Today’s Lament

The fairy tale came true.
What I had always dreamed for.
The beautiful wife.
The house.
The job I actually enjoyed doing.
A loving community around me.
A new world
Where the impossible
Can become possible.
Where even death is defeated.
And above all,
A new life with God
Who was found to be real
And more than I ever could
Have imagined.
But as I look around
At this garden of paradise
That surrounds me,
I discover there is one final piece
That doesn’t quite fit.
And that piece, to my horror,
Is myself.
And my mind goes back
To Adam in the garden,
Surrounded by beauty
And perfection,
Everything a man could
ever want,
And he has to cover himself
In his shame
And he hides from God.
Did he want to leave,
Knowing he was not worthy,
And could not live up
To what was now
On his shoulders?
I always wondered how
He could’ve given it all up,
But now,
Finding myself in the fairytale,
I discover
I am not Prince Charming.
If anything,
I am the villain.
And this is one poem
I’m not going to end
With a “but’,
Or a ‘happily ever after’.
I’m sorry to disappoint you
But I have disappointed myself.
I am not the man I wanted to be.

I don’t want to be encouraged or cheered up, I just need to feel and process this. Not every day in life is about grinning and clapping. Sometimes we just gotta be real with how we are feeling and allow that to be seen in us, Instead of acting like manifesting anything less than smiling is dangerous.

The Storm

When I was young, I lived in Oklahoma and my family was caught in a huge tornado. So big that it was off the measurement scale. I remember we didn’t have a basement, so we all had to huddle in a cupboard in the centre of the house.

I remember feeling surprised that I wasn’t afraid. The whole thing was so overwhelming and there was just this sense that this was something totally out of my control that I had no hope to resist.

I think life is full of storms, and sometimes fighting it is just not going to work, and the only thing you can do is tie down your belongings and head for the centre of the house to ride it out.

I am so used to fighting and its tiring. Wisdom comes in learning what cannot be resisted, what cannot be forced to change, and knowing when endurance is your only option. We weather the storm, and indeed we are weathered by it. Its the storm that shapes us and thickens our skin, and builds us in character.

No one wants the storm. God knows, I do not. But as Job says to his wife, “shall we accept only good from God and not trouble?” Shall we forget that God is also a consuming fire, and those closest to him are often forged like a sword in the flames?

The thing is: the storm is coming, and there is nothing we can do about it and it cannot be stopped. Will we be swept away by fighting it, or will we learn to find the quiet spot in the eye of the storm, the peace in its centre?

The Open Door

Even on the worst day of your life, God’s door is open to you.

You won’t want to go in, because you will not think you can, that you don’t deserve it.

The Bible says that “even when we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” He can’t deny who he is. He can’t deny his love for you, that never fades, no matter who you are or what you have done, he is still who he is.

It’s hard to understand, it’s hard to accept, that we are welcome in his presence, in whatever state he finds us.

The thing is, when we are at our worst, when we are at our lowest, it even seems that’s when he opens his arms the widest.

Jesus said that it is not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick, and He is the Great Physician, and he is a great Father. To a good parent, no matter what your child has done, you do want the best for them and want them to live their best lives, but you will love them no matter what.

And God knows, the moment you walk through the door to life with him, whatever you have done, walking through that door is the first step to getting better, and that’s all He ever wanted.

In the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus tells how the son had led a life of terrible mistakes, and in returning home to his father, he expected to have to live like a servant in rags and eat with the pigs as he deserved, but even before he arrives at the house, the father runs ahead to meet him on the road and clothes him in a fine robe and puts on a banquet for his return.

What an impact that has on a heart, to see love like this from the Father. It’s truly heart transforming. As the Bible says, “he who has been forgiven much, loves much.”

“So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20)

Not only are you allowed through the door, the moment you take a step in its direction, the Father is moved by compassion to meet you on the way.

Holy Depression

As hard as this place is right now, it’s a holy place, because it’s the place I first met Jesus. He is the Good Samaritan that walks the road and lifts up those fallen by the wayside. That’s where you will always find Him.

Words Were A Terrible Savior

One of the most precious gifts
God has given me
is my words and the ability
to use them creatively.
in silence,
I get far more done.

I’m learning not to use my words,
but to rest in His power.
I’m finding out,
my universe was never held together
by the management of my tongue,
but His secret and quiet hands
had been composing in the background all along.
May I be still enough to watch them.
May I let go and trust.

Christianity and Psychology

Just some current thoughts on the interaction between Christianity and psychology. As always my ideas are never final but are usually topics I am currently thinking through, so make your own minds up:

God wrote two books. The first is the Bible and the second is the book of nature. What is the book of nature? It’s observable reality, all around you and within you. It’s the very life you are living. God teaches us through our life and what we experience, just as he teaches us through his written word. God is not found inside the church building alone, he is found flooding all aspects of our lives.

As Christians, we don’t need to be afraid to interact with things like science and psychology, as at their best, these things are about understanding observable reality. Sometimes they can go off track a bit in the theoretical, so we always need to keep the Bible as our standard and measuring stick, but when these things are about learning from reality and direct experience, they can be very useful to us.

Psychology in particular can be very useful when it comes to self-knowledge, coming from a curiosity about ourselves and our inner workings and behaviours, noticing patterns and underlying reasons why we react and behave in certain ways. And also by way of experimentation, trying and seeing what works well to have a healthy mind and outlook.

As Christians we should use our discernment and should never compromise on the written revelation, as God’s word is his revelation of himself, and we as humans are very limited in our capacity, so we should never think we know better than God. It’d be a bit like an ant thinking he knows the ways of humanity and developing pride over it. The thing is, as humans our understanding is based on observable reality and experience, but the problem is that our field of view is incredibly small and limited. Consider the size of our little Earth compared to the unimaginable enormity of the universe. So we are making assumptions with such a small amount of sample data, so we need to be humble before God who sees all things. Like Job, we must always be ready to say, “surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know!” (Job 42:3)

However, God gave us these human brains to use them, so we shouldn’t dismiss human observation altogether as it can be very useful. Techniques around self-acceptance and self-understanding can be so helpful when it comes to spiritual formation, and I see the biblical practice of confession working on this level, where God’s light is shining on our hearts, revealing all, and when we bring things out into His light, there is healing. But before there is true heartfelt confession and healing, there must first be a seeing, and I believe these tools we get from human psychology can be used by the Spirit. Because actually, when you think about it, it’s not so much that God is using human tools, rather it’s that the human tools were developed by reading God’s book of nature in the first place. God made us how we are, inside and out, so at their best these tools are about learning what God has made and how it works.

Worsley Woods

The other day, I was walking through the woods with my wife, and we were walking a long path, where the trees were arching over us from both sides. It was a windy day, and all the leaves being blown in unison created a great rushing sound. Most people walking along the path seemed deaf to it, but it chose to bless me and I was captivated. My wife pointed out something about the trees I had never noticed in all my years staring with wonder at them: most of the leaves had been blown firmly in one direction, so even when the wind died down, they held their position. I thought of how at first the leaves were opposed to the pushing of the wind, and how for a time there would be a back and forth in their movement. But now, after much time, they are solid in the new direction. I thought of how I too am resistant to the winds of God’s Spirit, and how I am back and forth, flowing with him then working against him. The leaves brought me hope and excitement for the future, when I too would abide unshakably in his way, even when I can’t feel his presence.

Letter to St. Nick

Little John: Dear St. Nick, my friend and I had a terrible argument and I don’t know what to do. I said sorry for my part in it, but they won’t even admit their part. I’ve tried to sit down and talk with them many times, but they just won’t listen. What should I do?

St. Nick: Dear John, I’m sorry to hear that things are difficult with your friend as friendship is something very important to me. Follow my advice and I will lead you to a happy Christmas.

You’ve heard it said that communication is very important in friendship, so you were right to try, but sometimes my dearest John, I find when I cannot enter through the front door, I enter through the chimney, and when I cannot deliver my presents during the day, I do it at night.

You see, sometimes words will not do it, and a gentler wisdom is required. You must be shrewd and win your friend over without words. For there is a time for speaking and a time to be quiet. Be nice to your friend, even when they’re difficult and the Christmas Spirit will be with you.

Make your Christmas wish with me and trust in my power. I have been Father Christmas for a long time, and I know my children so well. I know the number of hairs on their heads and I love them dearly. Little John, do not worry. You will see my Christmas fall upon the land. I am irresistible and I am good.

Buddhism & Christianity: Escaping the World?

The Buddha taught that the cause of suffering is desire, and therefore in order to be free we must extinguish desire through the eight-fold path that he laid out. To be charitable to Buddhists, they are not usually meaning all desire is bad, as there is a right desire that leads to freedom in their view. So desire here might be better understood as attachment. To the Buddhist, it is because we are attached to the things of this world that we remain in this world. And that is a bad thing in their view, because they believe we are trapped in an endless cycle of reincarnation. So for the Buddhist, “the aim is to let go” as the late Ajahn Chah stated it. To let go of attachment to this world, so we can go beyond it. The Buddha described nirvana or enlightenment as a candle flame going out. In fact, it was the Buddha’s “first noble truth” that he expounded, that “life is suffering.” So for the Buddhist, this life and world is something to be escaped from or extinguished like a candle flame, and so we must detach from it.

So for the Christian, we acknowledge that there is much suffering in life, and there is something seriously wrong and broken about the world. The Bible also warns us to not get caught up in the world and its practices and to avoid the sinful desires of the flesh. If we read this superficially or out of context, we might conclude that Christianity and Buddhism are teaching the same thing, but this is not the case. When the Bible talks about the practices of the world and the desires of the flesh, it is referring to living and behaving in ways that are harmful. It is more about keeping away from paths that lead us into peril. Keeping on the “straight and narrow” as they say. The Bible talks about the war of the Spirit and the flesh within us. It is like there are two voices in our heads, like the old cartoon of having an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. So it’s not talking about denying or abandoning the flesh in some literal way, like self-mortification or leaving our bodies behind and entering some spiritual plane, like some kind of cosmic butterfly shedding a cocoon. No, when the Bible talks about the flesh, it means the carnal or broken desires within us that lead us to hurt ourselves and others. This is what we are moving away from, not discarding our bodies and our lives altogether! We’re not “throwing the baby out with the bath-water”, as the saying goes.

For the Buddhist, this world was never good, it was always evil and a source of suffering. But for the Christian, this world is broken, but it was not this way in the beginning. For the Christian, this world we live in and we ourselves are fundamentally good, because God created us and he doesn’t make mistakes, and what he made he looked upon and said it was good. Yes, this world is broken and it often doesn’t feel very good, but that’s because we have been given free will by God, which we often use for destructive acts, and this has an effect on the world around us. But God made no mistake in giving you free will, because if you force someone to love and obey you then that is not real love. Real love has to be freely given. God is not a slave driver so he made us free.

So for the Christian, we’re not just going to pack our bags and abandon this life. God said that it was good, and God’s word never fails. Through eyes of hope we trust in his word which is promise. As the psalmist said, “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13) We are not trying to escape this world and find a better one, as if we might build a tower big enough to enter heaven and escape it. The Buddhist tries to climb by his own efforts through moral living and meditation to reach something like God or whatever is Ultimate Truth or Nirvana, but our hope as Christians is a God who says, “no, you don’t have to, I am coming to you!” You see Heaven isn’t a place we escape to, Heaven is coming down to earth. God makes his home among us. And the Bible talks about the union of heaven and earth, when God will mend this broken world and dry every tear. So rather than seeing this life as something evil that needs to be abandoned, our hope is in restoration, that what was created to be good will be good again. So what we do in this life really does matter, as we are moving towards a better world, and we can join in with this today. We can join in with God today to make this world a better place, in whatever small way we can, until the final day when God renews all things for good.

Christians and Buddhists can join hand-in-hand on many points. The Buddha was right to notice that something was seriously broken about the world, and growing up in an ancient Hindu context as he did, he also rightly saw that those deities, or idols, or statues that they worshiped, and the superstitious practices they performed, had no power to do anything. It is not a wonder that he thought the only answer was to blow it all out like a candle flame, in hopes of reaching some Ultimate Reality beyond this one. I only wish he could’ve known the God I know, the God that doesn’t make me labour to get to him, but the God who comes down to me, and meets me where I’m at. The God who knows the number of hairs on my head, and my every word before I speak it, whose thoughts concerning me are greater than the grains of sand. I was a Buddhist once myself, and I have traveled that lonely path, but when I fell by the road-side, Jesus was there to pick me up, the Good Samaritan on the road. And as much as I would like to leave this world behind sometimes, I see him working and restoring and breathing new life in. He says, “see, I make all things new.” And I will be forever grateful. He took me by the hand when I was nothing, and he has been putting my pieces back together ever since. Praise him, wherever you are, praise him, he is good, he is good!