Thursday, September 30, 2010

Training Wheels -“But I Can’t See the Road!”

The hardest thing about riding with Ty is I can’t see the road. I have no clue as to what’s ahead, when to brace for bumps, sudden braking, or that killer dragon fly that just went kamikaze. I am getting better with letting him be the one in control, but I don’t know if I will ever get over wanting a better view.

I have found that my lack of perspective can be quite maddening. We will be driving along and suddenly pass a turn I wanted to explore – or more likely a shoe store I wanted to buy out, but nope, too late we are already too far down the road. Or if I do see it and shout in his ear that I want to turn there, he sometimes drives on by anyway. It is frustrating to know that asking is my only means of getting what I want, and knowing that I am going to ask too late because I couldn’t see.

What I am learning is that often Ty sees things I miss. He sees the bit of twist metal at the foot of the drive, or the loose gravel that could have sent us skidding over the asphalt. Usually Ty will bypass those dangers in favor of keeping me safe, and to make matters worse he disregards my requests in favor my safety with no apology. Oh, I could get mad and spring from my place behind him, but I don’t see how that would be terribly beneficial.

One of the great things about Ty is that when I do yell in his ear, he usually nods and goes where I ask. He likes to make me happy, and if exploring a new road will do it he is happy to take me exploring, and he even tolerates the occasional shoe store. I am learning that if I just speak up, ask for what I want, even if we have already flown by the turn, he is okay with turning it around for me. I just have to be patient. I have had to learn to trust his judgment on when it is safe to turn and when we just need to keep moving ahead. I am learning I don’t always need an explanation from him about why he chose this way over another. And more often than not, he is pretty good at finding an alternate route to get us there – one that does not involve death or dismemberment.

It is easy to hold on to Ty while we fly down the highway. The dangers are so obvious, and my need to trust him is so clear. What I tend to forget is that my need to hold on to God is so much greater, I lose sight of the fact that the dangers are just as real, and the stakes are so much higher than just my physical well being.

Living a life of faith is like that. We yell in God’s ear what we would like to do, where we would like to go, but in the end He is the one with a clear view of the road. And it is in our best interest to accept the path he chooses for us, believe he is smart enough to get us to our destination, but for some reason, we often hurl ourselves into the middle of the highway because God didn’t do what we wanted. And then after we get run over by the chicken truck, we want to complain that God allowed us to get hurt.

I have to wonder why we are smart enough not jump off a motorcycle going 65mph but will joyously fling ourselves before all manner of spiritual dangers. Do we somehow think that God loves us less than another person? Do we think that he is less capable of caring for us than another human being? Do we really think that we are wise enough to spot the dangers before him? That we are somehow wiser and more knowledgeable than him?

Too often we forget that our view of the road ahead isn’t the only view. It isn’t even a good view. The highway of life is littered with debris, road kill, and potholes big enough to swallow us whole. Avoiding them requires that we rely on a God big enough to see them, and trusting him to move us through it with grace. And the really cool thing is that even though I can ask for what I want, God already knows and began moving us that direction before we were even aware of what was around the next bend. And He does it for the same reason Ty takes me where I like, He love me. It isn’t always easy, but sometimes we do just need to sit back, hold on enjoy the ride. We need to remember we don’t have the whole picture and sometimes what seem like random events and pointless turns are really an orchestrated plan to get us where we need to be.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Training Wheels -I Want One!!!

Ty’s been ill over the past few weeks and we haven’t been able to take the Harley out for awhile. Lately, I have been feeling the itch to take a nice long ride, but with so much to catch up on around the house and Ty having to go back to work it hasn’t fit into the schedule.

All this time without riding has got me to thinking about what it would take to get a bike of my own. I can see myself flying down the highway with the wind in my hair and bugs in my teeth. If I think hard enough I can feel the pull of a nicely banked curve calling me to come and conquer, but all my husband can hear is the screams of metal twisting and all he can see is my bloody corpse laying on the highway.

Every time I bring it up, he pats my leg and says, “You just need to stay behind me and hold on.” Sigh.

I love riding with my husband, but what I would give to actually be the one in control. I am smart enough to know that Ole Blue is way too much bike for me. (Ole Blue is a 95 Road King and weighs around 900 pounds. My feet don’t even touch the ground when I am on it.) I need something a little more my size if I am ever to ride on my own. I have it all picked out. I want in the color Merlot, and the payments wouldn’t be terrible. At this Ty smiles indulgently and shakes his head. (I bat my eyelashes and try to convince myself, and him, he is going crack.)

It is hard being a good submissive wife. Everything in me wants to stand up on my hind two legs and bark until he relents, but I know better. I know that my husband simply wants me in one piece and brain is already scrambled enough. I am able to submit to his (probably) better judgment for one reason, and one reason alone, he loves me.

In so many ways riding with Ty is like living with God. Water doesn’t part before Ty or anything like that, but my job really is just sit behind him and hold on. I am not in control of where we are going, how he is driving, or what conditions we have to endure to get there. It is a rather helpless feeling at times. And there is a knowledge that should something ever happen to Ty while we are out, I am stuck. I am not big enough, or experienced enough, to control the machine he is controlling. I just have to trust that his love for me will lead him to make good decisions.

That’s how it is living with God. We don’t get to control him. I don’t get to do what he does. I am not big enough or experienced enough to even know how to maneuver through this existence we call life – it’s all too powerful, too dangerous, and too overwhelming for a mere human to master.

However, too often I find that I want to throw a fit, get my way, have what I want, and a chance to go and do what I wanted to do without having to rely on someone else to get me there – or back. It can make you feel rather helpless, and that can be a scary feeling.

And even while I know that so much of this life is beyond my control, there is this voice in the back of my head that says I could handle something smaller. Something more my size, in the color Merlot, and the payments wouldn’t be too terrible, but God smiles indulgently, pats my leg, and shakes his head.

I find myself at the same place I find myself with Ty. I have to trust God to make good decisions, to guide me safely to my destination. I have to be okay with sitting back and holding on because he is big enough and experienced enough to handle the weight of my life around the trickiest of curves, they don’t faze him. I have to believe that He loves me enough to get me where I am going and that he isn’t going to give out somewhere along the roadside. And just like with Ty, I have to surrender control to him if I am going to enjoy the journey.

And maybe that’s why I can’t have my own Harley (just yet), I need to get a little better at letting someone else drive, someone who loves me, and who knows how to care for me better than I know how to care for myself. Maybe it is so I can learn how surrender so that I can enjoy the journey.

Friday, September 24, 2010

My Shameful Secret

I was sitting in the chapel parking lot the other day at Bacone, trying to get myself lined out for the next class. This meant that I was slurping down a caffeine packed Mountain Dew and singing loudly, probably off key and out of time to Audio Slave, when I noticed two of my students emerge from a nearby car.

At first they just glanced my way, wondering who the idiot with the blaring music was I am sure, but then you could see when the recognition hit their brains. One of them said something to the other and he spun around to confirm what was said. Yes, their Introduction to Christianity teacher was listening to (please read this in hushed and shocked tones) – heathen music.

The thoughts rolled through their heads and across their faces in rapid fire succession. Suspended in shocked disbelief, they simply stood and stared wondering if it was okay to mock the old woman who was rocking out in the privacy of her car. If I were them I don’t know that I could have resisted the temptation, but prudence prevailed and they gave a sheepish smile before disappearing to the bowels of the chapel. In class they could barely look me in the eye. I felt like I had been caught doing something scandalous, like I should have renounced all right and ability to teach such sacred subjects after indulging in such appalling behavior.

The thing was I wasn’t feeling my shame, I was feeling theirs. I have never hidden the fact that I like music of all sorts. It was just as likely that they would have caught me listening to George Strait, Gordon Lightfoot, Mozart, Shabbat Alive, or Air Supply (okay, I might suffer some humiliation over that one). What you probably aren’t going to catch me listening to is southern gospel, pop Christian music, or one of those teenage singers wailing about how a lost love has destroyed their life. (I find it a little hard to take when someone who can’t even drive is contemplating a life time of misery because the love of their life won’t share their Snacky packs at recess.)

I don’t think it was my choice in music that upset them so much. I think it was what it represented to them. Music is such a part of how we come to understand our emotions. It helps us articulate those feelings that demand to be put into words but seem to defy description. It can be soft and gentle soothing the hurt secret places of our hearts. It can make a good day better by allowing us to announce our joy. Or sometimes it is raw and visceral, giving voice to anger and angst – that was the sound I was going for that day.

And we all know that “holy” people, like preachers, Bible teachers, and the pope, never experienced an emotion that would call for an outlet like an Audio Slave song. I was threatening to destroy their whole paradigm of Christian existence, and it made them uncomfortable.
It got me to thinking about how we view people who are suppose to be some sort of spiritual leadership, and then it got me to thinking about how we view humanity and spirituality. And how we have somehow separated the two. There is almost no room in our understanding of faith for people to be human, to experience pain and loss without the placid acceptance of ancient martyrs. Passion is reserved for the next church crusade, or stomped out all together.

It is as if we have somehow come to this tacit understanding that once you become a Christian deny all aspects of your humanity. Emotion becomes taboo unless it is disdain for those who indulge in emotion, and passion is for those of weaker constitutions. But I have to ask how does this affect the way we look at God? At Jesus?

If we are His representatives here on earth, then are we showing the world a God who is as apathetic as we are? Are we sending the message that we have to put off all the things that make us human? That make us live with a purpose and passion?

Emotions aren’t bad. When I read through my Bible I find a God who is extremely emotional, and dare I say passionate? I see a God who sees our humanity, not a sinful, but as something that He chose first create, and then to take on in the person of Christ.

Maybe it is time that we who occupy a leadership position stop worrying about who hears our music from our cars. Perhaps it is time that we reaffirmed that people and all their messy emotions are part of that image of God that we were created in, and start showing that this life of faith is one that requires all of our emotions be faced honestly and expressed constructively if it is to be effective.

And maybe, just maybe, if we can make some room for our emotions, stopped living like we were above them, others could find a God who knows how they feel and values their emotions. Maybe if we stopped presenting our lives as an emotionally sterile zone they could understand that there is a place for them to honestly express their hearts and come to know the one whose heart is filled with a passion for them.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Worship - Going to the Next Level?

By the nature of what Pagus is and the people who comprise Pagus, we tend to have some of the same conversations over and over again. Now this is not a complaint, they are topics that we love and are passionate about and the conversations are the consequence of that passion.

It seems like the question we hear most often is how do we take worship to the next level.
This question has always puzzled me. Think about it for a moment. What are we asking when we say that?

Isn’t God enthroned on the worship of his people? How much higher do you want it to go?

What most people are really asking is how do we make the performance better?
I think it is a legitimate question. We should always be giving God our best, but how are defining better?

Is that everyone sing on key, and come in at the right times? Is that the congregation is moved to tears with each song? Is that the atmosphere and mood are conducive to the proper spiritual vibe?

Those are easy things to address – practice, practice, practice. It really is that simple. It is how all great performances are made. From operas to movies, from bar bands to classical concerts, all hinge on the amount and intensity of the time they put into practice. But it is not the answer church people want to hear.

So that leads me to believe that we are not asking the right question.

In order to find the right question we need to think about what we are doing in worship, what makes a worship song more than just another piece of music, and what are we trying to express both for ourselves and to those we lead in worship.

Worship is a performance simply because it is performed, but our goal of worship should never be to simply perform. How contradictory is that?

Worship at its most fundamental level is a response to God. When you read through your Bible there are some really great songs sang pivotal moments where God has revealed his love and provision to his people. When you read them you can still feel the reverberations of their awe and wonder if you sit still enough. Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel, Miriam’s in the book of Exodus, Mary’s and Elizabeth’s in Luke.

There is an instinctive understanding that none of these songs were carefully executed planned performances. They were the overflow of a heart that had been overwhelmed, words that can still overwhelm us today if we let them.

This is not to say there isn’t place for music that has been written, practiced, and perfected in its execution. Obviously, the Psalms are an example of this type of music, but even they were born out of contemplation of God’s power and protection – and awareness of His overwhelming nature, but how many of us can say that we have been overwhelmed by God lately?

Allow me to be a name dropper for moment, my friend Dennis Jernigan is a great modern example of what happens when we allow ourselves to truly experience what God is doing in his life. His songs are filled with an honest, gut level response to a God who has overwhelmed him with His love, grace, and redemption. It is why I can worship with Dennis and feel God’s presence – Dennis felt it first, and then he shared it with me.

This is the key to all great worship. As a leader, you have to feel it first or you have nothing to share, nothing to give away. Inspiration begets inspiration, and until you have been inspired you cannot inspire anyone else. When inspiration washes over you, through you, it falls like rain on those you lead and they have the chance to be overwhelmed by this amazing God.

So how do we take worship to the next level? Get inspired. Get to know the source of all inspiration. Study this God you serve. Seek Him out both in His word and by remembering those moments when you knew His redemptive love, grace, and power. Forget the performance for awhile, and just remember Him because once you have experienced Him worship is unavoidable.

Training Wheels - Ideas versus Reality

I think each and every one of us a great idea. An idea that we have nurtured for so long that it may become even grander and greater than the actual event, an idea that has become mythic in the absence of reality.

For me that was a Harley. I don’t know when the idea took root, but as long as I can remember that low rumbling sound could stop me dead in my tracks causing me to scan the horizon for a better look. Every time one rolled by I felt that pain of longing for my own. Now, you would probably have to have been curled up under a rock not to know that a Harley is more than just a way to get around. There is certain aura and mystique about the bike. To most people it means so much more than just steel and leather, it is a statement.

It is a statement of freedom and independence that few people can mistake. Just straddling that machine is a declaration that you choose to be who and what you are with no apologies. The rumbling sound announces that you have chosen this life and live it on your terms. Owning one proclaims that there is an adventure you are willing to chase. Freedom, independence, and adventure, something we all crave deep within us. Or at least that is how I saw it.

For me the idea was escape, complete and total escape. It was the wind in my face, the world rushing by, and feeling of leaving it all behind. It was what I wanted, to be able to run from all the things that threatened me, to immerse myself in sight, sounds, colors, and smells of new places. I wanted to leave behind the cares and responsibilities that filled my life, leave my fears behind, and find that new horizon one free of past cares and worries. It was a great idea.

The thing is it was just that. It was an idea, not reality.

The reality is riding with Ty is hot, and jarring, rough on my back side, and often leaves me sore and tired. The reality is that you get to smell every rotting animal carcass on the road way, and bugs splatter on your face with amazing force at 65 miles an hour. The reality is rain is not your friend and is highly unpredictable here in Oklahoma, semis pepper you with road debris, and the wind tangles your hair until a comb won’t go through it. It is riding with the knowledge that one stupid driver could end it all, forever.

But lest you lose heart-

The reality is also the pleasure of the wind on your skin, the warmth of the road, and the cool of the distant rain. It is the scent of the honeysuckle vines, and hawk that soars along side of you. It is the moon shining through the clouds, the brilliant sunsets, and the thrill of a curve well taken.

The reality is more than the idea. More beautiful and satisfying, more difficult and dangerous. It is everything I hoped it would be and the experience is too great to be captured in words. The idea was born naiveté, reality is discovered only in experience.

So many of us approach God the same way. We have this idea of who he should be, what he should do for us, and we like our idea. It is one free of worry and doubt, there is nothing to fear and everything that is pleasant. We search after him in hopes of finding our idea, but lose heart when we discover reality. God isn’t safe, following him isn’t without risk or unpleasantries. Often following him means that the danger or discomfort we avoided for so long must be faced.

So we think, “This can’t be God,” and we go in search of something or someone who fits our idea. Something that does not demand so much of us, something that would never allow us to be uncomfortable or upset. Or we try to tweak reality to make something more like we hoped it would be. Something more like a SUV or mini-van. Sure it might get you to your destination, but how much did you miss along the way?

But we like our air conditioning, the radio, and fully adjustable seats, and that’s what we want our relationship with God to be like. We want it to be safe, easy, and mostly we want him to be comfortable. So we are content to keep our relationship at this level, one that means we may know him, we might even be going where he is leading, but how committed are we if we stop there?

Do we trust him enough to take us out of airbag protected environments? Do we believe that he will protect us when we step outside of our steel cages and experience a different type of freedom with him? Can we experience that type of intimacy or are we content to be safe?

I am not saying that knowing God means you have to ride a Harley. But maybe, we need to consider that really knowing God means taking a risk, doing something scary, and trusting him to show us the beauty in the reality, because it is far greater than any idea we may have of him.

Training Wheels

As a lot of you already know, I recently got married, and one of my favorite things about my new husband is his Harley. I had always wanted one – a Harley and a husband, not for sure in which order, but I never had the chance – the Harley, not the husband. And now, God with his quirky sense of humor sent me a two in one deal. You have got to love a God like that!

Over the past few months I have been discovering a lot about my faith, my God, my husband, and what it means to be a wife. Many times these lessons happen while Ty and I are out on a ride. So I thought I would share some of the things that I have been learning. Feel free to laugh at the newbie as I learn to ride and live this amazing adventure - Ty does, I do, and I am sure God is amused too.

Here’s a preview of what’s to come-

Ideas versus Reality

“But I Can’t See the Road!”

Things that go Splat

“I Want One.”

Nothing says love like leather

“NO sequins on the Harley.”

Why curling irons DO fit in saddle bags

Comparing Scars

Time to Customize

Lean with Me