Let Your Freak Flag Fly, Sayeth the Lord

Somewhere along the way, he died.

The guy who would arbitrarily dye his hair, sing and dance with abandon in the kitchen, and even be an Elvis impersonator at his best friend’s wedding.
Like most people, it didn’t happen overnight.

It was a series of small deaths. Some admittedly needed to go; maturity is a fact of life after all. In addition, as adults we accumulate responsibilities that can’t just be neglected and ignored.
But the pain of the death was realized most notably when I noticed it had even bled into my religious life. I was in the middle of this amazing Story full of imagination and wonder, yet in some way it was lacking the full creativity and enthusiasm and joy it merited.
Here I was, on the path to ministry, deeply embedded in a journey of formation, while on some level, I was blocked to much of it.

But it was in this religious education that I was able to put my finger on what was actually occurring. I was ignoring the Holy Spirit.
I was performing quite well for those in my context: bosses were pleased, colleagues were pleased; I can’t say my family was fully pleased, but most everyone around me was happy with this version of myself.
But the one person who mattered—the Holy Spirit—was, in my view, a tad restless.
She was pulling and prodding, knocking and tapping, trying to get my attention.
Thankfully, I found myself in a position to finally stop and listen.

I was recently laid off and as a result, was presented with the unique blessing of time before transitioning to my new vocation in ministry. On the outset I decided to be intentional with this time, not only in helping around the house with daily tasks, but also with setting some personal goals. Some of my goals were to try new things, a sort of short-term “bucket list”. I’ve now shot a handgun, tried a jiu-jitsu class, planted a “garden”, and played more tennis and golf. Other goals were broader, such as to engage Scripture more fully, and relax a little more.

Like a smack across the face, I connected that it was the Holy Spirit at work again, making another go at my attention, creating a space for this flame to be reignited. She was begging me to allow her to speak and to resurrect the dormant areas in my life and spiritual development.
At last, I decided to listen.

I can’t say it has been easy. And I’m not suggesting it’s not a little scary. But my guess is that most people fall into this camp, that being open to the Spirit is just a little bit scary. But it’s this vulnerability and openness that also creates the indescribable joy only God can offer. Our “control” can only lead us so far. But once we turn things over to God, barriers are lifted and the fun really begins. It reminds me of the story in the Bible when Ezekiel has a vision of dead, dry bones, and prophesies, “Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.” (emphasis mine).

God wants to give you the Spirit to offer you true life. An exciting life. YOUR life. Not a life devoid of suffering or struggle. This is not a promise God would be make. But a life of fullness and joy. To have those old bones come to life again. But I’m warning you, it can be a little nerve-wracking.

It’s almost like being on a roller coaster, slowly creeping up that steep incline. The car you’re in is surging slowly, climbing up that steep incline. Excitement is building but you’re terrified. You’re gripping tightly to the safely harness around your chest, bursting in anticipation at the roaring thrill that is only seconds away. But once you’ve crested that hill and the ride truly unleashes, the exuberance and thrill of the experience roars into your consciousness, igniting unmitigated joy and adrenaline.

This is what happens when you surrender to the Holy Spirit.

So what I’m really saying is, let that freak flag fly. Create some space in your life to quiet the noise and listen to the Holy Spirit and be obedient. Be you and don’t let the pressures of the world keep it at bay. The journey might be a little scary at first, but ultimately it’s the thrill of a lifetime.
After all, it is God who truly knows you best and it is God who is shaping you to be who you should be. Don’t allow the noise of your surroundings and the pressure of life to drown at that most important voice.

Yep, I’ve started to dance and sing in the kitchen again (much to the dismay of Kristan and the kids as they flee the room in horror). But the Spirit is being reborn in my life. And that’s all that really matters.

I hope it will for you as well.

If you are not quite sure where to start, I invite you to reach out to your pastor or religious leader for guidance. They’re trained in this stuff, after all. Or, you can contact my friend Linda and/or her staff of Spiritual Directors at the Charlotte Spirituality Center, http://www.charlottespiritualitycenter.org.

BathroomGunsGenderWarDiet: A Message of Hope

It’s amazing what a headline can do, isn’t it? Or a catchy teaser signaling the next segment on your favorite news program (or these days, favorite news CHANNEL).
At least in the West, we are now a society clinging at every moment to the next news story ricocheting in our media-obsessed worlds.
But I’m not reflecting on the pervasive negativity associated with a 24-hour news cycle.
That’s so yesterday.
What I would like to explore is the deep healing the rancor over these headlines signals.
Outrage seems to be the norm.

Folks are outraged by the appearance of fiscal waste in government.
Folks are outraged by the appearance of low security along our borders.
Folks are outraged by the morally-bankrupt behavior of our popular entertainers.
Folks are outraged at the cost of basic healthcare for themselves and their families.
Folks are outraged at the rate of violence in communities.

What is the obvious, common thread in all of this?

Fear.

Our fears are constantly being stoked because fear evokes emotion and interest.
Fear keeps us tuned in.
Fear also drives action and that keeps the whole machine running.

But it’s coming at a significant cost.

Our health is at risk as a result of the constant stress fear puts on our bodies. According to WebMD, 75% to 90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints. Our communities are less cohesive because of the fear of differences exhibited by our neighbor, whether its their religion, race, or family structure. We are less likely to fully enjoy our lives because of fear.

But here is why I’m hopeful.
There is a simple, straight-forward solution to this epidemic of fear.

The message of Jesus Christ (not the one being co-op’d by right-wing hate groups but the hopeful, loving one reflected in the Bible) is a beautiful antidote to all this fear, stress, and hate. (Remember, I am training to be a pastor so you can’t be too surprised).

In the Bible, 1John 4 writes, “perfect love drives out fear”. Isn’t that a beautiful message? Quite the opposite of what you might be hearing these days.
And the only person capable of offering this perfect love is God in Jesus Christ.

But here’s the fun part: the delivery mechanism is YOU. And your neighbor. And your friends. And yes, even in media outlets.
When we offer the love of Christ, we become “little Christs” (which is actually a literal translation of a Greek word for “Christians”) to one another, offering this powerful, healing, perfect love.

Let’s start today. Why not? Why not begin dismantling this oppressive system of hate, fear, and ugliness and replace it with a message of love?
It doesn’t matter if you consider yourself religious or not, or if you identify with a different faith tradition. The message of love is the same.
Whatever your predisposition might be to Christianity or organized religion, I invite you to suspend this for a moment, try to clear your minds of any preconceived notions, and just focus on the message of love.

What are you afraid of?

It’s Never Too Late

I’m 41 and just feel like I’m hitting my stride. I suppose people evolve and change throughout their lives, and the timing most certainly varies depending on the individual. But there seems to be a malaise, particularly among men in their “middle age” years. Perhaps the reason is that we are taught that by the time we are in our 40’s we should have everything “figured out”. But in the midst of a turbulent political landscape and an uncertain economy, many are finding themselves frustrated that this is not the case; things are not quite as dependable and secure as they were told it would be.

This does not have to be a time of frustration. It can be a time of exploration.
I invite folks to use this as an opportunity to learn more about themselves.

Yes, we have responsibilities- we are adults after all- but that does not mean we can’t keep growing and learning about ourselves. You might be surprised what you learn.
For example, I would have never, ever thought that one day I would be embarking on a 2nd career in ministry. Never! But here I am, months away from becoming a Vicar at a local Lutheran Church. In many ways, my professional life is only beginning at a time when my peers are advancing into senior positions.

But I guess that’s the point- we grow and develop at different points in our lives; in different seasons. But we should embrace- even invite- these opportunities.

Perhaps it is having a new teenager in the house (not a new kid— have mercy—a kid who just became a teenager; however, upon reflection these are not necessarily mutually exclusive). Those middle school years are filled with this existential search and journey toward identity. I’m doing my best to walk alongside him. In, doing so, it’s revealed to me that in some ways, we are on similar paths. Our identities are constantly evolving and changing.

Don’t resist it. Embrace it!

It can be incredibly exciting.

It needn’t be a career change. It can be simply exploring new areas of your personality or trying new things.
For example, I have always been afraid of guns. As a result, I decided I would conquer this fear and asked a neighbor if he would be willing to take me to a local shooting range. I was terrified for sure. But the experience was an invigorating and enlightening one. Not only was it an exciting adrenaline rush, but I also learned so much about guns and gun safety in a climate where so much misinformation is being spread for political gain. And I had fun. I would never have had this experience and grown in this way had I not opened myself up to a new experience.

And that is just one example. There are many. And each of you will have your own.
But my point is to invite you, maybe even challenge you, to choose something that has always scared you, excited you, or perhaps something you have always wondered about but never took the time to explore.
My guess is it will open doors you never imagined, and make your life that much richer as a result.
It’s never too late. Our lives are precious and far too short. So go for it.