35 years of discovering nuance

Yesterday I turned 35, and I’m answering the question my father-in-law asks, which is “What you have you learned in your 35 years”, and this year it’s the value of understanding nuance. With the loud arguing happening on public forums, with often black and white dualistic thinking being the standard approach, I more than ever hold the importance of nuance close to my thought process. I’m incredibly grateful for the circumstances which lead me to this understanding. You see I’m a problem solver by nature, professionally, and in ministry (discipleship, counseling). Originally my primary motivation was to please people, but over time I discovered this was not fulfilling. This also lead to times of being used by people, and putting little value into who I was. Through the school of hard knocks, and a lot of grace, I eventually learned that my value was not in what I did, and that I couldn’t do what I did to please others to feel accepted.

The great transformation of realizing and owning my value came when I began to see the world while commuting to and from downtown Portland by light rail (MAX) in 2008. I had just started a new job at Smarsh (where I still work as a consultant). I wanted to know how MAX worked (and why it broke down from time to time), so I “geeked” out by researching how public transportation systems around the world were developed, built, and operated. By researching the reasons behind why different transport system were built, I learned about the incredibly complex world of public discourse, input, how some public entities are good at communications, while others fail miserably.

Often I would naturally try to solve all the problems I saw, and naturally I’ve always paid attention to details. What I didn’t always do was realize that within humanity, within individual people, the nuances and problems we each face, and the problems and friction in society are incredibly nuanced as well. While geeking out and learning about the human element of public transportation I learned the value in being slow to judge and apply “solutions” from a black and white perspective. From property disputes, “NIMBYism” (Not In My Back-Yard – ism), and needing to solve transportation problems in densely populated and land-starved areas the nuances and problems were never solvable by black and white answers.

So while I began educating myself on the incredibly complex decision-making, public outreach, and processes that are needed to build a successful transportation system, I learned more than just what makes a good government process. I also learned to apply listening, understanding, and the viewpoints of many into my problem solving skills. Which proved to be invaluable to me professionally, personally, and in ministry. The other side effect of riding MAX was that I saw many kinds of people, under various kinds of stress, and in various situations of social and economic status. The world went from being black and white to many shades of gray.

During this time I also read the book “Blue like Jazz” by Donald Miller, this book really put into words some of the feelings I was having about the intersection of the Church and society. From what I had learned about various kinds of public processes, my observations of people and society riding MAX every day, and being part of a large, and demographically/characteristically “evangelical suburban” church – I began noticing the overly simple way people in the church sphere would propose solutions to incredibly complex social conflict and problems. I also noticed (thankfully) that those in leadership usually were more keen to address the nuances, yet the typical “church goer” often did not demonstrate the same skills.

At the same time while I was undergoing this realization, one of my best friends entered a season of incredible struggle, caused by incredibly nuanced and complex actions by others and at the same time requiring him to take ownership and responsibility. For years I stood by, along with my wife and his wife, through scary times, confusing times, and incredibly hurtful times. Nothing I knew from my own life could be used to solve this problem, only walking along side. Some people took a simple approach, either based on fear, misunderstanding, or their own unaddressed problems interfering with the ability to humbly just walk.

It was during this season that the intersection of what my faith in Jesus and the very real and complex problems of the world came to a head. I was more and more irritated by the political tones that some in the church would propose for societal conflicts, often in a black and white way that failed to recognize the underlying nuances that were multiple problems. I was also incredibly encouraged by the leaders in my life who were well aware of the underlying issues, and were slow to propose overly simplistic answers, and willing to walk alongside individuals, rather than propose systematic/governmental/legal “solutions”. Just as Jesus walked alongside people.

In 2010 the same friend I mentioned earlier entered a very dark time of his life and deeply broke my trust. I was deeply affected and hurt – at the same time I knew there was only one way to restoration. In spite of our human emotions in the situation, and with the peace that only comes from the Holy Spirit I knew the only way forward was with full forgiveness. Without the lessons on nuance I don’t know if I would have had the capacity to seek forgiveness and restoration. It could have easily blown up into a drama that would have hijacked everything in my life and in my future, which makes it obvious it was a plan of the enemy. Thankfully Jesus had been preparing me.

It is essential for me today to never jump to conclusions (and to apologize when I do, or when I’m corrected by someone) because often it isn’t something of God. God is in the details (and in many ways, the ignorance of the details is where the devil is). Every person has unique circumstances, unique things they struggle with, and simple answers almost never fix the root issue nor bring true understanding, nor build the bridge to God we want for people. We must apply the principle of “root cause analysis” to nearly every conflict and problem in life and society. Ultimately the value we place on ourselves becomes what God sees, and we see people with (hopefully) the value he has for all people. When we realize there are nuances the black and white turns to gray, when we analyze and walk closely with the people involved, the gray turns to color. We apply grace to everything, and know that it takes trust, it takes faith, it takes patience, and in this we find peace, joy, and love – we find God’s Kingdom.

And that is what I have learned for my 35th birthday.

No social club here

DSC_0072.JPGOne thing I have noticed about today’s culture is that so many of us go about our day seeking the next best opportunity, the next best opportunity to fulfill some kind of desire, wound, status, name your “wants”, for our selves. We are seek the highs of life, we go from one experience to the next. Seeking the experiential highs of life, afraid to make commitments just in case “something better comes along”. Even worse, we cancel our commitments when something better does come up, or we cancel because we decide, “uh, no I really won’t have fun with him/her”.

I witness this kind of mind set all to often, and you know what it is exactly the same inside the Church and outside. So it’s not a Church problem, it’s a culture problem. Sure, I believe the Church needs to address it, but it is very hard to address something for which we have bought into, and sometimes we even encourage it. We encourage it with our worship services, with our snazzy programs, etc. I thank God that I’m in a community (aka, my church) which strives very hard to not promote this, however, the pressure is on and it shows it’s nasty little head quite often.

The genesis of this posting wasn’t really the obvious disregard for other people’s needs that I see each day, it actually came when I observed my elders buying into this. When I say elders I don’t mean the “council” or “deacons” or “leaders” or “pastors” at my church, I mean the people I respect in my life who are a generation or more ahead of me. With much disgust (from my perspective) I’ve recently seen the very people I respect, love, and look up to, make decisions on their commitments in the exact same way I see much of our “pop” culture doing. With things such as “well, we didn’t feel we were needed”, and “I just wasn’t experiencing what I wanted”.

Now these are blanket statements, that need more context, and to be fair, “sound bites” and small quotes never paint the full picture. However I hope you’re getting my drift. You see, I think it bothers me more coming from my elders because I (and many more as many of my friends have stated too) desire for them to lead me. I guess it’s a sense of abandonment, a sense that, well if I don’t get what I “want” or if I don’t “feel” what I want to, then I should just go somewhere else. I want to scream and make it known, WE WANT YOU, we CARE, and we NEED you. Obviously there are two sides to this coin. I need to speak up (and my peers), and we all need to pay attention to the generations below us, no matter where we are.

You see, I don’t see the Church as a social club, it’s not optional, and it’s not something we shop around for, it’s community, it’s intentional connection, it’s seeking God, seeking God’s hand through others, and seeking to be used by God. Of course it doesn’t mean sticking around some place trying to live authentically when no one else will, and it certainly doesn’t mean staying some place where you’re being abused (in any way shape or form). What it does mean, is being intentional about meeting the needs of others, and allowing God to be bigger, humbling yourself to serve, and not seeking the experience, but instead, seeking the one who has done it all, so that we can be the light he has called us to be, in serving and proclaiming, with love and truth. Our culture is hard, and I run into the stumbling blocks all the time, I have a hard time thinking outside the culture so that I can reach the culture, it’s not easy, but I strive for it. It’s like the picture, all pretty outside, but stinky inside, yet it meets the need and provides relief.

This little thought brought to you by 1 Peter 5:1-11

1 And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you:2 Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God.3 Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example.4 And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor.
5 In the same way, you younger men must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you, serve each other in humility, for

“God opposes the proud
but favors the humble.”s

6 So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.7 Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.
8 Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.9 Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your Christian brothers and sisterss all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are.
10 In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation.11 All power to him forever! Amen.

Time does not stop

"Urban living" in Gresham

Well, this past year has been one of the most interesting for me and my family. Lots of bumps, lots of fun times, and lots of “what on earth are we doing!” moments. It seems, as though out of our control, time has decided to continue on. So many times in this last year it seemed like time was going by far to slow, it seemed we were waiting for something, but wasn’t quite sure. Now, time seems to be flying by, not because we’re having fun (we are far from having any kind of fun), but because all of sudden, we are at a place that we could’ve never imagined. It’s as if we woke up and our plane was hi-jacked, and no one announced what our new destination was.

For the most part we have been content not knowing the destination, after all, God likes to give assignments and adventures to his children. We are in no doubt that Poland is our ultimate, physical location and calling. However, God is definitely teaching us through the process, and while we walk through this desert experience, following God around, we will try to not complain about the mana. We have a lot to learn and know it will take time, time which is not stopping. So because time doesn’t want to stop for us, and we obviously can’t ignore that it moves on, we are focusing our energy.

God’s provision, protection, and love have been (as expected, yet hard to understand at times) overwhelmingly evident. We are surrounded by amazing friends, and we know the next year will be full of love, hope, and renewal. While time moves on, we will move with it, and we will move with God in his timing. God’s grace and truth is most important and this next year is to focus on those things, applying them in ways we know will be new and renewing.

A little bit of throw up

Man I’m tired of filtering what I write (actually, most of the time it’s filtered completely out before I even write, hence the sound of crickets around here).  There’s been a lot going on in my life, all of it is “good” – but that’s a very relative term.  My “good” stuff has mostly smelled like vomit though.  Now, I’m sure you’re trying to figure out how good stuff can smell like vomit, trust me, when you walk with God, sometimes good smells like vomit.  You see, it’s taken a lot of bad smelly stuff to realize that I need to work on some (more) things in my life.  I like being stretched, but man, recently this stretching has taken me to a new level of trusting in God.  Okay, so I’ve said a lot without really saying anything.

So the stink that I keep referring to are things where God has shown me where I fail to walk in the person he created me to be.  Places where I still shy away from being the real man of God I need to be.  None of these things are a “should be” they are a “called to be”.  What I mean by all of this; is that when I choose to walk in the picture that God has called me to be, then the stink is much more mild.  But when I just walk around, operating in reaction to people and circumstances, then my stomach starts to get upset and vomit starts spewing onto those around me.  Envisioning myself as the called child of God takes burning the stink out, making mistakes, but most of all love.  Walking in God’s love, with each decision produces a life of hope and makes each day something to enjoy.

I want to write more, I miss it, but for some reason I feel like I need to filter my thoughts.  Here’s to hoping that goes away…

Filtering life

A mobile post from the ride home, enjoy.

There is really only so much we can do in life, so making “life worth it” can seem overwhelming and unobtainable. There are a lot of different approaches, and to varying degrees I’ve watched many ways fail to bring about the “worth” people talk about. I’ve been a swinger (no not that kind) just rolling around from one thing to the next, unsure why I’m doing what I’m doing.

Now it’s different, there’s meaning, and sometimes that very meaning is what helps me realize – I never had any worth. At least I never had a need to seek worth, because I’ve always had access to it. Simply through God’s grace and sacrifice, which compels me to recognize my faults, and live for him.

So now I live life through that filter, a redeemed man of God who needs not seek worth, but live in God’s worth! I live my life filtered by God’s priorities, his grace, and love.

The hardships of this life are enormous, many of which I have been through and often felt angered at God for one selfish reason or another. From sexual abuse, family crisis, deaths, relational crisis, depression, and just about everything else you can imagine in the lives of those around me. It isn’t because God has protected me, nor is it some super power, nor is it because I’m smarter than the next person. The victory I have experienced is all due to the fact that I and we have made it a priority to put God first, every yes or no we say is because we have filtered it against our walk with God.

Of course we fail in this at times, of corse we get overwhelmed and make mistakes. Yet overall because of te intentional decisions to fiter our decisions to God we have been spared the worst of the consequences, consequences I know would be devastating.

Lunch time thoughts

I can’t wait until certain things are “official” – then I’ll be fairly free to write about all the amazing, cool, great, fantastic things going on… But until then – I’ll just have to wait, and you too.  So right now I’ll just post some random thoughts from my quick lunch “break”.

  • I can’t wait to someday live in the center of a city, I am a urban dweller by heart.
  • I have a huge travel bug in me right now, although we were just on a trip, I want to take a trip to some far away city somewhere.
  • Cars are not what people really think they are – you know how much I get done while riding the bus or train – A LOT.  Sure, slightly slower at times, and not “always” there – but the potential is there for amazing livability without cars.  I know some places “need” cars, maybe we should think about how we live and move around?
  • When thinking about the Church and ministry, and living a Christian life, I’ve got a lot of thoughts on that… just not sure where to start… maybe I shouldn’t care where I start?
  • Emma is growing SOOO fast, and I can’t seem to see her enough!
  • Alexis and I are working on a big idea… can’t wait to reveal it.

Thanks, that’s pretty much it for now – much more after “details” go official.

How I see it

When I look at people, life, the Church,

Through the eyes of how I know & understand Christ, God, the Holy Spirit

Then I see beauty & life

I see things differently

I ‘spose because I’ve seen a lot of terrible things

Many of these things I would rather never see again

In fact I contend with God to only see these things because of Him

Because of these things people are different to me

People, all people, even you, and even the guy trashed from the party

And even, the guy who reeks of alcohol and body odor in the “free rail zone”

They all have a warm spot in my heart, even the people who have caused the deepest hurt

This is all true, not because it’s some warm fuzzy ideal

But because it’s exactly what my God has given me, time and time again

This grace, so amazing, so unchanging, so undeserved, this is what floods my soul

When my soul is flooded, and my heart is filled, I can only be drawn to the souls of all.

He is my king.


Some thoughts from my Monday morning commute on the TriMet number 9 bus… mobile post, might not make any sense.

Do you have memories of things you’ve done or said that make you cringe? Maybe it’s just me that thinks back on the pas sometimes and wishes I could just erase some of these things. I know that it is these things which make me who I am, so in the end I’m ok with it. Although some of the following memories have some strong emotions of embarrassment, I’m listing them anyway because these are in the past and I need to just lay it down and be who o know I am, whether or not I’m embarrassed. Most of these things are little, but for some reason or another they have or do provoke some feelings that made/make me cringe.

2nd grade – kicking my desk when I got frustrated with math.

2nd grade – lying to a teacher about a jump rope being stolen, getting another (“popular”) classmate in trouble.

5th grade – Not understanding my math homework, and then getting a “white slip”, which was the highest in fraction, for not completing it.

6th grade – Crying after my English teacher mistakenly accused me of lying about finishing a book when indeed I had.

7th grade – being told by one of my best friends “to away, don’t sit here” at lunch on the first day of school and my very emotional response.

In more recent years it’s been a number of speaking opportunities that have haunted me, one was just last spring, mostly because I didn’t receive any productive feedback nor has anyone offered to have me speak again, total insecurity here, I know I need to just askand learn.

I always cringe when I don’t follow up on things I’m leading, I hate it when I fail in my own values, I know I’m just human In a mesed up world.

Love overcomes performance, that’s the bottom line, live it, think it, speak it.

Lying to yourself

I have a lot of principles, values, and priorities that I like to tell myself I live by.  Things like honesty, loving others, being a good listener, integrity, authenticity, etc.  Many of which are of course motivated by my relationship with God.  However, I can say and proclaim as many of these things as I want until I’m blue in the face… none of it matters.  None of it matters unless I’m actually doing these things, being true to them.. Now this sounds pretty harsh, even borderline religious or legalistic.

I don’t like lying to myself, I don’t like saying I am one thing, when really I am not.  I’ll go as far as to say, if you call yourself a Christian, if you have a relationship with Jesus, and you’re not living out your values… then you’re probably experiencing some fairly stressful feelings and situations.  I say this because every time I do something against what I value, I feel it, I feel the stress of being at odds with myself (normally by being grumpy, rude, mean to my wife).  So, this is why I actually schedule my values into my calendar, so that I can live out my priorities, and nurture my values.  In this structure I experience life, fellowship, friendship, love, knowledge, family, and all within balance.  It’s freedom, even though at first it’s discipline, but discipline leads to freedom, trust me, I’ve lived it.  Don’t lie to yourself.

Just do it

Nike got it right with “just do it” – I think the most effective way of learning (once given some proper guidance and with good caring mentorship) is to “just do it”.  With the proper support, love, care, it’s okay to just do it – without fear of devastating failure, why not?  I also believe (and from my own experience) just doing it/something is one of the best ways to re-train our minds (what Paul in the book of Romans refers to as “the renewing of the mind”).

I really can not recall a time where I “just did it” and regretted the learning outcome, I honestly can’t.  Each time I have been rewarded with the fantastic feeling of overcoming fears, more confidence, and just good warm fuzzies.  Of course having a good coach and cheerleader behind you is key to the success of “just do it”.  Sometimes (just ask Alexis) I find myself saying JUST DO IT without the encouragement and support that I have been given…. um don’t do that to others, and don’t let yourself be in that place… it’s not fun, for either party.