Paging C.S. Lewis

ImageIt’s late. No one will read this. By now, half the world is asleep, or they’re just getting their day underway. It will slip under the radar, drift off into the ether, and exist only as an entry on my already lengthy archive. But then again, if no one’s going to read it, why bother with formatting? Why bother with a picture? Why bother writing at all?

Because it’s how I think. It’s my process. Tonight, I need both. I need this night.

I need it because there’s anonymity in the night. There’s time to pray. To reflect. To think. There’s time to believe that God has plans, and those plans prevail.

Sometimes, when the daylight pours in along with the emails and skinned knees and bills that demand payment, it’s hard to remember that. But sometimes, when you’re in the midst of fixing things – like a hacked email account that belongs to your wife – you remember that there’s more to life than just the things that need fixing. You remember that you, yourself, need fixing, and you wonder what God is up to.

Then the night comes, and you can really wonder about it.

C.S. Lewis believed that wonder was as natural to the soul as breathing was to the body. That we as human beings needed to take time to step away from things that crowd and pull on our shirt sleeves, and just spend time drinking in the majesty that our world reveals. He found that wonder in his imagination, in his letters, in the various friendships he acquired, and he found it in his own, solitary way.

Tonight, I’m paging C.S. Lewis. I could use a little wonder. Just a smidge. For this moment, I need a restoration of majesty in my mind.

We’ll see what tomorrow’s daylight brings.

April Funk

ImageIt’s April now. Today looks like spring for the first time in a while here in Atlanta. The sun out, birds are singing, there’s no threat of snow. And I’m trapped in a massive funk. Can’t think of anything to write. Nothing. The tank is empty, despite recently being invited to join a group of apologetics bloggers (in fact, it was the invitation that prompted my realization that I am currently tapped out for topics).

I’ve tried starting five different blogs today, and nothing is connecting. I don’t really have much to say on anything. I think it’s time for one of those annoying dry spells that every writer needs. So if the blog goes silent for a couple of days/weeks, just know that you were forewarned.

I’ll try and keep the discipline of posting at least something on a regular basis, but it may just be brief bursts like this, or the occasional funny picture or video.

But for now, I think I need to take some time to refill the creative glass. And with spring beckoning me to come outside and enjoy life, I can’t imagine a better time to do so.

The Scrawl on the Wall

ImageI met a friend for coffee this morning, and after the meeting, I needed to use the facilities. Rather than embarrass myself by using the restroom where we met (and thus announcing to the world that I, indeed, do have to pee on occasion), I chose to get in my car and drive an extra five bladder-punishing minutes up the road to a gas station. After dashing like an idiot through the store and into the restroom, I finally found relief.

I also noticed that the bathroom walls and doors were covered with the various socio-religio-political philosophies of it’s various occupants. Most were negative. Actually, negative doesn’t cut it; that’s too tame a word. Most were, at best, virulently bigoted, and at worst, signs of severely disturbed minds capable of vicious thought and action. I was genuinely disturbed by a couple of the things I read.

And the thought came to me: why in the world do people write on bathroom walls?

Captive audience? Maybe. The temptation of leaving your individual mark on the world in a place where someone has to notice? Possibly. The inviting appearance of a smooth, freshly painted stall door? Only for the aesthetically compulsive. After thinking about it – albeit not for more than thirty minutes, 29 of which came after I’d left the bathroom – I decided that it was the anonymity. The ability to let your most diseased and dreadful thoughts fly without being called to account for them.

Public restrooms: where internet trolls get their training.

What is it about being anonymous that brings out the wack-a-doodle in us? You put most people in a room with more than three other folks, and they’ll act like a reasonably restrained model of civility. Sure, there’ll always be the outliers, the people that either have to make a scene or shutter themselves into the corner, but they constitute the minority. On average, people act normal around other people. We are their boundaries. We keep the freak flags from flying.

Don’t believe me? Think about the last time you were in a large, social gathering and someone said something unbelievably, irretrievably dumb. Something along the lines of:

  • “You know what I miss? The Klan. They kept things tight.”
  • “Personally, I think women aren’t worth as much as men, even if they can do the same job.”
  • “Sure, I feel bad that soldiers die in combat, but hey – that’s what we pay them for, right? To protect our interests with their lives?”
  • “I know I live in the South, but seriously: what’s the big deal about NASCAR? It’s just a bunch of distracted, hyper-competitive drivers making left-handed turns for four hours. Or as we call it in Atlanta, an afternoon on 285.”**

**I actually said this at a party once. You wouldn’t believe the looks I got from everyone in the room. I could’ve knocked over the punch bowl and called the hors d’oeuvres canned dog food and nobody would’ve blinked. But to suggest that The Intimidator was somehow not a legitimate athlete? Sacrilege.

The room stops. Conversation slams to a halt. If there’s a record playing somewhere, there is the requisite scratch as the music suddenly dies (and you suddenly try and figure out either when you were transported back in time or why you agreed to attend a hipster party). All eyes turn to the offending party and a growing cloud of judgment fills the room. Pressure mounts. Unspoken expectations are communicated quite clearly through the glowering eyes and forward leaning bodies.

Recant, they say. Repent, they say.

And if the person is normal – that is, if they’re not an attention-seeker – they will do exactly that. They will recant. In fact, they will stumble over themselves to retract their statement from the collective consciousness and restore their name to good standing.

Once they have made public their contrition for even having those type of thoughts, much less verbalizing them, we will allow the party to continue on. Only now we have a new game to play: keeping the offender in check. We offer subtle barbs about the faux pas, in the form of sly jokes; we keep a watchful eye in their direction; we immediately recap and diagnose the situation in our private conversations. Some take the direct approach: cold shoulders, direct rebukes, or even a challenge to “take things outside” (to be honest, that may just be a Southern thing; I doubt it though). Regardless, the offender is now officially under the collective gaze of the rest of the people at the party, and they keep themselves (and their comments) on a short leash, lest they fall victim again to the public ire.

But in a bathroom stall? There’s no boundary. There’s no filter. There’s no societal pressure to keep the crazy from coming out to play. There’s nothing but you, your pen (or pocketknife, or marker, or pencil) and the couple square inches of real estate before you.

Let the freak flag fly full staff, baby.

And my goodness, there are some scary things floating around in our collective noggins.

Jesus said that what comes out of a person’s mouth (or pen) flows from what’s in their heart. It’s an indicator of the things they really believe about life. We may cover our inner freaks with a nice outward appearance, but that doesn’t mean the inner ugliness isn’t there; it only means it’s masked. The only way to get our insides to match our outsides is to have our insides changed by something greater than us.

It’s called the Gospel.

What we scrawl on a wall is often what’s etched in our hearts, and for many of us, we’re in desperate need of a fresh start. Unlike a bathroom stall, we can’t be reset with a mere coat of paint; cosmetic remedies do us no good. Instead, we need the old stuff removed and entirely new stuff put in. Or, as the Bible said, to be made new creations. And to help make sure our new creation doesn’t get graffitied up again, we’re given a Helper to keep watch over our hearts; we’re given God’s Spirit to keep us from being re-defiled.

It’s not always pretty. But it works. We are ever becoming more like Jesus.

Another Year Gone By…

ImageToday is my 37th birthday. Or at least that’s what Facebook would have me believe. Over 125 birthday well-wishes thus far, so I guess I’ll face the facts: I’m middle-aged.

Thirty-seven. Three years away from 40. Thirteen away from fifty. Twenty-three away from sixty. As my grandfather used to say, “Lord, where does the time go?”

When I was a kid, I figured I’d be an astronaut by now. Then I learned that astronauts had to be good at math, so that dream died a horrific death. Next up was cowboy; but you have to be good with guns and enjoy camping out a lot for that gig. So I moved on: fighter pilot (poor eyesight); superhero (too skinny); super villain (too risk-averse); actor (too much in love in with not starving to death).

Eventually, I settled on writer. Naturally, I settled on that about 15 years too late. But better late than never, right? And this year is shaping up to be my best yet as a professional writer – I’m already near the half-way mark for highest annual earnings, and it’s not even February yet. Plus, people are actually liking what I’m writing and asking me to write for them again. How cool is that?

Thirty-seven has also brought family into focus. Never would I have imagined myself as a husband; the idea of a woman allowing me to sleep next to her for the rest of her natural life was a idea so far removed from reality that I filed it next to “Government Proposals That Make Sense” in the Snowball’s Chance department. But I met Rachel and life wonderfully changed. She wished me a happy birthday this morning, and I quite honestly pointed out that everyday she’s been with me has been happy – just because she’s there. That’s a nice feeling.

Marriage has led to family, and if you’ve read even a couple of my other blogs, you know fatherhood doesn’t exactly come naturally to me. But Ella and Jon make my life so worth living that other things pale in comparison (even if my son is currently hitting me in the head with a foam bat while whispering, “I want you to throw me the ball!”). Each day has its share of challenge and reward, and while I might collapse into bed exhausted, it’s definitely worth it.

Recently, the youth of my church threw a benefit concert in honor of my family to help with our medical expenses. Over 200 people came. The youth completely organized the event from start to finish (with special help from my brother, Ryan Brooks, whom I love dearly) and pulled off a great evening. It’s humbling and challenging to know that so many people love you like that. It’s like having your funeral before you die; you get to see how much your life mattered. And now, I get to go out and make it count even more.

That’s a gift.

So another year has gone by. One more page turned in the calendar, one more chapter in the proverbial story of my life complete. I feel like I’m just getting to the good stuff; and while there will be many challenges ahead (braces, first dates, proms, weddings, incontinence), there will be plenty of reward too. And God willing, I’ll get to go through it all being who I’m meant to be, loving whom I love the most, doing my part to make the world a little better than it was yesterday.

Like I said: a gift.

Happy birthday to me. On to thirty-eight.

A Few Unconnected Thoughts

Sometimes, you just have too much going on in your head, and you need a reliable place to get it all out. Today is one of those days.

This may or may not make a lick of sense for where you are in your life right now, but if I’ve learned anything lately, it’s that we gain far more by sharing our lives with others than we do by keeping ourselves cloistered away. We’re socially awkward, and it’s costing us big time.

As Francis Chan said in an interview I read earlier today, “I think the biggest problem in the church is this awkwardness. We just don’t know how to converse with people. We’re scared to do it, so we don’t do it.”

So here’s my part to contribute to a more social church:

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about life. How to live a good one. How to share it with others. How to just not suck at it so much. And in all of my many varied thoughts, I keep coming back to the notion that the point of our existence, the thing that each of us is supposed to do, is simply become.

Follow me on this one, okay?

This is a gross generalization, but almost every system of thought teaches us that the point of our existence is to become something. For the Christian, we’re to become like Christ. For the Muslim, to become a faithful servant of Allah. For the Buddhist, to become enlightened. Even the materialist, who has no transcendant push towards anything is still compelled by the forces of evolution to become a better, stronger version of themselves in order to survive. So, no matter where we turn, part and parcel of being a human being is the intrinsic need to become.

I want to become a good father. A good husband. A professional writer. A published author. A million different little things, things that — in order for me to attain them — require me to change.

I know a lot of people who are unhappy with their lives right now. They are stuck in places that they want to be rid of, or they work jobs that do nothing but suck the soul out of their body, or they’re in a toxic relationship, or financial straits, or have medical issues, or a lot of things. And these people all seem to experience some sense of restlessness, a sense that things are either in need or in process of changing. This restlessness, often, feels like something wrong is happening. People think that if they were completely fulfilled, they would be at peace.

Honestly, though: without a sense of restlessness, who would ever move? Who would dare to do something different? If we’re feeling restless, perhaps it’s because we’re either in need of changing or on the verge of changing; either way, we’re being awakened to our need to become something other than we are. Maybe it means changing jobs; maybe it means finishing that novel you started; maybe it just means that you need to quit focusing on your personal bubble and start looking after the bubbles of others.

I don’t know.

But I don’t think of that sense of restlessness is bad. I think that the restlessness is a sign that we are in prime position to do something great.

As Tom Petty sang, “the waiting is the hardest part.” I’ve got a couple of things in the wind right now that, if they come through, could mean some doors open for me. Not necessarily life altering stuff; mostly just writing opportunities that I would really like to pursue.

Even if none of the opportunities materialize, the mere effort required to chase after them has given me the energy to step out a little farther on the writing ledge. There’s particular blog that I love reading (you can find it here) and if I can ever recover my sense of humor, I’m going to try and get a guest blog gig with them. Again, it’s not like I’m cranking out War and Peace here, but I’m pushing myself to explore a very particular skill set and aspect of who I am in the effort to find out who God wants me to be.

Lastly, I tweeted earlier today that I wish I could be like Kwai Chang Kane, and just travel the earth helping people. That’s actually a pretty fair summary of how I feel lately. I get energy out of being able to meet with people (in person, online, doesn’t matter) and give them a listening ear, and just get involved in their lives for a time as someone who can encourage them.

I get to do that a lot in my role as youth pastor, and the more I embrace it, the more I find I enjoy it. I’m not necessarily talking about long, extensive counseling sessions (they have professionals for that sort of thing, and I’m perfectly happy to let them have the work) but more along the lines of regular personal chats to see where people are and where they want to be. To talk with them about the things that hang them up, or to listen as they tell me stories of recent victories.

I’m going to steal my friend KJ’s line here, but I think what I’m discovering is that I really, really enjoy discipleship. Walking with people to help them learn how to become more like Christ, and letting them help me do the same.

You’d think a youth pastor would’ve understood all this by now, but hey — nobody said I was quick on the uptake.

So there are the freshest thoughts rolling around in my head. I’ll leave you with a verse that may or may not make sense with the rest of this post, but fits perfectly to me:

“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” – Hebrews 4:16