Issues and Labels or Faces and Stories?

I’m more than you know

I’m more than you see here

I’m more than you let me be

I’m more than you know

A body and a soul

You don’t see me but you will

I am not invisible.

There is no them

There is no them

There’s only us.

-U2, “Invisible”

I drove quite a distance yesterday, six hours total, to be precise. And I had plenty of time to think, and also to listen to music and podcasts. One podcast in particular, a Jonathan Martin sermon, really grabbed me because it was exactly what I’d been thinking about off and on, for a month or so. He helped tie up some of the loose ends for me.

I don’t remember precisely how he said it, but he talked about how God was teaching him to pull his head out of the sand, so he could see people with God’s eyes, enter into their pain, listen to the stories of their lives.

And here’s where the problem is for a lot of us. It’s extremely hard to do that, and still use the labels we’re so fond of. It’s almost impossible to do both. We love to talk about things in terms of “issues facing the church, or America today.” And I don’t think there’s much wrong with discussing “issues.”

But these issues affect people, real people, real image bearers, real lives.

It’s funny how soundbites and labels go hand in hand. The insane amounts of media we’re bombarded with, willingly or otherwise, day and night, has really changed how we think and talk about things. Even though these concise statements using lots of labels and statistics to talk about various issues comprise nice, neatly packaged bits of information to digest, unfortunately it doesn’t give us a very Godly view of the world.

What do I mean by Godly?

I think a Godly view of the world must include a lot of seeing the image of God in other people.

It really does. We humans have the ability to do hellish things when we manage to cloud our vision enough to forget about the image of God in others. I know the wickedness I imagine, sometimes. And let me tell you, when I’m thinking those things, the farthest thought from my mind is that this person is a precious creation of God’s, made to bear His image.

Statistics, news, soundbites, may have truth in them, but truth can’t be reduced to any of those things.

Truth goes much, much deeper.

I think we need to make a huge effort to stop letting the news companies and the politicians control how we talk about stuff. It seems like we’ve just gotten so used to it, we barely think about how it’s affecting us. See, if we don’t actually make any effort to know any of the faces and stories behind these labels, if we only choose to look at them as a group of facts and statistics, we feel we can say pretty much anything we want about them, so long as it doesn’t sound too bad. We feel we can reduce them to a political statement. A theological statement. Some to like to call it “standing for truth.”

But what really is truth, if it’s not based in the Word made flesh? He’s the one who showed us what truth looks like, in person, walking around in skin and bones. He showed us what it was like to really see people.

The law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus.

We’re not Christ, but we are called to be Christ’s bodily representation right now.

And really, we can’t see people with God’s eyes, when we’re conveniently reducing the gays, the illegal immigrants, the Arabs, the African Americans, the liberals, the conservatives, the fundamentalists, the liberal theologians, the Catholics, the evangelicals, the rich, the poor, the policemen, the felons, whoever we don’t like, into little chunks of news and statistic for us to slice up, discuss, and pretend they were never really people in the first place.

We might as well be honest; we all have our people we we’d rather not see as people.

Labels do make it easier to talk about people, but I have to wonder: what do these discussions really accomplish if it never goes beyond abstract, if we never see what they mean in the context of our local communities, or in our relationships with individuals? What I mean by that is, if our theories on these issues have no flesh on them or no faces to them, do we really think we can discuss them in an educated manner?

We feel safe keeping it in the theoretical, because it frees us to reach whatever conclusion feels safest and most comfortable to us, and our voices sound really wise bouncing back to us in the comfortable little vacuum we’ve made for ourselves to inhabit.

I’m not proposing existence without convictions. That would be absurd. But what does your conviction look like when it comes into contact with a living and breathing person, a priceless being whom Jesus died to save? Is it as black and white as you thought? Chances are, it’s not.

And this slaps me squarely in the face, because I love the sound of my own voice and the sound of my ideas. I like talking about things more than I like seeing what happens when I embody them outside of the comfortable home I’ve built for them. But ideas affect real people, and I can’t be naive enough to assume otherwise.

Like Becca says, when we enter into someone else’s story, we have to face our own brokenness. And we all hate that. It’s no fun to approach a person you see as being beneath you, and realizing they don’t fit inside the box you built–that ugliness in your own heart is no better than the ugliness in theirs.

It hurts. It’s humbling to realize we’re on par with those we despise. But only when we’re knocked to our knees by His grace and our unworthiness, only then and there, are we in the proper position to serve.

I think it’s pretty typical “fallen human” to not want to know the stories of the people we’d rather write off. Those people about whom we’d never say this, but in more subtle and “Christian” (Pharisaical) ways, act like grace isn’t for them.

We all like to feel superior to someone.

The reality is, if we try, it’s pretty hard to not see at least a little bit of God in those people, to see a little bit of ourselves in those people, to begin to see little sprouts of hope coming out of the ground in their lives, when we make friends with them.

One thing though: if you start making friends with the people you’re prone to dislike, it’s much harder to fit them into the neatly tied packages you’ve fashioned for them.

The generalizations stop working.

The labels and statistics start being replaced by faces and stories that don’t let you talk about issues the same way, because you think of the real people associated with them.

It’s certainly not the easiest way to approach life, but it is the Jesus way.

And here’s where it gets awkward, because those who know me well, know I really struggle hard to embody this. I think I’m getting better at it but the progress is so slow, that it’s really discouraging sometimes. I find it really hard to brush up against the types of people who don’t “fit” with me very naturally. More often than I care to admit, my actions push the people I’ve categorized as “them” away instead of inviting them to be a friend.

But that’s very much what Jesus was talking about when He said, that even “heathen” people usually treat those well who are easy to treat well. Is anything exceptional, or “earth as it is in heaven” going on, when I’m nice to people who are easy for me to get along with?

Hardly.

I guess I’m simply asking that all of us who name Jesus as King be extremely careful what we’re willing to say about issues concerning people we’ve never bothered to meet, let alone even tried to love.

Brian Zahnd aptly explains some of John’s best known words in the Bible like this:

“If we say, “I love God.” But we hate our brother, that is, the other, we are lying to [ourselves]…

…John says there’s a problem. You can’t see God. You only see God in the imago Dei; you only see God in the image bearer. You only see God in the other.

Because God whom you cannot see can become abstract, and what you end up doing is actually loving yourself, because you imagine God to be like youBut when you find out that the other, your neighbor, whether you call them friend or enemy, bears the image of God, and you can’t love them, now the cat’s out of the bag and the truth is on the table that you never did love God, you only did love yourself…

…the Biblical test case for love of God, in other words, is love of neighbor. And you think, ‘Okay. Alright.’

But the Biblical test case for love of neighbor is love of enemy.

We love God to the extent that we love [our enemy.]”

A few closing thoughts:

I don’t know exactly how to conclude this because some of this stuff isn’t particularly fun for me to think about– mostly because I know how much transformation needs to happen in me. I know the ugly thoughts and actions of which I’m capable.

Sometimes they stay inside and sometimes they come out–you know, those moments that make you wonder what God ever saw in you, that caused Him to pursue you, or any of us. He loves us. So mysteriously, lavishly, relentlessly.

I guess I have to conclude that it’s his nature. The fact that He is love.

I’m thankful for a patient and gracious King who doesn’t stoop to my ways of dealing with people–the One who continues to show me what love actually looks like in the flesh, the One who embodied perfect love and, asks us to the same, that we may be children, who are like our Father in Heaven.


Will you teach us how to love?
To see the things you see
Walk the road you walked
Feel the pain that you feel…

-Jars of Clay

“Love Your Enemies”

Yesterday my Twitter feed nearly exploded with nods and tributes to the passing of a hero and a peacemaker, whose legacy will far outlast his life.

I was thinking about it today and I had to wonder…

I’m curious if the world leaders lauding Nelson Mandela’s example in peacemaking and reconciliation with his enemies, thought of the fact that the same treatment of their own enemies might work similar wonders of healing and restoration to what happened in South Africa.

And believe it or not, the American empire, and her people who seem unusually fascinated by violence, would actually be included in those who could learn from his example.

Mandela showed us that even in government, Christ’s ways heal and restore.

I’m not claiming he did everything right, or that he was perfect, but I do say this: his kind hearted treatment of his enemies (the very people who imprisoned him for 27 years of his life, the people who were responsible for the death and mistreatment of his own people) when he became president, was Christlike and nothing short of heroic. He didn’t sweep their crimes under the rug, but rather than using it as his chance to finally get revenge, he went out of his way to help his enemies find restoration.

But to do that, he had to give up his rights: his right to even the score, to show his enemies how those terrible things felt to him.

But he didn’t.

It reminds me a lot of a Jewish carpenter who was killed by His enemies. The crazy thing was, after that, He rose from the dead.

Not many people ever have the chance to avenge their own death. It’s always someone else that does that for them. This man had that chance. Wow, did He ever! He could have done it in style–with vengeance that made all other vengeance look like toddlers scuffling over toys.

But possibly almost as strange as His resurrection, is this: rather than bringing in an army of angels, to help him torture and obliterate the people who hurt Him, He offered to forgive them! He gave up His right to revenge.

Two thousand years later, we still feel the aftershock of such love and forgiveness.

We feel it, because all of us bear an equal portion of the blame for His death in the first place.

Humanity would not exist if God would have taken revenge on all those who wronged Him.

And it’s all very surprising, but maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. It’s His very nature. He tells us in Scripture that He IS love.

I think that’s why He asks those of us who have tasted His radical love and mercy to do the same to those who hurt us.

People sometimes throw around “peace and love” like it just feels good. And maybe that’s because the results of peace and love do feel good, but what brings it about doesn’t very often.

It doesn’t feel good at all to give up the right to revenge. It hurts. It feels like dying. But without death there is no resurrection.

And do we want resurrection. We just don’t like the death that has happens first. At least I don’t. I pretty much hate it.

I don’t see how people think nonviolence is an easy way or a cop out. There are few things inside fallen humans that surpass the desire to preserve our own lives and to fight for what is ours. To win this fight against yourself is one of the most difficult things a human can ever accomplish, and rarely can be, without the help of the One who first showed us that way.

The way of peace is not free.

It really does cost: it costs you power and might even cost your life, but I think it’s worth it: partially because I believe in what Jesus said and did. And partially because history has shown us again and again that He is right: the cost of violence is high. Much, much higher than the cost of peace.

Death is an inevitability for all of us, but that doesn’t mean it’s good or the way things should be. World views that condone and partake in the destruction of human life are not compatible with what the Prince of Peace taught and lived.

I feel like every day I have to learn new ways of giving up my rights. I’ll spend the rest of my life learning it. But I’ve found that when I do, the people around me seem like people again–people God loves.

The interesting thing is when I treat people like people, they act more like people. When I stop controlling them and trying to push them around, they are then free to be more like they’re supposed to be, and they usually end up treating me more like a person too.

They don’t always respond right. But I’m not called to bend them back into shape. I’m called to be faithful.

It’s certainly not easy following the Prince of Peace. But the longer I live, and the more I discover about Him, I’m convinced it’s the only way.

May God give us grace; grace enough to love our enemies, bless those who curse us, do good to those who hate us, and pray for those who use us spitefully and persecute us, that we may be children of our Father in Heaven…

Some notes:

First off: please don’t take that earlier paragraph as a cheap shot at Americans. It really isn’t. I am American so I’m writing about what I know. I guess I’ve heard far too often people revere the way of peace for other people in other places, but then when it comes to the US, it’s somehow different.

America is a nice place to live and I like it here. But I will, by God’s grace, never fight or kill other people for what I have here. Freedom is great, but not when it makes my neighbors in other land die or become less free.

I’d rather (at least I hope so) give up some nice things than have other people die and be treated unfairly so I can have more “blessings” and prosperity. God loves those people dearly, the same as He loves me. And believe it or not, He cares more about them and whether they are loved (especially by those who claim to be His children) than He cares about whether or not the US is a world power.

The US has done much good and would even be considered benevolent and generous compared to a lot of countries, but it has also harmed. And while God does have ways of redeeming even the dark parts of our history, that doesn’t make those things good.

I’m not anarchist or telling people to disrespect the government. Definitely not. I only point out that if you look at United States’ priorities and you look at what we know about God’s priorities, and you still think they’re pretty much the same thing, you should probably read Jesus’ sermons and look at His life more carefully.

There are a lot of people who think: “As goes the US so goes the Kingdom of God.” That’s just not true. God’s Kingdom was being built long before the Declaration of Independence was signed and it will continue forever, long after the US is gone. The advance and power of God’s Kingdom does not hinge on America’s power and dominance in the world. I know it feels that way sometimes, because we like what we have here, but let’s please not change what’s true just because we’d rather it was that way.

I don’t hate America. I just love the ” “Kingdom of the Heavens” more.

(That was much longer than I intended, but it didn’t really fit with rest of the post and I wanted to clarify a few things.)

Second: The comments on this post are only for those interested in wrestling through this issue and discussing it civilly with helpful dialogue. Any comments that don’t fit that description will be deleted. I’m frankly not interested in hours of debate on hypothetical situations, first because they aren’t helpful, and second because I DON’T know what I’d do in certain situations. I only pray that in the heat of all conflict I will hear the Spirit’s above all others and obey it. That’s really all I have to say on that front. Blessings.

-rj

A Thing That’s Been Keeping Me From the Blog

Over the last year and a half I’ve had the incredible privilege of playing music with some of my best friends. We’ve played a decent number of local gigs at a coffee shop, the farmers market and other local events.

Around a year ago we started working on a studio album comprised almost entirely of our original work. I’ll be honest. I didn’t completely know what we were getting into by committing to this.

We set up our own studio in the basement of Arlyn’s house in a place called the tomato room and started working last fall.

It’s a ridiculous amount of fun. We laugh a lot. Like crazy. The lunacy in the studio is, I guess, a way to have fun, but also a way of dealing with the work.

Ah yes, the work.

It’s mentally, emotionally, and sometimes physically taxing work. It’s not for the faint of heart, to be sure. In addition to giving this work your best shot, you are also brought to face some of your biggest fears as an artist and you get to stare them in the face while you work.

They often show up in thought form: Do I have any idea what I’m doing here? Can we even do this? Do our songs matter to anyone besides us? How long until we see some progress? These guys are much higher caliber musicians than I am– what am I doing here with them?

As scary as those questions were and still are, facing them has changed me. Now I’m at the point where I’ve pushed past some of those fears and they aren’t speaking as loudly as they were.

Now it’s fine to me that there are things that Jared, Arlyn, and Andrew are better at, than I am. It’s not intimidating like it was. In fact it’s been incredibly beautiful to see what strengths different ones of us bring to help the process along.

I find it pretty neat that none of us are what you’d call the total package and that we need each other to make this thing work. I’ve learned so much from these guys. I’m a more complete artist, a more complete musician, and a more complete person.

This past weekend we made a hard push for the finish line, and were blessed to see some really good results. The end is finally in sight. It’s pretty hard to believe. We’ve got a little bit of tracking left to do, and we’ve started working on mixing.

I’ve added a little video we put together last night. It’s a bit of a summary of our weekend: arrangements, recording, plenty of laughing, and a couple footraces on lunch break.

You can see other updates (both serious and otherwise) on our Facebook page and on Twitter:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Saints-Alive/338091499605300?ref=hl

https://twitter.com/SaintsAlive_

The Painting of Life

I’m learning more about painting and such from Rebecca than I ever have, or ever thought I would, in my life. We’ve been to a few art museums now, and the great thing about knowing as little as I do, is the several times we’ve been, it feels like I gain a lot of knowledge on the subject. So, yes. Though they be few, there are benefits of ignorance.

A couple months ago, Rebecca and I were visiting an art museum in the small town of Lindsborg. As we neared the end of the exhibits, on one wall was a giant painting that covered three different canvasses, all side by side. Each canvass was several feet across and at least as tall as we were. Up close, the colors were brilliant and we could see individual shapes and textures in great detail. We admired it up close for a little while, then stepped back closer to the middle of the room, and were a bit surprised by what we saw. It was a massively complex nighttime scene of a forest using both abstract and realism to depict little night creatures, along with bushes and trees.

It took a bit for me to grasp what sort of time and effort it probably took to simply imagine, let alone paint something like this. To get it right the artist would have had to spend a lot of time moving in close to add the detail and texture to each part, but stepping back (I would think) quite often to make sure it looked like it should from the distance at which you’d want to view the whole painting–a tremendous amount of thought and work, to say the least.

It’s been a while since we admiringly stood there in that little art gallery talking for quite some time about that painting and I’ve
thought about it numerous times since then. The more I’ve thought about it, and paintings in general, the more I realized that…

Up close, some of them look kind of random.

Up close, you can see what some of us would call imperfections.

And up close, sometimes, you can also see quite a lot of beauty that you’d miss from farther away.

To me, it actually feels like life a lot of the time.

The parallels really could go on for a longer time than I’d like to talk about all at once, or likely than you’d like to hear, but I had to think of it like this:

First, God in His grand painting of the narrative we see, beginning long ago, and being continued in the present, sees things in the zoomed out view. He sees where it began, and also where it’s ending. The interesting and beautiful thing about this particular painting is that, certain pieces of this painting aren’t static. But here’s something else:

They don’t just move.

They’re actually allowed to paint their own colors.

They’re even allowed to paint strokes that mess up the painting.

Amazingly, these living parts of the painting (by now I’m sure you’ve guessed that they are us, people) aren’t left to wonder about the painting, blindly waving their little paint brushes in frustration, randomly splattering colors around, and hoping they’re not messing things up. Even though the Master Artist has a far away view of the painting, there’s a portion of painting where He actually became a part of the painting just like those in it, and His spirit continues to guide the strokes of those who want Him and his colors to be the colors they paint in their little parts of the painting.

He doesn’t nearly always tell them precisely what to paint, and sometimes it’s really confusing, but if they listen to Him closely and spend more time knowing Him and His style of painting, their colors and strokes become surprisingly similar to His. But maybe it’s not so surprising after all, because He did originally paint these people to be small representations of Him, and in small ways, to create like He does.

Another strangely beautiful thing about the Master Painter, is that He can take the messed up, the trashy parts, the ugly, the bad color combinations, and make beautiful things from them. Redemption. Wow. Go figure. The more I think about this part, the more amazing and baffling and impossible it seems, and less like it could be completely real. But I know it is, because I’ve seen it.

And also, once again, if His people take cues from Him, they too can help make beauty and redemption of the bad colors, and the ignorant strokes. But to do that, they can’t just paint pretty things around themselves and ignore what’s wrong with the rest of the painting. To truly serve this work of art, they have to engage the dissonance around them, and work to help it blend with rest of the painting. And they don’t do this by merely flinging some bad colors of their own onto the canvass to help the stumbling painters feel better, but they, like the Artist who entered the painting, should follow His example by helping the painters around them know what it means to paint well.

Also, I think He’s allowing us, for the most part to only see the painting from close up. We can see a lot of what’s already been painted in the past, and occasionally, a few get small bits of the future. It’s merciful this way, I think. Most of us would have a hard time enjoying the beauty in the strokes right in front of us and engaging the ugly splatters around us if we’d see all that was coming to us in the parts we will paint, and in the parts that will be painted long after our portion is complete.

This is where I’ll stop, but I love to think of life this way. I think it’s really incredible to serve an infinite, all-knowing God, Who is also heartbreakingly loving, and wants to walk with us each step of our lives. He wants us to walk none of it alone, but He still lets us decide and doesn’t force Himself on any of us, even when we’re pretty intent on messing things up by lumbering about and painting our own world. And He still loves us and wants us to join Him through all of it.

Unbelievable.

But I’m pretty sure it’s true. Usually I’m sure. But sometimes my faith is puny. I sometimes don’t act like I believe it at all. And it takes some unpleasant blundering to remind me where I belong.

I’ve gradually been accepting this: every few years I’ll look back and wonder how I lived like I did, or viewed God like I did, or looked at the world like I did. I’m becoming more at peace with the idea though: that I can never remove myself completely enough from the part of life I’m in, to get a third person view of it.

I guess what I’m trying to say to myself and anyone who will listen is this: don’t be so focused on what’s coming or what you think is coming that you refuse to dip your brush into the colors that are put right in front of you, and you neglect the painters around you (both in what you can teach them and in what you can learn from them). Your portion of the painting is far too short to spend it waiting for better colors or worrying about what you’re going to do when you’re given new colors to use, and new painters to work beside.

Use what’s given to you and use it well. Put as much love, as much joy, as much peace, as much hope as the Master Painter gives you, into each stroke, and enjoy each one for what it is. That’s how He painted, and in little ways, He’ll teach you to paint like Him if you’re willing to learn.

Playlist:

“Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore” – The High Kings

“Gran Partita” – Mozart

“Daniel” – Joshua James

“Paranoia in B Major” – The Avett Brothers

“Concerto In C for 2 Trumpets” – Vivaldi

“The Holly & the Ivy – Wayfarer

“Ave Maria” – Chanticleer

“Politik” – Coldplay

“Sing It Out” – Switchfoot

“Let Your Love Be Strong” – Switchfoot

“Griselda” – Vivaldi

“Lesser Things” – Jars of Clay

“There Is No Rose” – Chanticleer & Robert H. Young

“From Finner” – Of Monsters and Men

“Her Sacred Spirit Soars” – Eric Whitacre

“The House of God Forever” – Jon Foreman

“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” -The King’s Singers

“Cottonfield” -The Vespers

Failure, Wonder, and the Joy of Being Beloved

This evening I failed. I set out to accomplish something by the end of the evening and I didn’t get it done. I was planning to have a productive evening working on my music stuff and it just didn’t go well.

And here, I feel I should throw myself down the gauntlet so I have no choice, but to follow through. I’m working on a small solo project of my own: an EP of several songs I’ve written that are inspired by Kansas while our band takes a short recording hiatus, because, frankly, it’s summer, and summer is the time to be busy.

I felt like I should use the time off to sharpen my skills and this seemed like a good option.

To say it’s a lot of hard work is an understatement. It’s mentally, emotionally, and even physically draining. But I love it. Most of the time.

Things just went badly this evening.

I made a list of things I was going to get done.

I worked hard.

I played the parts again, and again, trying to perfect them.

I got frustrated.

I calmed myself, and told myself it was okay.

It wasn’t okay.

I repeated the process.

After several hours of standing and eventually, sitting, in front of a mic with my guitar, it became clear I wasn’t going to be productive anymore that evening. It was a discouraging revelation. Tangible progress was what I wanted this evening. Tangible progress–not a forlorn little clump of soundbites on my my computer screen that I probably wouldn’t be able to use.

My girlfriend, Rebecca, texted me and asked me how it was going.

I told her how it was going.

She was very encouraging and told me some things I wanted to hear and a few more things I needed to hear.

Feeling a bit better, I surrendered and put my things away, turning my studio back into a bedroom.
I trudged up the stairs, feeling pretty defeated, walked to the front door to see what it was like outside. I opened the door and stepped onto the porch.

What greeted me was a fabulous Kansas sunset.

Pink and orange were the dominant colors this evening. The sun, a lazy orange halo of fire, was at that magical moment when it’s just starting to slip away. That time where it sinks so quickly, you can almost see it moving. That moment that if you’re not paying attention for a bit, you miss it.

The instant I walked out, I knew this was what I needed. Not perfectly recorded tracks. Not a list of crossed off items to make me feel proud and self important.

I just stood there for a while, taking it in, then walked across the porch to the edge, and I slowly realized what had happened to me this evening.

I’d truly lost the joy during the earlier part of this evening. Lost the wonder. In pursuit of perfection, I forgot why I like to play music: because I love it; because it’s fun.

I pulled out my phone to take a picture. To chronicle the sunset’s splendor. It was out of room for pictures. So what.

When my phone had no room for pictures, it didn’t build on the frustration of the rest of the evening. I didn’t delete things to make room so I could show everyone what an awesome sunset I got to see.

I let go. I released. I didn’t care. I felt God saying, “Just enjoy it.” So I did.

It was then that my soul gave a sigh of relief. I sat down on the edge of the porch with my feet in the soft grass, and I stared at the colors as they played with each other.

I felt the weight of an evening of frustrations dissipate as I was reminded that we humans were never made strictly to perform. We were never made to just carry out tasks, mindless of the wonderful world around us.

We were made to feel the love of the Creator, and to let the beauty and wonder of that love spill into the things around us: our work, our people, our art.

And living in wonder is not the byproduct of a certain occupation, a certain locale, (or even a certain level of perfection). It’s when we’ve allowed ourselves to see the wonder of life as it is, not, as we wish it were.

This doesn’t mean we don’t hope for anything better. But when we hope for something better at the expense of the things we already have, it’s not hope anymore. It’s discontentment.

This also doesn’t mean I don’t hope for better, more productive times of working on music. What it does mean, however, is that this evening was not an evening wasted.

Not by a long shot.

The Father’s Arms

The Father’s Arms

It’s the one place where I feel comfortably helpless.

It’s where I admire His strength, and revel in the mystery of His goodness.

It’s the place where my problems are still big, but His grace is sufficient.

It’s where I reside in peace that supersedes circumstances and bursts comprehension.

It’s where I receive forgiveness.

It’s where I drink grace.

It’s where I belong.

I Might Move to England . . .

I’ve recently started working at a furniture store and about half of my days right now are spent delivering furniture to customers. Mike and I drive quite a bit of the stretching flat highways, and I’ve had the neat privilege of seeing some parts of Kansas that I’ve rarely, and in some cases, never seen.

Several weeks ago we were scheduled to deliver a new table to a home in the country. After a mile or two of dirt road, we came upon a small green house built on an old farmstead. It was comfortably tucked under the branches of large trees, and sitting at the top of a small rise. Mike drove the van up close to the corner of the house. And got out, saying he needed to figure out the best spot for us to unload. I sat in the van, recovering from my recent nap, and looking out, saw him conferring with a middle aged lady in a red sweater.

Mike hopped back into the driver’s seat of the van and backed it down closer to the front door. He got out and walked toward the front of the house to check the spot where the table would go, while I opened up the back of the box van to prepare the table for unloading.

I was standing inside the back of the van, when Mike came striding back out with a grin on his face, saying, as he climbed up, “She’s got a really strong accent.”

“What kind of accent?” I asked, my attention immediately far from anything furniture related. Then came the words that changed my afternoon from fairly normal, to seven levels of cool.

“British,” Mike said.

“Yes! I love those!” I said, with what was likely a large silly grin, splitting my face in half.

I put my face back together, and we proceeded to unpack the table and get it ready for transporting indoors. I admit that, to date, I’d never had so much anticipation and eagerness just to get inside a customer’s house so I could hear her speak. As we finished unpacking, I stood there helping, and telling Mike how awesome I thought British accents were. He probably thought I was a bit off my rocker, but he did concur with most of my statements.

The two of us put the table onto the lift, lowered it to the ground, hoisted it to waist height, and carried it across the lawn to her front door. We climbed a few steps onto the porch and walked inside her front door. It opened directly into a dining room with a hardwood floor. I looked around at the room, noticing the combination of modern decor tastefully blended with softer, organic accents. “Yes,” I thought, “this looks like a house that could easily have a British person in it.”

As we set up the table, I also admit I was distracted with thoughts of, “Please, talk. Please, say something.” I figured if she had a British accent, it shouldn’t go to waste any of the time I was there to hear it.

As Mike talked to her about the table, and caring for it, she said, “Yeah” several times, which sounded disappointingly American. She said a few things, which sounded more British, so that was worthwhile to me.

The crowning moment of the experience was when the table top was completely fastened to the pedestal, and we pushed the slides, so both sides met, and you could really see the full scope of the beautiful wooden top.

Suddenly the most delightfully musical laugh burst forth, and smiling she said, “Oh, it’s beau-i-ful!”

I nearly laughed too, but not because of the beauty of the table. I did smile though, which I thought was okay, and hopefully not weird.

We said goodbye, and left her British Awesomeness, on the doorstep of the house. Packing up the few tools, and bits of trash, we closed the back truck, and headed for home. I was still feeling pretty pumped about what had just happened, and I think Mike probably found out about it. I’m guessing I talked about British accents and England on and off, for at least a few miles.

I have a not-so-secret fantasy about having a British accent. Seriously, with all the things I absolutely love about England (or think I love), I would almost move to England just to get the accent.

People pay attention to what you say when you have a British accent. When you have a British accent, you can talk about the weather or your plans for the afternoon, and it sounds epic, like you’re making a proclamation, or passing on an ancient bit of wisdom to your listeners. Normal things sound sophisticated, when said in “British.” It’s true.

And here’s the sad truth: anytime you’re in a conversation with a British person, you might as well just shut up, because anything they say, no matter how mundane, is going to sound at least ten times cooler than anything you can think up.

And I haven’t done a fact check, but do you really think there are people living in England, all distraught over afternoon tea, because they are wistful for the day when they can move to America and finally pick up our accent? Think it through. Do you think there’s even the foggiest chance of that being true? Good. I didn’t think so, either.

So, if one day, you hear that I’ve suddenly packed my bags, and moved off to England . . . You’ll know why. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.