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Only when we take human existence upon ourselves in its starkest and most humiliating misery--a misery in which nothing has meaning--can we win through to the only possible way to live. Only when we taste the lot of all, when we become involved deeply in world suffering, one in heart with the need of humanity, can we win through to our true vocation...

We don't know what to make of it. I sat there last night, trapped between the clarity of two seemingly polar extremes, unable to reconcile my understanding of the God I know to either of them. It's one thing when man commits terrible acts of violence against his fellow man--at least you can chalk that up to the free will that God's given mankind. But when nature rises up catastrophically against man...What do you do with that?

I am not insisting that everything must make sense to me. I feel like my brain's going to explode. I have so many conflicted thoughts. I walked upstairs last night and collapsed on the bed, my soul weeping with the cries of the rain outside. Regina collapsed next me, and we talked for a couple of hours. I took some liberties exploring a conversation of faith with a friend earlier last night that I probably shouldn't have taken. There's so much plurality in my mind right now, and for me to subject anyone to my raw panderings is unfair. So much in me is questioning--on seemingly every level that I'm honest enough to engage my soul's dissatisfaction.

Regina was brilliant, as usual. I fumbled about with my words, trying to explain how I'm wrestling through what a community of faith is--and whether or not it would look like what we have. My confidence in the fact that I had things figured out, or at least my confidence in where I've placed what I don't understand, is quickly eroding. And my wife is so soothing in her soft wisdom. First she interrupted my Job-esque infatuation with the question "why". "Doesn't it seem the least bit inconsistent to you that we hear of tragedy everyday, and yet only wrestle with 'why' when it knocks on our front door--through the death of a loved one or a tragedy like this one, so large that it invades our lives? This unimaginable horror on the otherside of the world invites us out of the safety of our untouched lives; it gives us an awareness of what it means to be a part of the community of humanity, and responsibility to grieve along with our brothers and sisters all over the world."

Earlier, she sat in silence and allowed me to reveal all of my doubts and fears for the better part of an hour. And again, her words were cathartic.

"It's ok that you're searching. Remember?? That's where you're supposed to be. It is in that honest wrestling that we are able to be shaped the most; it is in that place of humble uncertainty where we can be immersed in the Mystery of God and released from self-contemplation. Only then can we join him freely in his work of reconciliation and love and redemption here in this life."



Christmas Snapshot

Christmas went beautifully. A bit of drama here and there, but for the most part, it was great. Got to be with all those we love--most of them in relatively good health, and the traveling wasn't too bad (with the exception of white-knuckling it in the 2 hour drive home last night against driving rain and 60 mph crosswinds). Ok, actually that was the worst weather I'd ever seen--let alone driven in. But how much worse the tragedy that the Indian Ocean has become...My God...

I watched in horror yesterday until I couldn't take it. I got up, went outside in the rain and drove. And I sat in silence, attempting to pray--for the tens of thousands swept into the ocean; those along streets being pummeled by debris, just trying to keep their heads above water; the families and mothers and fathers and children. EFF-ing CNBC showed this clip of people--OVER AND OVER AGAIN--unable to hold on to one another's grasp with the torrent of water underway, being torn away from their loved ones and swept off with the incredible violence of the water. "...If we don't know how or what to pray, it doesn't matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans."

Definitely puts my Christmas into perspective. "Among the great gifts I received this year were health, love, and not having a tsunami wipe out 50,000 people in my general area..."

But Christmas in my little world was wonderful. Had a blast with both families, and Justin joined my family for a small celebration that's become a Christmas Evening tradition. Among the Merry Birthday gifts this year was what you see in the picture--a Sony Cybershot--something I've been wanting for a long time. Regina and I don't have a camera (Not that we had to have this one to own one, but when you dream, you're awarded no points for frugality); we've been using our cell phones and disposables without shameful irregularity. It's not much bigger than my cell phone, but the 5.0 Megapixel quality difference is amazing. I think my cell phone shoots at 5 mm or something. With any luck, I should be able to continue the moBlog with some quality shots now.

Merry Christmas--go enjoy it while you can. The decorations won't be up much longer.



11:27pm, Christmas Eve

Merry Christmas all.

So Regina and I dressed up Selah tonight and went to the Candlelight Service at the Church On The Way. I know that Christmas is a time to be generous and forgiving, but please allow me to spout for a bit. The service was nice--I don't need to say anything about that. But I have some issues with a constituency of my blogging audience that I didn't even know existed. I came upon an old friend at the service, and he began to discuss with me my blog post on my sister and her husband. Until a few days ago, he didn't even know I blogged; but apparently, someone had emailed him the link, and asked him to read it. This young woman, who will remain unnamed because I've never met her, ran across my blog post (God knows how) and was concerned that I might be talking about someone she knew. So, rather than email me directly, or comment on the blog, she figured it would be better to pass it along to someone else and spew about it. And who knows how she ran across it, or who passed it along to her.

I'm going to say this directly to those anonymous readers of my thoughts. To all the T.C.O.T.W. people that happen to be reading this--or anyone else more concerned with passing along my thoughts and criticizing them than with communicating with me directly, there may be better websites for you to get your gossip. These raw soundbytes of my life are not shared so that I can endure the unending criticism of an anonymous audience, nor are they shared to provide you with the inside scoop on the lives of people that do not know you well enough to entrust you with their privacy.

Listen--this is just a journal of thought. I'm not looking for empathy. If you come across something particularly disturbing, I would suggest that you either stop reading, or that you email me directly to discuss it with me. I'm going to continue to be authentic and open, and would love to have to freedom to remain vulnerable and raw. I would love for those of you that are anonymous to step into the light--share if you're going to share. There will always be space for you to do so.

Sigh. To the rest of my companions that just sat through this, thanks for allowing me to vent. I love you all, and Merry Christmas. Better go to sleep before Santa catches you up at the computer...



Christmas Craziness

Last night after feasting with the Bridge Community, we went home and had our tradition of Christmas. We celebrated together and exchanged gifts, because the next four days will be given over to family and traveling--which is actually a lot more fun than it sounds. The only bad part about splitting our time three ways is traveling two and a half hours on Christmas day.
Anyways, Selah was adorable...She was so excited all night--"Want presents, Mommy"--she kept saying. Finally when we all sat down together and watched her tear into them, Regina and I realized how little we cared what we got for each other, as our presents remained in their wrapping paper while we sat on the floor and played with Selah. What a good night it was. And what a good few days these next will be--if I can ever get out of the office.

Merry Christmas to you. Spend it with warm people and make beautiful memories.



The Empty God

Interesting Story from Bruderhof this morning:
If Christmas is to go beyond sentiment and merriment, then we must grasp the fact, in the words of J.B. Phillips, that it is both “the awe-inspiring humility of God” and the frightful vacuity of our lives. Christmas is about God’s beggarly existence here on earth, which should lead us to recognize the beggars we are. Christmas means coming to terms with who we are, and repenting for who we try to make God to be.

The helpless child Jesus keeps us from turning God into an instrument to serve our interests. God does not seek to display his divinity, but to be nothing. He is neither useful nor “helpful.” He came and still comes, not to solve our problems or answer our questions or fulfill our needs or bless our endeavors, but to expose our problems, to question our answers, to be our need, and point us to his kingdom. In Christ, God enters time and space to turn our world upside down and inside out. “Valleys are made high, mountains are laid low.” We are left bewildered, undone.

Read the article in its entirety...Christmas makes me nervous. It’s not that I dread the holiday blues, or worry about spending more than I have. No, Christmas unnerves me because the Infinite, who came in a feeding trough, is not the kind of God I want. He is too powerless for my liking; he’s too much like the person I don’t want to be, but actually am.

If I am honest with myself, I despise being powerless. Humility I could handle, but stark naked vulnerability repulses me. Throughout the year, both consciously and unconsciously, I try to maneuver myself into a position of safety, secure from anything that might go wrong. I want to be in a position of strength, with power to make things happen, and in so doing I expend a great deal of energy negotiating my social space. In countless ways I finagle to protect and expand the turf I call my own.

“The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Not long ago my three-year-old daughter suffered an acute asthma attack. She lay in my arms gasping, choking, and gagging. Dread seized me. I couldn’t help my little girl. I could only be. And inside I seethed with rebellion. As much as I wanted to deny it I was confronted with the truth of my measly existence: I am ultimately powerless.

As much as I hate to admit it, Christmas interrupts my modus operandi. That’s why, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, Christmas is, “frightening news for everyone who has a conscience.” Deep down, I am not willing to receive the One who unveils my powerlessness.

Before Christmas is “glad tidings” it is terrible news: The Ground of our being and of all that exists is not able to help us on our terms. Christmas is not just the message of light breaking into darkness, but a humiliating fact: foolishness to the “wise” and a stumbling block to the “righteous.” The God who saves is beggarly; he is the supremely Empty One. God exists in weakness and comes to those who reach up to him with empty hands. Such a God is an embarrassment, not just to the Herods of this world, but to all who are enamored with themselves and their own potency.

I don’t want this God. I prefer the glorious splendor of a deity who dazzles my eyes but also blinds me from seeing my life for what it is. I don’t want the bloody babe who later is to die defamed and disfigured, for the reason that I don’t want to come to terms with the stable of my own existence. I have an inn to offer, decorated for Christmas, not a stinking stall.

If Christmas is to go beyond sentiment and merriment, then we must grasp the fact, in the words of J.B. Phillips, that it is both “the awe-inspiring humility of God” and the frightful vacuity of our lives. Christmas is about God’s beggarly existence here on earth, which should lead us to recognize the beggars we are. Christmas means coming to terms with who we are, and repenting for who we try to make God to be.

The helpless child Jesus keeps us from turning God into an instrument to serve our interests. God does not seek to display his divinity, but to be nothing. He is neither useful nor “helpful.” He came and still comes, not to solve our problems or answer our questions or fulfill our needs or bless our endeavors, but to expose our problems, to question our answers, to be our need, and point us to his kingdom. In Christ, God enters time and space to turn our world upside down and inside out. “Valleys are made high, mountains are laid low.” We are left bewildered, undone.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, much of what is celebrated as Christmas today has little to do with the empty God of humiliating spaces. We stuff our stockings, “make room” in our homes for more things, overcrowd our schedules, overeat, over-drink, and overlook “the one needful thing.” We are anything but empty, and hardly, if at all, ready to receive the Christ child. Under the supposition that Christmas is a time of giving, we extend our powers of generosity, triggering an avalanche of material gluttony and party spirit. None of this, as William Willimon points out, coincides with the biblical account of the first Christmas. “There we are portrayed not as the givers we wish we were but as the receivers we are…All we could do, at Bethlehem, was receive it. A gift from a God we hardly even knew.” The point of Christmas has to do with how poor God is, not how rich and good we are.

Will this Master-Infant penetrate the dusty cavern of our lives this Christmas, or will we just unthinkingly immerse ourselves in Christmas sights and sounds, content that all is shine? We miss the essence of the Incarnation unless we become, in the words of Eberhard Arnold, “mindful of how Christ’s birth took place.” For this weak God finds his home in impoverished places, in hearts that have nothing to offer. These are glad tidings indeed, but only to those who are starkly honest with themselves and admit their need.

If our God is poor, and so are we, do we have nothing to give? No. The gift of God’s son means that all of us can give, but in a new and more wonderful way. God poured himself out in Christ. He left behind his glory and entered our need. When we allow Christ to be born in us we will also offer ourselves, both to God and to others. We will give not from our abundance, but from our inner poverty. And we will seek out the stable spaces in each other’s lives—little Bethlehems that leave one vulnerable, in humble human hands where Christ himself lies. The One who dares to dwell on a bed of straw will move us to place ourselves in dependency in one another’s arms. Then the Christ child will be born once again. Then the joy of giving ourselves away will erupt! And then, like Mary, we will treasure up the miracle of the manger and ponder it in our hearts.



Did you know that having a Starbucks Gift Card is like having Christmas everyday?? It's true. It's like that every morning--you know, when you wake up and you're eyes hurt so bad you can barely open them, so you cream your foot on the side of the desk in the cold darkness, stifling a scream and several little words from leaping out of your mouth as you quick take inventory of the toes you might have lost, before the artic freshness of the unprepped shower helps you forget all about your digitless left foot...Ahhh, it's going to be a great day. I can feel it. Especially in my left foot.

Last night was great--Regina and I went over to some friend's for what has become a Christmas tradition of dinner and gifts. It was fun, but we didn't get home until after midnight, and didn't get into bed until 1:00. After my alarm rousted me from my slumber at 4:00am, I found myself staring into the bathroom mirror, looking at the bloody explosion in my eyes. Too much sleep depravation. Apparantly, while you sleep, all of your major arteries defer your body's circulation needs to the capilaries in your eyes, which is nice.

The only problem is that if you interrupt the process, your eyes freak out and the blood just stays there. So you don a suit, part your hair, and drive to your job looking like you just woke up in the street after mainlining meth for the entire length of the Bush administration (Sr. & W.) and are a sugar high away from total collapse.



Merry Christmas All

Ah yes, Merry Christmas everyone. It's been an interesting few weeks. I know I've been absent from blogging, but there's been so much happening, I'm not sure where to begin.

This morning I spent about 2 hours scouring the web for three column blog designs that will work with Blogger, only to come up with several lame designs I don't have the time to customize. Most of the better ones are restricted for use with full CSS and MT styles, which doesn't help much. If any of you rocket scientists have any ideas, I'd love to hear them.

My last few weeks have been amazing, long, wearisome, exciting and grueling.

Friday the 3rd, I was with Selah in the ER for two hours, because she was having trouble breathing. She was weezing quite a bit, and her breathing was labored. What a gut-wrenching time. Everything turned out to be ok, though they were unable to do anything but give her an inhaler.

The 4th was Selah's 2nd birthday, and we had a blast celebrating it with her. We went down to San Diego for a few days, taking my partner up on his gracious offer to let us use his timeshare for a few days. The best part about it watching Selah learn what it was to have a birthday, and watch her begin to feel the excitement of the attention. It was the first time she'd really ever unwrapped gifts, but she tore into them at once as if she had seen it done a thousand times.... "A baby!!" she exclaim as she picked up the box to show us what she'd received. "I want to play, Mommy I want to play with the baby!" So cute. I can't even do it justice. Now we have to hide Christmas gifts we've wrapped because she thinks it's still her birthday.

The 8th was Carol's Memorial, as many of you know. It was amazing--it was heavy and sad, but filled with warm hearts of those she'd touched in her life. In addition to the 50 person choir that rocked the house, Regina sang a couple songs that Carol had requested. Of course, she was amazing. Justin existed in a world all his own, delivering his mother's eulogy in a way I can't even begin to describe. Vulnerable, honorable, eloquent, compelling, inspiring--undoubtedly the best public address I've ever seen. I don't think that was what he was going for, but I'm not sure how else to wrap words around it. It was perfect. My reflections were fine, and I know that day will continue to teach, shape and mold those that came for the rest of their lives.

My family up in Santa Maria has been wrestling through some rough times as well. My folks adopted my cousin, who's at 16 suffered as much as I can imagine anyone at that age has. I cannot even begin to describe what she's gone through because it infuriates me to consider what a selfish mother's absence can inflict on her innocent little girl. God help her.

In addition, my beautiful baby sister is fighting through her loneliness, and taking inventory of the debris left of her marriage. Her husband...I feel like I'm going to explode right now. I don't feel like I have the freedom to just reem this guy, because anonymoty in this space is not a luxury that I am afforded any longer. (SIGH) Forget about it. Her husband doesn't deserve her--not by a long shot. But he doesn't get it. And I cannot step in and blow him out until she makes a decision on her marriage--because if I do, I'm going to leave irrepairable damage that will cause permanent disfunctionality if she chooses to continue as his wife. And the people they're surrounded by in ministry... Suffice it to say that the same old generalizations about church leadership seem to hold true. But I so wrestle with wanting to villify them, because I know that they are well-meaning. They aren't malicious, it just so happens that the way they are handling a situation is creating massive unhealth and hurting my family. And yes, I hear your voice J, "Good intentions don't amount to much when someone's inflicting pain on your family".

I had a gut-wrenching conversation with Amanda last night. I've left a dozen or so messages for her over the last week and she hasn't returned my calls, so last night I finally tracked her down and we talked. She hadn't returned my calls because she didn't want to relive everything, especially with me. Especially with me--because she feels humiliated, and didn't want to disappoint me. Oh, dear sweet Amanda... We talked at length, and I could tell she didn't want to dive into it too much so I kept my words brief. I just told her that I love her and admire her, and that I'll stand behind whatever decision she makes. Though I don't think this freakshow loves her at all the way she deserves, I told her that if she chooses him, that there's no shame in that, and that I'll embrace him in love as my brother in law, and set the family straight on how he's to be treated. And that if she doesn't, I admire her still even more for disregarding the opinions of people, and that I will be her greatest ally in that journey. She cried almost the entire 20 minutes of our conversation. She feels so helpless and responsible and stuck--God--if only she knew how things would be ok--that you weren't upset or disappointed, but grieve with her in her pain. If only she could step out and see from a different vantage point...Father, surround her with your grace and fill her with peace. Make a way where there is no way...

I can't go too much further into this. My feelings are so strong, and I know I'm on thin ice trying to balance this one out. Pray for them, and please continue to pray for the Justin's family.



3:00 am

A moment of peace. Justin sleeps next to me on the couch, while I continue to grind over thoughts I've wrestled through for his mother's memorial in 8 hours. Been out of town since Friday, not much time for blogging. When I get back into town tomorrow night, I plan to sit down and reflect. Thank you again for your prayers and thoughts for his family. It's amazing that so many in this virtual sphere have offered such tangible support to a family that's been through so much.



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