Do you ever experience coincidences that stop you in your tracks? The pastor on the podcast explained the text would be from Deuteronomy. I turned it up and pulled directly behind a car with a tag that read “DEUT28.” A minute later the pastor said, “We’ll be looking at chapter 28 today.”
He had my attention. I’m not going to rehash the whole sermon, but I do want to share the core of the message that followed as I drove home and has stuck in my mind to this day.
We have lived a long time with the idea of blessings and curses. There is an unspoken economy in our souls: do right and be blessed, do wrong and be cursed. Moses went into great detail in the Torah to explain the system of blessings and curses.
But we learned the system doesn’t always make sense. We can’t earn or merit blessing in a grace economy. We can’t keep any law perfectly. Plus, the wicked sometimes prevail, and the righteous still find suffering. What really is blessing then?
Jesus shows up in the New Testament with his mic-dropping “you’ve heard that it was said BUT” statements and flips the whole thing upside-down. Who is blessed? It’s definitely not the rich, religious, or even rule keepers.
Poor. Mourning. Meek. Hungry. Weeping. Hated.
Imbedded in poverty, financial and in spirit, is an advantage. Within wealth (and self-righteousness) is a diminishing return, a distraction, a temptation to hoard, to store up, to believe the lie that happiness lies in excess.
The true kingdom isn’t accessed through pearly gates but rather through sharing life and it’s goodness, not hoarding it, not laying up treasures. The only message that will change your life, the core of all right living, the path to “blessing,” is a life devoted to humbly loving your neighbor as yourself.
Simple, not easy. I’ve heard it before. You’ve heard it before. But God, we need to be reminded, over and over and over again. Sometimes it just takes a podcast, a car tag, and a trip to Chipotle to notice.
Targeted bombs in the mail and two racial-fueled shootings happened in less than a week. “A popularization of polarization” seems an appropriate description of what’s happening in our country. As we grieve the recent loss, where are you finding hope for our future?
It’s not a rhetorical question, either. My aim today is not to answer but to ask. There has obviously been a rumbling under the surface for years now. It seems like the temperature is rising, and we are seeing a boiling point of sorts.
I do acknowledge many of the stories that make headlines are extreme cases, outliers, those on the fringes. But nevertheless, the fringe cases just show more pronounced symptoms of the same sickness.
I’ve written about the idea of “us and them” quite a bit over the last few years, and with the opposing sides seeming to grow further apart I think we need to make a concerted effort to appreciate what we share. “The image of God in me greets the image of God in you” remains a posture that helps me squash hate, judgment, and prejudice within me.
I hesitated to write about this today, because I try to stay in my own lane. I’m not a political writer. I’m not well-versed in so many of the disciplines required to be an expert in this field. I believe, though, we each have our hand on the pulse of what’s happening in our nation in a unique way.
The answer is not one person, party, or policy. I know that much. It’s too easy to elevate a leader to superhero status, meanwhile ignoring the glaring faults and baggage that leader brings to the table. Charisma and the appearance of strength is not enough.
It’s certainly not just one of two groups that has the solution either. Democrats have good ideas. Republicans have good ideas. Neither has God on their side or the cure for all that’s wrong. What both sides have are people who need to cross the divide.
What is it then? What will it take?
Again, I don’t have the answer, but I’m ready to have the conversation. A friend suggested a YouTube channel recently called Middle Ground. It brings together what we would call opposing sides to facilitate conversation in a unique, creative way.
It’s a format that highlights what can be agreed on and provides a safe space to understand the points of disagreement. Topics range all across the board. As a follow-up to today’s post, I highly encourage you to pick one or two conversations. It’s a great reminder that on both sides there are always humans.
There is a childlike wonder that starts dwindling the moment you realize the fantastical stories you grew up with are just that—stories. Expectations of a “responsible” life and “successful” career creep in as soon as grades in school start to matter. The magic, the awe, the whimsy, begins to fade.
Shame, guilt, fear, insecurity—they all play their role, too. With age comes an awareness of imperfection, an ability to compare to others. As years pass, we collect failures, hangups, and bad habits. The child within us becomes more of a stranger, and we fall into our role as a “mature” adult.
I’m reminded of this tragic trend every time I have a chance to take off my “busy, hardworking, responsible, mature, adult” hat and replace it with the much lighter hat of my youth—a wizard’s hat, Mickey Mouse ears, a Batman mask or cape.
I guess I’m feeling nostalgic of my youth this morning. Lacie and I both share a love of the Harry Potter series and spent last Friday at the McWane Center for “An Evening at Hogwarts.” We had a suspicion we might be hanging out with a bunch of kids all night, but there were just as many adults there geeking out, too.
It was refreshing to pull my mind away from monthly sales targets, finances, and schedules and allow the kid to come back to the surface. It’s why I love to travel to new places. The same excitement, unfamiliarity and need to learn and adapt we feel so much as a child comes right back.
It reminds me that the best things aren’t really all that complicated. It just requires a willingness to step away from the norm, the never ending expectations, and the schedules every once in a while and step back into the wonder that came so easily as a kid.
It’s easy to fall into a routine. In fact, in some ways, I believe it’s necessary to live a normal life. I also feel equally convicted that the routine needs to be interrupted for the sake of our sanity, too.
Do you ever have those moments where you realize the cycle has been interrupted? It’s like a small waking up, and you notice you’ve arrived in a new place, had a conversation you didn’t expect to have, were surprised by something.
It always hits me when I’m somewhere I’m not supposed to be. I don’t mean that in a sketchy sense, like a teenager sneaking out to go to a party. I did have an example recently, though, where I consciously felt out of place and had that “break the cycle” feeling.
I ended up in Tuscaloosa on a Tuesday night, which is out of the ordinary for me to begin with. I attended a recruiting event, and as I was leaving town I decided to drive by a small tavern we frequented in college, The Alcove.
I’m driving down the road that would take me to the interstate. Something in my mind thought, “Oh yeah, I just remembered I’m near The Alcove. I’ll just drive by.” I turned on the next cross road and shortly arrived in front of a place that mostly just lives in my college memories now.
I immediately felt a little more alive. The narrative of the path I was on had me merging onto the interstate right about the time as I was pulling into a spot instead. The cycle was briefly interrupted.
As I pulled up, I I could hear faint music coming from inside. Even through the walls, I could tell what it was. I remembered Tuesday nights were jazz nights. I had to go in, if only for five minutes.
As I walked in the music grew louder, and I took a seat. The band, the bartenders, and the patrons were all different, and I felt just a tiny tinge of sadness just from the simple reminder that life moves on. I understand why so many turn the past into the “glory days.”
More than anything, though, I felt grateful. First for the memories and second for this tiny pocket of time, hardly a blip in light of a lifetime, that I could sit and enjoy a completely unplanned, unexpected moment.
A few short minutes later, I got back in the car and resumed my routine: go home, go to sleep, wake up to go to work the next day. But...this time, I rejoined the routine with a fresh reminder to be always be ready to let it be interrupted.
I woke up early the morning of my 29th birthday with some, let’s just say, bad symptoms. My initial thought, “Must be food poisoning.” My optimistic self still saw myself playing out the plans I had been looking forward to all year. I had all day to get over it.
As lunch rolled around, I came to terms with the fact that bed rest and a good attitude wasn’t going to stop the decline my body was insisting on having. I forced myself to get up and go to the doctor. Two hours later I was hearing, “Mr. Butler, you have the flu, type A and B, actually.”
I’ve had the flu before. It’s not ideal, for sure. But worse than the symptoms and the days you’re quarantined from society, I was about to miss my birthday. For the last fifteen years I’ve gone to eat hibachi to celebrate. I don’t think I’ve missed one year. Two brain-scraping swab flu tests later, the verdict was in. I wasn’t going.
When I got home I was still in the stage where you don’t feel like doing anything but burying your head in a pillow. Periodically, though, I would check my phone and various forms of social media as friends and family members sent well wishes and kind words.
I was reminded just how life-giving words of affirmation are to me. Everyone was essentially saying, “I’m really glad you were born, and this is why.” Even through a fever, an achey body, and a lot of disappointment, I couldn’t help but fill with gratitude.
I have grown to love words and writing. I cherish those spoken, typed, or written out just for me. So to all those who took time out of their day to make sure I knew you are glad I was born, thank you. Despite circumstances and missed parties, I was reminded why I matter to you, and that’s the greatest gift ever.
A few days later, I almost feel myself again, and I’m reminded that so many others don’t get to receive a health diagnosis that has a definite timeline for getting better. For many, the symptoms, the medicines, the doctor visits, never end.
In those long hours of staring at the ceiling, watching the light change as the day dragged on, wondering what my friends were doing instead, wishing I wasn’t making Lacie’s weekend so boring, I still had the assurance in the back of my mind that this was temporary.
Barring the unforeseen, many more occasions to celebrate will not be missed. Life will go back to normal tomorrow, and I’ll commit to getting the flu shot next year. I’ve learned my lesson these last two times.
But for those whose sick day turned into a season that turned into what seems like a never ending nightmare, my heart goes out to you. The flu for a week is nothing but a weak metaphor compared to the suffering so many endure day in and day out.
If that happens to be you, and the serendipitous nature of the internet and life led you to this post, then this is what I hope you hear...
I choose to hope in a day when all of this will be restored, where healing occurs, where true peace is a reality, where all that is wrong is made right, where suffering and fear are no more...
I can’t prove it, but I’m continuously compelled, drawn in, carried forward, sustained...The often quoted C.S. Lewis said, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”