Grief and Shame

'Beach Wail' photo (c) 2007, The Wandering Angel - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

It came to my attention that an acquaintance passed away recently. As someone who was only casually acquainted, I felt sad about this loss. This person was a respected member of the community, but they and I shared no depth of relationship.

As such, as I said, I felt a sadness. But I would be disingenuous if I termed it grief. Who knows? Maybe I’m broken; after all, “no man is an island,” as Donne wrote all those years ago…

Contrast this with the response of another acquaintance, who knew the deceased very well, was indeed friends with this person: they grieved. This wasn’t merely an “oh, that’s sad” reaction, but honest tears welling up from a wonded soul, aching from the loss.

Because they knew the departed.

Even so, and the thing which floored me, was this person seemed full of self-reproach for grieving a very real loss. For not being able to keep a kid on their emotions. They were almost ashamed of the tears which came, and hoped to do better in keeping their feelings in check.

Why is the Western world thus? Why do we feel this need to be in control–to control how we are perceived? Anguish and grief in light of a very real loss is nothing to be ashamed of. Rather, it’s something which makes us human. To which I would add, despite knowing the outcome, in the shortest (yet arguably most poignant) verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept.”

He cried because his friend, Lazarus, felt the sting of death. He cried, despite knowing He would shortly raise him from the dead. It didn’t matter; Jesus grieved.

And if He is at all our example, we would do well to follow it. When we suffer losses, we should likewise grieve–not put a lid on it, pretend it didn’t hurt, keep it under control, berate ourselves… For Christ cried, there is certainly no shame in our tears.

Ah! But we in the West don’t like to feel uncomfortable, or make others feel any discomfiture, do we? It seems the rational West all too often forgets the words of Pascal:

“The heart has its reasons that reason knows not of.”

Reason–rationality–has its place. But we are not merely creatures of cold rationality. We are more: spirit, soul, and body. Mind, will, and emotions. These are meant to work in harmony. Any one exalted, or suppressed, at the expense of the others leads to a life out of balance.

Like the American system of government, these parts of our beings are supposed to provide checks and balances to the others. Feelings don’t necessarily set the course, but they can confirm, or contradict, it. And oftentimes, the most rational course of action isn’t necessarily the most loving. There are things that make sense on paper, but are absolutely terrible to implement.

Like controlling one’s emotions in the face of terrible loss. There is a cost to the soul. Listen, being human means that we are mish-mashed pile of walking, talking contradictions. Hybrid creatures–of earth, and of heaven. It means accepting that we don’t understand ourselves.

It means giving ourselves permission to not be okay. (Kids instinctively know how to do this, until life drives it out of them).

It’s okay to not be okay. To not have it all together. And sometimes that means sitting, undistracted, in discomfort. In that which makes uncomfortable.

Sometimes, the best thing for the soul is a big, ugly cry.

What do you think? Jesus had no problem displaying His emotions–joy, sadness, anger–for all the world to see.
So why do we?

Books Worth Reading: Packing Light by Allison Vesterfelt

I have put off writing about Packing Light for some time. Reading it, for me, was like the frigid splash of a mountain stream to my slumbering face. It represents the antithesis of how I have lived. For somehow, rather than packing light, my life has been one of encumbrances; both the emotional, and the physical.

I hold onto things.

God knows why. Perhaps it’s growing up a child of divorce, having my family sundered, that compels me to hold onto the things I think which will make me happy. Yet, it never seems to work. Not the books I buy (I have hundreds sitting on the shelf unread), nor the gadgets–phones, tablets, computers, televisions, what have you–not the clothes with which I try to regain my lost youth (“Dad,” my son says, “stop dressing like me”).

Nothing, not one blessed thing, has been able to fill that gaping void left in my soul.

And yet how I’ve tried. How we’ve tried, my wife and I. The house we moved into twelve years ago, the one we called our “dream home,” came with the reality of a mortgage, maintenance, upkeep, stairs that we we tire of climbing…

The dream has become a reality. And expenses multiply. Yet, we hold onto it, for where else would we go? We have family here, friends here, our kids have lives here. But when the air conditioner needs work, when the carpets need replacing, when the garage is full to near capacity with clutter–it feels far more burden than blessing.

The weight of the quotidian obligations weighs far heavier on my shoulders than I ever thought they would. And this Atlas can’t shrug: a family counts upon him to provide: basic necessities, stability, love.

There is (it seems) neither time, nor energy, for the kind of journey which Mrs. Vesterfelt’s book describes.

All the energy goes to holding on…

It is into this life, this mind and heart, that Packing Light came as a slap in the face. I wanted to hate it, to vilify, and excoriate it. But I could not.

First, because the prose was so lithe and supple–beautiful in a way that I was both jealous, and couldn’t stop reading: “Your starting point matters when you go on a trip. It is your only frame of reference for what to bring, and what to leave behind. It is your foundation, your beginning. If, along the way, your realize you’ve been heading the wrong direction, you might change your trajectory, but you can’t change where you started. You have to leave home to go on a journey, but you can’t leave home without having a home.” Second, because I knew she was right: it is not the things to which we should cling tight, but rather the people:

It’s relationships, and shared experiences, that are to be savored.

None of things will take us–take me–anywhere in life. And I certainly cannot take any them with me when the faith shall become sight. This deeply personal tale of a trip across America was a deeply convicting read. Which, if I’m at all honest, is reason number three why it’s such a necessary tonic:

The book made me uncomfortable.

I do not presume to speak for you, but I’ve seen–particularly in conservative, evangelical America–uncomfortable is not something we like to be. It’s far easier to call down fire from heaven upon our neighbors (or family) than it is to traverse the dark rivers of our own hearts. We don’t want to go there.

We want, and know we need, to cast off our baggage. But we don’t want to do the work.

Because we’re afraid of what we’ll see there.

In Packing Light, Allison Vesterfelt takes our hands on this inward journey, and says in a gentle voice (redolent of Another’s voice), “You can do this. I’ve been there. It’s not easy. But it is worth it. Come along. You’ll see.”

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How are you, or are you not, packing light?

Revealed! Why @jonacuff Left the Dave Ramsey Group

Revealed!

Why Jon Acuff really left the Dave Ramsey organization:

After three years of looking for the Lampo, he never found his way to Narnia.

After three years on staff, he didn’t get the diamond-encrusted gold grille he was promised. Instead, Dave gave it to an Entre Leadership graduate in New Mexico, Tuco Salamanca.

The year’s supply of Gordo’s Queso he was promised in his contract turned out to be only a week’s worth of Tostitos Bean Dip. (Now that’s a gift that keeps on giving. But Jenny wasn’t too fond of it).

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Jon couldn’t tolerate the stunning brilliance anymore. The brilliant shine refracting off of Dave’s dome, that is! It hurt Jon’s sensitive eyes. Every time they met, he had to shade them.

And the straw that broke the camel’s back? In their all staff meeting last Friday, right in front of everybody, Dave mistook Jon’s queso for his favorite “Dome Polish,” slathering a great gob of it on his head with his money-dirty fingers.

That was Jon’s lunch!

Or it could be, after working there for three years, and despite doing his best to cover his tracks, Dave got wind of the fact that Jon (unbeknownst to anyone at Lampo) sold a story idea to CBS Television–Under the Dome.

Dave was mad they got Dean Norris to play him.

'Holy Smokes, it's Jon Acuff!' photo (c) 2011, Collin Harvey - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Jon at a convention, talking with his peeps about Dome

—————-

The truth is, as curious as we all are, it’s none of our business why Jon left the employ of Dave Ramsey. He’ll likely talk about it when he’s ready, or when the NDA expires. But until then, I have a hunch it’s to Start up the European division of Gordo’s Dips. I mean the market is wide open. Plus, bechamel is blasé, France! So there. Cheese dip is where it’s at.

Jars of Clay A Concert Review

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Much hash has been made of Jars of Clay abandoning their Evangelical roots. I’m not interested in that debate. The fact of the matter is that we are all called to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

That is what I see (and hear) Jars doing: making their faith their own, refusing to be defined by the convictions others project onto them. How this works in practical terms is that while honoring their past, youthful zeal has evolved into a deeper, more mature faith.

In essence, these are a group of guys who are so secure in their faith that making music about real life–their lives–comes naturally now. They have freed themselves from the expectations of a subculture that wants to keep them in a box called Christian music. As if Christians can’t make music about life, about struggle, conflict, heartache, without name-checking Jesus every few bars.

Last night at the show my wife and I attended, Dan Haseltine said (speaking of Inland), “This is a record that took us twenty years to make. One that we couldn’t have made when we were eighteen, and knew everything.” Meaning that he, and the group, have lived, have struggled, have seen and experienced things over the years. They’ve had victories, suffered losses, had setbacks, have had children, fights with their spouses…

They’ve lived.

And they’re better for it.

Last night’s show was at a smaller venue, so right off the bat you know it’s going to have an intimate feel. (My wife and I, because of my work schedule were late, and missed the first opening act, Kye Kye). What I noticed when Brooke Waggoner (an artist whose work, unfortunately, I wasn’t acquainted with prior to last night) began her set was that Stephen Mason (Jars’ guitarist/bass player/raconteur) was on stage, playing bass for her.

And from where I sat, he looked like he was enjoying himself–just playing for the sheer joy of it.

After Ms. Waggoner’s set, and during the intermission, the members of Jars were onstage setting up their own equipment. No roadies, just them–checking guitars, taping down lines and set lists. Gone was the bombast of, say, the 11th Hour tour. No video screens, no fog machines, no special effects.

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Just four guys (and supporting players) and their instruments.

The set list was a mix of old, and new, tunes. All delivered with passion, and without pretense. These are clearly men who trust one another implicitly (they would have to to still be doing what they do after all these years). I got the sense, based upon the repartee between Dan and Stephen, that these are guys who don’t take themselves seriously at all.

But they do take very seriously what they do, and that’s make great music. Despite being up on the stage, performing, the greatest impression I got from them was that they were both humbled, and honored, to be performing for us.

Among the old standbys, there were: One Thing, Flood (a rousing acoustic rendition), and Faith Like a Child (a crowd favorite, and certainly a highlight). Missing from the back catalog were: Love Song for a Savior, 5 Candles, Unforgetful You.

But they couldn’t play everything spanning their near twenty year career.

New songs included: After the Fight, Loneliness & Alcohol Alcohol, Inland, Fall Asleep, and others.

In all, it was a rousing, energetic, yet intimate, show. Looking forward to see where they go in the future. Of all I’ve said here, perhaps the best summation of the performance (and the highest praise), comes from my wife, Lisa, who said, “They’ve grown.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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Do you like Jars of Clay? What’s your favorite song? Have you heard Inland?

#BreakingBad As A Mirror Of Life

'Breaking Bad graffiti' photo (c) 2012, Lydia Fizz - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I don’t watch a lot of television; rather, I’ve historically been more of a movie guy, i.e., with a film I can escape reality for a couple of hours, and come back to my life.

Episodic television requires more of a commitment. But with movies relying more and more on tent pole franchises, and big budget effects, it also provides a depth of character development unparalleled in the cinema. Which means to me that a show has to provide a great depth to its characters, offer stellar writing, and acting, to make it worth my time.

I’m a busy man–I have a family, a job that often requires more than forty hours per week, I’m an avid reader, and somewhere amongst that mix I’m trying to write stories of my own.

A show has to really stand out from the crowd to grab my attention.

Breaking Bad has been such a show. I know it’s debated among Christians whether a show ostensibly about the drug trade is worth the viewing. To my mind that’s akin to asking if the biblical Book of Judges is worth the reading. Yes, unsavory people do decidedly unsavory things.

Much like ourselves. What haven’t we–collectively, as a race, and individually–done in the service of self? In the case of Walter White, meth is merely a consequence of his greater sins: pride and egotism. Liberally sprinkled, of course, with an unhealthy dose of self-deception.

Who among us can’t identify with that? Who among hasn’t been guilty of thinking better of ourselves than we honestly ought? Like Walt, we tell ourselves, “I’m not so bad. I’m doing this for xxx.”

We are masters of self-justification. “I’m doing this for my family,” or, “I’m not as bad as [fill in the blank].” Thing is, God doesn’t grade on a sliding scale. If He did, then the law would have been enough. Our good deeds would outweigh the bad, and would be trodding on streets gold without need for an atoning sacrifice.

But He did say send Jesus, His son, to die. And the choice lies before us everyday. Accept, or reject? Surrender to Him, or continue trying to control–to game the system.

In fact, this is the very same choice which is set before Walter White week after week. Yet instead of life, he continuely chooses death. And every time he does, he dies a little more inside. C.S. Lewis once said something like every choice we make turns us more towards, or away, from God.

And as is often the case in real life, in Breaking Bad God seems to be the silent mover–the “still, small voice”–behind the scenes, laying these choices out at Walt’s feet. Laying down the lines, and watching, weeping, as he steps over every one. As in real life, we often don’t recognize Him, because He shows up wearing a human face, speaking in a human voice: Saul, Skylar, Jesse…

Your spouse, your kids, your friends, your employer.

What it comes down to is this: do you choose the way of control, or of surrender–death, or life? The choice is yours, Walter White. In surrender, yes, there is vulnerability. (It hurts to lay down one’s rights, one’s pride. But in the end, chances are one comes out alive).

But there is also freedom.

The way of control, not self-control, but of being controlling, of steam-rolling over other’s rights for the sake of self, of protecting and nurturing one’s pride, leads to only one place:

Death.

Before you are life and death–in every thought, moment, word, deed.

What do you choose?

“Choose you this day whom you will serve.”

Choose wisely.

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