gave me control over my beliefs. And walls that have kept me from experiencing more of this God we have so insufficiently defined.

The quote at the beginning of this post is one of my favorites from the text, as it describes Sarayu (aka– the character representing the Holy Spirit in the book) as a “blatant disregard for certainty.” Dang. What a kick in the crotch to all us Christianese need-to-know-it-alls. When certainty is no longer necessary in not only how we understand our lives but also how we live them, I think we begin to experience spiritual realities in a fuller way. Almost as if we allow ourselves to expand with the horizon we are trying to taste and see more of, instead of restricting what we try to understand with the walls of our stubborn perspectives. The “chaos in color” referenced in the text was exposed in the midst of uncertainty– in the midst of not knowing what the HECK was going on. That’s where the beauty is– in the unknown, in the unfathomable.

There is no joy like the kind that comes from this– that is, throwing your self-made restraints to the wind. For a long time, uncertainty was a burden for me, something that plagued who I was with insecurity and indecision. But that same uncertainty has transformed doubt into possibilities– the kind that come with accepting more than the realities within ourselves. More than our explanations, more than our justifications, more than our fears. I don’t think God ever intended for us to settle for the version of Himself that fits in our mental framework. It’s not in His nature to be minimized, and it’s not in our nature to limit Him.

Wherever you are in life, know this– there is immensely more. The bravery does not come with organization; rather, bravery comes in the humility necessary to not need it. There is surrender in accepting life’s uncertainty, because faith lives there. And where there is faith, there is room to expand, room to explore what you have not yet understood thus far. It’s not about arriving at a certain point. It’s about letting yourself out of your walls to experience each point at its fullest. And where there are no walls– there’s God. Along with all the chaos in color that accompanies Him.

From my highway to yours,

Alex

Riser

“If we can learn to trust God, the next movement of our soul is to trust ourselves.” -Richard Rohr

“Don’t hurt no more, but you don’t forget the pain.” -Adam Doleac, “Faded”

I’ve watched many a sunset in my life, and all have somehow been different. Some more colorful, some more subdued, but all beautiful in their own way. It’s the end of the day that displays itself so magically, almost as if the sun gives its own snapshot of its 12-hour journey through a short display of clouds and color. Then, in just a few short minutes, it sinks. It abandons its spotlight for night, a time without much light or color. But somehow, the moon still reflects the sun’s work in its own. In fact, that’s all it does– reflects something bigger and brighter than itself. Until a few hours later, when the sun re-emerges with a new set of colors. Except, this time it’s not displaying an end, but a beginning. It’s distinctly beautiful and different than a “setting”– the colors are more golden, painted with promise instead of memory, life instead of death. And as it makes its way over the tree tops, it shares that light with everything around it. And it rises.

There are hundreds of thousands of people that have written on the mystery of suffering. Different people have defined it in different ways according to their own experiences, and none are less true than another. But my personal favorite definition that I’ve found is perhaps the simplest: the deep realization of the fact that you are not in control. Death, loss, pain– the suffering experienced from all of the above is summed up in that simple statement. It hurts, and you can’t do anything about it. Dealing with that is suffering.

“Pain, man it’s something, sent from God above.” I remember writing that years ago in some song lyrics I was playing around with at the time. I also remember people having issues with that statement– that is, the idea of seeing pain as something sent from God. As something that can, in fact, be good. Not because of the nature of it, but because of what it requires and produces. I see suffering as a forced retreat into the depths of yourself– the basement of yourself, if you will. It makes you go into places you won’t otherwise go. It forces your hand, shows you what you’re made of. Sunset-endings beg to be overcome by sunrise-beginnings. One can’t happen without the other. We are reminded daily that colors of pain eventually resurrect the colors of promise.

No matter where you are in life, there is always a higher level at which to arrive. Sometimes, perhaps it’s the lack of option to do otherwise that propels us upward, that shoves us into an ascension of our circumstances, no matter how deep the pain of it goes. There is a pivotal moment in every suffering state that feels like you are at the end of yourself… that you cannot rise. And in that moment, it is very possible to fall backwards, downwards, and assume a powerless position to the hurt and pain inflicted. Or… you can choose to use the end of yourself as the beginning of something so much more. The beginning of something out of your own scope, out of your own control and merit. You accept your wounds as lessons learned, bandage them accordingly and let them scab over. Watch them harden, as they protect themselves. Trace the scars left behind as an initiation into what lies ahead. And when you look in the mirror to start your day, your eyes meet someone stronger, someone that has learned in the most effective way. And someone that won’t forget any of it.

And then, you find your riser.

Whatever your wreckage looks like, I believe the entire point is to emerge from it. And to do so by yourself, for yourself. Because once you choose to rise, there is proof that you are not the same. You have found a newness that cannot be given to you by someone else. You have understood that the people around you don’t hold the answers you’re looking for. Rather, your answer, your newness, is learned and chosen within. Experienced in its fullest. And in that process, you are able to let the messes be messes… and simply walk away better because of them.

It’s that collision of embracing where you are and letting go of where you’ve been that eclipses into a deep moment of trust– both in God and yourself. Mainly, because you’ve developed a new understanding of resurrection that’s more real to you than the stories we’re taught in Sunday School. It’s more real because it has happened personally. You have encountered a God that goes after you at your lowest point to remind you that you have a choice in who you will be. And once you’ve made your decision, He fills your cracks and brokenness with newness and grace to rebuild you into someone you can trust again, constantly reminding you that you cannot trust Him without also trusting who He’s made you to be.

One thing is for certain… people, places, environments, situations, etc. can break and disappoint you if you let them. It can feel cold, abrupt, and artificial– almost unreal in many cases. But the beautiful thing about being broken is that you are put back together in a way to avoid breaking the same way again. Your joints are more supported. Your chips and scratches can more-or-less be repaired. And you are able to see a piece of the bigger picture instead of nothing but the moment. To quote a lyric from my big bro, “it don’t hurt no more, but you don’t forget the pain.” And man… is there a power in that.

So, for those of you who are in the midst of a struggle– you should know that you have a choice in the stance you’re taking against it. You can let doubt, indecision, and insecurity take the reigns of your life or you can choose to silence those lies with the sobering truth that you are made for more than that. Embrace the challenge, and refuse to be in the backseat of your emotional roller coaster. Don’t let others change what you know to be true. Feel everything, as you work towards rising to your next level–above your circumstances, situations, friends, colleagues, failures, insecurities… We are called to rise from the wreckage into something bigger. You are capable of finding newness in your next steps, but you must choose to find it. Once you truly do, you’ll find your riser. It’s what we’re made for–to rise, to ascend, to overcome.

From my ride to yours, here’s to the sunset-endings that paint our lives with what has been. And here’s to the sunrise-beginnings that hold promise because of them.

Rising,

Alex

 

 

Another Vice

“Don’t know where I am or how I got here. Well, the only thing that I know how to find is another vice.” -Miranda Lambert

 

Then the word of God came to him: “So Elijah, what are you doing here?”

10 “I’ve been working my heart out for the God-of-the-Angel-Armies,” said Elijah. “The people of Israel have abandoned your covenant, destroyed the places of worship, and murdered your prophets. I’m the only one left, and now they’re trying to kill me.”

11-12 Then he was told, “Go, stand on the mountain at attention before GodGod will pass by.”

A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn’t to be found in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn’t in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper.

13-14 When Elijah heard the quiet voice, he muffled his face with his great cloak, went to the mouth of the cave, and stood there. A quiet voice asked, “So Elijah, now tell me, what are you doing here?” Elijah said it again, “I’ve been working my heart out for God, the God-of-the-Angel-Armies, because the people of Israel have abandoned your covenant, destroyed your places of worship, and murdered your prophets. I’m the only one left, and now they’re trying to kill me.” -1 Kings 19:9-14 (MSG)

What are you doing here? What an absolutely terrifying question to face, especially when delivered by, ya know, God. You can almost hear its condescending perception just by reading it on a page. It’s a question that triggers so many more, ones of purpose and intention–the deepest kind, the darkest kind, and the most important kind. It addresses the things that are too easily hidden on the inside by forcing you to piece together your doubts, questions, confidence, and faith to mold an answer.

This verse has been in my head for days now, and in it, Elijah is addressing this exact question firsthand. His response is powerfully desperate, as more common translations say he is jealous for the Lord, envious of the person he was when he remembered who God was, hungry for direction and peace that can only be found in wandering the caves of his own confusion, struggle, and darkness.

While standing at attention on a mountain, Elijah observes a lot: rock-crushing winds, earthquakes, fire. But none of these affect him or cause him to shift his posture. He’s looking–looking for something he’s known before, but has simply lost. Something that has fueled him thus far and something he needs to keep going. The aftermath of commotion that shelters a silence, and it’s from that silence a low whisper emerges… and boom. Elijah heard it. Heard HIM. And he knew exactly what it was, who it was, and what his response should be. He remembered.

Life has a funny way of getting us off course, no matter how pure and noble our intentions. In a twisted way, that’s almost the point of intending anything– that is, to arrive elsewhere, to venture past a plan into a realm you don’t get to control. To get lost. To be lost so that you are forced to go back the way you came, down every doubt, up every insecurity, and through every stain of fear on your faith. We forget in order to remember. And when the old becomes new, we are rejuvenated by something we had throughout the whole process: a deeper sense of self and the presence of something so much bigger than that. We see the light and the shadow.

As a photographer, you see photographs in a different light (literally). I like shadows, because there’s a dramatic nature in them, there’s a highlight of something and hiding of something else. Though I’ve never delved deeper into that preference, I believe it’s because that portrait style is familiar–it’s real. It’s what we’re all made of, bits of light and dark. And like Elijah, I have felt myself wandering through caves of my own to frame my dark parts with light.

“He struggled with himself, too. I saw it — I heard it. I saw the inconceivable mystery of a soul that knew no restraint, no faith, and no fear, yet struggling blindly with itself.” -Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness 

No restraint. No faith. No fear.

If you know me at all, it’s no surprise that Miranda Lambert’s new single “Vice,” struck a chord with me. There’s a lot of pain there, a sting in her tone, a self-realization of the scars that have morphed into broken habits that seem to be an inescapable routine. No restraint. No faith. No fear. “Standing at the sink, not looking in the mirror,” because you know you’ll find another vice looking back. Though it sounds so tattered, I think it’s a journey we all have to take at one point or another. We have to look at our vices, at ourselves in the mirror. And it totally sucks. But it’s a brokenness that is necessary for rebuilding. And when you are renovated and repaired, there is inordinate strength. You have gone in your cave to come out again.

I’m sure this is the worst interpretation of Elijah’s story there ever was, but I feel like he’s reminding himself of who God is, who God’s not, and the person he’s called to be in response. Even more amazing is the fact that Elijah’s response before and after this whole experience is verbatim. Though I have no idea of the meaning behind this, I would like to believe there was a difference in his voice when he spoke the second time. Perhaps the first time around, Elijah was saying what he only knew to be true from the past, going through the motions of a truth he had lost touch with. But the second time, perhaps he remembered– remembered the truth not from the past but in the present. It was alive. He had been reintroduced into who God is with a whisper, and I think it’s through that process that He began to enter into his true self again. From there, God sends him back the way he came, but this time, with instruction and direction. We have to get back to the heart of ourselves, in spite of the commotion around/in us. We need a recentering.

So, what are you doing here? It’s amazing how many times I’ve asked myself that question in the past few months. Working through my own shadows has been terrifying, and I’m by no means finished. I feel as if I’ve been spitting out words with nothing behind them for so long now. There’s a lack of passion, a lack of belief even, in the way I answer that question in my everyday. I feel as though I have gone into my cave… and haven’t quite made it out yet. Almost as if I’ve been in there so long, that I’m taking on Miranda’s perspective: “Well, the only thing that I know how to find is another vice.” As if the absence of so many things is all that I see, as opposed to the pockets of newness my head tells me are there, despite what I see. In other words, even though I’ve asked myself that question repeatedly, I’m not sure that I’ve truly answered it.

I feel like I’m a much better liar than people give me credit for, and, more often than not, I’m able to temporarily believe myself in spite of what I know to be true. The truth is, I feel as far off course as I’ve ever been, and I don’t know what I’m doing in any sphere of my life. When I take a look at myself, I feel commotion and restlessness. I have littered my heart with so many lies that I can’t seem to shut out the chatter long enough to hear a gentle whisper from my Maker. Although there are days I would convince myself otherwise, I have certainly forgotten the truths of who God is and how those translate into who He’s called me to be. In some ways, I feel like I’m unconsciously avoiding remembering, because I know the costs associated. The change in direction, the “starting over” feeling that I’ve felt so many times before.

Perhaps my (and everybody’s) journey is much less of a fight then we’d like it to be. As a great friend told me, maybe it’s a “Shhh…Be still and know” experience. Perhaps Elijah’s story shows us that it wasn’t combatting his vices and distractions that helped, but, rather, it was silencing them. The winds, earthquakes and fires inside of him had to be resolved to a stillness– that was the game changer. It was silence that spoke to him, and there’s something powerful there. It’s in that silence God was found, remembered.

Whenever I scan back over some of these words, I feel I’m on the edge of insanity, and if you’re reading this, I’m sure you share the same sentiments. Regardless, here’s what I know. You are not a series of your own vices. You are not the commotion you feel and hear. You are not the lies you sell yourself. And you have the ability to get out of your cave. It takes a brave soul to turn the light on, but the road to remembering starts there. The God I know is in the stillness of our hearts, the places that were carved for his presence only. And as you let yourself re-welcome Him in, I believe you welcome your true self back in as well. We are not defined by our vices, but by who God is and what He does for us. Once we rediscover that, we are able to respond in life-changing ways because we are restored with a passion and life greater than ourselves, despite its whisper-nature. From there, we just have to be brave enough to listen and remember.

So, what are you doing here?

Getting out of the cave,

Alex

 

 

 

Getting Naked

[DISCLAIMER: You should probably witness Will Reagan and the United Pursuit Band rock the house in this video before reading any more words. You’re welcome in advance.] “You’re full of life now. Full of passion. That’s how He made you. Just let it happen.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bvsAV-MgGao

__________

“Then the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’ He replied, ‘I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked.'” -Genesis 3:9-10

There have been countless times in my life where I have felt much like I imagine Adam felt in Genesis 3–scrambling through the woods, trying to pretend that God wasn’t asking me a question he already had the answer to. Trying to convince myself I hadn’t screwed up an already-assigned task that seemed so simple at the beginning. Hiding long enough to believe in who I’m not being more so than who I am made to be. But, inevitably over time, my reaction holds a strong track record of consistency: 1) breakdown; 2) freak out; and finally 3) come clean. And as luck would have it, here I am at the end of another monotonous cycle of mid-20s struggles, life plan reroutes, and desperate attempts to accept understanding little-to-none of the above. Hence the mess of words in front of your face.

I’ve never really thought of myself as someone who lacks identity. Despite the hodgepodge of randomness that fill the grooves and rivets of my life, I’ve more times than not felt secure in what I’m doing and why I’m doing it, despite the somewhat reasonable loads of doubt that have accompanied every decision to this point. The reason? Because I have felt placed and purposeful in the what’s and why’s of my life in ways that managed to calm my doubts into quiet assurances. Those assurances have been knots in a rope that has tugged me through the different windows and doors of opportunities in my life. However, in the process of chasing the randomness that embodies my different passions, interests and opportunities, I think I’ve managed to keep some secrets in an impressive hiding. Secrets that were birthed as doubts, but matured into insecurities hidden among the weeds of my insides. Stuck in that place that Adam found himself, the place between trying to justify why they are there and dealing with what they are.

As my feet found themselves on sandy ground this weekend, I felt a piece of my spirit shift out of the bushes to face the vastness in front of it–an ocean relentless in its coming back as in its going away. Almost as if the feeling was contained in that moment, the initial question posed to Adam of “Where are you?” was suddenly so simple to answer. Like I was back to the very beginning of myself, as stupid as that sounds.

HEY! I’M RIGHT HERE. I’M RIGHT NOW.

Staring at something so much bigger than me, I felt spiritually naked for what felt like the first time, although I know it wasn’t. In that split second I felt as I should be, as if that was all I’ve ever known how to be. And I was loved. I’d like to think that feeling was something like what it felt to walk in Eden, before the introduction of doubts or fears… And BOOM. It was gone. Just like the waves in front of me, it went back into the gamut as suddenly as it came. “Reality” (as we so-call it) rushed back in, and I was back in the proverbial bushes sowing proverbial fig leaves together to cover myself.

It’s been a long time since I’ve shared my thoughts in writing, but the past several months have been particularly difficult for me, particularly at the spiritual level. Sometimes, I feel like a crazy person, and by sometimes, I mean all the time. During this season where I have been forced to deal with more introspective issues, I have discovered an incredibly annoying habit of negative self-talk. I’m a big believer in spiritual warfare and can usually tell when I’m being attacked in one way or another… but this beast is a different ballgame altogether. This beast is me. This battle is one I am inflicting on myself, in the form of doubts and insecurities surfacing as blatant lies that I believe. For example, if someone compliments me, I immediately disregard it as silly politeness meant to make me feel better about some sort of failed to-do. More troubling, this habit has translated into conversations and interactions with God and His Word. I literally will say something I “know” is true in prayer, and yet immediately disregard it in my head as something that doesn’t really apply to me specifically. Like Adam, I am silencing every other voice at play except my own. I am choosing my own way over any other way. I am choosing my own way instead of God’s way. And there’s no satanic snake to take the blame this time– this is all the Alex show. That’s a big freaking problem.

Whether I’ve done so consciously or not, who/how I claim myself has been incredibly dependent on my list of activities and interests. Christian, student, tennis player, photographer, youth intern, servant, writer, counselor… I get fulfillment from being those things, none of which are bad (I mean come on, I listed Christian). But I don’t think that’s a kingdom-made way to live spiritually. If you take all those things away from me, I am not content to be what’s left: me. The “me” that’s butt naked in the Garden trying to sow clothes out of leaves. I’m not sure that I have ever observed who I was made to be, separate from what I was made to do. They certainly are incredibly related, but they are also incredibly different. Anybody can do the things I’m made to do, but who I am determines much of how I do them. Who I am in my naked spiritual state is who I continuously reject by covering to-do lists over the exposed parts. I am choosing to hide amongst the bushes in hopes of convincing myself that God does not know where I really am. By not accepting who I was made to be, I am in turn not accepting God’s question or answers and am essentially repeating the whole fall-of-man thing on repeat. Hmm. Probably a red flag.

“The perfect metaphor for this new split universe, this intense awareness of themselves as separate and cut off, is that ‘they realized that they were naked’ (3:8). Today we would probably call it primal shame. Every human being seems to have it in some form, that deep sense of being inadequate, insecure, separate, judged and apart.” -Richard Rohr

Oh Lord. That sounds familiar.

Here’s my theory: I don’t accept my core self because it’s not impressive. Think about it– who we are, apart from what we do and have done, looks rather lackluster. In fact, it looks like nothing at all, especially in our society where we earn our worth based on resumes, GPA’s, and awards. There are no nice clothes in the form of accomplishments to throw on top of my Spirit-made self. Who I am in my innermost being is, quite frankly, simple. And that’s why I struggle embracing it. It makes zero sense against the framework that has been manufactured in my brain. It has nothing to do with me, and yet it IS me. It makes no sense, I know… but doesn’t it at the same time? The letting go of my man-made self reveals the Spirit-made self that at the heart and soul.

“And He whispers to your heart. To let it go. Let it happen.” I’m learning (so, so slowly) that growing in the spirit is much more about losing your grip than tightening it. A learned letting go that has nothing to do with effort and everything to do with observation and awareness. Dealing with yourself, the self that is buried underneath the clothes we put on our souls, is a letting it happen process. And for me, I see that process starting with receiving love from the One who has seen and made me at my simplest. To believe what He says about me. To quiet my own negativity by truly observing them as fears peeking behind the bushes.

 

“What a liberation to realize that the ‘voice in my head’ is not who I am. ‘Who am I then?’ The one who sees that.” -Eckhart Tolle

So, what’s my point.

Ironically enough, I think it’s simple. We don’t like the simplicity of who we are (at least, I’ve found that I don’t). Sometimes, I like to think I’m a complex person, and perhaps I am in a way. But when we strip away the layers of our handmade complications and thoughts, there is only the essence of who we are left to be. There is only our Eden-selves left to frolic in the long-lost union of mankind and its Maker. I think it’s that scene that deserves the most attention when we feel we have lost our way from the inside out. That essence of what has been stolen away by our own hands serves as a reminder of who we are to be in this life, which inevitably dictates how we go about doing/choosing the tasks set before us.

I don’t know what your tasks are or who you are apart from them, but we all have the ability and privilege to examine both. I know very few things, but here’s something I know to be as accurate as anything can be: There is a God that loves the mess out of you in your most simple state. Your butt naked spirit that is so uncomfortably unadorned and threadbare… is what God stares at in the face with love and adoration. If you’re struggling through a time of life that is seemingly dry and fruitless, don’t fool yourself into thinking any part of you belongs in hiding. Take off your dressings and accept God’s handiwork by accepting the you He carved from himself.  And remember that doing so is, in fact, natural. It’s how He made you.

Just let it go. Let it happen.

Simply,

Alex

 

 

Something True

Big eyes against the white, big eyes beneath the lights. And no one seems to feel it, but I do. Our faces to the wind, my heart against my skin. Tonight, I’m gonna find something true. -Brooke Fraser, New Year’s Eve lyrics

There’s something terribly troubling about being less mature than your surroundings demand. Almost like you’ve teleported into a different body, a different world, a different expectation, all of which serves as a somewhat quasi-cage for the craziness stirring inside your brain. The same craziness you try not to keep in because, Lord only knows where it belongs. Unsettled because you don’t feel like you’re supposed to be settled… and yet, expecting to grow out of it, because you, in fact, feel all of the above. Waiting for so much, but not committing to it–not owning the wait but only owning the questions. So, how can a tree grow without sinking roots into its own dirt? How much comfort, progress, or settlement can come from only possessing proof that you don’t know things? Not much.

Living and accepting our own reality will not feel very spiritual. It will feel like we are on the edges rather than dealing with the essence. Thus most run toward more esoteric and dramatic postures instead of bearing the mystery of God’s suffering and joy inside themselves. But the edges of our lives–fully experienced, suffered, and enjoyed– lead us back to the center and the essence.  -Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs

I’ve lived the majority of my life on the edges of what is actually happening. The edges that unanswered questions create, the comfort of deeming uncertainty as a spiritual mechanism to advance the maturation process. There’s value in the questioning, no doubts about that. But only in the sense that they lead you back to the core, the “essence” of the circumference. If not, the alternative is to continue running around the circle you’ve created and calling it some form of holy discontentment in your own mind. The blackhole of uncertainty can be never-ending. And here’s what I’ve learned about it: it’s real. It exists. You’ll never have a grip on it. So, dig in and grow in spite.

As I’m so clumsily stumbling through this [insert cliche’ term of choice] time in life, I’m learning that what I’m really looking for is not something that is found. It’s something that finds. As one of my favorite bands so eloquently puts it, it comes easy–like mist on a ridge (you’re welcome, Lone Bellow fans). No, we don’t get to answer 90% of the questions we conjure up. Big whoop– we still have the privilege of affirmation that rests in things unconditionally true. And even if it’s disguised as cliche’ optimism, its overuse does not change its accuracy. Everything (true and untrue) does belong– and accepting that is much more spiritual than it feels.

What we spend our time and efforts focusing on magnifies. Some author/speaker/preacher said that somewhere (I’m clearly awesome at details), and it really took hold not because it sounds pretty, but because it proves itself. Focusing on questions that don’t have answers yields cautious growth, which is arguably an oxymoron…which is inarguably a problem. However, focusing on what we do know– preferably something true– yields dealing with actual, essential reality. Is that necessarily fun? Probs not. But it’s better than tracing and retracing the circumference of who you are, where you are, and what you’re doing with both.

The punches and blows life delves out can’t take away the healing nature of truth. And yet, if we don’t guard it, how will we continue to own it? Is everything true good? No.  Entertaining that question itself is remiss. However, when we really narrow down the things we know… our efforts will inevitably yield an incredibly unbalanced scale in good truth’s favor. But in order to get there, we have to enter into Mr. Rohr’s mentioned “essence.” Past the buffers built by redundant questions, excuses, and instabilities.

I’ve felt much less like myself in the past few months than I think I ever have, which is concerning for several reasons. But I think I’ve only been a shell of myself because I’ve only focused on the shell of myself. Everything has felt less than real and more than foreign, inside and out–but I think I’m more to blame than anything else. I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that a lack of maturity has produced a very shallow level of thinking. Simply addressing where and who I am right now as reality allows me to deal with it. And I need to do that.

I’m not typically one for New Year’s resolutions… but I am one for reminding myself of my focus, my calling, and my purpose before I start every day. And the beautiful thing about all of that is they are true regardless of my circumference. They are true unconditionally because they are all rooted in something true. Or even better, someone true. I hope and pray that it doesn’t always take a new year to remind me of that. Per advice of a much wiser friend, perhaps I should start owning that instead of the questions.

So, here’s to Richard Rohr for challenging the way things are. Here’s to owning the essence instead of the circumference. And here’s to Brooke Fraser for writing and singing a powerful song that echoed what I needed to hear… something true, if you will. I’m looking forward to much more of that.

Caffeinated as always,

Alex

 

Dry Bones

“This whole process of living, dying, and then living again starts with Yahweh ‘breathing into clay’ which becomes a ‘living being’ (Genesis 2:7) called Adam (‘of the Earth’). The point is that a drama is forever set in motion between breath and what appears to be mere clay (humus = humans = adamah). Matter and spirit are forever bound together; divine and mortal forever interpenetrate and manifest one another. The Formless One forever takes on form as “Adam” (and in Jesus ‘the new Adam’), and then takes us back to the Formless One once again as each form painfully surrenders the small self that it has been for a while. “I am returning to take you with me, so that where I am you also may be” (John 14:3), says Jesus. The changing of forms is called resurrection, and the return is called ascension, although to us it just looks like death.” –Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond

“God, the Master, told the dry bones, “Watch this: I’m bringing the breath of life to you and you’ll come to life. I’ll attach sinews to you, put meat on your bones, cover you with skin, and breathe life into you. You’ll come alive and you’ll realize that I am God.” –Ezekiel 37:5-6, MSG

A few weeks ago, I was in the hustle and bustle of moving back into the house that built me. After an incredible internship in Pensacola, I was on the mission of moving back in with the ‘rents (#20somethingsstruggles). In the packing and unpacking process, I was determined to make a place that housed my history a residence for my future (short-term ha). I wanted to make my new/old space my own. And as I was settling my things into my room, I noticed that one of my favorite Airstream decors was broken into pieces. In that moment, I think I realized the weight (good and bad) of this enormous life-decision that had just been made. The realization that with newness comes a brokenness of the old, a rebuilding of what must be broken down. A growth that is intentionally difficult.

Moving back to Hattiesburg– I wasn’t expecting it to be quite as much of a process as I’m discovering it to be. The shifting and settling of everything in life lately has felt more like a drifting than a falling-into-place. In the whirlwind of the past 3 weeks, I’ve felt more unraveled and alienated from the pieces and parts of myself that had become all-too-familiar to my daily routine. Fuzzy and far away– they were still there, but faded in an uncomfortably distant attendance, only present enough to decline participation in the everyday (if that makes any sense whatsoever). In an attempt to ward off my tendency to overthinking, I’d written it off as a product of my environment, which is undeniably all very new and overwhelming, yet at the same time familiar. New job and new career in a town that has housed so many memories, all the while surrounded with a hodgepodge of new and old friends and mentors. Basically my life currently feels like a Sunday pot-luck–old chapters meeting new ones but in the same book, adorned with shabby binding. The old pages are secure, but the new ones are failing to follow suit, struggling to stitch together without compromising their purpose. So much good, but each good piece is matched with challenge and difficulty. Like a beautiful miniature Airstream, crushed to smithereens… all for the necessity of the process. All for the necessity of resurrection.

While the monsoon of craziness rip-tiding around me has definitely contributed to what I’m speaking to, I can’t help but feel like it’s a deeper disconnect that is only uncovered when what’s visible portrays what’s not. What if this state of struggle isn’t a result of anything? Rather, what if it’s a deep-root problem, something that has only surfaced because my surroundings have unknowingly mirrored it? In other words, what I can write off and avoid has taken the form of external circumstances that I cannot ward off. That collision of internal/external states has produced an unsettling realization that there is a much bigger spiritual aspect to everything and choosing to ignore that is juvenile and immature. When awareness is compromised for comfort, we have taken gigantic steps in the wrong direction, a direction that aims away from where we all long to be.

In the stead of having a social life, I’ve become a rather avid reader of Richard Rohr. Lord help you if you share the same habits because the man says some crazy stuff, at least in light of the traditional measures I was taught in understanding and learning Scripture. Of course, nowadays, I feel like everything I hear from modern day Christianese pertaining to Scripture is that nothing means what it says. Rather, it means something entirely different… and the literal words symbolically portray something entirely different (good luck making sense of that). Regardless of whatever I believe, I enjoy listening to different perspectives and takes on intentionally dealing with the hurtles and challenges of taking religion seriously– not just for theological high-nosed debates, but in the trenches of the mundane. Not a justification or explanation for what I see and don’t understand, but a spiritual, internal realization of who God is regardless of what I see, all through the written words we are left with. And let me tell you, regardless of whether or not you agree or disagree with the man, Mr. Rohr delivers. And hands out brain cramps like nobody’s business.

If you spend much time wading through the weeds of his work, you’ll come to find that the idea of the “True Self” is not a stranger to his themes. At this crux of sorts in my life, I find myself still wondering who I am really. And I have absolutely no doubt that if I’m here in 60 more years, I will still be asking that question, tried and true. But, hopefully, by then I will come to realize that my True Self is completely dependent only on my awareness of it–not it’s actual existence and presence.

“You remind me of things forgotten. You rewind me until I’m totally undone.”

Stephanie Gretzinger (see the YouTube video at the beginning of this post) sings these words in Letting Go, a beautiful song and prayer that echoes so much of what I want to say… but can’t quite do it as genuinely and fully as I’d like. Regardless, she reminds me of a theme that riddles God’s people’s history– return. Taking me back, reminding, rewinding, getting back to the basics of who we are, of what we are. Dry bones bleached by the sun. Or, even further back–dirt. Earth. Creation. A product of will. A result of choice, of sound, or voice–of breath.

We all know the Creation story recorded in Genesis. And yet, what I have never quite fathomed is the common ingredient that makes up everything that is– breath. Divine breath. God’s sound, His whisper. HIS SPIRIT. Some people say a “Bang.” I have no idea what actually happened at the very beginning of time and neither do you. But what I do know is that there is a certain dependency that we have with our Maker for life–if it weren’t for a smearing of Holy Spirit with mankind, we wouldn’t be.       We would only be the dirt that we came from and return to. There would be nothing that goes deeper, goes further, that goes past death. Although we see the end of our physical life as the death of it, Rohr pushes us further, suggesting that such an end is in fact only a changing of forms by means of a powerful combination of resurrection and ascension. Both of which, only come through a formless mediator that we Christians claim to be the Holy Spirit, made manifest through Jesus Christ. The link that connects a Maker with His made… and penetrates a never-intended separation.

Look at the verse that Rohr refers to in John 14:3:

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”

If you’re anything like me, you immediately think of the Revelation-like return of Jesus to Earth–trumpets, earthquakes, the whole nine-yards. But what if Rohr is on to something here. What if we’ve actually dismissed a verse that refers to a higher realization of the Holy Spirit in each of us as that “way”? What if Jesus was everything man was intended to be, perfectly connected with the breath that bred him, the Spirit that allowed him to obtain an awareness that wasn’t clouded in spite of flesh and blood…? What if the kingdom that Jesus spoke so urgently about throughout the Gospels has been inside each of us all along? (Weren’t people ex-communicated from the church at one point for saying that? :O)

The unsettling state that I’ve found in this season of life has uncovered a lack of connection with who I am called to be–the True Self, if Mr. Rohr was saying it. But really what that means is a lack of connection and link between a Father and a son. A lack of awareness of the Spirit that unites Maker with Creation. I’m not saying it’s not there– I’m saying that I have lost awareness. I have lost the sensitivity of His tunes and tweaks on me. And as soon as I lose sight of who I am through that Spirit, that calling begins to fade, grow dim, and become something I dismiss as a product of my surroundings… which, as I mentioned, is a methodology aimed entirely off-course.

I’m not sure if there is much of a point to my saying all of this, other than for personal therapy and venting. All I know is that when my daily to-do’s become about anything other than promoting awareness to a Spirit that connects all of us to each other and to our God, I’m getting away from who I really am. Because like we’re told so often without really understanding what we’re saying, we are not our own. Who we are meant to be is entirely dependent on something other than “ourselves.” Our true selves are perfectly fused with the breath of God, the Spirit that breathes dry bones into life again. The Spirit that breathes dirt into man. Without that sweet spirit smearing us with Himself, we are nothing more than dirt waiting to return to our original state. Whether we realize it or not, there is a rumbling inside of each of us bigger than we feel comfortable acknowledging… which, is probably why we don’t. We have to be broken. We have to be resurrected into a life that’s bigger than the broken. And we have to ascend into something that isn’t determined by dirt.

The older I get, the more I long to see life as a window into who God is. As if each chapter of life is simply a new room of a mansion, filled with more than I will ever have the privilege of experiencing. Whenever death does force me to call it quits on that exploration, I’d like to think the experience will not be as different. Just the walking through a new door into a new room where everything (in terms of who I am) is rewinded to its original purpose: unity between Maker and Made. I think we’d all be far better off if we didn’t wait until death to strive for that.

Because Paul’s a freaking boss and because I don’t know what else to say, I’m going to leave y’all with his words:

Good-bye, friends. Love mixed with faith be yours from God the Father and from the Master, Jesus Christ. Pure grace and nothing but grace be with all who love our Master, Jesus Christ. -Ephesians 6:23-24 

Amen to that, peeps. Amen to that. Here’s to all you 20-somethings out there trying to figure life out. Hang in there. You’re in the hands of a Renovator who mends dry bones into life for a living. Don’t let life push that into a memory. He’s got this.

Entirely too caffeinated,

Alex

Thunder

First the light, first the light.. then the sound.” -Brooke Fraser

Misty salt-drizzle, mini-sand tornadoes, and abandoned beach tents–there’s nothing quite like standing on the beach in the midst of a storm. Perhaps, it’s because I realize I could easily be slapped in the face with a lightning bolt mis-fire at any given moment… Or maybe it’s because I’m terrified of its hugeness, the fact that it’s bigger than we can really get ahold of, despite our trusty-dusty weather forecasts. Something too sporadic and strong to be comfortable in, and yet, for those very same reasons, too attention-demanding to break its stare.

I’m not sure about the rest of you 20-somethings out there, but I can get real frustrated with the “in-betweens” of life. You know, the holy-crap-what-am-i-even-doing-with-life season(s), which for me, has really been in the developmental phases for the past 5 or so years. There were times where plans seemed logical– Architecture? That sounded fun. Until I realized I wasn’t too interested in spending 5 more years in school to do something I only half-loved. Then, I had the incredible opportunity to learn about life from a group of teenagers in a youth group, where I was blessed with the task of interning for several years with an incredible group of kids. And through some pretty weird innuendos, I came to the logical conclusion that youth ministry was my occupational destination. Until I started seeing the church as only one of many, many avenues to house a ministry my heart could genuinely pursue. After a few more wild goose chases for the job I was supposed to occupy, I finally landed awkwardly in a graduate school program for Economic Development. It’s kinda awesome– because it doesn’t pretend to be a fixed something or another. It’s a proactive field, one that pursues solution to problems that tangibly affect our environments: economic, social, and the entire abyss in-between. It’s not fluffy. It’s not always a feel-goody type of work, but it makes great differences– both the kinds that can be measured and the kinds that can’t.

I’d love to tell you that I’m a total pro at everything economic development and I’m owning at life in every way… but, for anyone that knows me, that’s nothing more than hilarious. I’m fortunate enough to have incredibly talented people that are willing to sacrifice their time and effort to let me learn from them through means of an internship, and I learn new things every day, most of which I learned little of in school. And, by little of, I mean nothing. As for expectations in leaving the classroom to experience the “real world,” I didn’t really carry many with me. But somewhere in the back of my head, I was secretly clinging to the hope that I’d find that switch in the depths of my being that would instantly make me feel like I had my crap basket in order (I don’t even know what that means, but just go with it). Lo and behold, I found the switch, and I flicked the heck out of it! But it definitely didn’t work… And I feel almost like I’ve taken a tumble into the mess (aka crap basket) that I so desperately tried to “get together.” Hence, me standing at the edge of the ocean in the middle of a slightly terrifying thunderstorm. Yolo.

One of my favorite things about storms is the pause between bursts of light issued by lightning bolts and the rumbling affirmation of thunder that proves their strike. One, I enjoy the longer pauses because it means the storm is further away. And two, it relates to me, in an uncanny, uncomfortable way. In fact, I’d say the whole thunderstorm scenario relates. Perhaps that’s why its glare is so piercing, its stare unbreakable, and its commotion so fixating. It’s a physical demonstration of emotion that can’t really be expressed in words (unless you count the weather channel’s stab at it), but can most definitely be expressed in overwhelming disorder. The irrefutable argument of your smallness, and your inability to control what’s around you is haunting, not just by means of a storm but by means of life’s different rip-tides and undertows disguised as “transitions.” You never notice, until it gives you no other option. First the light, first the light… then the sound.

Those words rang through my brain all day today as the rainy day gave me an excuse to introspect. If you don’t recognize them, you should listen to Brooke Fraser more often–she’s pretty awesome and has some cool music. But moreso than that, her work almost always gives me foundation to build on, apply, and analyze. When I think about thunder and lightning, I think about it in that order: first, thunder; then, lightning. Which is kind of strange, considering it doesn’t occur like that, obviously. First the light, then the sound–that’s the way it works. And that’s exactly what today’s storm-watching reminded me of.

The comforting/terrifying thunder affirmation of lightning’s presence can’t be experienced without the flashy strike of a lightning bolt. Maybe that’s what I needed to see– the possibility of making a flash. The fact that the rumblings of precision in life can’t be obtained without a seemingly-sporadic stroke of light into a dark abyss. Thunder requires lightning. Pathways require move-making. And perhaps the storm I see in my reflection most mornings is ready to throw a lightning bolt down somewhere.

There is no get-a-grip-on-your-life-button. I know, I know–disappointing. For all the people out there that read the 20 reasons your owning at your 20s or whatever other articles that flood Facebook as if it’s some sort of life-cure… if you’re anything like me, you’re probably not “owning” much at all (of course, it could just be me). In fact, if you’re anything like me, you’re probably distracting yourself from reality by making half-serious plans to live in an Airstream in abandoned property on the beach (passed it today- I called dibs). But we all have to make a move of some sorts at some point to play a role in the seemingly never-ending in-betweens of the mid-twenties. Maybe I’m just a hopelessly distracted millennial, but I’ve come to the point where I’m realizing that my wants and desires change as fast as the weather does–and that’s saying something because I live across from the beach. Sometimes, I wish I lived in an Airstream… because I wholeheartedly WANT to live in an Airstream. Yet, at the same time, I long for roots, a place to plant myself, invest, and grow. It’s a constant tug of war between who I am and who I could be– both of which I find pretty hard to define more times than not. It’s that state of commotion that I’m tired of being in, that place where decision is absent and fear of being wrong stands in its place.

If this makes sense to you at this point, you might be insane. If so, welcome! I’ve somehow gone from talking about thunder bolts to crap baskets (still don’t know what I mean by that) to life. Ya know, I believe God to be one who loves to watch us grasp for logic and sense in the midst of so much we don’t understand, probably as entertainment. The older I get, the less black and white things become, because there’s so much room for perspective and interpretation that totally opposes the next. Lines become dim chalk lines on a sidewalk that we manage to justify hop-scotching over. Today (Sunday), standing in the rain as lightning picked its target and struck– I was reminded that storms don’t pass by without some sort of show, some sort of intentional disruption. They don’t just hover over places and make camp.. They whistle with winds, they strike with lightning, and they crackle with thunder. And however silly I feel putting these thoughts to paper, I felt affirmation today from a dang thunderstorm that it’s time to throw a bolt or two of my own, to stop accepting my stormy reflection as adulthood.

So, if you’re fighting with yourself and pissed that your life doesn’t fit in a guidebook to success– I hope that somehow this comforts you. The people that have it “figured out” don’t really have all their ducks in a row. But the handful of ducks that are in line were only put there by taking action, by making decisions, and accepting the consequences that come along with them. Limbo is good, for a season… but it’s toxic when we stay there expecting it to end on its own without our participation. Fortunately (and/or unfortunately at times :P), God allows us to play a role in his plans, for reasons that I will never quite understand. But this I know– there’s something to be learned in having to make decisions that you can’t back up 100%. And I think it’s time I stop justifying and start lighting bolt-throwing. Let’s do this.

Wishing you lightning and thunder,

Alex