dancing machine

Cliche as it might be, I've begun numerous conversations over the past few days about how the recent thaw has brought new life to my week. And everyone- I mean everyone- seems to agree. Something is happening. Something new. We're moving forward.

So I breathed deeply and walked extra slow on my thirty second jaunt to the car this morning, and hunched over the wheel just enough to let the morning sun hit my face. And if that weren't enough, I furthered the celebration by rolling down my window and letting- what seemed at the time to be- a warm February Chicago breeze roll in and over me as I drove along to work.

It was music. Enlightenment. Eureka! (yikes. Grandpa language.)

But when I got to my office (an old desktop computer with a cat sleeping on it, in the back lower level of my boss' house) I was taken aback when my homepage greeted me with news that it was in actuality, "Mostly Cloudy and 28 degrees."


This happens all the time, doesn't it? And not just with the weather, but with everything. Is the glass half empty or half full? How do you see it? We say there are two sides to every coin, every story, every argument, maybe Owen Wilson's nose- and we acknowledge it because we know it's all about how you look at things. It's perspective.

oday, Ash Wednesday begins our journey through the Lenten season. A season- my roommates reminded me- inaugurating Jesus' forty days in the desert, a period before Easter, counting down, ultimately, to His crucifixion and death. Or is it a countdown to His resurrection and life? Well, we can't have one without the other? So it's both, I guess. But it depends on how you look at things. Ah...Perspective.

Every year the Lenten language begins with questions like, "What are you giving up?" Because the emphasis is sacrifice- which it should be. So we make a pact, typically with only ourselves, to abstain from all the local anesthetics like chocolate, beer, or Madden '07. And it becomes a sort of bet or convenient talking point at work, "So what are you giving up Bill?.. Oh, nail biting... Cool."

I actually overheard a conversation at work the other day between three men, debating what the point was in giving anything up. Or more specifically, how to participate while, in fact, not giving up anything at all. One guy told of how his wife, whom he characterized as a theologian, had persuaded him to give up wine; much to the laughter of the other. But after some thoughtful consideration and head shaking, the third guy chimed in with a brilliant idea, "man you gotta be really specific" he began. "Like, give up something like phalaphal, or no- only plain doughnuts. Yeah. You can have all the different ones with sugar and frosting and everything- just not the plain ones."

Have you ever had that feeling of insignificance- like you're in the presence of giants?

So this is the language. The familiar journey of Lent. But could we look at the same reality from another angle? Could we embrace these forty days not only as a call to the giving up of certain things, but as a call also to the giving in to new things?

once read that the most fundamental law in all of psychology is the "law of effect". And it went on to illustrate how it's much harder to simply eliminate a bad habit than it is to replace a bad habit with a good one.

I was talking with a woman who told me that she'd recently begun exercising to quit smoking. And she went on and on about how surprised she was to find the exercise had actually spilled over and brought new light to areas of her life she'd never intended it to- like inactivity, overeating, and eventually maybe even self-criticism.

She's learning that when we clean house, we make room. We always do.

n the book of Romans, the writer Paul tells us to, "...Throw off everything that hinders... and run with perseverance..." The very type of instructions that often leave Christians looking or feeling like the people that first get perfect and then get God. An ordering of our operations.

But could it be they are not two separate tasks- one the throwing off and the other the running- but one dance with two movements? Indistinguishable. Like a two-part harmony comprised of a combination of contrasted elements. Like the mysterious friends, faith and works, always insisting on being together. Because where you find one, you will inevitably find the other. An inseparable pair. A graceful couple. And could this continuous movement we do be like so many others? Everyday dying and reborn, falling and rising, running away and returning...

Could this be the Lent that you choose to not only give that up but at last, finally, give in as well?

was at a wedding last year and decided- because it was the third such function in two months- that I would play it cool and lay low. So I sat and sipped my ice water and talked about the ceremony, the reception so far, the dj, the music and of course, eventually, the creative expressions out on the dance floor. And although I'd intentionally sat facing away from the action, I still could not keep it from happening...

I danced.

I couldn't help it. Because real dancing is never isolated or alone. It's communication, expression, social interaction. Never one dimensional. Never completely containable. And always contagious.

Where you find one person dancing, you will likely find another.

You see, once we pick up our dragging feet and get moving, I believe the throwing off of things becomes easier and more natural. And it begins making more and more sense. The load is lightened and we come to see we were made for running. And A divine domino-effect begins. An exponential escalation in the fullness of living. The more we run, the more we give in; and the more we give in and up, the more room we have for the limitless, infinite and uncontainable in-flooding of stuff like peace, patience, kindness, and humility.

A putting down and a picking up. A dance.

So sure, give up gossip, cigarettes, idle words and the he said, she said business- but don't merely create an empty space. But give in also. Give in to words of encouragement, affirmation and a personal mission to leave mysteriously unprovoked compliments on others. And then get out of there. Replace agenda driven efforts to straighten the record with an entirely new record, where the scoreboards are scoreless and you're no longer holding the heavy past up over both your heads.

A forty day experiment bent on burying old beefs and moving forward. Making way and making room.

don't know a Christ who came to bring us a great void where we are simply emptied of all things, and are vacant and sterile. A Christ who makes rules because He likes them. I know a Jesus who brought with Him a new way to new life. A life about the do's and less about dont's; the kind of life to dig deep down into, bust the knees out of our jeans, and get dirty with. Life to the fullest. A life of fullness.

The biblical studs were not revered for their mere abstinence or refrain- although there are times for such things- but for what they were over-filled and therefore overflowing with: generosity, passionate love, compassionate regard for others, and faith beyond even belief. All dancing together.

miracles; the end of want and need

Some things have changed, but have they?

Many times when I read the Bible, I'm struck by how differently things went down back then. There are these crazy occurrences, like a God who speaks audibly through burning bushes, from a cloud, or through an angel. There is this Jesus pulling wine from water like rabbits from hats, and feeding thousands with a meal for two. There are His students following Him, doing the things He did and instituting widespread hope and faith. There is blindness healed, sickness relieved, and crippled legs standing, walking on water and yes- life brought back from death.

To some degree, all these miracles speak of the distant but familiar victory that we very closely identify with; weather abundance over scarcity, healing over brokenness, value over insignificance, whatever it may be- there is always this sort-of magical relationship of divine proportions; this life over death phenomenon.

I was talking with a group of ninth graders recently about faith, miracles, and the popular claim to having some sort of encounter with the Divine. And so I’m at this private school, an extremely liberal thinking, affluent school for privileged, in one of our nation’s biggest cities- and it becomes completely obvious to me, not that they can’t or won’t believe in miracles, and not that they don’t desire to believe or have a mysterious bend in them toward believing, but rather- their lives seem to leave very little room for the need of miracles.

The conveniences of modern life allow for unprecedented comfort. Presented with a problem we're offered many seemingly suitable options- And while God's intervention may be on the list, He may not necessarily be our first or even eventual choice. And so we push Him back, knowingly or unknowingly, to the distant and vague corners of need- to inevitability. Because we've already got enough help to get through these years nicely; we just need a God to take care of the death thing, later.

And before we realize it, we've made Him into a little god who offers us help, advice, maybe a miracle sale at the mall, and possibly life- but only in answer to an impending problem, later, in the future. 'Cause yeah, our lives are good now. We have what we need.

So we fall to our knees and teeter on disbelief or disillusionment when without immediate need, we delegate to him instead our wants- and He doesn't give them to us. With an appetite for gratification and getting, we search our Bibles where all the miracles seem so theatrical, so easy, and simple. And we don't understand. We hear about this God who says He'll supply all our needs, but we want him to make us feel good and avoid discomfort or pain; unable to see that our true needs penetrate far deeper than anything we could ever even imagine- let alone want or ask for.

What needs do you present to God?

What do you give Him credit for?

Is there room in your life for miracles?

Are you interested in a God who knows your needs (and your wants for that matter) before you ask?

Has your awareness of your absolute need and dependence on God been diminished by the endless options offering you cheap, aesthetic answers to deep problems, pretending to save, heal, and sustain you? Our attitudes and our appetites change, but the character of God doesn't. He is, He was, and He will always be the end to all want and need.

questions and answers

There are some questions in life that simply must be asked, but they don’t necessarily need to be answered.

I was watching TV recently as a well known presidential candidate was being interviewed. You've seen it; one of those split-screen political numbers, where one man is extremely positive and plastic and the other’s holding a stare and comb-over combination serious enough to hold down both his hair and the network ratings. And so after some light conversation between the two, the interviewer begins grilling the politician with these yes or no, black or white questions about where he stands on all the hot-button, divisive issues of the day and what his opponents have said about his record.

So I’m at the edge of my seat thinking how he’s option-less and absolutely screwed w
hen, all-in-a-sudden, the politician begins this brilliant rebuttal where he essentially turns the questions on end and questions instead what his opponents were doing when he was accomplishing the greatest feats of his political life. Anyone watching witnessed a proverbial jumping roundhouse kick- a real piece of political kung-fu magic.

In the book of Job we meet one of the toughest questions in the human experience- the question why.
In Job we enter the story of a sort of cosmic conversation between God and the deceiver where God allows Satan to test the loyalty of Job by taking from him his material possessions, his family, and then his health. So Job takes this awful plunge from adornment to agony like an E! True Hollywood Story where our once so enviable hero falls from the heights of fortune to utter despair. Early in the action, Job endures an almost domino like progression where he keeps getting messages from servants saying, “All the flocks and herdsmen have been lost and only I have survived to tell you.” Or “All the houses of all your children have collapsed and only I have survived to tell you.”

And piece-by-piece everything in his life falls apart.

So afterward, Job sits with his friends in silence for seven days before he finally opens his mouth and enters into a full-length self-deprecating complaint with God, where he curses the day he was born and questions the purpose of a life destined to and intentioned for pain and suffering.

It’s like his soul has been absolutely exhausted. He even says at one point, “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.”

Have you been there? Maybe these are your words.

And so Job finds himself surrounded by differing explanations for his condition. On one side, three friends say he’s being punished for wrong-doing and must identify what law he’s broken and rid himself of the sin.
But on the other side is a younger friend, Elihu, who disagrees but says that Job’s grievances have been misguided and ill advised. “Do we accept only the good from God and not the bad?” he asks.

And it’s here, at the end of Elihu’s monologue, where God speaks and puts an end to Job’s complaints, questions and all the commentary.

God says, “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? Tell me if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?”
And He goes on and on and on, for like 4 pages (depending on the size of your Biblio), continually humbling Job and anyone hearing or reading the story and flipping questions and complaints on end.

Many times when we ask questions of God we unknowingly err. We don’t do wrong in simply asking, but we fault in questioning the character of God. Our questions often have less to do with a “why” and more to do with a “what”- “What are you doing?” we ask. “Do you know what you’re doing to me? What are you God, good?”
And attitudes can creep into our inquiries that presuppose that God owes us an answer- as though his absolute goodness were not answer enough. You see, if questions are good- and I think they are- it’s because of the humility and modesty found in them when we admit, expose, and become aware of our own limitations.

Maybe we’re all too easily impressed by our questions. Maybe our questions are far outweighed when seen alongside God’s questions for us like, “What is the way to the abode of light? And where does the darkness reside? Can you take them to their places? Do you know the path to their dwelling? Surely you already know, for you were already born!”

Have your questions become dangerous fallacious statements; statements that suggest that, “Possibly God isn’t in control; it could be He’s capable of mistakes and misjudgments; maybe God isn’t good after all?”
Maybe something terrible and senseless has happened to you and you need to take comfort when Elihu reminds us, “It is unthinkable that God would do wrong.”

What are your questions? Are they a sincere expression of humble deference, or statments moonlighting as questions, doubting that God in fact is what He says He is- Love.