People say I’m a dreamer… I hope I’m not the only one.

lovehateI think it’s an amazing time to be alive; I really do.  The ability we have to be connected to one another is unprecedented in our history.  We can tweet and text and facebook all over the globe, catching each other up on our kids’ activities and growth, or simply share news articles about information.

We can send funny videos of cats playing the piano to our friends, or pictures with witty captions to our contacts.  We even have the ability to share pictures of the tossed salad we’re currently enjoying in New York with someone special in Nebraska or Dublin.

As it happens with everything in life, with all of the good comes some not so good, even some down right bad.  Looking at social media, lately, it’s hard not to notice just how mean we can be to each other, and I wonder why that is.

I’ve read articles, seen news stories and heard people offer explanations as to why:  We want to be right about things; we have the time and ability on these various platforms to craft just the right zinger so that we can feel superior; we can hide behind our computer screen and not fully have to deal with confrontation. These reasons, and others, make sense to me, but leave me feeling somewhat deflated.

Not long ago, I heard on the radio that 72% of Americans believe in God these days, which is down from 84%.  Now, 72% isn’t such a bad percentage, politicians would kill for such approval ratings, but the fact that the numbers are dropping says something about what we’re going through as a society.  What exactly does it say?  Well, I’m not exactly sure, but for me, when I look around, I see people of all races and beliefs who desperately desire deeds over words; they are seeking meaning in what is done and not so much in what is said.

In 1992, Bishop Desmond Tutu said, “God without you will not, as you without God cannot.”

When I think about the teachings of Jesus, I am intrigued and constantly challenged by the message that the Kingdom Of God is upon us, and we are called to participate with God in bringing it in.  To me, that means that we cannot simply wait around for God to magically take away the troubles and injustice.  It will never happen that way.  The days of wandering in the wilderness are over! There is a path before us, and we must take it!

We have, everyone of us, been made in the image and likeness of God.  That means that we have intimate access to what God is centrally about, to what God is–

LOVE

We are called, by whatever tradition of faith you subscribe to, (and, even if you subscribe to no faith tradition at all, we know it in our very makeup) to love one another.  To love and to be loved is what we all seek.

I, myself, am a Christian.  For me, when I want to know what God is like, what a life filled with God is like, I see that in Jesus.  For Christians as a whole, Jesus is the divine revelation of God.  When we look at Jesus, we see love in action; we see God in action.

Maybe you’re not a Christian.  Maybe you think “religion” is the root of all that’s wrong with our country right now.  To be honest, I believe you could make a very strong argument for that case, and, based on religion’s sketchy at best track record, I don’t blame you for a second.

But, what if, in this second chance moment, we put all that aside.

What if we were to put aside all of our present conceptions of what it means to “get it right” and concentrated solely on being “God-like”?–On being “Love-like.”

What would happen if we poured all of our energies, all of our purpose and all of our day to day efforts into being love in action?

What if we were God in action?  What would this world be like?

I have an idea of how it would be, and so do you, when you take the time to think about it; when you take the time to dream about it.

I don’t need you to be like me.  I don’t need you to think the way I think.  In fact, that would bore me to tears.  But, I do need you to dream.  I need you to hope, and I need you to remind me how to love.  We can remind each other, if you’re game to try.

I believe, despite everything, that we’re close.  We’re closer than we’ve ever been! Can you imagine?

“People say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.  I hope someday you’ll join us.  And the world will be as one.”

These words from the great John Lennon resonate with me, still. They lift me up and shake me, as great art can.  I hope I can muster up the courage to keep on dreaming so that some day, we’ll all be able to see the dream become reality.

How Phil Robertson and Carrie Underwood gave me my best Christmas present of 2013

1phil-robertsonI love the giving and receiving of Christmas gifts.  This year was no exception.  My wife and I have been married long enough to know it’s probably best to ask each other what we want, so there’s not a whole lot of surprise there. But occasionally we surprise each other in the way we give the gifts.

Maybe I’ll put a small gift in a big box as a disguise.  Sometimes, my wife will leave me a couple of notes on a short scavenger hunt to shake things up.  We try to make it fun.

Most years, in addition to giving each other what we’ve asked for, we try to surprise each other with something small that we don’t see coming.  I like those types of gifts.  I like small, surprising gifts.  They can mean a great deal, especially when you don’t see them coming.

This Christmas, I got a couple of those gifts and neither one of them were from my wife.  They were from Phil Robertson and Carrie Underwood.

Okay, I’ll explain.

NUP_157753_1616.jpg

If you’ve just returned from a two month trip to Mars, you may not be aware that country singer Carrie Underwood played the lead role of Maria in The Sound Of Music in a live production on NBC.  A few people had opinions.

If you’ve just landed, you also may not know that the Mike Brady of the new millennium, Phil Robertson, the patriarch of A&E’s Duck Dynasty, said a few things that caused some controversy.  A few people had opinions.

Anyone who saw The Sound Of Music or heard about the Robertson GQ interview had a reaction; some kept it to themselves, but many people went to Facebook and Twitter to put in their two cents, using either Carrie’s performance or Phil’s opinions as an English Comp-type writing prompt.  I did the same, posting a couple of things on my own social media platforms, commenting on others, and sharing posts of other writers with those who come to my feeds.  I also read a whole lot from other people, and between writing my own posts and reading dozens of other people’s thoughts, I realized how important it is for me to respond to everything in love.

It surprised me how quickly I can forget that.

Some folks were just downright mean and nasty, and neither side can claim total innocence on that point.  When I saw how one side or the other was reacting on the web, I, too, got riled up.  What I learned, though, is that I don’t like myself when I don’t consider what I say or write before I say or write it.  If I say or write something before doing my best to check in with how it’s going to land, not only will my words not have the effect of persuasion or real change that I might have intended, they could really do some damage.

The gift I received was a reminder that relationships and my character are far more important than getting in a jab at someone so that I can feel like I’ve gotten one up one them; that really does no good, in the end.

I want to be clear.  I want to make my points.  I want my voice to be heard.  But, I also want to resolve to do those things without feeling the need to be so hurtful.

This doesn’t mean that I’m expecting us all to hop into Michael’s rowboat and sing “Kum Ba Ya” any time soon.  I just think we could all be a bit nicer to one another, that’s all. Here’s hoping!

Oh, and by the way, my wife surprised me this Christmas with a brilliant new wallet.  I love it!

Goodbye, Christmas. Hello, New Year! I’m glad you made it!

EpiphanyGoodbye, Christmas 2013!  I’m going to miss you, but I’m glad I had you while I did.  Yesterday, on the last day of the Christmas season, Epiphany, I got to reflecting on all the joys of this season and why this year, in particular, was so special.

For one thing, we got to see the whole family, and that doesn’t happen often anymore.  Our daughter, back from her first semester in college, loaded up in the van with my freshman-in-high-school son, my Bringer-Of-Christmas wife, and me, and we all took the trek down to Oklahoma City and Arkansas.  It was a quick trip.  We left Princeton on December 23rd and pulled into Christmas Eve in OKC by early evening, and the time in the car together was everything I’d hoped it would be.  We talked and teased and laughed and got bored and listened to This American Life podcasts and watched the Doctor Who Christmas Special and ate way too much at McDonalds and were exhausted when we finally got home on January 1st.   It was perfect.

If your work has to do with Christmas, as mine did with my production of A Christmas Carol at The Media Theatre, the whole thing can get to be a bit much.  It never does for me, though .  Sure, I can sometimes get tired of the commercialism and the Lexus commercials where, apparently, there’s some world in which people live where they can afford to buy their spouse a brand new Lexus SUV, drive them to the magical, family Christmas tree farm, put the star on top of the already lighted tree and give them something from “Jared.”  But, in all these years, I’ve never lost my passion for what I know Christmas is most centrally about–The power of transformation in response to love and the promise that all things are continually being made new by the one who came.

This year was no exception and was made even more wonderful for me by having the opportunity to tell my favorite story for a living, take a wonderful road trip with the ones I love the most, hug all of my family members around the neck and look forward to all of the amazing possibilities for 2014.

So, thanks Christmas 2013.  You were pretty great!

What’s an onus and what are you putting yours on?

081712_Set_Sail_To_Your_Future_1725x810-PAN_19866We Americans are a bootstrap people.  We expect that we’ll always be able to pull ourselves up by our own couple of pieces of leather and when we do, we get what we deserve.  It’s part of the spirit that went into making America great, and I get it.  It sounds like a very nice idea–the harder you work, the greater your reward.

We’ve been taught that if you want something badly enough, you’ve just got to focus on it. Take a picture of your dream, put it on your bathroom mirror, and look at it every time you brush your teeth.  You become what you think about, and thoughts are things.  A couple of catchy sayings right there.

I heard something this past Sunday that I’ve heard many times over the years, but yesterday it really hit me. I’m a big Philadelphia Eagles fan, and after their win against the Arizona Cardinals, virtually every commentator said the same exact thing: “The Eagles now control their own destiny!”

What they all meant by this, of course, is that all the Eagles have to do is win the rest of their games and they’ll be in the playoffs.  The onus is on the Birds, and when you think about it, it’s a nice position to be in–Take care of your business and nothing can stop you.  Never mind the other team that’s playing against you with a destiny of its own to control.

Most of us look at our own lives this way.  We each want to control our own destiny.  We want the opportunity, and we’ll take care of the rest.  If we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, then we’ll be in control and everything will work out for us.  We just need to work really hard.

That’s a really nice sentiment, except for the fact that it’s completely untrue.

I’m not knocking hard work.  I think it’s essential and often does separate the successful from those who continue to find themselves wanting.  Hard work is something each of us can control and it matters a great deal.  But our destiny?   That is another matter altogether.

What is our destiny?  Is it that ultimate something?  Is it that plateau that, once we reach it, we will have every need fulfilled and will no longer want for anything?

Isn’t it interesting that the second the final whistle blows to end the Super Bowl, to crown the “World Champions” of football, we immediately start thinking and talking about next year?  Even if the Eagles (who “control their own destiny”) win the Super Bowl this year, it won’t be a matter of weeks before we Philly fans will start asking, “What have you done for me lately?”

It’s a very scarey thing to not feel in control, to not have a fool-proof plan.  My trouble with “fool-proof” plans is that every plan I make has a fool as its creator to begin with.  So, I’m doomed from the start.  But, I do take solace in one thing: The one who promised to “make all things new” is constantly and continuously at work in me and in the world.

Q01+Hardship-often-preparres-ordinary-people-for-extraordinary-destiny-by-O-S-Lewis

What does that mean to me in a practical, “real world” sense?  It means that with all of my failed plans, with all of my hard work that is met by someone else’s decision to cast another actor in a role I’m up for because they think I’m too short for the part or because they’ve worked with another actor before or whatever, with all of my desires to get things right, my failures are not the last word.  My failures are building on who I am and not tearing down what I dare to become.

I keep coming back to moments.  I find my greatest sense of peace when I concern myself less with how the outcome of something is going to make me feel and more with what I’m experiencing and learning during the process.

We all set out on a thousand different paths along our way during this life and with each path we desire a destination.  Our focus on that destination can sometimes keep us from noticing everything that’s going on along the journey.  We don’t know where we’re going anyhow, and even if we do end up at the place we’ve dreamed of going to, the destination ends up being a disappointment before too long and we set out on another path.  It’s the mystery that gives us the pleasure, even while we insist on going after certainty.

Can we dare to change that on which we place our onus?  What if the onus of our joy and satisfaction were not placed on the destination but on the journey itself, because, in the end, we have no idea where any of our paths will eventually lead.  I have a faith that propels me to believe that what lies before me is more wonderful and amazing than anything I could possibly dream up on my own.

I inevitably end up meeting people I never planned on meeting who, just by having gotten to know them, enrich my life in unexplainable ways.  I always, and without fail, end up making choices I never anticipated having to make when I planned out my journey in my head.  I put my onus on the outcome of a journey without realizing I have no right to do so.

I’ve decided to rethink my onus.  From now on, I’m going to try to not give it away at all, not place it on anything.  I still have dreams and desires, and I’ll work my tail off to be able to continue doing what I do, but I’ve got too much to worry about without placing my onus on something I can’t control.

Can you dare to release your onus?

What I’m talking about is bigger than just voting

changetreeI voted last Tuesday.  I voted on who would be the next governor of New Jersey, on some local issues, which included local school board members, and whether or not we should raise the minimum wage to $8.25 per hour.

As I read through State Question #2, the one about raising the minimum wage, I thought to myself, Of course I’m voting yes to this, but are we serious, here?  What kind of difference is that really going to make?

Give just a second’s worth of thought to this:  If someone works 40 hours per week at $8.25 per hour, that grosses them $330 per week.  After taxes, we’re talking about $250 per week, or so.  Who can live on $1,000 per month in New Jersey?  You’re going to be very hard pressed to find a place to rent for less than that anywhere near where I live.

Here’s my point:  The kind of systemic change we need was not found anywhere near the ballot box in this last election.

Ok, let’s go… here’s what I’m talking about…

Allow me to borrow an analogy from a talk I heard Dr. John Dominic Crosson give, not too long ago.

We all know what a well-run household looks like.  Instinctively, we know the difference between a well run home and one that is poorly maintained.  In fact, when I was a public school teacher, we were instructed that, if we suspected one of our students was being abused in any way, we were obligated, by law, to report this student’s situation to the authorities.  Apparently, we should know abuse when we see it.

So, if you were to see a household where there were ten children, and five of them were starving, under dressed, and deprived of education, while the other five were overdressed, overfed, and going to the elite, private schools, would you not feel compelled to call the authorities?  Would you not, at least, feel that the household in question was in need of some serious intervention?

What if nine of the ten children were overdressed, overfed, and attending the elite, private schools and only one child were starving?  For that one child, wouldn’t we scream loudly that something terrible was going on and demand the situation be fixed?

I had a “Facebook discussion” with a couple of people not too long ago about justice and what it means with regard to God.  Their firm stance was that justice refers almost exclusively to the punitive.  As such, God would be “just” to send us all to “Hell” but has chosen instead to offer a way out of this terrible, inevitable conclusion to each of our lives.  That way, of course, is by believing in Jesus and accepting him as our savior.

But what does it actually mean to “believe in Jesus” and to follow his “way”?

What has become increasingly clear to me as I ponder my faith is that the way of Jesus means far more than affirming a set of beliefs.  In fact, affirming a set of beliefs is the least important thing when it comes to following the way of Jesus.

Christians see Jesus as the decisive revelation of God, meaning Jesus is seen by Christians as what a life filled with God looks like.  When we look to the life of Jesus, we can see very plainly the things that concerned him, the things he was passionate about.  At the same time, then, we can see the very things that concern God and what God is passionate about.  We see the character of God when we see the character of Jesus.

Jesus was concerned with the Kingdom of God–what the world would be like if God were King and the ruling, domination system authorities were not.  What would that world look like?  It would look like a world where everyone had compassion for one another, where we met each other’s needs, and where everyone had enough.

The justice of God is not about the punishing of evildoers in the end, but, rather, about the distribution of God’s gifts so that everyone would have enough.  Clearly, it does not mean that everyone should have the exact same thing.  What it does mean is that everyone should have enough of the necessities of life, what we must have to live–our “daily bread.”

When a system is set up in such a way that an entire family could go bankrupt as quickly as a father or mother gets into an accident or gets cancer, and racks up hospital bills that drain the family of every bit of savings because they don’t have adequate health insurance, there is an injustice in the system.

When rent in a decent neighborhood with decent schools costs $1,200 dollars per month and minimum wage in the same town is $8.25 an hour (net less than $1,000 per month), do those numbers add up to a just situation?

When 1% of the people control over 98% of a nation’s wealth, how can that nation claim to be just, let alone a “Christian nation”?

What I’m talking about is a system that is truly set up with the whole of the community in mind, not just the elite.  What I’m talking about is a system that focuses its resources on education, job training, and shrinking the enormous gap between those who have more than enough and those who constantly struggle to make ends meet.  What I’m talking about is a complete reform, and that was not offered on the ballot last Tuesday.

What I’m talking about is bigger than just voting.

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t like what’s being said, and I’m changing the conversation

change-the-convo-1I have several gay friends.  If you know me at all, you know that to be true.

I’m also a Christian.  If you know me, you know that to be true, as well.

Lately, though, I’ve wondered if I’m about done with the term “Christian.”  I don’t think I want to be known in that way anymore. I think I’d rather be called anything but what that term has come to mean in America.

Why in the world would I say such a thing, you ask?  Well, let me tell you a story.

The other day, a friend of mine (who happens to be gay) shared an article on Facebook about a certain waiter’s recent experience at a Carrabba’s restaurant with a “Christian” couple.  I won’t go into the details of that story.  You can read it here.

What struck me immediately was what an affront to Christianity this couple had been, and how I instantly felt the need to apologize to my friend, who had clearly been extremely hurt by association, on behalf of all reasonable Christians.  I realized he was hurt by association, and that’s when I realized, so was I!

The acts of Christianity that this couple demonstrated were nothing of the kind of Christianity I want to be associated with.  If their beliefs are the true ways of the faith, I want nothing to do with it.  If their “God” is the true God in whom I live and move and have my being, then I firmly and defiantly announce that there is no God.

So, that’s where I was.  That’s where my mind and heart had gotten to the other day when I read my friend’s post.  I struggled quite a bit with what to do and how to feel.  Then, I changed my mind.

I still feel the same way about not wanting anything to do with the Christianity of the Carrabba’s couple, but I’m not going to give up the name “Christian.”  I refuse to let the name of a movement that is so vitally important to the world be co-opted by those who are too ignorant to live by the precepts of the one for whom the movement is named.

Instead, I vow to change the conversation.

Now, I fully understand that there are those (many of whom are my friends) who will say to me, “Scott, you can’t just pick and choose the kind of Christianity you want. You’re practicing a “buffet-style” version, where you pick what you like and disregard the rest.”

To that, I say, “Look again!”

Look again at the Scriptures.  Look again at the ways of your faith and the ways of Jesus.  Look again at when the Bible was written and to whom it was first given.  Look again with your heart. Look again with a new set of lenses.  The lenses of many are dirty, scratched, and in need of a new prescription.

If you believe your lenses go all the way back to the first century, I’ll ask you to look again.  Do they actually go back to the 19th century?  Dig deeper.  Look harder.  Get uncomfortable.

Ask yourself not, “What is it I believe?” but, rather, “What am I doing? What is my contribution to this world, this creation, this life?”

I’ve grown very tired of defending the experiential reality of Jesus and what that means in response to Facebook posts like my friend’s while my secular-humanist friends go about actually living it. They challenge me every day to ask myself, “What are you actually doing to make the world a better place?”  For that (and for many other things), I owe them much thanks!

At the same time, though, I’m not ready to chuck the name of the one in whom I believe. I’m also not going to sit idly by while acts done “in the name of God” and bullying rhetoric thinly veiled as “God’s word” trample upon and undermine the very mission and message of the one who came to redeem us all.

I’m not asking anyone to believe the same way I do.  Work things out for yourself.

But, I will stand up for my faith.  I will not remain silent while people starve and freeze at night and long for justice and call out for God to do something.  God has already done something–he made you and he made me, and he has called us.  God has called us to participate in a life where God’s ways and our ways are one and the same.

Every time a “Carrabba’s couple” speaks and acts the way they do, the message gets distorted.  It’s like they somehow got to the end of the line in a game of telephone gone horribly wrong.  The message they’ve come away with is not the one it was at the beginning, and I’m not okay with it.

I’m sick of what’s being said, and I’m changing the conversation!

Follow Scott on Twitter: @scotylang

A little bit of a lot of Good News

Gospel TractGospel is the shocking, provocative, revolutionary, subversive, counter intuitive, good news that in your moments of greatest

despair,

failure,

sin,

weakness,

losing,

failing,

frustration,

inability,

helplessness,

wandering,

and falling short,

God meets you there–

right there–

right exactly there–

in that place, and announces,

I am on your side!

–Borrowed from, What We Talk About When We Talk About God  by, Rob Bell