Monday, November 28, 2011

Second Day

"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind." - James 1:5-6

I think I'm struggling with "Post-Traumatic Thanksgiving Syndrome." Some of you may be familiar with the symptoms: an increased desire to consume large quantities of food all the time, wishing that you could take three naps a day, avoiding all people interaction and just being plain dog-dang tired.

I'm so tired that I barely think I'll get through this entry. And I've done everything I can think of to do, aka pour a huge cup of coffee.

Here's my plight: after being here in Orlando for a week we traveled back to Chattanooga for Thanksgiving and came back, and now I'm on my second official day at the office. I'm super-duper tired, but I want everyone at the office to like me. But I'm simply hoping that no-one notices the a hunted expression that I must be wearing. I'll probably be ducking behind a lot of potted plants today.

No, it's not too bad, in the moment it's always worse. But I've been down the road of jumpy-anxious-balled-up-freaking-out-Philip many a time. It's just that I'm new to this job and I really want to make a good impression. I would absolutely love it if everyone just adored me, perhaps slipping me notes of encouragement letting me know how much it means to them that it's their second day of having the privilege of working with me, whilst not engaging me in direct conversation as that would freak me out.

I feel sort of like a cross between a jack-russel terrior and a dear - extremely skittish and ready to bite at a moments notice. Also really, really small, with the unreasonable desire to jump through screen doors.

It's on days like this that I am comforted by the truth that God is with us ALL THE TIME. My ego speaks so loud and seeks to control so much, that I need a God who sticks very, very close when I'm the new guy, desperately trying to make good first impressions and control every conversation so that they would have the best possible experience of Philip.

The verse above is an encouragement that I can live and ask for wisdom from God in the midst of "me-craziness," and most importantly that he will answer with wisdom. It's a pretty sweet deal.

Of course the following verse about not doubting makes me cringe. If anyone feels tossed about on the waves of life, it's got to be people like me, trying to be really ridiculously cool new guys while at the same time trying to rely on God's wisdom.

So this morning I guess I'm coming to a point of decision. Do I turn my will and life over to God this morning and just move forward ("dorky-new-guy-perhaps-with-bad-breath-and poor-wardrobe-decisions" and all) trusting that he will give me wisdom. Or do I go around biting people and getting hit by trucks. I hope I pick the former. Plus I saw a dear on the side of the road the other day and it was totally gross.

Monday, November 21, 2011

First Day

I am finally sitting in the Campus Crusade for Christ Headquarters in Orlando, FL. And I’m writing officially! Yeah!!!

I can’t say I’m uncomfortable. This place is nice. They used to have Starbucks coffee until they found something cheaper and nicer (it probably didn’t take long to look). They even have two latte machines!

As I’m sitting in this nice leather chair typing away and sipping on my coffee from our coffee bar, I’m feeling a “convolution” (I’m not sure that’s a word, or at least if it is I didn’t use it right!) of emotions. I’m really comfy and I’m not supposed to be.

Ministry is supposed to be a pain right? The only thing bothering me is the heat. There’s a trickle of sweat already beading in my bodily places that I’m constantly trying to get my kids to quit talking about. Apparently my blood hasn’t thinned yet. Apparently it will and I will find eighty degrees in the office comfortable as well. Then I’ll be as happy as the rest of the lizards around here.

Adding to my “convolution,” is that I just opened my Bible and read some really obscure passages out of Numbers and 1 Chronicles. The first one was dealing with the priestly ritual for a woman suspected of an adulterous relationship. She’s supposed to drink a curse drink sprinkled with dirt from the temple floor (yum) which will make her thigh “fall away” (doesn’t sound good does it?) if she’s been up to any hanky panky. If she’s guiltless, apparently it will just taste real bad. And here I sit drinking coffee.

Then I read about the whole Uzzah debacle. You know (or at least all you people who always had their hands in the air in Sunday School growing up, know), he was the dude who tried to steady the ark and was struck dead. It’s passages like this that are encouraging on your first day of work at a new place. Especially someplace as “holy” as a ministry headquarters. Stick your hand in the wrong place and YOU WILL DIE.

As I listen to people putting up Christmas decorations and talking about Oprah whilst wearing reindeer antlers, I don’t feel too threatened by the place. But I do feel a little confused, which as you guessed is adding to my “convolution.”

Isn’t a ministry headquarters to be a really uncomfortable place, run on a shoestring budget, where everybody is tired and overwhelmed and perhaps even bleeding from stress? Isn’t ministry supposed to be miserable? And here I am, first day on the job, sipping my better than Starbucks coffee in a leather chair just down the hall from a bust of Bill Bright (our ministry’s founder) and a beautiful atrium with one spiritual law written on each of the four walls. In fact I’m listening to the trickling waters of a fountain imported from Italy (Hmm, coffee plus fountain, I'll be right back)!

I’m not saying this place is swank, it’s just nice. And I’m a Presbyterian. Maybe that’s my problem. Perhaps I’ll get to feeling miserable and overwhelmed soon. That should clear things up.

Note to reader: Don’t take this the wrong way, most of what Campus Crusade has here is donated [the whole building (which looks like the White House by the way) and I’m sure the Italian fountain!], and they’ve just made really good use of their space. It has really positive “Chi.” Since we all raise support here to do what we do, we actually are on a shoe-string budget, it just feels funny to be working in a nice place is all. And it’s funny we’re in Orlando, just down the road from Mickey Land! Hmm, Jesus and Mickey Mouse, I knew the oddity would hit me, but I didn’t think it would be on the first day.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


"Therefore, behold, I will allure here, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her." - Hosea 2:14

I'm a fierce hobbiest. Totally savage. "Mountain bike I likey to do." As a teen it was "Soccer I likey to do."

I used to day-dream entire soccer games in my head, now I can day-dream entire bike rides. This, while fun, has become a problem.

A no-nonsense friend of mine who loves to give me the Proverbial stab in the chest, suggested I take a "fast" from biking. Argh! I love/hate friends that get to the heart of stuff. Especially when I'm pulling the knife out of my heart, hoping that it will beat long enough to stab them back.

But without friends like this, we wouldn't need enemies. I've learned that I'm perfectly capable of wasting/destroying my life one tiny moment at a time.

So I've gone on this "Stupid Fast" as my brother-in-law calls it. (He's just bitter because I found him a beautiful bike on Craigslist, drove down to Atlanta to pick it up, took him on a few wonderful rides, and then self-righteously announced to my freshly addicted brother-in-law that I can't ride with him because I'm "fasting".)

But God, in asking me to step away from a passion of mine, is alluring me speaking tenderly to me. The painful reality is that I don't really turn to God unless I'm in the desert. I'm aren't thirsty if I'm guzzling my gullet under a 7-Eleven Slurpee of escape.

In fact every Sunday I'm called to rest, to step back and recognize the God who cares for us, the God who provides. It's a fast of sorts. I don't do Sundays real well.

When I stumbled across this verse in Hosea, I said, "Yes, something that tenuously connects to what I'm going through. Now I can stop reading my Bible and get to my blog. Sweet!"

I don't know too much about this self-inflicted desert of mine, but I know that I'm growing less savaged by my addiction to biking. I'm finding freedom. Freedom not only to be more useful to my family and work, but freedom to pursue other interests, including God.

And one day, perhaps God won't only be an interest, but my sole hobby. My singular passion. But my guess is it's going to take a few more stabs to the chest.

I'll let you know when I get there. But you probably won't want to be anywhere close because I'll have a lot of knives to stab you with. Watch out!

Only 6 days till I can ride my legs off again. Yeah! "Lord help me, but don't let my next desert be braking my leg, OK? That's hardly 'alluring.'"

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

God's Not Far

"Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for 'In him we live and move and have our being.'" - Paul in the Areopagus.

I was meeting with a group of guys yesterday. A ragamuffin bunch. We were sharing our hurts and struggles, and then we were asked to share something we were grateful for. I really couldn't think of anything better than having such a group to meet with at the moment, so I said I was grateful for the group, truly engratiating myself to everyone. I like to be liked.

But then someone, who had shared that he was really struggling asked to pass. We continued sharing and I thought that there had to be something he could be grateful for. "How about oxygen?" I thought.

We take so much for granted, especially when life has us down. I know that when I'm feeling down, I walk around with my personal cloud of grumpiness, trying to fire off lightning bolts at anyone who says something totally irritating like, "You should be grateful for oxygen!" "Smite him cloud!"

But even in our worst times, those times when we can't see anything good, we have a God who is near.

I've always found Paul's words above really fascinating. Couched in his address in the Areopagus about the altar to The Unknown God, it's a really bold statement he makes. He's basically saying, "In all your searching, all this striving, all these attempts at religion, there is a God who is near, 'He's not far from any of us.' This is the God that your Greek philosophers said, 'In him we live and move and have our being.'"

We have a God who is close. And I can't seem to get this truth into my atrophied soul. No matter how much I say it, no matter how many times and ways I hear David express "dwelling in God's house", I still think of God sort of "out there somewhere," or "up there somewhere." (Of course rarely do I think of him in the ground as I associate that with Satan's domain of darkness. I've been caving and can attest to this first-hand.)

So I've been letting this idea bang around in my head for sometime now. In fact, I'm almost positive I've blogged this before. (My blog is getting so old that it's forgetting things.)

But I think that besides actually believing that God loves us, perhaps the second most difficult thing we humans are challenged with is that God wants to dwell with us and in us.

That's also why I'm thinking of buying a crystal and a Volkswagon mini-van and travelling the country. Because we have something in common with those crazed new-agers that lurk behind every bush, just waiting to pounce on us conservative Presbyterians and unleash all kinds of voodoo and mumbo-jumbo wack talk about the divinity within.

Don't we have divinity within too? It's not us, but in a sense, now that we're united with Christ it is us. We're united with God. I hear this kind of thinking got Henri Nouwen in trouble, but perhaps its less risky than we think and less risky than thinking of God out there and up there somewhere, or in our pet ferret Huey.

So even on our worst days, in our worst struggles, even when we're running straight away from God, we have a "near God." Maybe this can help us be grateful and hopeful.

Monday, November 7, 2011


Look at all those fancy clothes,
But these could keep us warm just like those.
And what about your soul? Is it cold?
Is it straight from the mold, and ready to be sold?

And cars and phones and diamond rings,
Bling, bling, because those are only removable things.
And what about your mind? Does it shine?
Are there things that concern you, more than your time?

Gone, going.
Gone, everything.
Gone, don’t give a damn.
Gone, be the birds, when they don’t wanna sing.
Gone, people, all awkward with their things,

Look at you, out to make a deal.
You try to be appealing, but you lose your appeal.
And what about those shoes you’re in today?
They’ll do no good, on the bridges you burnt along the way.

And you're willing to sell, anything?
Gone, with your head.
Leave your footprints,
And we’ll shame them with our words.
Gone, people, all careless and consumed, gone

Gone, gone, gone, everything.
Gone, don’t give a damn.
Gone, be the birds, when they don’t wanna sing.
Gone, people, all awkward with their things, Gone.

"Gone" by Jack Johnson

Melissa and I drove down to Orlando from Chattanooga this week, and I was scrambling around for some music I could drive to. And since I'm not really music savvy, I'm old and unhip, Jack Johnson fit the bill nicely. His chill acoustic sound seemed just right for going to Florida, perhaps it's because he's from Hawaii.

I was really taken by his lyrics as well. He speaks very thoughtfully about materialism, environment and media. A little too thoughtfully...

This song was a slap to my ear-lobes. "Gone. Gone, people, all awkward with their things... Gone peope all careless and consumed."

As I approach the materialistic mess that I understand to be Christmas, his message is timely for me. I like the stuffness of stuff. It's shiny. I want to fill up a bath with it and roll around in it. Stuff makes me feel less empty.

Left to my own devices, I consume this stuff, "nothing concerning me more than my time." And, in the end, I get consumed by that which I pursue. I become stuff. My soul grows "cold, straight from the mold and ready to be sold."

It's a sad state to be in. A state of real awkwardness. I can see God arresting me in this careless pursuit: "What are you up to Philip?" "Making a bath full of stuff." "Why?" "Because I like stuff." "Are you really going to get naked and bathe in that?" Awkward silence.

Contentment is a sparse commodity. And Jack Johnson is right to ask the question "How about your mind does it shine?" This drive to consume dehumanizes me. According to Jack Johnson, we're so out of touch with creation when we do this, that even the birds refuse to sing. The birds know better.

In the end all stuff will be gone. The word "Gone" has a haunting ring to it. Stuff that will be gone is not worth investing in.

So I hope this season to be about something bigger than me. While not forgetting the joy of God's gifts, and not forgetting to bathe, I want to give this year.

I want to give so I can hear the birds singing. I know it's sort of selfish. But one step at a time right?

And I guess I want to give so I can better hear the music of God, the real giver.

I'm going to go hug a tree now...

Tiny Muscles

"I am but a little child." - Solomon

I stumbled down the stairs in my getting-all-too-personal-morning-fog and into the kitchen this morning, just to be met by all the eager productivity that is my family. How did I wind up "Father" in this family? I don't know. But I'll take it.

Looking up, Melissa greeted me and asked David to show me something. David sauntered up to me (carrying his stocky frame with a confidence that only his new Batman pajamas afford him) looked up at me, took sort of a Sumo stance and began to flex/tremble until his face shook and changed color.

Later in the morning, as David and I were working on a task that required "man-muscles," I asked David to show me his muscles again. And though with all 3 year olds everywhere his muscles are tiny in proportion to his head, I was actually impressed. He's a strong little tike.

Now I've finally arrived at my work/caffeine-induced-morning-fog-reducer-Starbucks and I've just read the passage in 1 Kings in which God offers to grant Solomon a gift. Solomon's words "I am but a little child" just made something go click in my brain (I don't know, perhaps something just went click because I'm on my second cup of coffee).

The click is this: When we are asked to approach God and we do so as ourselves, in full knowledge that he is our father and the gift giver, there's something going on between father and child that is intimate, much like my rejoicing over David's new-found muscles. Now that I've written it, it's not really much of a "click". But I believe that God rejoices in us when we just come to him and show him what we can do.

In Solomon's case he's explaining to God his ignorance, what he feels powerless to do, rather than flexing his tiny muscles. And it's what everything in David was telling me today as he showed me his muscles and went about helping me in my task. He was showing me through all of his eagerness that he knew I was strong and I have real big muscles (I did do 10 pull-ups this morning by the way - in the middle of my fog as well), and he wants to be just like me, strong and capable.

All of this lit up my heart with a joy. God must rejoice over us no less when we come to him with our strengths and our weaknesses.

And apparently, as I read God's response to Solomon, he does. So my advice to any cyber-space people out there who may be reading this, is this: show him your tiny muscles. I promise, he'll be impressed.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Me, My Problem With People

"Man in his pomp will not remain;
he is like the beasts that perish.
This is the path of those who have foolish confidence;
yet after them people approve of their boasts.
But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol,
for he will receive me." - Psalm 49

I feel a little defeated today as I write. Perhaps it's just a sugar hang-over from the stuff that I was shoving into my mouth last night. It is definitely not food!

At one point I was arrested by my daughter who asked me, "Did you get that Tootsie-Roll out of my bucket?" I did the smart thing and chewed with my mouth shut for a few seconds. In biding my time, her sugar-crazed mind was unable to focus on her interrogation and my indescretion. I watched in satisfaction as her heels became blur and she took off for the next house/candy-dispenser. Then I was alone with her bucket once more. It was a beautiful thing.

But what has me feeling a little defeated today is this: I'm moving from a place in a couple of weeks that I've never reconciled myself to. And it feels like escape. And last night was a confirmation of that it is in fact escape.

As we strolled the streets of our community last night, I was struck by the affluence, the posturing, the plastic cups full of alcohol everywhere and the keeping up of appearances. But most disturbing of all was my not so subtle feeling of superiority.

"I'm not like these wealthy snobs," I thought. "I'm a supported missionary for crying out loud." Where we're living right now seems to have many of the elements of the movie "The Stepford Wifes" - just the right combination of affluence, good-old boy connections and religiousity, to just make me feel like a real outsider. And since I don't like feeling like an outsider, I simply place myself on top of the heap.

This morning I was talking with my total-stranger-friend "Starbucks lady." From what I can gather she is an introverted thinker, philosopher and widow who feels deeply and has tried to make a go of it in this community. Her frustration and disgust for what I just described was thinly vieled.

I'm cringing even as I write, because many of the folks I know and love, friends and family are part of this community. And while they slot in just like I expect they think I do, they probably have much the same struggle with this place.

Basically what I'm getting at is how do you love the world when you feel rejected by it and at the same time "better" than it? Melissa, my wife turned to a group of women last night, attempting to engage them in conversation, only to literally have them turn their backs on her. You tell me, how are you supposed to love that?

So I'm discouraged, both at the beast within and at the uglyness of the culture without. I have not resolved myself to where I'm currently living. And now I'm moving in two weeks, and it feels like an escape. In many ways, I haven't lived well here, and now I'm moving.

The truth is that while this may seem like a indictment of where I live (some of you may know the place), I believe it's an indictment of both where I live and me. There's something in me, namely self-righteousness, that doesn't approach my culture with love, respect and empathy. Where's the humanity Philip? Where's the humility Philip? Where's your God-life Philip?

Melissa and I were trying to process this last night, and I said that what I believe God wants from us is to be aware of the "foolish confidence" and fakeness, but to love deeply because of our own realization that we are in hiding as well. We have the tendancy to be just as fake, the desire to be included at any cost even if it means shunning or making fun of others.

Thus my discouragement. Rather than doing the above, Melissa and I, a community of two, were attempting to make ourselves superior by pointing out the flaws of the community. We had no God-given agenda of change, just a restless feeling of rejection and lack of acceptance spurring us on to judge.

The Gospel is a deep salve to this very issue. "God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol. He will receive me." As others have reflected, what God thinks about us is the most important thing about us.

So when tempted to respond to a rejecting culture in kind, what should I do? Cling to a God who is my accepting culture. Then both God's awareness and humility will be my guide, enabling me to be a positive force in a hurting world. The same awareness and humility that enabled him to eat with sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors.

Can we be fountains of refreshment in "Stepford Wives" cultures? I believe we can. But first we need to be so rooted in the Good News that we really believe that we're sick and we're in this together with other sick human beings. Perhaps this is the attitude that had Paul considering himself the chief of sinners.

As a child of God, I will never be any "better" than anyone else. That's why I can echo with Chesterton, that the problem with the world is me.