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

Enough To Let Me Go

I’ve been thinking about some of this stuff a lot lately. It has a lot to do with
God and how He loves us and how we try to love Him and each other.

I think a lot of our unhealthy ways of relating to each other have a lot to do with our unhealthy ways of views of God and how those views inform how we relate to Him. We then relate to other people how we think God relates to us. At least it often works that way.

This was honestly going to be a post on Facebook but it got too long.

Fear and guilt really are poor motivators. I can sometimes use them to change behaviors, but crushing people’s spirits into the shape I want, makes both them and me less human. Even worse, I take on part of the enemy’s work: accusing.

As long as sin has been around most people have known there’s something wrong with them.

I know. I know it well.

But simply being aware of my depravity did nothing to change my heart. That awareness only increased my burden, as I tried and mostly failed to do what I was supposed to do.

It took a force much bigger than laws and guilt to change me: it took Love incarnate.

Yes. It took relentless, terrifying, scandalous, humble, servant, sacrificial, love to break and began to remake me.

God loved me before I loved Him and that’s what actually started conforming me to Christ’s image, not me knowing I was a bad person. I want to give that to people. Free love.

No stipulations.

Because love with stipulations isn’t love. It’s manipulation.

Love is instead, much more like breathing, as Jon Foreman, frontman of Switchfoot, and my songwriting hero, wrote in this song.

You breathe it in and let it go.
Every breath you take is not yours to own.
It’s not yours to hold.

Do you love me enough to let me go?

-switchfoot

If you suck in two lungs full of air and hold your breath for long enough, you’ll soon discover that while you may have taken a breath, it doesn’t mean you’re breathing. It’s only when you engage in the whole process of taking and releasing breaths that you actually get to experience the good that breathing does for you.

It’s the same way with love. You might receive love from those around you, but trying to hold all of it inside you doesn’t work. You either release it to others or you start losing your ability to receive the life that comes from breathing.

And furthermore, trying to love someone while attaching stipulations to it is a bit like trying to survive only on shallow breaths. It’s like lacking the faith to believe that if you completely release a breath, there won’t be more air for you to inhale.

You can sort of survive on it, and it kind of looks and feels like the real thing, and it might feel safer, but eventually you’ll notice it wearing you down. It’s just not healthy. And the people around you notice it, and feel ill at ease, hoping you’ll learn to breathe properly and get the oxygen you need.

Clearly “loving” people this way, has similar effects. It goes through some of the same motions, but the longer this “strings attached” love goes on, the clearer it becomes to everyone involved, that the relationship isn’t thriving. It’s taking short shallow breaths and showing some signs of life, but it’s far from thriving.

I think God knew all of this stuff when He made us and that’s why He gives us the choice to love Him. He doesn’t manipulate us to scare us, or play mind games with us to try to get us to love Him. He just loves us. For free.

He sent Jesus to show us that and put into motion a Kingdom where that and other beautiful things are the reality, instead of things like fear and control that the devil’s been suggesting to us for a long time now.

When we use those old tactics to “love” people and “make them behave,” people around us are sometimes duped into it thinking it’s tough love. More likely though, they shake their heads and leave, thinking that God’s people too, are in the same business as everyone else, and using the same old methods. “What’s different about them anyway?”

Yes indeed. What is, if we resort to that?

But when we love people with the love God showed us, we show others a new reality and a little taste of the perfection that will one day be when our King returns to set up His kingdom and make all things new.

I’m relieved and grateful that God’s been patient with me because I find it really hard to love like He does. I like to make sure my love isn’t being wasted on ungrateful jerks. But He keeps showing me that I’m no better than anyone else, and I think my heart is slowly becoming softer and more
like His.

I hope that’s a reality for all of because apparently that’s a big way God plans to establish His kingdom in the here and now:

through us channeling His love to others who are thirsty for something different.

Something that doesn’t add to an already heavy yoke of sin and guilt, but instead gives the abundant life it promises.

Something that works a lot like breathing.

Something called love.

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

Don’t You Want To Thank Someone

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of hearing Andrew Peterson live for the first time. Even before the time I began writing my own songs, he was a writing hero to me. Jason Gray was there as well on what was known as The Storytellers Tour–and with good reason.

We spent the evening listening to their stories and music, and being filled full, and overflowing with the beautiful and profound, whether spoken or sung. Both men are incredibly vibrant and this vibrance can’t help but spill out in their songs and stories. But the purpose of this introduction is not so much to give a concert review, but to give you a preface to the man’s work I’ll be allowing you to sample.

Andrew Peterson: what to say properly without saying what’s been said before? The depths of life, of philosophy, of pain, of hope, of theology, that this man can plumb in a four or five minute song never cease to amaze me. He rarely uses filler content to finish out a song. Never succumbs to the simple, pat answer. He speaks eloquently about the mystery, but allows the mystery to remain. Everything syllable seems to be there for a good reason. Every word serves a purpose in the story he’s telling.

Like his smooth, unassuming, folk-type voice or not, you’d be hard pressed to refute the eloquence, the beauty, the reality of the words he sings. I was driving to town a while ago and was planning to listen a little Paper Route. I really was.

But I decided to finish a song I started earlier, from his new album Light for the Lost Boy. I finished that one and the next song began. I couldn’t stop because the mystery of the music pulled me in. A beautiful song of perseverance and hope. I skipped one and landed on the album closer: Don’t You Want To Thank Someone.

For some reason I don’t believe I’d ever heard it before. The title was simple enough. I’m not sure why, but I wasn’t expecting that much… I assumed a nice, simple closer. It started out well enough: a slow wash of soft synth and percussive echoing guitar that was more than a bit reminiscent of The Joshua Tree era U2.

The part I wasn’t prepared for was an epic nearly 10 minute song filled with beautiful poetry and imagery. This songso marvelously explores the tension between faith and doubt, beauty and pain, sin and redemption, it’s hard to fathom it all. I spent most of the song with goosebumps and at some spots had to fight back a few tears as I drove.

More of my own words really won’t do justice to this piece of art. I have nothing more to say about it but to offer you his poetry and a link to the song. Wait until you can pay attention to it, maybe put on a pair of headphones, enjoy, and reflect.

Don’t You Want To Thank Someone

Can’t you feel it in your bones
Something isn’t right here
Something that you’ve always known
But you don’t know why

‘Cause every time the sun goes down
We face another night here
Waiting for the world to spin around
Just to survive

But when you see the morning sun
Burning through a silver mist
Don’t you want to thank someone?
Don’t you want to thank someone for this?

Don’t you ever wonder why
In spite of all that’s wrong here
There’s still so much that goes so right
And beauty abounds?

‘Cause sometimes when you walk outside
The air is full of song here
The thunder rolls and the baby sighs
And the rain comes down

And when you see the spring has come
And it warms you like a mother’s kiss
Don’t you want to thank someone?
Don’t you want to thank someone for this?

I used to be a little boy
As golden as a sunrise
Breaking over Illinois
When the corn was tall

Yeah, but every little boy grows up
And he’s haunted by the heart that died
Longing for the world that was
Before the Fall

Oh, but then forgiveness comes
A grace that I cannot resist
And I just want to thank someone
I just want to thank someone for this

Now I can see the world is charged
It’s glimmering with promises
Written in a script of stars
Dripping from the prophets’ lips

But still, my thirst is never slaked
I am hounded by a restlessness
I am eaten by this endless ache
But still I will give thanks for this

‘Cause I can see it in the seas of wheat
I can feel it when the horses run
It’s howling in the snowy peaks
It’s blazing in the midnight sun

Just behind a veil of wind
A million angels waiting in the wings
A swirling storm of cherubim
Making ready for the Reckoning

Oh, how long, how long?
Oh, sing on, sing on

And when the world is new again
And the children of the King
Are ancient in their youth again
Maybe it’s a better thing
A better thing

To be more than merely innocent
But to be broken then redeemed by love
Maybe this old world is bent
But it’s waking up
And I’m waking up

‘Cause I can hear the voice of one
He’s crying in the wilderness
“Make ready for the Kingdom Come”
Don’t you want to thank someone for this?

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallalujah! Hallelujah!
Come back soon
Come back soon

Read more at http://www.songlyrics.com/andrew-peterson/don-t-you-want-to-thank-someone-lyrics/#0IPLos46SF1C7p8X.99

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.

Sunrise On Lake Wilson

I woke to the gray light and the chill of that time right before dawn when the earth can’t quite decide whether it wants to have day time or night. I looked around and realized that most of my camping comrades were still asleep.

There was a brief struggle, as I tried to decide whether or not there was still sleep to be had. I reached a decision. Even if there was, I would forgo it. A thought had popped into my head: a canoe ride in Lake Wilson to watch the sun come up.

I pried myself out of my sleeping bag’s warm, lazy embrace. The top was covered in chilly droplets of dew. Standing, I could see the sleeping bags scattered across the ground, nearly all filled with their sleeping occupants.

After grabbing my flip-flops, I headed for the rocky shore of Lake Wilson. Several canoes bobbed half in, half out of the water. I picked one, stepped into the shallow water, and launched out on my miniature voyage.

There was little wind at this time of the morning, so even though the water wasn’t glass smooth, it was very peaceful. Straight ahead of me the moon was still hanging in the sky, eerily beautiful in the first light.

She was the odd child at the party the sun was throwing. The sun wasn’t here yet, so she didn’t realize that it was his party. So for the moment, she was content to mingle with his guests and watch over the proceedings until he arrived and took over.

There’s something stunningly beautiful about being immersed in the natural world as it is awakening: nothing to distract you; nothing to tell you, “I’m more important; I’m more urgent than the beauty you see right now.”

I drifted farther out into the water and allowed my mind to bob and drift along with the boat.

I thought of how easy it is to remember God when you’re lost in the best parts of His canvas–how thoughts of His craftsmanship come to you unbidden: the simplistic beauty of water, the subtle blends of color that comprise the sky and landscape, the energetic surge of a fish escaping the boundaries of water for only a moment and vanishing again with an exuberant splash. All of it like a living painting, a work of art, a piece of music being written in real time.

But then my mind moved to the crown of creation. You don’t have to escape the city; you don’t have to leave your crowded community; you don’t have to go for a walk in the woods to experience the very best of God’s artwork: a human being.

This creation of the human: the most frustrating, yet rewarding part of His work. One moment it can be lost in His praise; the next it can be self-absorbed, harming itself and others of its kind.

I often forget just how incredible people really are. I suppose it’s because I’m around them so much, I forget to wonder, to ponder, the incredible beauty and mystery behind each one of these magnificent people. No one of them is the same. Each an individual work of love, crafted by the Almighty Himself.

They become commonplace to me and I treat them that way more often than I care to admit. I forget their special magnificence in the scheme of creation.

I get impatient with them. I say hurtful things sometimes. I sometimes even forget that I’m one of them, somehow thinking that I’m different and superior.

But sometimes it takes moments like sitting out on the lake in a canoe to readjust my perspective; to help me realize that my place in God’s story, albeit significant to God, is no more significant than anyone else’s spot.

At the same time, it’s beautiful to know we were important enough, Jesus actually died for us. As stunning as the rest of the natural world is, Jesus didn’t die for blazing sunsets, graceful deer, or majestic oak trees. He died for us. And that reason alone, should be enough to remind us that any time we are around another person, we are mingling with the very best of God’s work.

As I paddled my canoe back toward land and neared the shore, that fiery ball of sun popped over the horizon. He gazed across the lake at the moon, giving her the signal that he would take over from here. I ran my canoe aground, and climbed out, pulling it ashore, grateful for the fresh perspective I’d been given on Creator and creation.