At that time I entered a period of deep introspection—probably too much—thinking about my decisions, my fear, who I am now, who I was, and would become.

I wondered what it was like the day Adam first knelt down over the water for a drink and discovered his own reflection. I wondered what he thought about in that moment. Did he recognize the figure or think there was someone there, imitating his every movement? Did he speak to it, I wondered, reach out to touch it? What an illuminating moment in the history of man. What a discovery.

Thousands of years later in my bathroom a three-piece mirrored cabinet hangs over the place I wash my hands each morning. I open wide its doors and look deep beneath the mirror’s surface. It fascinates me to turn the glass against itself, in opposing directions and try to find a unique perspective, to see myself anew. I stand in front of the glass and remember my childhood haircuts from the barber’s chair where I could look ahead but see behind myself as well, each mirror a doorway to another room, where another person in a chair wore the same expression and received the same haircut, at the very same instant. Gazing into the mirror I could—for the moment---be someone else, somewhere else, watching me. Seen and known and yet, at the same time, very unknown. Over the years some parts of me would be intentionally ignored, pushed aside, and purposefully neglected. Places within me I preferred not to go but could not entirely forget.

I thought about this some more. This odd recurring moment in my own life, not at all unlike Adam's. I imagined many were guilty of this strange narcissistic behavior. Probably pursing their lips at the reflection, standing, turning, meticulously placing each hair, and spending far too much time deciding who their celebrity look-alike might be. Of course you definitely don't, I assured myself. These were merely illustrations--probably only true of others--entering my mind.

There was something to be said about mirrors and our relationship to them--something really profound--something I wanted to say, but could not put words to meaning. Something about myself, about you, about all of us. But this something could not be wholly grasped by my own mind. All I knew was how very peculiar it felt that God would create me so that I cannot see even my own face. The eye naturally stayed open and could see a great distance, but could not perceive itself.

I think again now of Adam and wonder about that moment long ago, wondering how differently he must have seen himself after the fall--after realizing there was something achingly wrong within him, seeing that the broken things around him were somehow a part of his own soul. How did he respond to his reflection? Did he ask God about the image or the ache? Did it shamefully enamor him? Maybe he ran from it--very far, very fast, tears streaming down his face--only to return the next day, and the day after, and the day after that--again and again--repeating the process, full of shame and misunderstanding- burying himself beneath it.

I think about this and wonder if man, amidst all his achievements, still kneels down over the water and feels just as he did then. I wonder how many of us still return everyday only to run away in our shame and return--again and again-- more conflicted, even more hurt, aching and confused. How many of us have unknowingly become utterly unrecognizable to even ourselves; seeing but not knowing as He in fact knows us; seeing but not forgiving as He has indeed forgiven us.

How long will it take us to finally sit quietly before that image? How much longer will we run? When will we finally see ourselves anew from the perspective that we are loved just as we are, not despite ourselves but because we are ourselves. When will we truly understand that we are the reflection of God?

Think of it. What if God knows something you don't? And what if that something is actually a someone? What if finally coming to know and face yourself and all the junk you're carrying around could free you up to know your God again? A God who has waited through eternity for your return.

It's so personal. It's all so uncomfortably personal.

Suburban legends p3

the vow of voluntary homelessness

In Luke—a doctor’s scribble scratch—the writer records Jesus’ odd clarification of His posture. They [Jesus and disciples] meet an eager recruit who says, ‘Hey, where you’re going, I’ll follow. I’m into your work.’ And Jesus responds with this: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay His head. " Now I don't know about you here, but what is He talking about? Is He really venting about His sleeping accommodations or is there something else going on? Did He think this guy didn’t know what life on the road would be like? Obviously he’d heard what Jesus had been doing and was moved by it. But why did Jesus find it necessary to articulate His position to this man? What was He trying to tell him?

Maybe Jesus was suggesting that being on His side requires more than just ideological agreement with Him.

If you’re like me, you’ve likely spent the past few years vacillating in political inconsistency. Searching for a side to support you’ve wavered Right to Left, from moderate to extreme—extreme confusion to disillusionment. From a short list of choices, you’ve made an even shorter list of what you were told were the "important issues". And so you've made many decisions based on a few items only to likely—a short time later—disagree completely with your initial rationale. You may at this time be deeply confused and searching for a safe home to support, side with, and defend. But what--and namely who--do you choose? Afterall, choosing leadership is difficult and disillusioning: Many pro-life candidates support a controversial war that some see as devaluing civilian lives. But the antiwar candidates rally the cause of abortion and do equally the same. One side calls for compassionate faith, the other emphases rationality and reason--but neither one prioritizes poverty.

These are our choices? Respectfully, are these gentlemen our leaders- I mean true leaders? When people ask me what I am (politically) I have no idea what to say. Because I’ve found that inevitably every label has eventually failed me. And every affiliation has disappointed me with their actions or comparable inaction. Are you there as well? Have you experienced this? Where are we to be, what side do we choose and how do we stomach continuing to be there as Christ's name is co-opted for causes we wish not to endorse?

Reading the Gospels has a way of quietly reshaping and challenging our suppositions-- convictions we once elevated to positions of such great importance. Jesus puts on more faces and hats than the king of pop. You thought you knew what He would say or do--and then He does it and you're left wondering what just happened. Interesting how it takes us time, but always later makes profound sense. Following Jesus--I've heard--is a lot like looking at your life in reverse. It often makes good clear sense afterward but causes some serious confusion along the way. But of course it must be this way, for if we knew all the moves Jesus would make, and could accurately predict them, would we still call it following? If it weren't so, we would be out in front of Jesus, running ahead and waiting for Him to catch up, maybe even suggesting to Him where it is we should go. As such, following His lead inevitably causes us to revisit and retrace our steps. If we have the humility to do so, we also--in time--call in to question the judgments we've previously held dear and self-defining. And if we allow it, the whole process must make us wonder if it really is possible to do so [pick sides, hold accurate judgements, etc] while holding onto our hearts' clear conscience.

Because while we keep choosing the right side, Jesus keeps appearing with those who do not have a side represented. Effectively, the Captain has gone down with the ship. And Jesus--in the social sense--seems to have committed again a form of political suicide. Our causes should have hands and hearts. He's with the people He champions, but where are we--alone with our ideologies?

Maybe Christ would suggest to us a strategy; a gentle abandoning of the traditional posts, held too firmly to be maintained. Maybe His suggestion is less a choice, but enacted instead out of necessity--for the survival of our hearts. Perhaps He would help us in imagining a new place for ourselves—outside the establishment. And perhaps it is this prepared place that was fit for us all along, to teach us and illuminate new meaning on old worn out scriptures that once seemed so simple and understood. Maybe there in the nowhere Jesus would call us both to the margins and to the middle, where remaining requires we be humble, judge no one, and sleep in tiny tents so that we may quickly move to be where He is, just was, or may be heading.

Think of the relevance of such an imagined place within the Jesus story: The baby King born of dishonorable circumstance, ruler of an invisible kingdom, a problem to the political system, rejected by the religious, at home on the road, dinner with the enemy, even killed by his own people. And now known but outwardly unseen, shrouded in mystery. This is not a God of memorized dictates and wordy oaths. This is someone entirely known yet altogether unknown to us--completely unique in otherness, but just like us, somehow loving us. We are reading the ultimate outsiders' story. Jesus our homeless anti-hero, lighting a candle in the night, waiting up and watching for us. Finding us and inviting us to His work.

It's only sensible that following Him then requires more than just circumventing the problematic elements within the world. Christianity is not a club and Jesus is more than a figurehead. If Jesus is a person--as He says He is--and if God makes Himself known, then a Christlike life must then be more than just believing--but knowing and doing with Him as well, just as we would with one another. Life in such a place lived with Him therefore may not be sustained through mere strategic alignments, affiliations, creeds or through a simple series of refusals. For while we may wish to do and side with what is right, our misinterpretation and misjudgments too easily blind us in recognizing what in fact the right or best reactions may always be. And our isolatory side taking is unavoidably degrading and alienating to the outsiders we are to be welcoming in.

I’m beginning to wonder if following Christ requires more than agreeing with Him. I'm wondering if following requires of us a sort of humble political and ideological homelessness; willingly making a place where there is none; outside of the arroganct philosophies of superiority and the hierarchical ordering of operations that much of the political and religious club make requisite; the suburban legend that tells us our differences outweigh our commonalities as humans--as individuals before God. It's a bold undertaking requiring great courage and the greatest of humility. Making ourselves as nothing.

suburban legends p2

a revolt of conspicuous consumption

In many ways it feels like we’ve never before been more conscious of the needs of the world. And in those ways it appears that we can really make a difference. There are rock concerts for poverty, books and weekly emails with calls to action; there are thousands of charity organizations, political watchdogs, human rights groups, and the social justice of celebrity icons. Men and women across the aisle are joining voices and it’s great, it really is. But often our new found awareness leads us to radical judgments based on one-dimensional (often highly emotional) analysis; judgments that may, although honest and well intentioned, mistakenly direct us down narrowly defined paths of inaction; paths that leave little room for practical, tangible creative action.

For example, when we look at our clothing, we quickly discover that much of what we’re wearing is being sewn together by little hands in places too far and economically remote to be named and remembered. And the inclination within that moment is to opt out, to stop sweat shopping for new clothes and place a personal embargo on all things third world. We do this all the time, all of us; a quick cause/effect analysis followed by a stamp of judgment. Like being in the car with someone who’s just robbed the bank. You don’t think—you just reach for the door.

So many times our attempts to follow Christ put us in these tenuous positions where we perceive that we have only one of two choices: To be in or opt out. To be complicit with the flawed political/social, economic/religious system or else opt out and make a run for it, move to Saskatchewan and spend the rest of our lives in the hills. We see few other options on the table. And so for many of us then, living under the pressure of this ultimatum, we come to believe that in fact it is true--that there are no alternatives. So opting out, we find comfort and the certainty we search for in bold lines that conveniently delineate the black from the white. Rather than wrestling with the issues through prayer, deep study, scrutiny, patience and the analysis they demand, we choose instead to make a metaphorical run for it. We want very badly to be on the “good” side—an absolutely healthy longing—but do our conclusions lead us there?

For instance: what would change if you learned that that same sweaty job—awful and atrocious as it may be—was that woman or child’s only opportunity for survival outside of a life of prostitution? What if you learned that that penny-paying job was a step up from every other available option in that particular place? What if you found out that that woman or child who’d sewn your clothes was—strange as it may seem—grateful for the sweatshop? Would you still rally to boycott the employer or eradicate their operations in that far off place? Would you see things the same way? Or would you be forced with your new information to rethink the situation and begin to wonder if there might be another—possibly better way—of engaging the inequality problem?

If we want to effect change and reshape our respective corners of the world, it will not be merely through a set of radical refusals. We cannot stand off, throw rocks at the glass house, and demand the walls be torn down. Rather, we must have a hand in the building effort. We must invest deeper in the imagining of new ways to articulate our faith (lifestyle) through difficult, thorough investigation—not merely corroborating with our emotional responses.

Rather than opting out, why don’t we—the Christian community—adhere to consumption habits that might put pressure on businesses to exercise responsibility to the earth as well as their workforce? What if we were to use the supply/demand curve to the advantage of the poor and marginalized and support companies who do good business, provide healthy wages, benefits and work conditions? If producers know that consumers care about and want to buy from honorable, principled companies they will begin to act as such, market themselves as such, and drive up industry standards on issues and conditions that may otherwise remain stagnant.

If you're like me and you've begun questioning the goodness of America's free market economy or possibly even capitalism as a whole; if you're looking for a way to be in this world but not of it--maybe this is your call.

suburban legends p1

War of the Worlds

I usually don’t read forwarded emails, mostly because I never get them anymore since asking the mother-ship a couple of years ago to stop passing them along. But it’s not that I wasn’t grateful for them—oh I was—and it’s not that I wasn’t enjoying and learning from them—I was doing that also. It was more the fact that I could no longer manage all the benefits and riches amassed from my e-life. Like, where will I spend the $250,000 check that came in the mail from AOL? Who do I enlighten and pass along to the real truth of why the chicken crossed the road? Who do I thank for gifting me with the world’s largest consolidated yo-mamma joke list? And how do I interpret the fact that it was forwarded to me by my best friend’s mamma? Or that chain letter—in existence since 1787—am I even worthy of being a part of such a time-honored tradition?

You get the idea, I’m sure.

So you’ll understand when this morning, opening up my inbox and finding an invitation to “Join the Resistance” and become a fighter in the “Gas-War” I was immediately brought to attention. And while it may be futile to confront the forwarding-world and it may be an inconsequential effort, I feel I must respond to the invitation and elaborate on it. If you haven’t seen it, the message contends that you and I, along with everyone we know, must stand up united against fuel companies who are raking in record revenues on consumers. Building on momentum from last years’ oh-so-memorable “don’t buy gas on a certain day” campaign, the latest movement suggests we isolate our impact this year with an embargo on specific oil conglomerates until the prices come tumbling down. In short, the memo is this: prices are too high. We want them low. Boycott Exxon/Mobil and shop elsewhere until prices drop back where they belong [insert arbitrary price].

The problem with said strategy is that today most gas stations are parented by a convenient store and those stores are, more often than not, owned by a family (often immigrants) who have invested their life savings on the entrepreneurial dream. A simple boycott of a name, therefore, is more liable to damage an individual than it is some distant malevolent corporation. The other failure may be found in the strategy’s inability to engage the principal concerns typified within the fuel debate: issues like chronic over-consumption, bull-headed buying behaviors that insist on large vehicles for small tasks, and the insistence that personal preference is a blind, inviolable right we have as consumers.

These types of rumor-like revolts are viral for a time but always short-lived because they never incorporate any level of personal accountability or sacrifice within the battle cry. Interesting—and equally frustrating—that nowhere within these calls to action are logical suggestions for creative partnerships through ride sharing, bicycling, walking or the re-installation of public transportation within the community. Interesting how our wallets are given priority over any sense of consciousness for the faltering environment in which we live.

herever an issue is economical it is also political. And wherever there is a political reality you can be sure close-by there is also a very personal reality. And the reality is that it is our choices—not our needs—that have put us ill at ease. We pump our cars full of cash because we’ve organized our lives around the fulfillment and protection of certain personal interests. Given priority and often going unchallenged, we thoughtlessly go to great lengths to secure these items without ever considering what our lives might be like otherwise. We choose to live far from work because we can afford to and want to, because schools are better, whiter, land is cheaper and houses are fancier. We enjoy lake cottages in other states and take long weekend trips to family distantly removed to higher paying jobs in far off places. Do you drive through the Grand Canyon on the way to the grocery store? The vast majority of us don’t need a sport-utility vehicle—we just like them. Just like we like to drive 85 rather than 55—although we know it’s far more expensive to do so. Wallowing in our complaints over hiked gas prices without a willingness to adjust our lifestyle, adapt or curb our consumption is like crying over the price of a coke at PF Chang's without a willingness to cook at home or maybe opt for a water instead. It's ridiculous. Nevermind the fact that Coke's end up costing us about $15/gallon. Hey we're thirsty and it tastes pretty dang good--so I guess nobody's looking into complaining about that .

I digress...

But don't get me wrong, I’m like you. I wouldn't consider myself or my ride frivolous. I drive an older vehicle because it was given to me and because I like it. It’s horrible on gas but far easier to keep than do without. I keep it not because I need it, but because I enjoy it. But like you also, I probably need to go to the mattresses and consider what I may give up so that I may give in and get on board with the real solutions to the problems that are presented and further perpetuated with every passing day.

I may be alone in the sentiment, but I’m strangely grateful for gouging gas prices. I’m grateful for conditions mandating we re-orient our lives and rethink the way we live. I’m grateful for an obvious sign-of-the-times signaling to us that our lives might be simpler, more community minded, healthy, and--dare I suggest--modest?

And I’m grateful that it’s becoming more and more clear that the life of less actually may offer something more.

f you’re a Christian then you intrinsically believe that you may have a hand in changing this world. You believe that—like Christ—you’re participating in the effort now. There are no sideline seats, no bystanders, there is no opting out. The Bible is an empowering read and we’re assured over and over again that we can do it--working out our faith--but it’s true—we do face opposition. We face discouragement. As though bailing buckets from the ocean we’re all challenged within by a plaguing sense that our efforts in changing this world may be inconsequential.

I always heard in Sunday school about the radical life a Christian leads. I was young then, but for some reason I still equate that radicalism with a lot of do's and dont's; like not hitting my friend, keeping my pog collection christ-like, or wearing my sister's Michael W. Smith shirt to school--real martyrdom. But somewhere between Sunday school skits and the adult life I stopped hearing or seeing exemplified much that seemed very radical, or even at all different from everyone else.

Okay it happens, our lives very easily become normal. But we've got to fight the tendency. We have to battle the belief that our lifestyle choices are so few. Inevitability is not the language of freedom. Following Christ means searching out our options about what to do, what to wear, what to drive, and where to live- because of course these too are reflections of faith. And We have to be more than whistle blowers who cry and bemoan what's wrong with life without ever offering a hand at fixing it.

Following Christ is about a great many things not the least of which is doing those things that most people just believe in. But it takes creativity. We--the christian community wherever we experience it--need to be dialoguing more, changing and adapting more (or being willing to at the very least) and leading the search for better, cleaner, more responsible ways to live in our world. We've gotta get out there.

If you're like me and you like to complain about Christians whose faith seems way too...well, Christian-- Then maybe you need to confront the misconception, the suburban legend that faith has something to do with our lives but not our lifestyle. Maybe our complaints with cultural Christianity would be better addressed if you and I looked inward instead and became a part of a far more challenging personal movement outward, pushing back the borders and redefining the defining lines that we should never have ever drawn around Christ in the first place. Perhaps we abandon pessimism--a cop out anyway-- and take on a larger vision of unexplainable optimism, experimentation, seeking for solutions, and seeing everything in new Light.

aybe they'll think us environmentalists, eccentrics, idealists, hippies, or naive religious nobodies. And maybe we should be.

an eye on the I

faith as a first-person narrative

Last year on my birthday, my mom and I were out to eat and she asked me, "How old do you feel? Do you feel a year older?" And I was happy to give her the same answer I've always given... I said, "I feel the same." And I do, always. I think certain subtleties have changed, but all along its been so quiet, that I hardly detect the movement.

It's like that person you only see once a year; and in the time away they've let their hair grow out, they're five or ten pounds heavier- and you immediately pick up on these nuances. Because to you, this new person seems unmistakably different than who they were a year ago. Somethings changed. But to this friend's family, and the people around him everyday, nothing has. They say stuff like-"Ahh, that's Carl all-right. That guy never changes."

Or have you been on a plane where outside, in reality, you're covering hundreds of miles-- but inside, on board the plane, everything seems quiet, smooth and still- like you're not even moving. We all feel this sameness; this feeling like so little is happening- like we're waiting for something.

Christians talk a lot about waiting. It's like we're waiting to go to heaven; waiting for Christ to return, waiting for the day we die; waiting to be saved; waiting for the Laguna Beach dvd set to be released; waiting for everything to be explained and made right. It's everywhere. It's even written into the songs we sing. I don't know if I was ever specifically told we're all waiting, or if I just assumed it because of the way everyone always moped around.

Either way, waiting can become an incredibly uneventful way to live. A convenient theology for the ancient art of inactivity; A hierarchical ordering where--by some vague rationale--certain portions, periods, or season of life become regarded as more important than others. Now I'm not talking about patient anticipation. No, I'm talking about emotional motionlessness, a spiritual dormancy--waiting. The stand still, sit back and watch the paint dry, 'We're Christians and we'll be hopefully reclusive until the very end of our ineffectual lives-Praise God!' kind of waiting. It's the one-and-done attitude that prays a prayer and then closes up shop.

And it's definitely the conveniently preferred option of some of us at so many times in our lives. But does that attitude really resonate with us? If you're like me, aren't you exhausted from all this waiting? Don't you want to participate, to be given responsibility, and a hand in what's happening, now. If we're honest--the truth is--we're not content to wait. We may be comfortable, but we're certainly not content.

You see, waiting implies a kind of supercilious finished-ness, an assumed inevitability. To wait in inactivity is to say, "The best offense is a good defense. This is the best i have to offer--without amendment-- and I'm satisfied letting life pas me by just as things are-- just as I am."

The problem is, who of us actually feels this way? Who has finished the job and finally closed- for good- the gap between the person they are and the person they want to be?

And who are we anyway?

It's probably easiest to simply say, "I am who I say I am" and rhetorically define ourselves in terms of who we see or perceive ourselves to be. Appropriately, we call this a self-image. But an image, by definition, is not what something or someone is, but rather how it appears to be. So self-image, we would say, is less of a description and more of a depiction.

Aristotle had this philosophy that speaks volumes into this idea. He said that who an individual is, is dependant upon the sum of one's habits. In other words, who I am has less to do with who I say I am, and more to do with who I've chosen- over and over again- to be.

Who have you chosen to be? Have you settled to wait and hope that all (you included) will be made right? Have you invested more in who you say you are than who you are choosing, everyday, in every moment, to be? Or are you someone actively becoming and being the person you want to be?

Jesus said, "My time has not yet come, but your time is always ready." The choice is yours.