here's the trouble - but the trouble is liberating

Being a Christian who pursues the Lord as an ongoing theme of life brings with it some difficult obstacles. Pretty quickly, you’ll come to the end of yourself and one of two things will happen:

  1. You’ll stop.
  2. You’ll continue.

Coming to the end of yourself means you’ve extended yourself in your pursuit of God as far as you ever have before. In high school, this point was a lot more obvious, because everything was exaggerated back then. Now its a little harder to pinpoint.

Either way though, you’d do one of those two things. Stop (making whatever connection you had with God more of a “camp high” than the beginning of a real lifetime pursuit). Or continue. Continuing is difficult. Here’s why it’s still difficult for me:

I’m set in my ways. We all are. Whoever you are, whatever you do, you’ve got certain things that you hold onto with a pretty tight grip. It doesn’t matter what these things are, it just matters that they exist, and that we acknowledge them.

We are a boulder. Our lives are a boulder. Inside our boulder is everything. Our families, kids, friends, jobs, health, attitude, interests, etc. That boulder sits there until you move it. You are the only person that can move it.

So here’s where the problem comes in:

A fruitful lifetime of pursuing the Lord means that boulder has to move.

We don’t like moving our boulders. It’s hard. And awkward. And too much trouble. We’re too busy to worry with it. We’ve got other things to do. Dancing with the Stars is on.

But God doesn’t seem to care about my interests nearly as much as I do. No matter what they are, God seems to be constantly drawing me away from all my interests - not because they are unworthy pursuits, but it seems like God just wants to see what he can talk me into giving up, simply for the sake of pursuing him instead.

God doesn’t seem to be nearly as interested in what I’m doing instead of pursuing him, just that there’s something else I’m choosing over him.

So that’s the difficulty.

I have things I want to do, and God wants me to clear my entire schedule for him, pretty much everyday.

I’m not necessarily talking about those things you have to do - like going to work, and feeding your cat - although I wouldn’t put it past God to try to talk you out of those things too.

Either way, I’m learning that as I take each step further away from myself, from pursuing my own interests, I find God to be that much more fulfilling, and exciting, and ravishing. This makes me want to get more and more creative in slashing my schedule and dropping interests and pursuing him even more. You see, it’s not just that God wants you to give things up, its that he knows that you will be happier and more fulfilled in life if you spend more time with him - thinking about him, talking about him, walking around with him.

So as you begin to learn these things, you’ll start to trust God more and more. You’ll start to have no regard for television, or Facebook, or video games - which (let’s be honest) is a good thing.

And pretty soon you’ll be free. Totally free from all those things that used to take up all your time. Then it gets challenging again. Then you have to start fixing other odd things in your life. You’ll start drinking less Cokes. You’ll start setting your alarm clock earlier. You’ll start getting outside more. You’ll stop smoking. You’ll drink less alcohol. You’ll start finding creative ways to get alone - riding your bike, taking a long drive in the country, working in the yard - anything just to get some uninterrupted time with Jesus. Praying. Singing. Writing. Thinking. Talking.

The boulder is moving. Things are changing.

But now that I’ve gotten a taste, and everything else has become some pale in comparison to God, I’m finding that I’m running out of things to give up. So what happens next?

We will see.

I just hope I keep choosing to continue when I hit a wall. That’s the other hard part.

six more books. i'm on a roll

I read a few new books, and I added one at the beginning that I had originally left out.1. Maus, by Art Spiegelman is a two volume graphic novel (biography) about the author/illustrator’s father’s experience as a Jew in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. It is incredible. I didn’t originally include it in this list because it is a graphic novel, but the books were amazing and so I am adding it in as the official first book I ever read. I’m counting them as one book.

40: The Natural: The Misunderstood Presidency of Bill Clinton, by Joe Klein. Since I basically work for Bill Clinton as the Clinton School’s chief photographer, and because I see him several times a year, I thought I should learn a little about who he was as a President. This book is very well written and surprisingly (to me) quite entertaining. I couldn’t put it down. Like him or not, Clinton was a game changer.

41. Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil, by John Berendt. Honestly, this was one of the worst books I’ve ever finished, which isn’t entirely a bad thing. I’ve never finished a bad book. I generally get bored and give up if I’m not wildly entertained, so everything on this list gets my approval and recommendation to anyone out there looking for something to read. It just so happens that this book falls squarely at the end of the list of books I enjoyed the most. I’m surprised I trudged through the end of it at all, actually. It’s slow, and pointless, and has very little action. The main character of the book is undoubtedly the town of Savannah, Georgia, which is interesting, but serves as a poor protagonist. If you like books from/about the south though, you might like this one. I didn’t.

42. Sex on the Moon: The Amazing Story Behind the Most Audacious Heist in History, by Ben Mezrich. Once again, Mezrich serves up a gripping narrative of a smart kid doing something crazy. This book is about a kid who landed a gig at NASA and then proceeded to steal a safe full of moon rocks to try to sell to a buyer in Belgium. Crazy. Couldn’t put it down.

43. Ugly Americans: The True Story of the Ivy League Cowboys Who Raided the Asian Markets for Billions, by Ben Mezrich. Since I was back on a Mezrich kick after Sex on the Moon, I decided to read the only other non-fiction book by him I hadn’t yet read. This one was the worst. Which, again, isn’t all that bad. The story was just a little slow and I got the feeling he was reaching for something to fill the pages with. As I was reading I kept wondering why anyone found this story interesting enough to write a book about. It’s more of a magazine article I think. Regardless, the book was decent. I finished it.

44. We Die Alone: A World War II Epic of Escape and Endurance, by David Howarth. Folks: This is the best book I’ve ever read. Hands down. No contest. Game over. This book chronicles in amazing vivid detail the story of Jan Baalsrud, a Norwegian secret operative fighting for the British army during WWII. Right from the start, Baalsrud’s plans are foiled and he spends the rest of the book on the run from the Nazi’s in northern Norway, trying to make it to the Swedish border before the snow melts. It completely blew my mind. I read it in about 10 hours over two days. If you like true stories of survival, this is the best one ever. Insane.

Anyway, that should bring us up to speed. I’ve now read 44 books in my life. Here, again, is the complete list (with links to Amazon).

All the books I’ve ever read in my life:

  1. Maus - Art Spiegelman
  2. Superman: Doomsday & Beyond - Louise Simonson
  3. The Illustrated Man – Ray Bradbury
  4. The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
  5. Wild at Heart – John Eldredge
  6. Waking the Dead – John Eldredge
  7. Dangerous Wonder – Michael Yacconelli
  8. Messy Spirituality – Michael Yacconelli
  9. Run Like an Antelope: On The Road With Phish – Sean Gibbon
  10. The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
  11. Into Thin Air – Jon Krakauer
  12. Blue Like Jazz – Donald Miller
  13. Through Painted Deserts – Donald Miller
  14. Searching For God Knows What – Donald Miller
  15. Velvet Elvis – Rob Bell
  16. Rich Dad Poor Dad – Robert Kyosaki
  17. What Jesus Meant – Gary Wills
  18. No Shortcuts to the Top – Ed Viesturs
  19. Into The Wild – Jon Krakauer
  20. To Own a Dragon – Donald Miller
  21. No Compromise: The Life Story of Keith Green – Melody Green
  22. Eiger Dreams: Ventures Among Men & Mountains – Jon Krakauer
  23. Under The Banner of Heaven – Jon Krakauer
  24. Three Men in a Boat – Jerome K. Jerome
  25. Born on a Blue Day – Daniel Tammet
  26. The Survivors Club – Ben Sherwood
  27. The Road – Cormac McCarthy
  28. Bringing Down The House – Ben Mezrich
  29. Rigged – Ben Mezrich
  30. Busting Vegas – Ben Mezrich
  31. The Accidental Billionaires – Ben Mezrich
  32. Where Men Win Glory - Jon Krakauer
  33. A Million Miles In A Thousand Years - Donald Miller
  34. Zeitoun - Dave Eggers
  35. Love Wins - Rob Bell
  36. Three Cups of Deceit - Jon Krakauer
  37. Prophet’s Prey - Sam Brower
  38. The Great Divorce - C.S. Lewis
  39. No Angel - Jay Dobyns
  40. The Natural: The Misunderstood Presidency of Bill Clinton - Joe Klein
  41. Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil - John Berendt
  42. Sex on the Moon - Ben Mezrich
  43. Ugly Americans - Ben Mezrich
  44. We Die Alone - David Howarth

the ultimate camp-mobile man project

So I was talking with my Dad the other day about building out a bed and gear storage in my truck bed for camping and I couldn’t stop thinking about it - so I did it. Here’s what I did:

1. Start // Here’s the truck bed when I got started. Empty and boring.

2. Frame // I built a simple frame that slides easily in and out (in case I ever need to take it out to haul stuff). The sides are 1 x 10s (6 feet long, which is the length of the bed). There are five braces built from 2 x 4s. Four on the top (spaced equally from the ends) and one on the bottom in the back (near the cab) to keep the sides from buckling in at the bottom. I cut the braces long enough so that the whole frame fit in between the wheel wells nicely, and the 1 x 10s rest in the tracks of the bedliner, keeping it all in one place. I screwed this all together with 3 inch deck screws.

3. Deck // The deck is built from two pieces of plywood. The one in the back is 3 feet 6 inches long by 4 feet wide. The sides of the back piece overhang the edges of the wood frame, but rest on the wheel wells, adding extra support and width. Also, in the back two corners, I have some cubby holes to stash stuff in while I’m camping. The front piece of decking is 2 feet 6 inches long by however wide the wood frame is. I didn’t want the front piece to overhang the edges of the wood frame because I didn’t have the added support of the wheel wells and I wanted to save space on each side for my water jug on the left and anything else on the right (shoes, clothes, etc.). I screwed the decking to the frame with 1 and 1/8th inch drywall screws because that’s what I had. Note: I had to add another 2 x 4 brace to the top of the frame where the two plywood pieces came together to screw to and add extra support on the plywood joint.

.

4. Drawer // After the decking was complete, I built a 4 foot long drawer out of 1/2 inch plywood to hold all my camping gear. I cut the sides and back pieces at 7 inches tall to allow it to slide easily after the plywood bottom was installed. Then I cut the bottom piece at 4 feet long and the width to match the width of the frame, with about a half inch of wiggle room on each side so it would slide easily. Then I cut the front piece to match the size of the end of the frame, all the way to the edges so it looked finished. I screwed the whole thing together with the same 1 and 1/8th inch drywall screws that I used on the decking. After the face of the drawer was installed I drilled two half inch holes and made a rope handle to pull the drawer with. The whole thing slides really nicely on the bedliner without any drawer guides or anything, even full of gear.

5. Carpet // I called a buddy of mine in the construction business and asked him to call some of his carpet suppliers to see if they had a free scrap of commercial grade carpet I could have for free. He called me back 10 minutes later and gave me an address. I picked it up, took it home, vacuumed it, and threw it in the truck. I was going to staple it down but our staple gun only had two staples in it. So I found some old roofing nails in my basement and used those, then I cut the excess off with a razor knife.

6. Lock // Now that I have basically all my camping gear in the truck at all times, I felt like I needed a little extra security. To lock the drawer, I cut a slot out of the top of the face panel on the drawer and put an eye-bolt on a washer in the 2 x 4 on the front of the frame so that the head of the eye-bolt fits into the slot when the drawer is closed, then I slapped a lock on it (see above and below). Obviously, this will not deter the most heinous of criminals, but it will keep an honest man honest.

I should note that so far I’ve spent a grand total of $1.03 on this project. I had all the wood in my basement except the two 1 x 10s, which a buddy of mine picked up for me at Lowe’s and said he had drank more than enough of my beers in the past year to make up for the cost (they would have run me $7 each). The carpet was free. I already had the nails, screws, and rope. I spent 65 cents on the eye-bolt and 30 cents on the washer (plus tax).

The next step is to try to find a 4 inch slab of foam at an upholstery shop to use as a mattress. Hopefully I can talk my wife into sewing a fabric cover for it to finish it all out.

you know what's so crazy about god?

He uses you as a pawn as well as a rook and a bishop and a queen in the game of chess that you’re playing both as the person moving the pieces and as each piece itself.Sometimes you die. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you just get captured for awhile until the next pawn can manage to make that treacherous journey across the board to draw you back out of the pit.

The situations you’re in are both entirely about you and entirely about someone else. Sometimes your pain has very little to do with you and much more to do with those around you.

Everything that happens has 15,000 different reasons and expected outcomes, not only for you and for those around you, but for every living thing on the planet.

There is never just one thing that happens out of every circumstance in life. Every day has millions of minor explosions that cause all kinds of other minor explosions. One day one of those explosions will kill you, but not this one.

I get frustrated. I get angry. I get lonely.

We all do.

Most of us never act like it or admit it because, well, most of us never act like it or admit it.

But I am admitting it.

Sometimes I feel like the only ones fighting for me are my wife and my parents, which is great, but an army of three is an army of three.

Why doesn’t everyone just say how much they love each other? Am I the only one that seems to have drawn back the veil of superficiality and sees the dark wounded souls within people? Maybe I am, but I do find it very hard to believe.

Interesting that the only piece that can save the queen is the pawn.

When that loud, audacious queen flying all over the board finally gets what’s coming to her, no one but the lowly, hobbling pawn can ever hope to lower the rope down for the queen to climb back out. Then no one seems to notice that as the queen mantles up over the edge and back onto the chess board with cheers and much applause from the rest of the pieces, she knocks the pawn over the edge and into the depths.

I am both that queen and that pawn.

here's what I think

And I hesitate to say this sometimes because I don’t want to upset anyone or give anyone a reason to try to argue me out of something. I always welcome different ideas - but its when people feel the need to make me conform to their ideas that I start to get suspicious. We don’t need to think like each other, we just need to think clearly.So I feel like I need to write this down and since I committed long ago to live my spiritual life publicly for better or for worse, (because in the end that may be my only real contribution to the world) here it is:

I think God loves gay people and terrorists.

I think God loves porn stars and prostitutes and drug dealers and pedophiles.

I think God loves rapists, thieves, and murderers.

I think God loves homeless people - dirt, rags, and all.

I think God loves Robert Mugabe and Kim Jong Il.

I think God loves you, even though you don’t love hate all of these things.

I think God loves you, even though you’re wrong about pretty much everything.

I think God loves you, even though you’re a thankless selfish asshole.

(I’m talking about me here, people)

I think God is WAY more obtuse than we ever realized before. God does get to have things both ways. He does get to make insane claims and then back them up with action even though it appears to be a contradiction. Contradiction is a human invention made necessary because we can’t see all of time or understand all science or chemistry or physics. Our understanding of those things, no matter how nuanced or advanced is (and will always be) limited by our immature brains than have no concept of thought outside of our feeble limitations.

I think God is a pacifist. He may not have always been one, but he certainly became one when he came here as Jesus and started changing things up.

A good friend asked me the other day: “Should we kill the Muslim terrorists or should we just let them come over here and kill us?”

The Christian answer to that question is shockingly simple:

We just let them come over here and kill us.

People get really upset about that answer - but that’s the only answer there is. Remember what Jesus said about turning the other cheek and giving your coat when someone asks for your shirt? That’s what he meant.

Jesus isn’t American, folks. He never came to this continent during his short years walking the Earth. He doesn’t look like us and he doesn’t dress like us. He’s a foreigner - and we certainly treat him like one. We try to make Jesus American by assigning our screwed up thoughts to him, as if he will gladly take them on simply because he doesn’t argue with people much.

God hates killing, all the time, everywhere. The last time God approved of anyone killing anyone else it was when they killed his son. That was the last one that was okay - and even that one broke his heart with outrageous fury.

God hates hatred.

God hates hatred.

God hates hatred.

I’ll even venture this:

God hates nothing more than people parading around as Christians promoting hatred.

So if you’re going to vote for injustice and discrimination against anyone, you must know this: Your voice is not the voice of God on this issue. Simple as that.

Go ahead and do what you will - but call it what it is: Fear and hatred. Fear and hatred.

I think it’s generally very easy to figure out what God thinks about most issues. Ask yourself which side of the issue is the most compassionate, loving, hopeful, forgiving, self-sacrificing, humbling, peaceful, reconciling, and kind - despite any apparent sin associated with it.

So that’s what I think.

I know people will furiously disagree with me about a lot of this, which is perfectly fine with me. All I’m trying to do is get clean and end up in a casket without any blood on my hands.

My sins are more than enough to stain me pretty bad. I don’t need anyone else condemning me to hell for anything, trust me.

I just want to promote faith, hope, and love.

These three.

Which one did Jesus say was the greatest?

It wasn’t faith?

Interesting.

Colbert

If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it.

Stephen Colbert

i don't like people

But I’m trying to change that.I generally don’t want to talk to people, or touch people, or connect with them. I give people that smile that says “I’m not as scary as I look, but still don’t talk to me, I’m really busy”.

The main reason I don’t like people is because of the way they look. Not their skin color, that doesn’t really bother me - it’s just their general appearance. If people look stupid or fat or ugly, I don’t really want to talk to them or acknowledge them. A complete redneck is just as bad as a gangbanger or a frat guy or a gutter-punk or anything else. It has nothing to do with who they are as a person - its all about how worthless I decide they are because of the way they look at first glance.

Don’t act all surprised about what I’m saying here, we all have thoughts like this, I’m just the guy saying them right now.

I know, I know, I sound like a total asshole - and I’ll be the first to admit that, deep down, I really am a complete asshole at heart - I think really awful thoughts about people sometimes.

But I’m trying to change this.

I’m trying to look at the world - at people - the way Jesus looks at them. I’m trying to look at a person and instead of seeing a big fat idiot, seeing him as a hurting child who needs a genuine kind smile and maybe even some kind of physical contact - a pat on the back, or a bump on the arm.

I’m trying to walk around and see everyone as the person that could save my life in the future. If anyone of you people ever saw me choking or get hit by a truck or something, I bet you would come to my aid, despite all the terrible things I’ve ever thought about you, and I know that God might actually cause something like that to happen just because he knows my heart and knows that this is something that needs to change in me. So I feel compelled to save myself from all of that by changing the awful things about my heart ahead of time. By preempting God.

I don’t know if that is possible or not, but it seems to make sense to me. I want to see all the things about me that need to change, and then actively change them on my own before some outside force causes it to happen.

Why should I wait for that future choking situation when I can go ahead and change how I see others now?

You see, I prayed a really dangerous prayer a long time ago - that God would do whatever he needed to do to change me into the best version of myself possible. I prayed that before I knew how insane God really was. He actually does what you ask him to do - but he always does it in the most insane way possible.

Like, if you have cancer on your toe or something, and you pray and ask God to take the cancer away, he might figure out a way for you to get run over by a train and lose your entire leg - and you’ll be like “WOAH WOAH WOAH TAKE IT EASY!!” and God will be like “What? I just took away your cancer, you’re welcome.” - and then you’ll realize you’re not going to die anymore and you’ll be happy - but it takes a while to get there.

Anyway, that’s how I think God works - and God sees my judgmental heart and he doesn’t like it, and neither do I. So I want it to change. I want to treat everyone like I would if they saved my life in the future and I went back in time and had a chance to be nice to them now, which is exactly where I am right now. Always in the future’s past, trying to do things better than I did the first time, which hasn’t happened yet.

It’s actually a pretty cool feeling when you think about it. I’m free in the past of the future to do whatever I want - the right way, right now. I’m really not bound by the fear of what might happen because of the risky way I do something now, because I’m just changing my own future’s past, which makes the future even better.

Woah, this blog post really took a turn for the sci-fi.

Anyway, that’s how I think, and I’m going to try to like people better now. I’m going to try to see you a good person, and a kind person, and someone that needs the blessing of a gentle touch or a warm smile or a compliment, because if we’re really honest about it, we all need that. I need it too.

Let’s all manipulate the past to change the future, deal?

Today is your chance, look at your day today like a chance to change your own past, to manipulate something to fix things in the future. You’ve travelled back in time to today, and no one else realizes it but you - what are you going to do differently?

stop doing things that don't work

My wife and I had a really good conversation last night about all of this. I came away with some questions, some observations, and a single piece of advice.Questions:

  1. What are you doing on a regular basis to pursue God?
  2. What does it mean to “live radically”?
  3. Are you living radically?
  4. If no, why not?

Observations:

  1. If you don’t want more of God in your life, you clearly don’t know God. If you did, you’d want more of him in your life.
  2. If you don’t know God, you can’t trust God.

One More Question:

  1. If you don’t want God, and you don’t know God, and you don’t trust God, what is it about you that makes you a Christian?

Further Thoughts:

  1. Faith doesn’t come by works, faith comes by faith.
  2. Works are not everything, but they do promote growth and progress - and progress is crucial.
  3. Believing that Jesus died for your sins is important, but it is about as difficult as believing what your parents tell you about your great-grandparents.
  4. Believing is easy. It is a one-time choice that you don’t go back on.
  5. Pursuit is much more difficult.
  6. Pursuit is active, involved, complicated, ever-changing, exciting, dangerous, risky, frustrating, challenging, and most importantly, the sole decision of the pursuer.
  7. You can stop or start at any time.

If you find pursuit difficult, stop doing things that don’t work.

two new books

I read two more books, they are:#37 - The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis

and

#38 - No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the Inner Circle of the Hells Angels, by Jay Dobyns

I could write quite a bit about both of these books, but I’m not going to. Not right now, anyway. Both of them are well worth reading though. One is quite meaty and theological, and other is just a great easy read for when you’ve had enough meat and theology. I’ll let you guys guess which is which.

All the books I’ve ever read in my life:

  1. Superman: Doomsday & Beyond – Louise Simonson
  2. The Illustrated Man – Ray Bradbury
  3. The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
  4. Wild at Heart – John Eldredge
  5. Waking the Dead – John Eldredge
  6. Dangerous Wonder – Michael Yacconelli
  7. Messy Spirituality – Michael Yacconelli
  8. Run Like an Antelope: On The Road With Phish – Sean Gibbon
  9. The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
  10. Into Thin Air – Jon Krakauer
  11. Blue Like Jazz – Donald Miller
  12. Through Painted Deserts – Donald Miller
  13. Searching For God Knows What – Donald Miller
  14. Velvet Elvis – Rob Bell
  15. Rich Dad Poor Dad – Robert Kyosaki
  16. What Jesus Meant – Gary Wills
  17. No Shortcuts to the Top – Ed Viesturs
  18. Into The Wild – Jon Krakauer
  19. To Own a Dragon – Donald Miller
  20. No Compromise: The Life Story of Keith Green – Melody Green
  21. Eiger Dreams: Ventures Among Men & Mountains – Jon Krakauer
  22. Under The Banner of Heaven – Jon Krakauer
  23. Three Men in a Boat – Jerome K. Jerome
  24. Born on a Blue Day – Daniel Tammet
  25. The Survivors Club – Ben Sherwood
  26. The Road – Cormac McCarthy
  27. Bringing Down The House – Ben Mezrich
  28. Rigged – Ben Mezrich
  29. Busting Vegas – Ben Mezrich
  30. The Accidental Billionaires – Ben Mezrich
  31. Where Men Win Glory - Jon Krakauer
  32. A Million Miles In A Thousand Years - Donald Miller
  33. Zeitoun - Dave Eggers
  34. Love Wins - Rob Bell
  35. Three Cups of Deceit - Jon Krakauer
  36. Prophet’s Prey - Sam Brower
  37. The Great Divorce - C.S. Lewis
  38. No Angel - Jay Dobyns

the last one was no good

I just wrote a long post about the concept of rough drafts and how many of us keep making half-assed efforts, never to finish the final paper and be done with it, and how that relates to life, but I deleted it.That wasn’t what I really wanted to say. It didn’t feel right.

What I really want to say is that I miss my friends.

I miss my brothers and my sister. And my new sister-in-law. I miss Peter. I miss Jimmy and he just left yesterday. I miss the glory and perfection of our community group beach trip. I miss having nothing to do but just sit and hang out with each other. I feel like everyone is ready to get back to work and to home, but I’m not. I just want to stay wherever all my friends are, all the time.

I’m sick of having to stop things to sleep and eat and work. I’m sick of money and needing money. I’m sick of danger and fear. I’m sick of people cheating on each other and getting divorced. I’m sick of tears and hurt and resentment. I’m sick of fistfights and war. I’m sick of assholes that beat their families and hurt their kids. I’m sick of horrible people like Robert Mugabe and Kim Jong Il and all the miserable pieces of shit that are starving innocent kids in the horn of Africa. I’m sick of knowing that there are hundreds of Chinese and Russian and Ukrainian babies that live and die and never see the outside of a crib.

I’m sick of everything that isn’t perfect, all the time, everywhere.

Sick of it.

That’s what I’m always ranting about, I guess.

I miss my friends, and I want them all to be with me right now, on my porch or around a campfire in the mountains, and I want all of them, including me, to be perfect and great and awesome and have no issues or restraints, and I want every terrible thing that happens in the world everyday to stop and reverse itself and restore everything back to glory and health and joy and perfection, and I want all my friends to have a cold beer or a glass of wine in their hands and I want James Taylor to come sit at the campfire with us and play good music, and everyone will know all the songs, and I’ll put my arm around Adolf Hitler and with tears in his eyes he’ll apologize for everything and I’ll do the same and so will everyone else in the whole world and they will all be my best friends for the rest of our lives, which will never end.

That’s not too much to ask, is it?

our sins are burdensome to god

I am reading through Isaiah right now - and something hit me today that kind of blew my mind. The second part of chapter forty-three says a few things I hadn’t heard before.Verse 19 sets the stage:

Behold, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs forth! Do you not perceive it?!

That verse does a lot for me. Can you imagine what it might sound like to hear someone say those words with a fire in his voice? Big things are on the horizon in the next lines. The question at the end of the verse also begs another question: Are we expected to perceive what God is doing? Can we? When God does a new thing, does the Earth shift? Are Gods thoughts and physical actions somehow supernaturally perceptible?

If we are not perceiving the new things God is doing, perhaps we aren’t paying attention.

Then God starts to say some interesting things, and I’m not immediately sure where he’s going with it.

Verse 20:

The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches - for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert to give drink to my chosen people.

And then this, in verse 22:

Yet you did not call upon me, O Jacob! You have been weary of me, O Israel! You have not brought me your sheep for burnt offerings or honored me with your sacrifices!

Typically in the Old Testament, when God starts ranting like this, he’s about to say that he’s going to decimate some entire population - wipe them clean from off the Earth. But this time, like he said in verse nineteen, he’s doing a new thing. Changing it up. Right when everyone is bracing themselves for the fiery burning fists of Almighty God, he cracks his knuckles and says he’s got a better idea. If I was standing there, I would have been thinking

Oh shit.

Do you feel the foundations of the Earth shifting now?

He continues in verse 24:

You have not bought me sweet cane with money, or satisfied me with the fat of your sacrifices. But you have burdened me with your sins, you have wearied me with your iniquities.

At that point, I would have been running for my life. I would not have been one of the guys waiting around to find out what was going to happen next.

And then, right when everyone is expecting the hammer to drop, he says this in verse 25, which stopped me dead in my tracks while reading this morning:

I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.

Woah. What?

You can just decide not to remember my sins?

Wait. What does that even mean - you’re blotting out my sins for your own sake?

I have no idea what’s happening here.

The same God that was infamous for wiping out entire countries of people just says “You know what, screw it. I’m sick of anger. Sick of blood. It’s time for something new. “

Rather than killing us all again, God chooses selective ignorance.

He doesn’t want to go through it all again. He’s ready for his people to be good, but he knows we will keep failing time and time again. So instead of trying to make us be good, he just decides to blot out the bad.

Ever blotted something out in a book? You can’t read it anymore. It’s like it was never there. Might as well forget about it. So he does.

Keep in mind - he said he’s doing this for his own sake. Not ours - his. He doesn’t forgive us so that he can love us - he already loves us. He does’t have a problem with loving us. He forgives us so that he can get through a day without thinking about how terrible we all are. He forgives us so he can sleep at night without the guilt of knowing he created an entire race of miserable, horrible people.

He forgives us to take the burden off his shoulders, not ours.

You see, our sins used to be burdensome to God, but now they are just a burden on us. Our sins are now ours to remember, not Gods.

The language of sin-confession to God is like gibberish to him. He hears us, but it doesn’t make any sense. He has no memory of it.

We don’t get to dump our guilt off on him.

He’s been burdened by our sins long enough - now its time for us to be burdened by them. We have to deal with them. We have to make things right. We have to confess to and forgive one another down here. God doesn’t correct our sins anymore because he’s blotted them out. He’s chosen not to remember them.

If we get in a tight spot down here because of our sins it’s our own damn fault. God doesn’t hurl lightning bolts on sinful heads anymore. God doesn’t kill people or cause droughts or spread plagues - we do.

It’s time we dealt with things in our own lives - for our own sake. God doesn’t even know about your sin, but you do. It’s in there, swimming around in your head like poison.

Spit it out.

Drop your burdensome sins on the ground like a brick. Shoot them off into space like a rocket. Free your mind from the awful stings of deceit and lust and anger.

Oh, they are so dreadfully burdensome, are they not?

I used to find some solace in being able to drop off my backpack full of sins at the feet of God everyday - knowing full well I’d be cram-packing a new one the next day to drop off the same way. But God doesn’t want our sins. That backpack is invisible to him.

He wants our attention. He wants our companionship. He wants our affections.

He’s grown weary of sin. He grew weary of it a long time ago - and we should too.

Let’s change what we do. Let’s throw off those raggedy old chains and turn our faces towards the one who stayed up nights racked with fret and weariness over our foolishness while we slept peacefully trusting in his unrelenting protection over us.

We’ve done wrong by God.

God is the good mother that cries for her children while they were out rampaging to their own detriment - and that kind of crying is exhausting. He got to the point where he said he was done with it. He has forgiven and he has totally forgotten.

But oh, how he longs for his daughters to come home at the end of that long night and fall trembling into his arms, resting there for all eternity.

confession

I think about how I want more money quite a lot - especially when I have none. If you gave me $10,000 I’d probably spend all of it tomorrow and then want more.I feel pretty confident that I am right about most everything, and everyone else is not only wrong - but stupid, too.

I have terrible thoughts about fat people. In fact, I’m not even sure I should feel bad about them, which is one of the reasons the thoughts are so terrible.

I think most people are probably lazy and useless.

I don’t like rich people or girls that dress and talk a certain way.

I have a bad attitude when my bank account is low and a great attitude when it is high. Translation: I trust money way more than I trust God.

I think I am a better Christian than everyone else on the planet.

I am nowhere near as in-touch with God as I would like to be.

I write and talk about this stuff because I want people to respect me and ask my opinion about important things so I can feel good about myself.

I think I am really cool and really good-looking.

Part of the reason I want to run a triathlon is because I want people to say “Wow, you ran a triathlon? You are such an incredible human being.”

Most of the things I get mad at other people about are things I secretly harbor in my own soul.

Most of my thoughts and ambitions revolve around being cool and well-liked, which I think will lead to happiness.

I can’t believe I don’t have like a billion twitter followers. I consider my thoughts to be 100% solid gold.

I keep thinking I have like five books worth of material in my head, and when I write those books, they will jump right to the top of the New York Times Bestsellers list.

I don’t confess stuff near enough. Maybe its because I generally think I have nothing to confess. Which is why I am writing this sentence - and all the ones above this.

streamlining me

Okay, so I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. Most of my adult life, in fact.Simplification. Consolidation. Streamlining my spirit.

Then I found this quote to drive it all home.

One does not accumulate but eliminate. It is not daily increase but daily decrease. The height of cultivation always runs to simplicity. // Bruce Lee

A few months ago I was sitting in the airport and other than waiting for my plane to board, I was doing absolutely nothing. Just sitting there looking at the wall. I looked up and saw a couple of college-age guys talking about the long trip ahead of them. One guy had an iPhone, an iPad, and an iPod in his hands, with cords and headphones everywhere and I heard him say to the other guy

Yeah, I’ve got a few movies on my iPad and some Podcasts I can listen to, plus I just downloaded a few new games on my phone, so I’ve got enough to keep me entertained.

To keep me entertained.

The notion of being un-entertained at any moment in life is utterly terrifying to many people. The state of being where one is literally doing nothing. Just sitting with your eyes open - which is exactly what I was doing, besides eavesdropping.

When was the last time you were waiting on someone, or otherwise in-between activities, when you didn’t have your phone out, or your tv on, or a book in your hands, or your stereo playing?

How many times a day do you pull your phone out of your pocket with absolutely no intention of doing anything with it? You know you don’t have any emails or text messages. You don’t have anyone to call or text. You checked Facebook and Twitter and 4Square and Gowalla and Instagram and everything else five minutes earlier, and you know there’s nothing there worth seeing at the moment, and yet you still pull it out and look at it. You just look at it. God forbid anyone you know might drive by and see you standing there in front of a coffee shop empty-handed, just looking around like a retard.

I know what this is like because I am a victim of it myself. So I am fighting back.

I reject busyness. I reject constant entertainment.

I will be the one to decide what I need to see and when I need to see it.

A few weeks ago I sat down and made a handwritten spreadsheet on how to simplify my soul. It felt good to get it down on paper and acknowledge all of it in one fell swoop. Then I plugged it into Excel to keep it updated - here it is:

It felt so good to see it all there, in fact, that I made a printable PDF that anyone can download and fill out themselves. So do it with me. Streamline yourself. It will be great.

(click the pictures to download the full size files)

I’ve said for a long time that true freedom is having nothing to hide. So join me. Print this and fill it out. Post it online somewhere. Make this PDF available to other people you know and end this year better than you started it. Change it up a bit if you want to, but it really is worth doing.

People always seem to think that sometime in the near future their circumstances will change enough to make it easier for them to go on living as they currently are. But the fact is - and this is a cold hard fact - nothing will change unless you change it. You’re always going to be low on money and time, so make the little money and time that you have more useful to you. Don’t burn it all up paying for more ways to waste it.

Here’s an example:

What if I told you that I would give you a $100 bill every month and figure out a way to give you 8 - 10 more free hours every week to use however you like? Would you take the deal? Think about it.

I would. I did actually. I took my own deal.

And I have good news for you - the deal is on the table for you too - right now.

Here’s what you do:

Cancel your cable TV service.

There you go. You’re welcome. You now have an extra $100 a month and way more free time on your hands - and guys, free time is good. Use it. Play golf. Learn to cook. Paint your house. Fix up your yard. Lose some weight. Buy a bike. Do something worthwhile. But if you choose not to do it - don’t complain to me about how you’re broke and you don’t have any free time. I don’t want to hear it.

Read my list and print your own. It really does feel pretty good to smash life on its head with a hammer and decide to take matters into your own hands.

a true glimpse of the real heaven

It was a magical moment for me - one of the most magical in my life thus far, in fact. I’ve found that one can go about describing these kinds of strange/perfect experiences in greater and greater detail for hours on hours always drilling down to more precise details that made everything happen just so, but I’ve also come to learn that despite all the analyzing, this kind of thing does not happen because the stars align - this connection to the eternal only happens because the collective attitude of the people involved are all yearning towards the same noble thing: The fully conscious and fully alive indwelling of the true real Heaven right here on Earth, right now as we live and breathe.

But before the description, a little background:

My wife and I are in a little community group (which we just call “group”) that has been meeting in one form or another for over six years. It started as a men’s group, which grew into a weekly couples group, which grew into a really large weekly couples group, which then split into two smaller couples groups, one of which is the one we’re in. None of us have ever gone to the same church, had a leader of any kind, or had any official curriculum to go through. We just meet weekly at someone’s home and talk about life and Jesus. Our smaller group has been together for over four years now.

After the split we had six couples in our group, but after a surprising and heartbreaking divorce, we are now down to five. I honestly still feel the phantom pains of that now non-existent couple. We also started out with no kids, but by this October, our little group will have seven.

We’ve come to know each other well. We’ve seen marriage, divorce, pregnancy, miscarriage, counseling, lost jobs, aimlessness, and trials upon trials. We’ve cooked each other dozens of meals, watched each others kids, given each other money, and prayed for each other’s deeply personal issues.

So that’s the background. Now the glimpse:

(Play this video now, as you read)

[youtube=://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BL8NNTNmPT4&w=640&h=480]

Last week our group (and all our kids) took a trip to the beach - Gulf Shores, Alabama. We left Little Rock last Saturday and got home yesterday (today is Sunday). We rented a six bedroom house on the beach with a pool and a big deck and pretty much everything else you could want in a beach house. One couple couldn’t make the trip, so all-in-all there were eight adults and five kids (between the ages of one and three) crammed into our big/little awesome house.

Each couple had a specific night to cook dinner, and on Wednesday night, it was the Beaumont’s turn. So on Wednesday, just like everyday at the beach, we spent the morning at the ocean swimming, playing, reading, etc. Then several kids would go down for naps, then lunchtime, then more naps, then more swimming, reading, playing, etc. We would also have sporadic dance parties during the day - which was pretty much anytime I felt like the parents needed an energy boost and the kids needed an energy drain. I would crank up the tunes, put a couple children on the coffee table, and the whole room would dance like kids. Kid dancing is the only way to truly let loose. The music was all over the board, but for some reason the trip song became “The Safety Dance” by Men At Work - you know the one: We can dance if we want to… Anyway, on Wednesday evening, as the Beaumont’s were getting dinner ready, I put on some James Taylor.

Everybody was bobbing their heads as they picked up the house a little, got the kids out of their swimsuits, cleaned up high-chairs, etc. Claire was cooking dinner, and Claire has this supernatural peacefulness about her (especially while cooking) that seems to set everybody at ease, even in the midst of a hectic evening with a bunch of hungry people around. So I think everybody was vibe-ing off that, and the beach, and the water, and weather, and the fish tacos we were about to eat, and the key lime pie that was to come after that, and fact that our kids were only going to be awake another hour or so, and because the adults were going to play Catch Phrase on the back deck after the kids were down, and because everybody was bobbing their heads to James Taylor. A few of the kids were crying as dinner was wrapping up, and in our group, everyone is responsible for everyone else’s kids - so if you see a kid that needs something, you handle it. I looked down and saw little Evie Casterline crying, so I picked her up and danced around with her a bit. Right after that, James Taylor started singing Your Smiling Face through the speakers. Then Ben announced that dinner was ready and that he was going to say a prayer.

And this is when it happened.

It was the part of the song when everything drops out except the drums and bass and everyone is clapping and the lyrics go “No one can tell me that I’m doing wrong today, whenever I see you smiling at me” and I turned around with Evie in my arms and her mom reached out to see if I was ready to put her down and I wasn’t. I love that kid. I love all the kids. Everyone had gathered around the kitchen island to pray and someone else was holding my son and I was standing next to two people who have become like a brother and a sister to me and everyone had their arms around each other and we noticed that we were all bouncing together to the beat of the song and we were all smiling. We were all fully exhausted and fully energized by the glory of the people around us. Some kids were whining and some kids were talking and a couple of kids were already eating. The sun was going down and James Taylor was singing and the food was hot and the pie was in the oven. Our feet were bare and some of us were still shirtless and damp in our swimsuits. The beach was still out there, still visible. The surf was coming in and rolling out. The pool out back had floaties and water guns and a volleyball floating in it. Wet towels hung on the rails of the deck. And there we all were - bobbing together with the song, and somehow singing the words to each other silently.

“Whenever I see your smiling face, I have to smile myself, because I love you.”

Still bouncing together, Ben said a prayer for our food that could have lasted 1,000 years and it would have been alright with me. Jesus was there, just happy watching whole wild troop of his perfectly imperfect kids. The prayer ended and we all looked up to see each other still bouncing together. I noticed a few people smile at me and I looked down because I teared up for a second and I didn’t want anyone to see it and ruin anything by asking me what was wrong.

Nothing was wrong with that.

Not a single thing.

It was a moment of pure timelessness. Pure glory. Pure love and acceptance. The sharing of food and the community of friends and family. It was, if there is such a thing, my own personal heaven, with everyone that I cared about most at that exact second.

It is there.

It floats out there, waiting to be grabbed.

Grab heaven and drag it into your life.

Be it. Be the one.

It’s up to you.

change your own life

Are you waiting for something life-changing to hit you? Like a truck?Don’t bob around in the ocean waiting for a shark to attack so you can have some kind of life-changing event - as if you can’t change your own life whenever you feel like it.

That’s right: Whenever you feel like it.

Tired of doing something? Stop.

Want to lose weight? Do it.

Want to read your bible more? Go get it.

i just realized two important things

  1. Brent Mydland’s Grateful Dead songs are absolutely amazing. I’m developing a true appreciation for him as the most under-appreciated guy in the band, and thereby in all of musical history. The dude can wail man, and his Hammond organ stuff? Magical. Three Mydland tracks to check out: Blow Away, Just a Little Light, and I Will Take You Home. All three can be found on the album Built to Last, which you can get for A DOLLAR on Amazon.
  2. My endless and abiding love for the Grateful Dead is no less valid and no less annoying than most peoples unending dedication to the Razorbacks. I understand. You guys are sick of hearing about it. And I understand that just because I don’t “get” it, Hog fever is just a big thing that folks get excited about - and that’s okay too - so I’ll try to cut you guys some slack. There is, however, one major difference between the Grateful Dead and the Razorbacks: The Dead never loses.