Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Known Caller

There's a cool song on the new U2 album (No Line on the Horizon) titled "Unknown Caller." According to an interview with the band in Rolling Stone magazine, the lyrics were inspired by the passage from Jer. 33:3 in which the Lord tells the prophet, "'Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.." And sure enough, the song references the vantage point of someone unable to sleep, noting that the clock is at 3:33 a.m., calling out to God.

Recently I was awake from about 1 a.m. onward, wrestling with many current events and decisions. Sometimes in life I get caught up in attempting to do things solely out of my own strength, and at some point I become reduced to the humbling place of simply needing to dial into the darkness in the hope of finding some answers…or at least some respite.

There are so many unsearchable things I do not know. This night was one of those instances. It often happens in the still of night, when I feel I have so little control over circumstances.

In some contrast to the title of the U2 song, however, I believe that I am a known caller. I have a healthy sense that God does know my name and he knows when I call. He would like me to call more often--in fact, he's all about an unbroken line of conversation called praying without ceasing.

He does not forget who I am, even when I do.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Am I Holding Back?

Today I face the stark epiphany that I am holding back on the potential I have to impact the world around me for Christ.

Sure, every believer must feel this way to some extent. Can a person ever completely fulfill his or her potential in this limited world? Unlikely.

But I have been holding back, somehow, some way. I strive to serve people well in corporate America as a tentmaker, do my best to care for my family in suburbia, try to write impactful articles and books and blogs. Yet something is missing.

One restless example: I have traveled little beyond this country. I have never been on a mission trip, and have rarely spent time among the truly destitute. A day-long service project here or there, random or intentional acts of service back when I was pastoring full-time, somewhat regular visits to prisons or hospitals or other shut-in types of places during my seminary and pastoral years in general.

But have I ever put myself in a deep, vulnerable position where God could more fully break my heart for those who suffer? Have I truly ever put it all on the line? I don't know. I don't think so.

There's many more adventures I would like to take for God, my heart and gut tell me. Surely my seminary years and time preaching and teaching and leading liturgy on a weekly basis did not go into some vacuum. It is all still a part of me, and has been contained in different wineskins for the past five years or so, I suppose. But I have a sense that servings of more organic, roll-up-my-sleeves flavors of ministry are still to be tasted.

I am just not sure how to get to the counter.

But I will at some point. In time, if I pay attention and spend less energy on preserving what is and more on what could be, I'll get there.

People tell me to be grateful and appreciate what I've got, especially in these economic times. And I do. But I am not satisfied. Somehow, I'm holding back.

But I'm praying, reflecting, reading, writing and talking about it. I'll receive more epiphanies. Admitting the check in the inner spirit is the first crucial step before making more room for the fuller Spirit to be unleashed. Then, watch out, little child...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Happy Birthday Dad

I could write another blog entry about remembering my Dad on what would have been his 84th birthday, but my sister Fran has captured it so perfectly (and with a great photo of him as a WWII soldier) at http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/ciaccia

Thanks, Dad!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Only Kindness Matters

I wrote this while sitting in the massive fortress known as Atlanta Hartsfield Airport, although I did not post until much later because I refuse to pay for Internet service at airports, Starbucks or anywhere else besides hotels and my home. As I sit here people watching, reminiscing about the dark chocolate I just finished and merging its residue with hot green tea, I keep thinking of a line from a song I heard last night on Pandora.

“In the end
Only kindness matters.”

The lyrics come from the tune "Hands" by the singer Jewel. Forget about the context of the overall song. I am captivated by the isolated statement, the simple and heartfelt declaration.

In the end

We place lots of energy toward trying to determine outcomes, both short- and long-term. We are ever seeking to set up the end, attending endless meetings about the future. We build careers, invest money, develop relationships, secure power, and establish status…all in the aspiration of being “okay in the end,” finding some final manifestation of a seamless interplay of elements that will invoke evidence of a successful life.

Often, in the midst of this push toward the future, we make a lot of trade offs in the present moments that we can only string together one pearl at a time. We give things away, or stop using them, or forget we have them.

Things like kindness.

Yet, in the end…

Now many scholars, clergy, laypersons and anyone else with an opinion could wage a rigorous debate about what they feel truly matters in the end. The opinions could fill the pages of hundreds of thousands of blogs. I have no ambition to launch such a debate. For tonight I think I’ll just take Jewel’s word for it, for the artists of our times often are better tuned in to the human condition and our spiritual yearnings than anyone else. For now, just for this blog at least and maybe on other occasions, I will declare that she is right on target.

Following this assumption and line of thinking, I wonder if kindness is sort of an umbrella—under which hang lots of other words that further define and drill down its meaning and impact. Perhaps many of those with differing opinions about what matters in the end will find they have a place under this umbrella as well.

Which religion is right or wrong? Which public or political policy is correct? Which community service approach is the most worthy? Which piece of music is the most powerful or which film the most moving or which work of art the most inspiring?

Only kindness matters. If your art, stance, program, initiative, market share or creed pushes against kindness, you are going in the wrong direction. If we delineate rigorous mores of right and wrong, but offer not kindness, we wax irrelevant.

I continue to be pruned. The world, to me as least, is awash with clutter. Clutter of things, of ideas, of slogans, of persuasions, of ideologies. Strip away 95 percent of it, and get to the heart of what truly matters. Kindness.

Rinse it all off of me, the sticky pollen of meaningless ambitions. Leave only kindness.

That is the word for today. And perhaps for the end as well.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Wanted: A Few Deep Men

I do not have a Wii and have no desire to get one. I am not active in any sort of fantasy sports league. I have given up on golf, do not hunt or fish, and see items such as cars as a means to an end. My hair is longish and a bit messy and my wardrobe simplistic.

Go on and on, I could. Bottom line: A lot of the stuff and effort that interests, intrigues, and separates the modern day western male from his money...and keeps him living above the surface of what truly matters, holds zero interest with me.

I have many, many acquaintances with whom I often have fun or carry out business--but few close friends. The ones that are close include both females and males; I have long since dismissed the stereotype, often perpetuated by the church, that men and women cannot genuinely be friends. The close female friendships tend to develop much more rapidly, as has been the case for about 25 years. The close male friendships are more elusive and take much longer to cultivate.

In each season of life I have had but a precious handful of close male friends, and these guys and I always share a consistent common denominator: our conversations and the bulk of our time revolve around substance and are teeming with transparency.

Men, with all due respect: most of you, frankly, are hard to pin down. I seldom know what you truly think or feel because you hide behind your distractions, behind your busyness, behind your fantasy draft updates, behind your work or your toys or your collections or your cliches. I wonder why you persist in hiding, because it weakens the resolve of other men around you who wish they did not have to hide as much. I wonder why, especially if you are religious, you get so legalistic and wear your perceived righteousness like a badge of honor while gritting your teeth against temptation instead of opening up about it.

It is easy to get caught up in all of your pretense because I, too, like most human beings, want to fit in and be accepted most of the time. I, too, get ensnared in the charade of all the "Great to see you's" and "I'm good/How are you/Good!/That's great!" greetings and all the "How've you been?/Busy!" exchanges that permeate the daily interactions of the bulk of men so immersed unawares in quiet desperation.

I want to have just as much fun as you do, but to me the fun and laughter and sense of adrenaline are multiplied when shared with people who can also pause and reflect. And drop the posing. And be willing to stare into the emptiness that is shared by so many guys but admitted by so few, so that we might help each other find things of substance that vanquish that same emptiness.

So what am I seeking in other men, as well as in myself? Laugh if you must, but the type of man whom I think is most in need during these turbulent times can best be described as the Warrior-Poet.

Who is this man (or woman, who fulfills the role far more consistently; but I am focused on guys right now), the Warrior-Poet?

He fights for principles about which he is strongly convicted. He looks cheating, greed, injustice, prejudice and stealing in the eye and fights back, and damn be the consequences. As a warrior, he will pour all of his energy and strength into defending what is worthy and will not hide behind his excuses, his fears, his insecurities or his toys. What he does he does with passion, be it fighting, loving, serving or working.

But he is also a poet. He is deeply in touch with his intuitive side, with his emotions, with his creativity--and with his heart. He will not withhold tenderness toward those who care for him or those who hurt. He will give quality time to those whom he loves. He is willing to be transparent with others who are willing to be as well. And he is no less the warrior for doing so, for his life is a seamless blend of waging war against things that tear people down and reaching inside of himself to build people up with the gift of his unequaled perspective.

He is flawed, mind you, like all people. He screws up, pretty regularly, because his judgment is not always sound and he can be impulsive, like anybody else. When he gets too hungry, angry, lonely or tired, he loses sight of the bigger picture and acts in haste. But he is self-aware enough to recognize his flaws and face them head on and move forward, striving each day to be a little more authentic and consistent. He does not stress himself out trying to pretend he is anything less than flawed, anything more than an earthen vessel with cracks and blemishes yet capable of holding so much treasure.

I believe it is pretty rare to find genuine Warrior-Poets among men these days. The example that constantly comes to mind for me is David of the Old Testament, that warrior who defeated armies out of his passion for Yahweh--and that poet and musician who composed so many of the Psalms that reveal the extent of how deep that passion flowed. He, like us, was painfully imperfect and made mistakes for which he and others suffered dearly, and at times was caught up in his own hubris...but damn it, he was a man. He had grit. He could fight and he could feel, he could destroy what was evil and love what was good. He could rally Israel with the thunder of his sound rhetoric, and openly weep for Absalom from the bottomless well of his grief. He was fully alive, fully engaged with all of his dimensions.

So, guys, I'll put it on the line here: because I am fairly intuitive and in touch with my feelings in general, I get a pretty consistent picture of what my close female friends are seeking in their husbands or boyfriends (or future partners if they are currently single). These friends are transparent enough to share what they are looking for in you. Like me, they are fairly bored with the status quo and are looking for more of the Warrior-Poet in you to emerge at last.

And if I am wrong about this perception, then I hope they will leave comments on this blog and tell me so. For they are good enough friends to have by now told me whether I am full of crap, because they have a pretty good feel for how I think about things that matter. This blog entry will not surprise them.

Guys, if you are still reading at this point, know there is a smile on my face as I write. I am not some angry dude tapping away with fury at his keyboard. Lonely is the better adjective, because no matter how hard I have tried in the past I am not satisfied with only living above the surface with you. So it is a sad smile, I must admit. But on a face marked with resolve.

Therefore I will keep going deep, and am hopeful that more of you will join me on this journey through the depths of what it means to be fully and seamlessly alive and engaged. And many thanks to those of you, female and male, who are already with me.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Things You Think About in the Middle of the Night

...especially when you do not feel good and have been tossing and turning for hours, disappointed that despite being in bed since before 8 p.m. you are not any more rested:

Your plane reservations for your upcoming five-day business trip do not leave enough margin between your arrival and the start of your workshop.

You have to get better before you leave on the trip.

You need to remember to pick up your dry cleaning before the trip.

You have to get better before you leave on the trip. Oh yeah, did I mention that one already?

There is some good news in this quality time I'm spending right now, at 2:55 a.m. CST, with my blue futon in the home office. I have deeper clarity about the flow of events in Chapter 10 of my novel, the one I plan to write this weekend. After 40,000 words, it is a good and helpful thing to still have some clarity because I am swimming in some thick alphabet soup right now.

None of my 539 Facebook friends is online right now. Who sang that song about one being the loneliest number?

I remain certain that joy comes in the morning, and I pray that health tags along as a bonus.

Monday, March 09, 2009

A Good Sweat

I do not fully understand people who deny themselves the thrill of a good sweat. Going to the gym several early mornings per week and doing cardio and strength training has become such an ingrained habit. I feel incomplete, soft, irritated when I miss a couple of days. Everything seems out of whack. After about 20 years of this habit, it's all but impossible to break. I'll exercise as long as I am able, because my health is not something that will last forever.

I am amazed at people who live for the thrill of a good prayer time. They can go to their sacred place, wherever it might be, several if not every morning per week and stretch their soul out before God and discern how to follow him more fully. They feel incomplete, soft, irritated when the miss a couple of days. Everything seems out of whack. After years and years of this habit, it's all but impossible to break...especially because God has penetrated the bloodstream and transformed the praying one into something that will last forever.

I've tasted the former thrill much more frequently than the latter. The first seems so much easier, so much more tangible, so much easier to lend itself to habit. The first takes my breath away on occasion as I manipulate my flesh. The second requires being open to new breath as I surrender my flesh.

Lord, help me to desire your perfect strength as much as I desire the fleeting strength of my body. Transform my spirit into something that will stand the test of time, even as I focus so much energy on temporal matters. Help me to sweat with you in the garden.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Only One Goal Left

As this season of God pruning my ambitions continues, I am down to one vocational goal now, one career aspiration. This is very freeing but also kind of scary, because I'm not sure if I will pull it off. But I will literally die trying.

My one remaining career goal is to write one book per year, for the rest of my life.

These volumes might sometimes be works of fiction, like the book I am writing now. They might be memoirs or books related to leadership or spiritual formation or whatever. But I must write them. They might never make any money (although I have a hunch that some will), but I must write them.

I really don't have any choice. It's larger than me. And that's a fun thing to be a part of, when you feel caught in a massive gust of creativity that wants to blow through you and consume you and transform you and elicit from you something that might touch others in a meaningful way.

I'll keep a "day job" that leverages my strengths as long as I need to, and give it my all while I am there. But the one, driving thing in my life that is above and beyond work, family and other responsibilities is and will be writing. Blogs, articles, copy, etc., for sure--but especially books.

Currently, I have no idea what my "2010 book" will be about. And that's OK. When it is time to write, the Muse will appear. As long as I show up, she never lets me down.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Confluence of Tears

My 8-year-old daughter Aly, learning to play guitar, wrote another new song this past weekend called "Teardrops." It starts like this:

Rainy day
Can't go out and play
There's nothing I can do
But watch your, your teardrops, teardrops
Falling from the sky
Splashing into puddles
Makes me want to cry
Teardrops, teardrops

Her sense of God's tears eliciting her own tears makes me want to cry as well.

This is a season, the Lenten season, when the tears of the divine and the human truly find their confluence. I pray that as the cross grows more near, my own tears will flow more steadily and cleanse away the debris that keeps me from fully seeing what Christ longs to show me.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

A Promise Fulfilled

A lovely blanket of snow covers the earth in all directions of my house. Finally, on the first day of March, the forecasters got it right. So many times across this winter they have predicted snowfall in the Nashville area, only for it to be very cold but still just brown and green. Always winter, but never Christmas. But this morning, the birds are chirping and the neighborhood is a peaceful white.

There's been many other predictions across the past several months that have been wrong. Prognostications about what the stock market would or would not do. Guesses about what economic stimulus packages would achieve. Assumptions about energy prices. The list of futile predictions goes on and on, especially in the arena of our reeling economy.

Today is the fifth day of Lent, the season for reflecting on Jesus' journey to the cross. In his final weeks of earthly ministry, Christ often predicted that he would die at the cross and rise again. His close followers either did not want it to be so, or did not believe. They did not fully get the bigger picture of his purpose with them. But in a world then and now where so many predictions, plans and promises do not come to fruition, at least one thing remains true: Jesus kept his commitment to surrender all at the cross, and the fruit of that promise is the life constantly renewing itself within us like freshly fallen snow.

Lord, thank you for showing me that your promises remain vital even when I am immersed in so many shaky commitments and predictions in this world. They sometimes cause my emotions, dreams and plans to fluctuate, but you are steady, calm and true. Help me to thrive in your truth.