Friday, November 30, 2012

Full Tank

Basic spirituality requires discipline. Prayer, fasting, meditation, solitude, silence, and even a strong yoga practice are all ways people from various faiths seek to accomplish spiritual growth. The principle behind these disciplines is the same: when we strip the trapping of the outside world from our view, we are left with Truth, Reality, and where we stand in context to the both of them.

This week I drove from Dallas to Denver on a work trip in a Chevy Sonic rented for me. A spartan car and a drive I had made several times before did nothing to entice me, but I was surprised at how unexpectedly refreshing this drive was. I have made the connection between long drives and my spiritual growth several times, but I always forget to make good on my realizations. I'll come back from a particularly formational trip and say, "I'm doing one of these once a month," but it doesn't happen. The next month I'll say, "not every month, who has that kind of gas money?"

Just me and my thoughts. No scarier proposition exists. I'd rather spend hours watching the same episode of Sportscenter or listening to monotonous talk on NPR than have to face the traps my mind might craft for me. Turning my brain off is the safe option, it's the option with the least possibility of failure, the option that never leads me to make any decisions.

Spurred by something I heard on the radio, I began to think about the culture in which I live and whether my generation has any idea what true vulnerability looks like. We say we do, we post everything about ourselves on Facebook or twitter, but really all we are doing is crafting a new mask we want the world to see. Facebook is just the latest in a long list of false realities. No one looks bad there, no one posts their actual problems there, and no one grows there. We cover our scars, moles, and blemishes and forget they exist.

Twenty-eight hours in a car by yourself can rip your mask off. The disciplines necessary for a vibrant spirituality are antithetical to the masks we wear. When you face the face you've kept under your mask for so long you've forgotten it's appearance, you begin to grow. Disciplines make this a regular occurrence just as the drive to Denver and back was a stab to the gut of my pretend self. How many more of me are there? How many masks have I worn to make people think certain ways about me? How many times have I been fooled by someone else's mask?

Well, I'm still not deleting my Facebook account, because how else would I see things I don't care about from people I don't remember meeting?

We have to be committed to balance.

I'm recommitting myself to practicing spiritual disciplines because it is the only way I know how to come face to face with the consuming fire of God. Through disciplines we become like the woman in Mark 5 who saw the opportunity to be healed and made it happen by grabbing at Jesus' robe. We become proactive partners in the work God is already doing in our lives.

I'm also going to start writing and thinking a lot more about vulnerability and what it means to share our experiences, pains, and victories with one another because I think our scars are to be shared, our stories are to be told, and our masks are to be broken.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Humility, Mincemeat, and Metanoia

Jesus once told a story about two men. One was a Pharisee, super religious and full of knowledge of the law. He thought he had it figured out. His pride had blinded him to the need to repent, to recognize where he stood in relation to the God who loves him. 

The other character in Jesus' story is a tax collector. He was humble and knew where he stood in the sight of God and that a decision needed to be made. Humility is the first step toward metanoia, the transformation of your mind, your heart, and your soul. Humility is the truest form of self-awareness. Pride blinds your judgement, while humility opens your eyes.

To repent signifies far more than self-pity or futile regret over things done in the past. The Greek term metanoia means “change of mind.” To repent is to be renewed, to be transformed in our inward viewpoint, to attain a fresh way of looking at our relationship with God and with others. The fault of the Pharisee is that he has no desire to change his outlook; he is complacent, self-satisfied, and so he allows no place for God to act within him. The Gospel depicts him as a man that is pleased only with himself who thinks that he has complied with all of the requirements of religion. But in his pride, he has lost the meaning of true religion and faith.

Humility is cultivated like a garden in the souls of the faithful You can't ask someone to do this for you. You can't become full when someone else eats your sandwich. In the Buddhist tradition, the emphasis on humility is to gain proper understanding of yourself and the world around you. Humility liberates you from fase perceptions about the world around you and the intentions of others. I think that is important as we seek to understand our place in the world. As missiles are sent from Israel to Palestine, and vice versa, we all need to better understand the need for humility, self-awareness, and peace. Humility is working for peace and harmony and the inability to live peacefully is a sign of pride, sin, and separation from the will of God for all men to live in harmonious communion.

In April of 1943, a body washed up on the southwestern coast of Spain. This body was dressed in the uniform of a British Marine and his ID said his name was William Martin. Attached to his waist was a briefcase containing several official-looking documents. Spain was a neutral country in World War 2, but its military was pro-German, and as you might imagine, the Germans became very interested in William Martin and his briefcase.


The Spanish government never told the British they had found the body of Major Martin, and the Brits began sending frantic telegrams looking for him and his briefcase. They made it plainly clear that they needed to recover him as soon as possible.


What the Germans found in the briefcase was startling. Basically the documents outlined the entire Allied plan in the Mediterranean. It seemed that the Allies were going to launch an invasion on the coasts of Greece and Sardinia, which is what many in the Nazi high command had expected for some time. In fact, the Nazi intelligence office was so confident that William Martin’s information was genuine, they refused to hear evidence to the contrary from the Spanish coroner who did the autopsy. He tried several times to give them proof Martin wasn’t the victim of drowning, but instead had died of pneumonia.


The British knew the German intelligence service would be overconfident, they were counting on it. “Operation Mincemeat” as this exercise was called, relied heavily on a combination of overconfidence and an intense desire to please superiors which led to the false information making its way up the chain of command and onto Hitler’s desk. He responded by sending a tank division and extra troops to Greece. The German commands in Greece and Sardinia were put on high alert. 
The Allies were coming.


On June 6, 1944, the Allies did invade. But instead of invading in Greece, they landed on the coast of Normandy, France, in the largest amphibious assault in the history of the world. This invasion won the war for the Allies.


Pride is like a disease. It affects everything you do and can cause massive mistakes. It clouds your judgement, and like the Germans in “Operation Mincemeat,” you’ll ignore the truth when you see it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Freezing and Satisfied

This post originally appeared at www.twcd.wordpress.com, for more information on TWCD, and to donate to our cause, please visit www.twcd.us

There's nothing like a thirty hour drive clear your mind and give you time to evaluate recent events. We dropped off three incredible volunteers in Branson, Missouri. Three volunteers we didn't know only a week before. Three volunteers who did everything we asked of them and were as flexible as humanly possible as circumstances, jobs, and the weather constantly changed.
The way our time in New York ended was nothing short of Divine. We had been all over the New York metro area doing odd jobs and clearing trees. We needed a job to lift our spirits and remind us why we were there in the first place. A contact I made had given us a list of several homes on Staten Island that desperately needed help with fallen trees, but the list had about 40 homes and we only had one day left. We narrowed our focus to about six homes and I began calling them one at a time until we had three solid leads. We worked at two of them in the morning, ate lunch, and then headed to what would be our last job of the trip.
Pablo's house was the first I called and the last we helped. He walked out of his front door and reluctantly showed us the 130-year-old tree that had been cracked like a twig in his side-yard. The trunk was ten feet high where the tree had fallen and at least eight feet around. This beautiful 60-foot tall tree was made garbage by an indiscriminate storm and it needed to be cleared out of the yard Pablo had owned for nearly 30 years.
We assured him that we would do our best to cut this giant into manageable pieces by the end of the day. Two of our volunteers grabbed tomahawks and began working on the larger branches while the other cleared already separated limbs. Matt and I began using our reliable chainsaws on the hulking trunk. As smoke and sawdust filled the cold, humid air, Pablo continued to bring us homemade cookies, coffee, tea, and offered us his help clearing branches. His generosity far exceeded normal hospitality and bordered on Grace.
In Matthew 25, Jesus tells a story about the Last Days, when He will separate the faithful from the unfaithful. It is here where He says the famous phrase, "whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." Christians have used this phrase to support humanitarian aid projects for years, yet they often miss the heart of this lesson. When we act in a generous or compassionate way to those going through a hard time, we aren't being Jesus to them. In Christ's lesson, it is the less fortunate who represent Jesus to us.
Pablo went through a difficult day. His house was spared destruction as the tree missed it by a few feet. He needed help he couldn't afford. We were there to assist him and he blessed us as much as we could have hoped to bless him. That's the way this works--as much as you give away,  you are met with more. What we learned in New York is the same thing we learn on every trip we take: there's no greater surprise than the way helping someone else can bless your life.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Slowing Down for a Sip

I've spent the past few days all over New York City doing cleanup in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy. Our team has been on Long Island, Staten Island, and even Harlem as we try our best to help this area recover from one of the largest storms in recent memory. Today, we had the afternoon off after we finished work in Marcus Garvey park, and our intrepid young volunteers were set loose on the city. It was exciting seeing three first-timers set off on a quest to see everything New York has to offer in one afternoon, but didn't want any part of joining them. All I wanted was a good cup of hot coffee.

If you don't know me very well, you need to understand something: besides traveling and eating, nothing lights my candle like finding the best coffee shop in town. That, and stoking the vibrant mystical fire from the Holy Spirit that dwells deep inside of me, of course. I texted a coffee-loving friend of mine named Nate and asked him if he knew of any shops in New York. Of course he did. He informed me of a particularly good cup served at Grumpy Cafe in Brooklyn. I looked at my trusty subway map and realized it was going to take four trains and 50 minutes to get from where I was staying to the coffee I needed. 

A good cup of pour-over coffee is an exact science. Each cup is brewed individually as the brewer carefully measures the water, weighs the grounds, and meticulously brings them together. It's a chemical symphony that takes about five to ten minutes to complete, with only about three minutes of actual brew-time. Nothing about this process can be rushed and no one would mistake it for fast or easy. 

In total, I spent over an hour between wanting coffee and receiving coffee. I traveled almost 10 miles and under a river to get a cup of coffee. 

After watching the cup fill and finally taking it from behind the counter and letting it roll around my tongue for a split second before falling down my throat, I decided I'd have gone 40 miles further for the same cup. Not to say the cup itself was the point, because it wasn't. The journey getting it was far more important. 

The best things in life require us to slow down. Reflection and gratefulness go hand in hand. A friend of mine recently took a job after being unemployed for several months. My only advice to her was to think back on everything that happened leading up to that interview, to let the story of her past few months roll around on her tongue, and then finally digest it. As she starts a new journey, the only way to fully appreciate it is to slow down and to reflect.

Once you see how loose ends have found their place together around your life, you can't help but be overwhelmed with a spirit of gratefulness. When you enter into a place where you are grateful for each moment leading to the next, you have captured what living life to the fullest is all about. You've begun to digest life. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

City in the Dark

(New York Times)
Right now between 5-8 million people are without any kind of electrical power. Hurricane Sandy was hyped as the "storm of the century" by many on news channels obviously eager to cover something aside from the looming American election. It has lived up to its billing.

Have you ever done something that you knew was useless? I mean, have you ever worked really hard on something that you knew wasn’t going to matter or mean anything? There's an old expression in the south that says, "Don't paint the fence while the house is on fire." Nothing seems more idiotic than that. Imagine the work that goes into painting a fence. Several men painting the fence in front of the house while flames lick up the back porch, moving to the living room, and engulfing the kitchen. 


What color are they painting it?

Who cares?

Sometimes I think about the time I’ve wasted on relationships that were doomed to fail. Gifts I’ve bought girlfriends weeks before breaking up with them. Gifts they’ve bought me. The amount of effort spent trying to get the right card, to pick out the right flowers, to wear the right shirt. Then 2 months, one month, or one week later realizing that was a huge waste of time, that the girl I was trying to impress had a boyfriend already. That’s happened a lot actually, it seems to be a recurring nightmare I get to live.

When disaster strikes and your house is underwater or burning to the ground, reality hits you in the face. Certain things become really important. Certain things seem stupid. It doesn't matter what color the bedspread is while the bedroom is engulfed in flames.

While our friends in the northeast are getting slapped with perspective, we should consider this a learning opportunity. We should re-evaluate our priorities and huddle around what matters the same way most of Manhattan is huddling around the few working outlets in town. As they desperately try to find cell-phone service, we should be reminded of how precious life and human connections are.

In the first century, a man named Paul wrote to a church in Collosae. This church was struggling with the guilt and hardship of trying to work their way into heaven. Paul brought a fresh word to this church.

You aren’t working in vain.

Because Christ took away the guilt and the fear of death, your work has no end. The work of the Master is work that will last forever. You are accomplishing something that will be part of God’s new world. 

N.T. Wright once wrote that “Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of His creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or walk; every act of care and nature, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter for one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the Gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in all the world--all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make.”

While your labor won't get you into heaven, it will last for eternity. It will be brought into the new creation because working on earth out of love is bringing heaven to earth--which should be our goal. Right now I am gearing up with the company I work for (TWCD) to send a team to New York to do disaster relief. We will be trying to show hope to people on the darkest day of their lives. I am encouraged by scripture and the Holy Spirit's reassurance to me that I am not working in vain, that my labor will be blessed, and that He will make all things new.

About Drew

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A follower of Jesus, trying to build myself and others up from the inside out.