Friday, July 25, 2008

german coastguard

My first big screen debut!

They are making a movie about me and my time at SAP. Check out the trailer:



Ze end is right.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

don miller and love's torture

I’m reading Don Miller’s Searching for God Knows What a second time. I’m reading it with a group of friends we call our book club. Everyone who knows me knows I love Don Miller’s writing. This book is no exception. I love this book.

But I have just come across a paragraph that’s really got me thinking, and I’m thinking that Don’s got it backward. I bet if I sat down with Don and told him what I was thinking he would listen. And I bet he wouldn’t discount me because I’m not a published writer like him. He might even rethink what he wrote. At least I think he would enjoy the discussion.

I just finished reading about Adam, Eve, and the Alien, and then about the Lifeboat. Now he’s talking about Jesus, and the subtitle is, Who needs a lifeboat? He’s talking about how Jesus must have really liked people, and I think that’s true. Then he talks about how Jesus never wrote a manifesto or a mission statement or anything for that matter, but instead put all his eggs in his followers’ baskets. And that’s really, really amazing when you think about it because it’s a precarious way to start a religion, and would Jesus even be taken serious in today’s world if he wasn’t published? And then Don talks about the impact Jesus had on people, how they went and lived amazing lives full of passion and dedication to the point of death for him. I don’t know who could argue with that observation, even if they’re not a Christian. And then he comes to this paragraph, the paragraph I can’t accept:

People don’t go out and get tortured and arrested for somebody who doesn’t love them. If somebody loves us we will do all kinds of things in their name, for them, because of them. They will make us who we are.

But I don’t think that’s true. It’s backwards actually. The truth is that people go out and get tortured all the time for somebody who doesn’t love them. Unrequited love is almost a proverb. I personally know of several instances where someone loves someone so much it hurts, but the object of their affection is not moved at all, and sometimes is even freaked out by their love. The truth is that some people cannot accept love, and some people can accept love, but cannot accept love from certain people. I think some of the time it’s because people cannot recognize love. It was certainly true in Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth was repulsed at the very name of Mr. Darcy throughout the story. But in the end she discovered his love, and in the end she discovered her own love as well. If you see one of the movies or read the book you’ll know what I mean. It’s really quite moving. I can see why so many women like it.

People do get themselves tortured for somebody who doesn’t love them.

But that’s only half of how I think what Don wrote is backwards. The other half is that if somebody loves us we will do all kinds of things in their name, for them, because of them. That’s not really true, either. The truth is not that if we feel loved we will die for someone else. The truth is that if we love someone else we will die for them. We will do all kinds of things in their name, for them, because of them. We will lose sleep. We will write their name a million times on the cover of our geometry text book. We will spend hundreds of dollars a month on long distance phone calls. We will waste a small fortune on gasoline on trips to see them, or even just to drive by their house in hopes that we might see them when they go out to check their mail. If something goes wrong we will spend weeks going through correspondence and retracing our steps to create a timeline of events that led up to the catastrophe to figure out what went wrong when. We will pluck daisies. The truth is not that if someone loves us we will go the distance. The truth is that if we love someone we will go the distance. No price is too great when we are in love.

If we love someone we’re liable to do anything.

And this was the real secret of the Christ movement, in my way of thinking. It’s not that he loved his disciples so much that they turned the world upside down. It’s that they loved him so much that they turned the world upside down. Somehow that ancient romantic, irrational, desperate current swept them off their feet into something much bigger than could be written or explained or campaigned. They didn’t enlist in a school of discipleship. They fell in love.

So after disagreeing with Don in both directions, I want to savor his last sentence. They will make us who we are. The problem with falling in love with someone is that they will make us who we are. It quite cancels the life our guidance counselor helped us to identify and make plans for. It makes us who we are because it defines the object of our attention. It dictates where our time is spent. Without any discipline or planning at all it propels us to “have done with lesser things”. It makes us who we are by reorienting our priorities around the one who matters, the one we can’t let fall, can’t let go of. And ultimately, that makes us who we are.

To me this makes a lot of sense when I read what some of those disciples wrote. It does make me look at their letters differently, though. When I think about what they did and with what fervor they did it, I can only explain it as them being in love with someone. What they did goes beyond reason, certainly beyond what reasonable people would do. They turned the world upside down, and they did it because they were in love with someone, someone that it was only fitting for them to call Lord, someone who had captivated them. So then their letters have become to me more their defense of themselves, their explanation of their own actions, their own fervor. John called himself, “the one whom Jesus loved” in the hope that he would be excused for his radical behavior, his radical love of the dear woman and her children and all the others for whom he was tortured or exiled. And Paul wrote, “That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed…” Paul actually wrote more than a few times the phrase, “I am not ashamed”. Peter defended his love by saying, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories… we were with him on the sacred mountain.” The thing is, it’s not what these guys wrote that was so powerful. It was their lives. The New Testament is this eclectic collection of theology, plus personal items that frankly belong in a journal, greetings, personal appeals, apologies, poetry, lyrics, and other stuff. The real power was in the writers’ lives. It was each of their lives that said loud and clear, “Love. It’s the only way.” It said it better than any song or poem or epistle ever could. Christ had captivated them. They had fallen in love with Him. They went on to live fanatically—not fanatically as crusaders trying to subject the rest of the world to their new religious order, but fanatically as a lover can’t help but pursue his beloved and everything his beloved loves. It was in that process, whether intentional or not, that they turned the world upside down. The writing was mainly to answer questions about all that energy being kicked off by their fanatical love and the effect it was having on the world. I know maybe it sounds weird for a bunch of men to fall in love with another man, but it happens. Especially when said man loved them so purely and so deeply from the start.

Finally, I saw again the other day the words that I think are so stupid. I was driving by the big Baptist church in Fort Worth on I30, and I saw on their marquee, “We love God because he first loved us.” It’s a misquote from 1 John 4:19. It’s a terrible misquote, because you can’t even make the case that you’re inserting God in there for clarity. Inserting God there actually changes the meaning. It’s quite simply, “We love because he first loved us.” You can look it up in your favorite Bible version. It’s what it says.

And this ties in nicely with what Don wrote, because it is true that we are able to love others because God lavished us with his love. There is something so comforting about being loved. There is something that provides so much security and warmth in knowing that you are loved. It’s not that we would die for someone if they loved us. What we would die for is the one we love. We would extinguish all that is our life for the object of our love. It’s not that we would die for someone once they loved us. It’s that we are able to love others once someone really loved us. It’s quite liberating to be loved, when you can accept it, that is. Once Elizabeth could accept that Mr. Darcy had done everything for her, she could then quit focusing on herself and all her complaints and just love everyone else from her heart. It was quite time consuming for her until then.

Somehow Christ, like Darcy, was able to captivate his beloved. Somehow he was able to do more than extend his love to her and earn her gratitude. Somehow he was able to turn her heart to love him back. And that is where all this came from.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

God is in my backpack

I went backpacking this morning—just on the forest trail close to my home. It was the first time I’ve been in a long time. I remember the first time I read the words—What I do is me: for that I came—how easily I swallowed them. I knew them to be declaring something deep and true and powerful. The way I knew is because I had been backpacking. Or maybe I should say because backpacking had been me.

I was born for backpacking. I have tried jogging several times. I jog a little while and then I walk or stop. Then, after just a few days my knees get sore and I can’t keep it up. I’ve biked, both street and mountain. I enjoy it. But I can live without it. I’ve lifted weights, but we won’t go there. When I backpack I am alive. The more I do it the more I want to do it. I can feel life rushing into and out of my heart with each rushing breath.

I used to pack every night, just around my block and the neighboring streets and parks. I thought about quitting my job, moving my family out to Colorado, and starting a ministry or business venture to take people out into the wilderness for a real journey—spiritual, physical, emotional. It was going to be great. I had bills, though.

At the height of my fitness back in the late 90’s, I would work out with my pack late at night, sometimes even after midnight, when it cooled down below 100 in the Texas summer. I started with about 40 lbs, a good target for a week long trek in the mountains. But as I got stronger I upped it to 50, 60, 70, even 80 lbs. I had an Iron Man watch with a lap timer on it. In those days I could power walk about 7 minutes for a half mile, which was the distance around my block. With a 70 lb pack, it took me about the same. I used to go 6 laps, 3 miles, and time myself around each. The first lap would usually be about 7:15, a little slow as the circulation got cranked up and my muscles and joints limbered and lubed up. The second lap I’d get around 7:00. The third was 6:50. 6:45 for the 4th, 6:37 for the 5th, and sometimes I’d even get faster on the 6th as well. But usually the 5th was the best. Like I said, I was born for this. I was packing as fast I was walking. A lot of that had to do with technique. When I first started I was bouncing up and down, the pack squeaking and clanging the rhythm of my walk. But after I got good I was so smooth, like a duck on the water, smooth and easy on the surface, paddling like heck underneath. I think the reason my 6th lap was slower had less to do with me physical exhaustion and more to do with my ability to keep my focus up for that long.

I got so focused on this that I started timing my half-laps—quarter miles. The first half of my lap to the opposite corner of my block was down hill; the second was up. And it never failed that I was faster uphill then down. Never. It must have something to do with my posture and the distribution of weight. Whatever it is, it definitely points to a certain kind of skill, a kind of skill you only get by doing. But whatever skills and techniques I developed, I could never shake the feeling that I was born for this, that I was home somehow when I backpacked.

It was during this time that I used to nurture my dream of introducing backpacking as an Olympic sport. I figured you could have different classes of competition based on how much weight the trekker would carry. You could have a 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, and 90 lb competition. But since it’s the Olympics it would have to be in kg. The race would be cross-country, full of hills and valleys and tricky passes. A new cottage industry would be spawned to outfit competitors and all the kids who idolized this new class of athletes. And in my dream, I would actually compete, even in my thirties. Yeah, it was a good dream.

My love for backpacking began with my very first trek, on an amazing trip to Philmont Scout Ranch when I was 12 years old.

I will never forget Ranger Rick going through our packs during our briefing beneath the big evergreens, laying their shadows towards the mess hall, as he rifled through our packs tossing stuff over his shoulder saying, “You don’t need this…get rid of that…this is worthless…this’ll slow you down…I thought we told you to leave this at home…” It’s quite funny the things we think we need, the things we are convinced we can’t live without, even when those who have been there and back again are telling us we can survive just fine without them, telling us that in fact we will be better off without them. The funniest thing was that we had met probably 6 or 8 times before we left to pare down our packs, to read and re-read the list of stuff that we should take, and the stuff we should leave, and to downsize. We had all made some hard choices, and all felt so brave to enter the wild with so little. And there he was making fun of us for trying to urbanize the outback.

But that’s not my memory of the trip. I have a memory more vivid. It was morning, and we had just packed camp and found our trail head. I turned to take off and got waylaid. My Scoutmaster started yelling at me because I was always leading off, always blazing off and leaving everyone else in the dust, always setting a pace, and not letting some of these other boys go first. I think he probably had made several comments earlier, more subtle, expecting me to take a hint. I can remember talking back to him, and I can remember him really losing it. I was almost afraid. And then, an amazing thing happened. My dad stepped between me and him. The next thing I knew my dad and the other dad were telling all of us boys to go on ahead, and they’d catch up. We walked down a ways, but then we stopped, knowing we were getting too far ahead because we could hardly hear the yelling any more. My memory is my dad, chest to chest, with another man for me. Even though I couldn’t see it, and to this day don’t know what was said, I knew something powerful had just happened.

It was one of the best days of my life.

Nothing was said after that. I noticed a few wet eyes as the men caught up with us. But nothing was ever said. I do, however, remember being more considerate after that. I remember offering to let the other boys lead. I remember sometimes they would do it, but sometimes they wanted to get behind me. And I remember feeling small, humble, and to a certain extent noble.

I packed today. And I’ll pack tomorrow. I intend to lose some weight and feel better as I work out some of these toxins and some of this laziness. I’m glad to have packing back in my lifely routine, and I expect this thing that found me at an early age will carry me for the rest of my life. In truth I expect to pick up speed as I go. After all, my home is on top of a hill.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

make it go away

I just reread this from Journey of Desire.

Should the king in exile pretend he is happy there? Should he not seek his own country? His miseries are his ally; they urge him on. And so let them grow, if need be. But do not forsake the secret of life; do not despise those kingly desires. We abandon the most important journey of our lives when we abandon desire. We leave our hearts by the side of the road and head off in the direction of fitting in, getting by, being productive, what have you. Whatever we might gain— money, position, the approval of others, or just absence of the discontent itself—it’s not worth it. “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matt. 16:26).

(John Eldredge, Journey of Desire)

But it's soooooo hard sometimes. I think I've been seeking the absence of discontent lately. This is where you run when you believe it doesn't really matter anyway. It's so hard to believe that my miseries are my allies. Hence, they don't urge me on. How can they urge me on when I'm busy telling them they don't exist? That doesn't work so well, though. It's kind of weird when you have a conversation with someone who isn't there. It's not the conversation that is weird. What's weird is when you realize you're having a conversation with someone who is supposed to not exist. For this aid is required. Strong medicine.

Maybe that's why the Bible says to get miserable people enough beer and wine until they forget (Proverbs 31).

I don't think God disparages people if they drink to dodge their misery.

But Eldredge asks if it is fitting for a king to forget his miseries. Aren't kings made of nobler stuff? Aren't kings forged of stuff to rise above the woes common to man, to push through, and to overcome?

I was thinking about Jesus, when they offered him wine with myrrh (spiced wine) to ease his suffering, and he refused it. All the gospels record that. But they also record that just as he was about to die, they gave him wine with vinegar (bitter wine). All the gospels record that, too, and John (the only gospel writer who was actually THERE) made it very clear that Jesus drank it.

I've always thought that the second wine was the "it's over" one. The first one was the "this can be easier" one.

And I think that's about right for kings. The peasant path is one of survival, of squirming to avoid the bitterness of reality with a little spice (when it can be found) to lighten the load. But the noble path is to face the harsh reality of misery, grief, and loss, and to be emboldened to endure the pain of it all to push through to greater joy. The noble path is focused on more than just the self and more than just the moment. "Bringing many sons to glory" can be a bitter path, and really, there's nothing for it. Except. At some point you have to swallow the bitter truth that it's over. It is finished. It is time to let it go. It is time for something new.

Maybe this is the defining moment, the moment that everything that has been suffered finally bursts open with the seeds of new life.

And maybe this is the moment that would only be possible once the eased path was rejected.

And maybe that's why the Bible says,

It is not for kings, O Lemuel—
not for kings to drink wine,
not for rulers to crave beer,
...
Give beer to those who are perishing,
wine to those who are in anguish;
let them drink and forget their poverty
and remember their misery no more.
(Proverbs 31)

So here I am. I don't know why I'm writing all this.