Our dogs are never more vocal than when another dog is on the other side of the fence from them. I’m reminded of this every time we visit my in-laws’ lake house. Poor little Copper dog who lives near their house always gets verbally assaulted upon arrival.
There’s something about the idea of him being “out there” that drives our dogs crazy. Let him inside the gate, the barking stops, the dogs adjust, and they soon forget the supposed threat from moments before.
When I’m in here and you’re out there, when I am part of “us” and you are part of “them,” fear always controls the situation. Remove the fence, blur the divide, the fear goes away.
We still struggle with identity as a whole. We are tribal by nature. Without a “them” we have a hard time understanding the “us.” How easy it is to define who we are by who we aren’t.
We drove out one evening to watch the sunset. A large house right off the water has a #TrumpHouse sign on the edge of the property. As we waited for the sun to go down a boat full of people pulled up in front of the house and in unison shouted, “Build that wall!”
I laughed at the time, because it caught us off guard and was obviously a perfect caricature of the right wing motif (expensive boat, huge mansion, all-white, animosity towards the “other”).
It wasn’t until I sat and watched our dogs the next day erupt in barking towards our unfamiliar furry friend outside the fence that it clicked for me. “Build that wall” suddenly made much more sense. We fear the “other,” but the reality is that we are them and they are us.
I’ve kept a note on my phone for the last three years titled “Where I am spiritually today.” Whether we acknowledge it or not, our faith evolves—sometimes through rigorous searching and sometimes through circumstances. Normally it’s both.
I look back at times I thought I was at an intellectual crossroads, when the reality was that I was just hurting personally. The problem of pain will always remain trickier than theories and doctrines.
The note I had written out had sections for everything: what is God, how do we approach the Bible, science and evolution, is Hell actually eternal torment, what’s the point of prayer, what is the Church, and on and on.
Here’s where I’m at today...
Searching, questioning, exploring, deconstructing—it’s an interesting and worthwhile pursuit. Yet, I’ve found most of what you’ll get hung up on, makes little to no difference in how you practically live your life.
Now pause: I am not minimizing the horrific baggage some people must shed in order to heal and move into a healthier spirituality. “Religious trauma” is a term for a reason. There are also important divides and stances to be made. But...
...I’m just saying 6,000 years versus 13.7 billion doesn’t really change how I love my enemies. Atonement theories don’t change the fact that I have Good News. Literal versus metaphorical doesn’t make something more or less true.
Now don’t get me wrong, I will remain the one who never tires of a conversation over coffee or brews for hours about the mysteries of the universe and the purpose of our existence. To this day I am passionately curious and an email away from setting up a time to talk.
But I’m not losing sleep over parsing out every detail anymore. I’m not existing in a state of turmoil. The grieving phase of shedding my childhood faith has passed, and the appreciation for mystery with less emphasis on certainty has replaced it.
I’ve arrived at a simpler conclusion, an operating philosophy, a new paradigm. I’ll steal a phrase I heard recently from a church who cut their doctrine statements down to one line:
“Life is a gift, and love is the point.”
The rest is details.
I was an early adopter to Instagram and scored the coveted @firstnamelastname handle. For years I posted on that account. Hundreds of photos, captions, comments, and memories were stored there.
Then one day someone came along and decided they wanted the handle for themselves. I declined their request, and it wasn’t long before I found myself locked out of my own account, reported for “inappropriate content.”
I was never able to recover my (appropriate) content nor prove what happened, but a new account with my name and a “Public Figure” description was soon created. I think it’s pretty obvious that the director/producer Chase Butler beat the system.
It’s all good. I’m not bitter, and please don’t harass the guy. This was years ago. If I hadn’t lost such a large catalog of memories, I might even think it was funny.
Like any circumstance, good or bad, the lesson learned from it can’t be stolen.
I had spent years creating a carefully curated catalog of highlights from early adulthood. I never once thought it might be taken from me. I never suspected that someone else might put their interests before my own. It never occurred to me that someone would try to break into my world.
That all sounds dramatic when thinking about an Instagram account, but it serves for a pretty good metaphor. There might be a day when everything you built is taken in an instant. You might have to start over. It won’t be fair. And it might never look the same. The images in your new catalog might be drastically different.
There is a naivety in life we must shed. We also can’t become cynical when bad things happen. We must loosen the death grip we have on the way we think our Iives should look. If we don’t, when things end up not looking like they used to, we will be crushed. The memory of our pre-tragedy life will leave us hopeless.
I created a new account. Back at square one, I posted a new picture. I started the story over again. Do you see where I’m going with this? When life doesn’t go according to plan, when what you once had doesn’t exist anymore, please don’t give up. Start over. Again. And again. Keep telling your story. I’ll be your first new follower.
It was 9:00pm on a Sunday night. Our group project was due the next morning. For weeks I’d waited on one particular member’s part. After asking repeatedly, I completed his portion for him and submitted the project.
What did I do when he texted me at the last minute to say he was at the library and was going to work all night to do his part? I told him to go for it. I let him work all night, even though the project had long been completed.
In my mind he deserved to slave all night to complete a project I already had to finish myself. Go ahead—waste an entire night working hard for nothing. It was justice in my mind.
I tried for weeks to get him to participate. To think of him working late through the wee hours to do his part, getting refill after refill of stale coffee, for it not to be included in the final presentation, was sweet revenge.
I’m generally not a confrontational person. Even when slightly bullied in sixth grade, I found a passive aggressive way of getting back at my enemy...
I knew our gym class always followed lunch. He would have his lunchbox with him as we all waited to leave. After careful observation, I noticed he always left his trash in the lunchbox.
I carefully unzipped his lunchbox while waiting to leave gym class. When the bell rang he stood up to leave. His lunchbox flung open as he grabbed it, and all of the remnants of his lunch flew over the gym floor. I watched from afar as he cleaned up the mess.
I think it’s a natural human tendency to keep score in our minds.
We find all sorts of way to even the playing field when we don’t get our way or believe someone has taken advantage of us. You know what doesn’t work in a relationship? Keeping a scorecard. Whether it’s your friend, coworker, relative, or spouse, save yourself a lot of heartache, and throw out the scorecard.
I don’t feel like a just judge when I look back at the group project member or the middle school bully. I look back with clarity I couldn’t have had in the moment—both people were dealing with things I didn’t understand.
I don’t find more intimacy with Lacie if I make it a point to keep up with whose done what around the house (she always does more, for the record). I move into deeper levels of relationship when I look for more and more ways to serve her better.
Grace is more than a word that rhymes with a lot of other words in Christian music.
I think Jesus’s upside-down, backwards model of grace is still one of the most scandalous, progressive, beautiful principles for existing in life-giving relationships. It goes against our entitled, self-righteous, self-centered ways of thinking.
Give another chance. Forgive when it hurts. Forgive again. And again. Go two miles when asked to go one. Outdo one another in good works. And throw away the dang scorecard.
Even Jesus, when asked what to do with the adulterer, instead of looking up at her in her shame, he knelt and kept his eyes towards the ground, writing in the dirt. He didn’t devise a plan. He didn’t release a verdict.
He asked anyone who was without sin to go ahead and execute justice. No one was stoned that day. The rocks fell to the ground. It’s time to drop yours, too. It’s easier to walk through life when you aren’t carrying all that weight.
Do you ever look back at the various stages of your life with embarrassment? It could be as simple as a ridiculous haircut at thirteen or as serious as a destructive personality trait you’ve grown out of.
We all have them.
For me, I had the “Bama bangs,” as we’ve now coined them. You remember, right? The swoosh and the flip. If you don’t, just trust me, it was pretty bad.
When I look back at photos I’m pretty sure I just reflected whoever my best friend was for the first half of life. Sports phase. Skateboarding phase. Country phase. There might be a photo of me wearing a cowboy hat somewhere, believe it or not.
Yes, we can laugh at the silly trends, but my adult life has required me to do a good bit of internal work, too. I wasn’t always a good friend, boyfriend, son, brother, husband. I’ve been manipulative, judgmental, selfish, and unkind plenty of times.
I believe growing pains don’t just refer to that one year I gained thirty-five pounds and shot up five inches. By the way, I had to throw away a lot of clothes. That Good Will bag looked like someone with dissociative personality disorder cleaned out their closet.
That was okay, though, because it was around that same time music entered my life, and I started to really lean into the fact that I needed to tell my own story, shape my own identity, grow up.
And it’s not just people who have growing pains, either...
Societies, cultures, religions. We’ve come a long way from some of the heinous practices of old. I heard a pastor describe an interesting timeline recently when it comes to Christianity and Islam and the growing pains both have gone through.
He explained Islam is roughly 1,300 years old. What was Christianity doing around age 1,300? We were leading the Crusades and Inquisition. Unfortunately in our case, our violence was from the top down, rather than on the fringes.
Growing pains are pervasive in all aspects of our existence. Change, as I’ve said before and will continue to preach, is absolutely necessary. “What we’ve always done” is not a healthy philosophy.
What can we do to always be growing forward?
Now that is an idea I can get behind. The cost if we don’t is just too high. Growing pains—some cost us our pride, others cost us generations of oppression. Do you know yours?
more thoughts on change: Change is not only inevitable but imperative