ImageOnce upon a time, I was a huge baseball fan. Then, Bud Selig happened, and I pretty much only follow the Atlanta Braves now. If you know anything about the Braves, you know that this season will be different from any in the previous 20 years: there will be no Chipper Jones on the field. The Atlanta icon hung up his spikes at the excruciating end of last season, and come June 28, his number 10 will be hoisted to the rafters as a Braves Hall of Fame inductee.

Naturally, the number one question this Spring has been – and will continue to be – How do you replace Chipper Jones? His offensive numbers. His leadership. His presence. His savvy. All of those things are gone from the Braves clubhouse and need to be replaced.

Or so it would seem.

But what if the answer to a legend’s departure is to let that be the end of the legend? What if,  instead of trying to perpetuate the narrative, you begin a new one?

Poppycock, you say? Balderdash? Hogswallow? (Sorry, got on a kick for archaic words that mean bull manure.)

Having been someone who came into a situation and tried to keep the dream alive, let me tell you that sometimes it’s better for the dream to die and a new dream to come forward. Does this mean wholesale changes? Not at all; most organizations, if constructed well, have constituent pieces that can be adapted towards several different visions. A little bit of time, a lot of perspective, and a whole lot of prayer (if you’re the praying type) can reveal an organization that once seemed dependent upon the Legend is actually quite capable of thriving once the Legend is gone.

Take the Braves, for instance. They might actually be better without Chipper, because they were able to make some major moves (the Upton brothers!) that significantly altered their team dynamic without altering the overall culture. While Chipper may never be replaced exactly, what he brought to the team can be replicated with a simple shift of responsibilities and roles.

Will it be the same? No.

But the question really is: should it be?

I say no. I’ve been involved in three churches in my career, and each has shown signs that holding on to things too long leads to an almost irreversible spiral (and one definitively proved that theory). It is better to be forward thinking and look for ways to strengthen the overall organization (have the right pieces in place) than to try and forestall a legend’s departure.

Because being post-legendary is greater than extending a legend.

Trust Fall

ImageI remember when I was in Boy Scouts, our favorite camping trip was always going to Mount Yonah, north of Cleveland, Georgia, and getting to rappel. If you’re unfamiliar with rappelling, it’s fairly simple: you climb to the top of a mountain, tie a long strand of ribbon around your legs, attach a rope to the ribbon through a small metal circle, and then fall backwards off the mountain. Easy-peasy.

There’s actually far more to it than that, but it’s late in the day and my kids are screaming, so I don’t have time to go into all the mechanics. Long story short: you put on some protective gear and fling yourself off a mountain. Trust me.

It’s a strange feeling, to allow yourself to go over the edge of a mountain and look down at the trees and rocks below armed with the knowledge that you’re fighting the immutable law of gravity with a rope. At first, your heart accelerates. Then, it begins to pound. Soon, it crawls its way out of your mouth, down your arm, and onto the ground in front of you, where it promptly runs screaming into the underbrush.

After that you pee your pants.

Then you throw up in your mouth a little.

It dawns on you, as your butt begins to pull you down the mountain’s face, that this might not be such a great idea after all. Before you can complete that thought, however, you are suddenly headed towards terra firma below. Suddenly, you have to manage your foot placement, the position of your hands, how fast you let the rope glide through your control clip. Instead of worrying about falling you learn that you are falling, but the descent can be controlled; you realize that the ground and gravity aren’t your enemies, they’re your allies.

Courage courses through your veins and before you know it, you’re pushing off the mountainside, shoving yourself outward and into the air to fall faster. You swing back into the mountain and push off again, this time a little harder, creating a graceful arc that gives you the illusion of flight.

Of freedom.

Then you become aware that the bottom is fast approaching and you brace yourself to land. Once you hit the solid soil, you laugh like a maniac and look back up to the top of the mountain. You were there; now, seemingly against the laws of physics, you’re here. You’ve fallen, but you’ll walk away – and walk away excited, alive, even anxious to make the journey again.

It’s not a perfect metaphor, but there are times in our lives when we’re asked to simply fall. To step off of one level and travel to another. Maybe it’s in pursuit of a dream, or a job, or a calling; maybe it’s deepening a relationship or repairing one that’s been torn. Could just be the simple truth that God wants you to know Him and His plan for you on a deeper level, which means you have to know yourself on a deeper level. Maybe it’s all of them.

Whichever it is, I hope you’re learning like I am: get off the cliff. Let go. Trust fall.

You’ll be ready to do it again in no time.

What To Do With This Blog?

I’m a crossroads.

I have had this blog for a little over three years now, and while I have grown a lot as a writer, I am now not sure what to do with this blog.

See, I have established a blog on a local website (the Loganville-Grayson Patch) that is basically the same as this one. In fact, over the last year, anything that’s appeared on this blog was submitted first to the Patch. So this blog has become, in a way, superfluous. Redundant. Passe.

And yet…

I can’t bring myself to shut it down. What I really want to do is take it in a new direction. Part of what I love about writing is the ability to put thought down and submit it for discussion. I’ve had the Stump the Chump page here for a while, but next to no one ever uses it because I don’t really write that often about religious things. I mean, themes of faith and God run throughout most everything I write, but I don’t usually dedicate blog posts to just purely theological topics. I usually write about life first, then blend theology in.

But there are times, usually on a daily basis, when I come across someone’s actions or words that make me want to write an expressly theological post in order to get to the meat of a topic. As a pastor, I should write these thoughts down and turn them into sermons, but often the words are needed in the moment – not from the pulpit a couple of days later.

In fact, this has become such a frequent occurrence that my wife has been pestering me lately to just write sermons and post them online. My counter has always been, “But who would read them?”

The counter to that is, who reads what I write anyway?

So I think what I am going to do is turn this blog into something else, something akin to a daily devotional/weekly sermon series that will allow me to get some of the theological angst out of my system and hopefully provide some encouragement or feedback or food for thought to those that read it.

I realize that over 100 people have subscribed to this blog because you liked my posts about parenting, or the occasional random humor that I post. I am prepared to lose you as readers. It will sadden me, but I understand that when you change the rules to the game, some people don’t want to play anymore. If you are one of those subscribers, please allow me to say this:

Thank you. Sincerely. From the bottom of my heart. Your interest in my writing has been a huge part of my development. Your comments, your “likes”, even your subscription itself (whether or not you actually read each day’s offerings) have been a pertinent reminder that writing can connect people. I have enjoyed the journey with you and hope that you will find your way to my Patch blog, where I’ll keep writing about my kids, life, and whatever else comes to mind. If this is where it ends for us, just know that no writer has ever been more grateful for his audience.

In the meantime, I’m going to spend some time thinking about how to repurpose this blog. I think a name change might be in order, first of all. A new design might help too. Beyond that, I don’t know.

One thing is for sure: things are gonna get different around here.

I hope some of you stick around to join me.

Blue Like the Sky

I’ve been re-reading a book by Francis Chan called Crazy Love, and one of the first things that Chan challenges his readers to do is consider the magnificence of the physical universe. He points his readers to a video on YouTube that outlines the complexity and scope of the actual universe, and to another video that invites the viewer to contemplate the beauty of nature that reveals God’s handiwork.

The book is a challenging read, in case you’re looking for one. It’s certainly something that moves me to think, and one particular section has been lurking in the back of my mind for a while now. Here’s Chan, from page 29 of Crazy Love:

There is an epidemic of spiritual amnesia going around, and none of us is immune. No matter how many fascinating details we learn about God’s creation, no matter how many pictures we see of His galaxies, and no matter how many sunsets we watch, we still forget.

Chan’s talking about our propensity to reduce life into l i f e, to take the magnitude of what it means to truly live and equate it with crap that dilutes our perspective. And if you think about the immeasurable pleasure that we should derive from the mere fact that we are breathing (not to mention walking, talking, thinking, loving, eating, sleeping, or any of the myriad other amazing things we do that we take for granted) compared to how grumpy a good many of us are, Chan’s on the mark with his critique: we have short memories.

Or, to borrow an example from my son’s recent favorite movie, we are all Dory at heart.

I’m guilty of looking at a sunrise and thinking, “Crap. I gotta get up.” I’m equally guilty of looking at almost any natural phenomenon and thinking, “Is it time to eat yet?” I tend, despite my being a bit of a dreamer, to get lost in minor details that don’t really matter much in the Bigger Picture. A lot of us do.

And I think that, sometimes, we kind of want to get lost in the details. We want to be consumed by those things that remind us of our lives, of our existence and reality within a world that might otherwise not care. So we worry about hairlines and waistlines and eyeshadow and lipstick and snakeskin boots because those microscopic details are usually the things we most associate with our us-ness, with being me.

In other words, much like that picture of our whole graduating class, we don’t like the Bigger Picture because it’s so hard to find ourselves within it.

When Pop first got sick, I had a hard time visiting for more than 30 minutes or so. Part of that difficulty, I told myself, was the fact that my kids can take a fully furnished room all the way back to plywood decking and un-mudded drywall within 12.78 minutes. You just can’t let small children have free play for very long.

But the real issue, and I can admit this now, is that I was uncomfortable with seeing the Bigger Picture. Watching your grandfather die is not easy, because it is a constant reminder of mortality. You look at his frail figure and you realize that you too will one day come to that place in life when you swap places with your children. You realize that the vitality and energy you have today will one day be taken away from you. You realize just how brief your time on this spinning ball of mud and salt-water really is.

And these realizations make you want to run away into the smaller details, to get lost again inside yourself. To embrace the illusion that is the Smaller Picture.

That’s why Chan’s quote about spiritual amnesia struck me so solidly; for a long time, I willingly forgot about the gravity of Pop’s condition. Not that I forgot he was sick, or neglected to visit, but that I just didn’t think about what was really going on. I willfully pushed the reality of his impending death out of my head.

Chan’s quote also struck me because he references sunsets, and that got me to thinking even harder about Pop.

Throughout my entire life, Pop has been blue like the sky – deep, beautiful, and seemingly without end. He’s been an uninterrupted part of my world and I’ve taken him for granted. Much like we don’t often stop to contemplate just how gorgeous the sky can be when the sun is shining bright, or how the blue of an October sky in Georgia is radically different from the blue of an October sky in Maine, we don’t usually stop and think about the people who are our constants. They are simply there.

And so, when that constant begins to fade, begins to give way to the colors of diminution – pink, saffron, lemon, maroon, blood orange, blood red – we begin to see that blue sky differently. A sunset marks the end of that blue sky and brings on the darkness of evening. I’m torturing the metaphorical language a bit, but there’s something poetic about the transitioning between the bright, openness of day and the dark mystery of night; there’s equal poetry in the way a life slowly fades from our view and into the dark mystery of death.

I went to see Pop this morning and while he’s had a few good days in a row, there is no mistaking that he is in the sunset of his life. The colors are all changed, his presence markedly smaller, just like the sky seems to shrink as the sun dips behind the curvature of the earth off on the horizon. But there’s so much beauty to behold, and it speaks to the wonder of God. The love between Pop and my grandmother; between Pop and my aunt and uncle; between Pop and my dad. The constant coming and going of friends and family and long-distant folks who come to gaze on the majesty of a life well lived. There’s laughter; the telling of old stories to new audiences; the sound of children playing in another room, innocently unaware of the process of life coming to an end, teaching each of us something in its own peculiar way.

I go now and sit without hesitation, without feeling the slightest bit awkward, because I finally know what I’m witnessing. I’m watching the greatest of all sunsets, an extravagant masterpiece of color and beauty and light. I can appreciate this close of day because I know that for Pop, as it is for all Christians, there will be a dawn that breaks immediately. Only we who are left behind will have to endure the nighttime of grief and loss and pain.

But we are comforted by the words of the One who causes the sun to rise and set in everyone’s life, words that speak to anyone going through the dark night of the soul:

Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes in the morning.

Amen, and amen.