I’m no SEO expert but I’m quite sure that by the mere title of this blog post I’ll get some viewers that I wouldn’t normally attract… my up-front apologies.

Not that they asked, but the folks over at The Good Men Project are doing a lot of things right by my estimation.   For the most part I like what they stand for and a lot of what they have to offer the world.  A recent post of theirs entitled “Cleavage or Soul” does a great job in pointing out the difference between what the media portrays as attractive to men and what most men actually want in a woman they can love on more than a physical level.

The mere fact that this well-written post even needs writing shows that there are indeed those men who are lost in their own shallowness and view both women and themselves in a one dimensional category that precludes any sense of personal complexity.  Most men realize this because at one time or another we have all been that shallow, and most recognize their own capacity for said shallowness.  Thankfully, as the writer noted, “good men love women. But we love women in all their complexity, for the things they do, for their intelligence, their wit, their athleticism, their creativity, their power, their force of personality.”  Very well stated.

However, it is the author’s very next sentence really encourages me:  “We seem to have forgotten that along the way, and our brain-numbing intoxication by pornography in all its forms threatens to end us—not because it is morally wrong but just because it distracts us from the truth and scatters our power. It’s one big acid trip fantasy with no connection to improving our lives, being good fathers and husbands, and advancing our careers”.  At first reading this I thought he was saying that it wasn’t morally wrong but only that it distracts and scatters (bad imagery).  But he says quite plainly that “it is morally wrong.”  This is a very bold statement considering the world we live in!  Porn is morally wrong precisely because it does “distract from the truth…scatters our power” and more.  It dishonors the God who made people in his Image, and it then destroys the very lives of the people who are made in that Image.  I hope this boldness is a reflection of an inner quality that defines what (in my humble opinion) all “Good Men” possess … courage.

I recently read a rather old book entitled The Book of the Pastoral Rule by St. Gregory the Great.  Written in the 6th century, the depth and breadth of his grasp on the human condition is quite remarkable.  I would even go so far as to say that he was ahead of our time in many respects.  Certainly there are where I would depart from Gregory’s theology but one (there were several) passage that stood out to me as truly astounding is on p.108 (if you read the translation by Demacopoulos).  Here Gregory is contrasting the “well disposed and the envious,” and how the spiritual director is to advise them differently.

Gregory writes:
“The envious should be advised that they consider how great is their blindness if they are disappointed by another’s progress or are consumed with another’s rejoicing.  How great is the unhappiness of those who become worse because of the betterment of their neighbors? … What is more unfortunate than those who are made even more wicked by the sight of happiness?  And yet the good deeds of others, which they do not possess, they could acquire if they loved them.”
Now Gregory grounds this thought in a beautiful and profound understanding of the union believers share in their faith and through the Church.
“For indeed, all are bound together in faith, just as many members constitute a single body… Thus it is the case that the foot sees by the eyes, and through the foot the eyes move…Therefore we observe in the inner working of the body how we should behave.”
Brilliant!  He continues…
“In fact, it is disgraceful that we are not able to imitate what we are.  Those good qualities that we love in others, which we do not seem to be able to imitate, are, in fact, ours also.  And whatever is loved in us becomes the possession of those who love them.  Therefore, let the envious consider how great is the virtue of charity, which makes the labor of others our own without any work on our part.”

I find this staggering!  So for Gregory the antidote for a heart issue such as jealousy is to provide something of far greater worth and beauty.  So by love we obtain the things that we would have otherwise envied.  I’m still trying to wrap my mind around this but my initial thought is that we American Protestants are (what are we protesting anymore?) so far removed from a holistic understanding of what the Church is at its essence that to make such connections from our union with each other to practical living is simply foreign.  This deflates the power of envy and jealousy at it’s root because we are so united to one another that we really do “possess” that which we would have envied.  This seems to push one towards a radical heart change (what we normally refer to as repentance) that is kingdom focused rather than the hyper-individualism we experience in most of our churches.  I’d love to hear some more thoughts on this…

The only thing I really know about gardening is that to do it well takes a lot of hard work and dedication.  I’ve never had a green thumb but have known a few people who do.  Those who are really good at gardening are able to enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of their labors, and those who are great cultivate gardens so lush and plentiful that others are able to find nourishment as well.  To be a gardener is to give life.

Gardner is a good name.  The name Gardner is an ancient derivative of the German Gartner which was the occupational name for, you guessed it, gardeners.  This week my Aunt and Uncle, Bill and Sandy Gardner, will celebrate something all to rare in our world.  They have been married 50 years!

The amazing thing about this is not just the longevity of a marriage that has taken place in a culture of celebrity-worship — where the very concept of marriage is mocked and politicized into all sorts of unholy nonsense.  No, the truly amazing thing about my Aunt and Uncle’s marriage is that if you spend more than 5 minutes around them you get the obvious impression that they actually love one another deeply and enjoy each others company.

The Gardner’s have 2 children, Ron and Deanna, who both have marriages and children of their own.  This garden has given life.

What my Aunt and Uncle are probably less aware of however is the sustained impact they have had on the rest of us.  As part of their extended family I for one can confess having received from them a life-long witness to the hard work and rewards of cultivating love and faithfulness.  This garden has given light and reflected a beauty larger than itself.

Anyone who has been married longer than a week knows that there are difficult seasons.  Seasons that require tilling the ground and waiting patiently to see signs of life.  There are storms that have to be weathered.  Weeds require getting the gardener’s hands dirty and brow sweaty.  Blood, sweat and tears are sown into the earth.  Those who endure are able to see, smell and taste the fruit of their long labor.

I remember fondly our families getting together over the holidays and Bill and Sandy inviting us to their place at the lake during the summer months.  To them it was simply an assumed generosity with which they lived their lives.  But to an observant child it was an invitation to learn by experience what it meant to love vulnerably in the context of a faithful marriage.

Uncle Bill and Aunt Sandy, “thank you” seems so insufficient.   Know that the seeds you have sown have scattered far.  There is a Master Gardener reflected well in the life you have so generously shared.  I’m grateful to have stood in the warm shadows of your garden and I admire still your devotion to one another.  May the Lord of the garden grant you many more years of faithful marriage.

And you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters do not fail.

Isaiah 58:11

The past few weeks I’ve been harping on my students about the importance of seeing the context of the larger Story of God in the Scriptures while looking for his work in their own lives.  There are patterns and themes in the Scriptures that reflect the same ones in our own lives and vice versa.  When one of them gets past the blank stares and glassed-over quietness they open up and share honestly their struggles and questions… this is really the part of the job I love!  Someone steps into the fray long enough to vulnerably share a chapter or two of their own story.

Last year I read a fascinating book titled Anatomy of the Soul: Surprising connections between neuroscience and spiritual practices that can transform your life and relationships. by Curt Thompson, M.D.  Here is a snippet that I have found very useful:

“…we can be changed by allowing God’s story to intersect with our 0wn.  When we tell our stories or listen to another person’s story, our left and right modes of processing integrate.  This is why simply reading the Ten Commandments as a list of dos and don’ts has so little efficacy.  The same can be said for Jesus’ admonitions during the Sermon on the Mount or the apostle Paul’s instructions to the early church communities.  Isolating commands for right living apart from their storied context is at best neurologically nonintegrating and, at worst, disintegrating.  This is why telling our stories is so vitally important.

But narratives are not the only instruments within Scripture that can help us integrate our minds and lives.  Poetry is a another powerful literary tool.  It has several distinct features:

  • By activating our sense of rhythm, poetry  accesses our right-mode operations and systems.
  • Reading poetry has the effect of catching us off guard.  Our imaginations are invigorated when our usual linear expectations of prose (that one word will follow obediently behind another on the way to a predictable end) don’t apply.  This can stimulate buried emotional states and layers of memory.
  • Finally, poetry not only appeals to right-mode processing, but to left mode as well, given its use of language.  This makes it a powerful integrative tool.”

It’s no wonder then that poetry, as a literary genre, is so commonplace throughout the Scriptures.  Our lives are being written, our stories are being told, and we make much better sense of our these stories as we know the Grand One of redemption.  Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus and said “we are his workmanship,” the “poema” in the Greek… we are the “poema” or poem of God.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
    The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
    and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
 For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light do we see light. 

Psalm 36:7-9

So my 30’s are almost over… one more trip around the sun and I’ll be 40.  Some consider that to be halftime… I should be so fortunate.

There is a part of me that is quite thankful my 30’s are almost over.  We had our first child when I was 31 and becoming a parent proved to me just how inflexible I had become in life.  Children have this way of either making you more flexible or breaking you.  I broke.  And then I became more flexible.  Now with three sons I have to remain flexible both in body and in soul.  Of course  something happens to the human body and soul as we age… we become less flexible – usually.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  At least not entirely.

I’m attempting a rebellion against the 2nd law of thermodynamics and I’m learning – if ever-so-slowly – to become more flexible in body and soul.  One of my overall goals is to be in the best overall shape of my life when I turn 40 in August of next year.  I know that I won’t be able to run quite as fast as I did in high school and college, but I will be able to lift more, go further, and challenge myself in ways that require flexibility of the soul.

“Why?”  I’m glad you asked.  Let me explain… is this the mid-life crisis return to the narcissism of youth?  Well, actually there might be a tinge of that, but I don’t think that is what is at the heart of it all.  Knowing our own hearts is certainly one of the hardest endeavors we experience this side of eternity.  There seem to be so many layers upon layers of motivations, desires and impulses that  we can soon lose the very heart we were so desperately seeking.  “Search me, O God, and know my heart, try me and know my thoughts” the Psalmist cried… and I’ll barrow that prayer.

Part of my motivation is to simply “be” the person I hope to be by the grace God has given.  “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.”  Another motivation is to be around longer and stay healthier to see my boys become the men of grace God will make them out to be.  My lovely bride appreciates my efforts and it is a common value we both share.  Another part of me hates it when I hear things like “well, just wait until you’re in your 40’s.”  Or when parents tell their kids that while they may enjoy a high metabolism now they’re destined to an adult life of obesity… yes, to my amazement I’ve heard these words uttered.

I finally read “The Paleo Diet for Athletes” and realized that while I have been doing a lot of things right I still have a lot of room for improvement regarding my diet.  So I committed to a stricter version of the diet for at least one year along with increasing both endurance and strength with Crossfit, Spartan Races, my own workout routines etc…

I  shared this personal goal with my wife and a few close friends and a fascinating thing occurred… most of them have begun to grow in their own motivations for change in the same areas.  Even more fascinating to me is that I’ve noticed how this renovation has energized me to make improvements in other areas of my life… as a teacher, as a coach, as a father and a friend.  So I’m putting my commitment “out there” for others so that hopefully you can find more strength for your own “mid-life crisis.”

Assuming you’ve continued reading this far, what are the areas in your life in which you hope for more? 

(a few thoughts i had while on personal retreat at Well of Mercy)

i sit on the porch observing the rain as it falls loudly on the ground and comes to rest on the canopy of trees around me.  i notice the pools widen and the earth soften from each drop.  i smell the freshness in the air.

however i can’t fully know the rain as an objective observer.  only seeing, listening, smelling.  to fully experience the rain myself i have to get off the porch and enter the downpour.  to be merely a casual observer of a thing is not to know a thing.  the critic can sit and observe but to love requires entering into a place free of illusory controls.

to feel the impact of the rain on my own skin, and to receive from it both the cold and the cover, the nourishment and the expense, i must enter in… entirely.

the incarnation is not simply a one-time event to be celebrated at Christmas.  it continues.  Jesus the Christ is our Emmanuel – God WITH us.  there is never a situation or experience where we are left to ourselves.  he has entered in and has not left us alone.  he feels the impact of our pains, joys, aches and hopes.  he knows intimately the many complex layers of our lives and is unafraid, undaunted, and relentless.

who knows better the inner terrain of our hearts than the one who has formed them?

Not that they don’t have their place or that I never use them, but I’d much rather run outside.  In the elements.  Preferably through the woods.  Treadmills keep you from doing what you are telling your body to do… run that way.  It’s even worse if you go to a big box gym and have to look at mirrors while your run.  The hum of a thousand treadmills and the smells of a thousand runners under one roof.  There’s inspiration!

No.  I think I’d rather find a trail or even a track or a road.  For me there is a sense of freedom and joy to be off the not-going-anywhere-machines and enjoying a go-anywhere run.  Even running around in circles on a track is preferable to the treadmill.  But we all do it.  Right?  We all get on treadmills of some sort and continue to pound out the miles never really getting anywhere.  That is until something comes along and disrupts our routines of living – or coping if you prefer.  It is most often the frightful and many times painful experiences that cause the disruption.  Relationships fail, jobs end, lives come to an abrupt halt.  Then a haunting awareness seeps into our otherwise foggy consciousness and asks us a simple yet profound question: “what are you doing with the time you’ve been given?”  Or in other words, “why are you on this treadmill to begin with?!”

However, it could be an otherwise joyous occasion creating the same effect.  The birth of a child, a new job, a new relationship… Albert Schweitzer said that “In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out (treadmill). It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being.  We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”  It is in connections with “the other” that our lives are revealed for what they are and sometimes that revealing is not entirely pleasant.  Intimacy scares me.  I want to be known but I still want to control.  How’s that for an oxymoron?

“So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom”