Friday, November 26, 2010

Ride The Lion 1: Grasping the Mane

Chapter 1: Grasping the Mane
(For those of you who did not read my previous blog.  This is the first chapter of my book.  I'm sharing this chapter to get your feedback as I work on the book.)

I think it started with a song.  Great movements are often sparked by artistic inspiration.  For me, it was “The Sheep and the Goats” by Keith Green.  If you’ve never heard that song, get it.  It is essentially a recitation of Matthew 25 when Jesus talks about the Day of Judgment when He will separate his people (the sheep) from His enemies (the goats).  I listened to Keith pour out the words as though it were bitter medicine.  It had to be taken, but it didn’t taste good.  “The Sheep” in Matthew 25 are not pastors or worship leaders or pious, closet Christians, untangled from the affairs of the world.  The sheep are those who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick and imprisoned, and welcomed the homeless.  The sheep were people who loved people. 

I first heard this song as a student at a fundamentalist Christian college, where social reform took a back seat to Republican activism.  At this point, all it did was get me thinking.  What does a sheep look like? 

It didn’t really matter at that point.  My life was tied to the campus.  I ate there, slept there, learned there, and played there.  I could go weeks without stepping more than 100 yards from the front gate.  Curfew was midnight and I had a lot to do.  Things would have to remain status quo for a while. 

They did.  For 3 years, I did the usual.  I went to class, ate in the cafeteria, enjoyed good times with friends, and studied theology.  I was soaking up theology like a fresh sponge.  I was learning amazing things about the beauty and perfection of Scripture.  Theological truth about salvation and the second coming of Christ were inspiring to me.  The perfect harmony of Scripture energized me.  The more I learned, the more beautiful it became to me.  I was in awe of the Word of God.  But I was the same. 

Truth does not sit still.  It pursues us.  It chases us down like a lion and doesn’t let us go.  Matthew 25 wouldn’t leave me alone.  It would come up and I would push it away.  Thinking I had managed to forget it, I would move on with my life.  But, not for long.  Sooner or later, the lion crept up on me again.  I could run, but it was faster than me.  I could hide, but it would sniff me out.  I had a choice: I could fight the lion and die or grab it by the main and ride it for all its worth. 

I still remember the day I chose to ride.  I had signed on for my second year as an RA.  You might remember having RAs at your college.  Unless you went to a fundamentalist college, you have no idea what I’m talking about.  RAs at state schools function a lot like older siblings.  They’re a pain to deal with, but they aren’t that much different than you and they really just want to look out for you.  RAs at a fundamentalist college tend to operate a little bit more like the Gestapo or the SS.  They sign allegiance to the schools code of conduct and enforce it to the letter.  When all else fails, the code of conduct gives the final say. 
I remember getting caught up in the fury of it all.  I really believed I was doing something good.  After all, people who broke the rules were sinning, and sinners needed to be punished so that they could change.  Right? 

Part of the code of conduct involved a dress code.  My Freshen year, this had involved a tie and dress shoes.  By this time, it had degenerated into a polo and khakis kind of code, a degeneration some called “a slippery slope to Sodom.”  (How the elimination of ties in the dress code could ever lead to mass homosexuality was beyond me.)  While this code was less dressy, it was by no means less strict.  The administration sent down a summons to the RAs.  Things were getting bad, real bad.  People were in sin.  Shirts were un-tucked and tennis shoes were being worn.  “Calling all Gestapo!”   Mind you, I was caught up in all this.  I really believed (with some good reason) that these people were in sin and that it was my job to judge them.  We started organizing RA “blitzes,” which involved whole teams of RAs standing in the middle of the main class building and writing reprimands to anyone who walked by in tennis shoes.  It is interesting that we actually used the word “blitz” (a term used to describe Third Reich war strategy) to describe what we did.  We might as well have been speaking in German accents and asking, “Are your papers in order?” 

Something happened during that time that changed me.  I realized that the best ministry I had on my dorm involved walking from room to room helping guys out.  A lot of the guys on my dorm were freshmen who were having trouble adjusting of the rules.  Some of them didn’t even realize they were breaking rules.  We had guys with social and emotional problems, guys who needed help.  The guys on my dorm respected me, because they knew I cared.  They knew me.  I had met needs.  I had even gone easy on them when it came to room cleanliness when things had been stressful for them. 

The guys I wrote up out of the blue during “blitz” did not respect me.  They hated me.  I was the SS to them.  I didn’t care about them.  I didn’t know them.  All I was doing was interrupting their already stressful day as they tried to make it to class on time. 

Some truths hit you like a butterfly landing on your shoulder to remind you that you need to change something.  Other truths pounce on you like a 500 pound lion biting off that evil part of you that you thought was good.  This truth was a lion, and I was on my back feeling its teeth pierce the evil part of my chest.  His teeth struck my pride and my blindness to human suffering.  This was the day I mounted the lion. 

Bloody and limp, I grabbed his main as he swallowed my pride.  This was change and it hurt, but it was a bloody, beautiful mess. 

Ironically, it was around this time that my supervisors in the RA program (who really were caring people that wanted the best for us and the students) started focusing their training on servant leadership.  The same people who were telling me to interrogate unsuspecting freshmen for letting their hair touch their ears, were the same people who were telling me that Jesus Christ made the most significant impact on people when He served them.  We talked about how He washed the disciple’s feet, and how he met people’s physical needs for food and health. 

One day, after a meeting, the administration asked for some RA volunteers to help pick up some chairs.  I could have, but I wanted to see my girlfriend (who was also an RA), so I bailed out.  This servant leader wasn’t going to sign up for chair moving when he hadn’t spend time with his girl in 3 days. 

A few days later, at another meeting, our RD (the guy who led our RA group) mentioned how disappointed he was that no one was willing to serve when asked to move some chairs.  The lion was roaring, reminding me that I wasn’t out of the woods yet.  He and I had places to go.  Things to do.  You don’t ride wherever you want to go.  He’s the one who decides where you are going and what’s going to happen when you get there. 

I stood up and confessed that I was a selfish man.  Right there in the meeting I confessed my sin of selfishness and committed that my dorm and I were going to ride the lion.  We were going to serve people.  We decided to start serving food at the homeless shelter in town.  I wasn’t ready for where the lion was taking me. 

All I knew is that my old faith, the one that kept to itself, that believed everything Jesus taught but focused on the easy parts, that faith was being reformed into something new and exciting.  I was riding the lion of truth and it was moving faster than I ever thought it could, taking me some place that was both exciting and frightening.  I was being reformed. 

The first time we visited the homeless shelter was very uncomfortable.  There were about 10 of us, 5 girls and 5 guys.  I remember driving into the city that day trying to find the place and wishing I could be doing anything else.  Benevolent servanthood sounds good when you are standing around a campfire talking about obeying God.  It seems like a really stupid idea when your lost in the middle of the bad part of town looking for a place you hope you can’t find. 

We did find it.  All of us walked in and took a look at the building.  It was a heap of depression.  The building was obviously donated by someone who could think of no better use for such an ugly place.  The halls looked like a jigsaw puzzle gone bad.  Nothing made sense.  Nothing matched.  It all just looked so sad.  It was hopelessly plain. 

Some of us started cooking.  I posted myself next to the sink to wash dishes.  Somehow that felt safe.  I wasn’t actively thinking this through, but secretly I was glad to be in the kitchen where I wouldn’t have to make direct contact with the needy people who came in from the cold for food. 

When you don’t want to do dishes, they are a repulsive, time-consuming bore.  When you want to do dishes, they are a vapor, lasting only a blink.  This dish job was a blink.  Now, these people who for whatever reason had followed me to this place to serve the needy were looking to me to do my part.  It was time to lead the devotion.  Uhg! 

I dried my hands and picked up the Bible I had brought with me.  The kitchen seemed safe now.  I didn’t want to leave.  The kitchen was where the leaders met.  The kitchen was what separated me from the homeless.  I was serving them from a distance.  Six inches of cinder block was the barrier that was keeping me away.  I was better than them, because I was helping them.  Sitting down at the table with them meant I was one of them, and I didn’t like that. 

Nevertheless, I was riding the lion.  When you are riding on the truth, you let it decide what you do, and it was telling me to sit down at the table and open the Word of God.  So I did.

The TV was on in the adjacent room, and some of our customers had chosen to sit on the couch and enjoy some entertainment.  For some reason I remember seeing a commercial for “The Best of Rod Stewart” on while I was walking to the table.  I guess I remember, because I had just gotten hat CD and loved it.  I still do!  You can’t beat the smoky voice of a good Scotsman singing rock and roll.  When you don’t want to communicate with someone, television is an easy distraction.

I managed to make it to the table, which by the way was only about 10 feet from the kitchen.  As I looked around, I was surprised at who I saw.  One of the guys there worked at our school cafeteria.  Cab Calloway was his name.  He was an elderly man who served the ice cream and had a tremendous voice.  He used to sing every year at the cafeteria’s annual holiday dinner.  He pretended like he was there to help out.  He wasn’t.  He was hungry and had done nothing but eat since he got there.  This guy was a beloved face on our campus and no one knew what his life looked like away from serving us ice cream.  I was ashamed to think that I’d known this man as my servant, but had never thought to asked him where his home was or if he had one at all. 

Another guy there had been a bouncer (so he said) at a bar my band had played 2 years ago.  He was probably homeless then too.  I remembered him.  He wasn’t so beloved as Cab, but I still felt sorry for him. 

I can’t for the life of me remember what I did the devotion on.  I seriously don’t remember anything other than the people there.  I hope I didn’t screw anything up.  All I know is that the devotion very quickly became an open forum to share hurts.  One of the guys there was a father.  He loved his family, but had made some bad decisions and was on the street.  People were depending on him, but he wasn’t coming through.  He was ashamed.  I wanted to weep for him.  He had years of pride and brokenness in his way, stopping him from getting the help he needed to change his life.  This is not a judgment.  It’s what he told me.  I don’t remember his name.  His face and the clothes he wore may never leave my memory. 

Another man there wouldn’t shut up.  He rambled about this and that.  He tried to hit on the girls with us.  He even took over the devotion for a while, trying to minister to us.  “I just like to come here to help out now and then,” he said.  He was there for the food.  Taking over the devotion was just an opportune time to mask his need and look like he had it together.  I’m pretty sure he was there every time we came to help out.  Eating was his first priority every time.  He had a need, but he didn’t want us to know.  He wanted to be one of us.  In reality, we should have wanted to be one of them. 

After the devotion we finished cleaning up the place and started back to campus.  We stopped by Wendy’s to discuss the experience and talk about when we were going to do it again.  Honesty, I felt a little crappy for eating Wendy’s.  I wondered if we should have eaten at the shelter.  I guess we were too busy serving to eat.  I guess that’s ok. 

Our little band of social reformers sat around eating dollar menu chicken nuggets and fries with a feeling of exhausted contentment.  We were drained, but it felt good.  We had done something good that night.  That night, we were sheep.  It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  We agreed to go every other week to help out.  That’s a pretty meager volunteer effort, I know, but it was something, and something is better than nothing. 

Pretty soon, another team formed.  They were going on our off weeks.  I was proud of the men on my dorm and the ladies who had served with us that night.  We rode the lion hard.  We were sheep.  That night, both were at peace and resting on dorms 5-2 and 28-3. 

I learned 3 very important things through that experience.  First, God’s truth reforms people.  His truth is like a lion that coaxes, moves, and dare I say, mutilates people into something worth while.  Truth reforms.  Second, reformation is not something that happens on a broad scale (at least not at first).  It’s not something that you hear about happening in some other country or in some other time.  Well, it is that, but it doesn’t start with that.  Reformation is something that happens to me.  When I allow my life to be formed by the truth of God, when I am radically surrendered to Him, when I actively conform to His truth, I am reformed.  Third, I learned that reformation inspires others to reformation.  People were willing to follow me, because I was riding the lion.  The lion is a fast and scary ride but it is exciting, and excitement about the truth draws people to reform. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


I have come to an uncomfortable realization.  It is more of a facing of facts, really.  I now know that books, the ones made of paper are quickly fading away.  More than that, publication and industry promotion of creative works of any kind are becoming less of a reality for writers and artists.

This bothers me just a little.  However, it also creates a wonderful opportunity.  For the last 5 years or so, I have written chapters for a book.  I didn't feel like the whole book was in me, but I kept writing a piece at a time.  As time goes on, I fear that the book will be less potent for me.  I may lose interest and stop writing, maybe even forget about it.  I don't want that to happen.  I'm also not sure that a publishing company is going to knock down my door this year for me to write on the topic of my book.  So, I have decided to post the first chapter of my book.  Read it and give me your feedback.

Here is what I would really like to know: Should I post this book in my blog or hold out try to finish it over an indefinite time frame that may or may not lead to publication?

Look for the post on Black Friday.

Monday, November 22, 2010

David Crowder Band - SMS [Shine]

I am most thankful for the abounding love God has put in my life.  Somehow, even grief plays a role in establishing the enduring vibrancy of God's love.  This video and song by David Crowder Band speaks that truth.  I have never been so moved by a Light Bright.

Rather than merely asking what you are thankful for, I'd like to know what you never thought you would thank God for but now can't imagine your life without.  What are you surprised to be thankful for?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Christmas Music and the Intersection of the Divine

The Christmas music has already started, and with all respect to the Christmas curmudgeons who scorn pre-Thanksgiving carols I love it!  Who made up that rule?  Why should we wait and then be limited to such a small window to getting into the Spirit of Christmas? Today, I thought I'd share a little about the nature of Christmas music as it relates to the Incarnation of Christ.  

In the insert to Sufjan Stevens' "Songs for Christmas" collection, he points out that there is something different about Christmas music.  Christmas music seems to reflect the Incarnation it celebrates.  Just as the birth of Christ is an intersection of divine and human, so its music seems to touch a special place in the human soul.  We react differently to Christmas music than to anything else.  I can't really explain it.  I liken it to what C.S. Lewis calls "Joy," an intense desire that nothing in this world can fulfill and is itself greater than any pleasure in this world.  Christmas music makes my heart long for eternity in a way that nothing else does.  

If you aren't familiar with Sufjan Stevens, you really should get acquainted with his music.  It is different, but beautiful in a profound way.  If you want to start getting into the Christmas spirit early, pick up this Christmas collection.  

Speaking of Incarnation, now is a good time to dig in and study the nature of God descending to earth to reveal Himself to us.  Think about reading John 1:1-14.  Or, if you really want to geek out, you can download and read my thesis: Incarnation and the Nature of Miracle.  This is a shameless plug, but it may be of interest if you have ever wondered what it means that God became flesh.