The Gap (John 8)

Ira Glass has a pretty famous rant going around about the gap between taste and skill. It’s summed up in the poster below. (I’m not sure where the poster originated or who to attribute it to – just do an image search for Ira Glass quote).

ira_glass_quote

Basically, Ira is saying there is a gap between what you see (or hear) in your head and what you’re capable of producing at your current level. I suffer from this malady in the hardest way: in writing, in cartooning, in teaching, and just about every other area.

In my mind, the words are sharper. In my mind, the lines are cleaner. In my mind, I have broader set of transitions than just “So,” and “And,” and “Then,”. And, (see) I don’t use as many parenthesis and ellipses.

That gap translates into life as well. I have a vision for the man I want to be, but the man I am doesn’t measure up, usually in the most dramatic fashion. The same is true in work, relationships, and almost any other segment of life.

The only answer is to fight. To keep writing and drawing. To keep trying to raise the level of your skill so that one day it will be closer to your taste. It’s about diligent practice. Each minute of work bridges the gap a bit.

There’s a problem with that model, though. See, we can bridge the gap in most areas of our lives, which is an amazing gift. But, in doing so we build confidence in ourselves, reliance on ourselves to solve all gap issues.

A gap exists, however, that we can’t bridge with muscle memory or a better thesaurus or a workshop or even diligent practice.

Faith Circles

I’m 9 weeks into a cartooning class. And, as the weeks have moved past, we’ve worked on drawing some classic and contemporary cartoon characters: Snoopy, Sid from Ice Age, and even Po from Kung Fu Panda. In the weeks to follow, I’m sure we’ll move even deeper into the cartoon catalogue.

We started just over two months ago by drawing circles. That’s right – just circles. One after the other. In different sizes. In different arrangements. In different colors. Circles.

davinci_circles_post_2

Every week since, we’ve drawn circles. The only difference is now we are arranging them into Snoopy, Po, and really anything else we are trying to draw. This fig leaf, for example:

How Much Do You Want? (John 6)

There is so much that could be focused on in John 6. In this one chapter, Jesus feeds 5000, walks on water, and preaches a compelling sermon.

For me, out of all of that, a single line jumps out of the text. Check out the final phrase in John 6:11.

And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted.

As much as they wanted. To me, that line emphasizes two points: Jesus is capable of completely fulfilling the needs and desires of those that trust in him. And, that we have an obligation to take as much as we want.

Let’s focus on the latter point and how the logistics of this miracle play out.

Jesus anticipates a problem. With thousands of people following him, he knew that food would be necessary. The problem is static (people need to eat), but Jesus could have solved this issue in any number of ways.

  • He could have sent them back home to eat.
  • He could have just kept preaching without regard to their hunger.
  • He could have divinely made them not hungry, I suppose.
  • He could have made manna fall from the heavens (that had been done before).
  • He could have had baskets of bread and fish appear in front of every follower.

But, he didn’t.

After giving thanks to the Lord for the food, he handed it to the disciples so that they could distribute it to the people. (There is another lesson here about Christ using the disciples as a conduit to the people, but that’s perhaps another post).

By doing it this way, Jesus forces the followers to decide how much bread and fish to take. A basket comes by and each person took as much as they wanted.

How much do you want?

Over 20 verses later, Jesus ties up the lesson he had laid the groundwork for a day earlier.

I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. – John 6:35

Sounds familiar to John 4, doesn’t it?

So, you’re sitting on a mountain near the Sea of Galilee, the basket is being passed, and you’re left with a question…

How much do you want?

Do You Want to Be Made Well? (John 5)

When loneliness teams up with sadness, it’s a pretty sure predictor of depression. There have been many months in my life (including some recent ones) where that was a common occurrence. Those months have a way of stealing years from your life. And, like I mentioned in a previous post, they can also put you on the road.

In John 5, we come across a man sitting by a pool waiting for something amazing to happen.

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had. John 5:2-4

Whether in these verses John is relaying what actually happens at this pool or just what the people believed would happen is up for debate, but that’s kind of beside the point. Accurate or not, people came to race to be first in the pool.

Too bad our man’s particular illness prevents him from getting to that pool. I suppose it’s hard to race when you can’t walk.

Turns out the man was really waiting for someone to come along who would pick him up, spot the angel, and toss him into the pool before anyone else could get in, but instead Jesus shows up:

When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” John 5:6

It’s at that profound question where we need to pause.

Umm, the guy is at the pool… sitting there waiting for a dude to pick him up and toss him into the pool. Seems like he’s pretty ready to get well.

But, is that true?

There were a lot of days spent sitting alone in my house when I was hurting, but if I had been honest with myself, I didn’t want to get well.

Sadness is a pretty decent crutch to go through life with. Loneliness is much easier than vulnerability. So, I chose to be both.

As broken people we sometimes prefer to sit on the banks of the healing pool watching others get well – complaining that we can’t get into the water.

Sometimes we get so comfortable with being broken that being healed is scary. What might be expected of me if I were whole? If I didn’t have this anger or resentment or sadness to hide behind, what would people see?

Jesus is asking a question he already knows the answer to. He knows the answer as it relates to your life as well.

Do you want to be made well?

Perhaps it’s time to change your answer.

Time to Stop Driving (John 4)

I have an admittedly weird habit. On those nights where I feel particularly lost or lonely (and often those two come as a pair), I get into my Jeep and drive around. I’m not driving to any place in particular. I just feel the need to get out of the house and drive. I’ve been doing it for years.

On those same nights, I also feel an incredible pull to be in the woods. (Come to think of it, perhaps the driving is the closest thing to being outdoors I can come up with in metro Atlanta.) I want to just keep driving until I reach the woods, get out of the car, hike to the top of a mountain, and watch the sun rise.

I never understood why I was like this, but last night it hit me. At my lowest points, I go out searching.

I’ve mentioned that I’m a Lego collector. That mentality of collecting bricks and putting them together is what comes into play on those nights. I honestly believe that if I go into the woods (or drive around empty streets), I’ll find the piece that pulls everything together. I believe that at the top of the mountain, hidden in that sunrise is an epiphany. That somehow I’ll stumble upon the one piece that will fix me… make me whole.

That’s just a fantasy, though. I’m not just missing one piece, I’m missing a bunch of them. Some of those pieces I had when I was younger, but they have since been broken off. And, others are pieces that I’ve never had, but would help to fill in my gaps. Regardless, they are not something to be stumbled across.

It turns out those nights have something else in common – they always show up after I’ve tried filling those gaps with something that didn’t work: friends, television, work, food, etc. It’s during those nights that the fact that I’m missing pieces becomes more obvious than usual.

In John 4, Jesus has a conversation with a Samaritan woman who I imagine would go for drives at night if she could. Her life (along with her sins) have caused her to lose some of her pieces and to have missed some she should have gathered along the way.

You see, she’s at the well around noon (verse 6) because that’s well (get it) after the other women in the town would have collected their water. Tradition teaches that she went to the well at noon to avoid the rest of her community: whether that was her choice or theirs isn’t said. While that understanding of her plight is pretty clear, I think she also might have used that solitude the same way I do in the Jeep – to blindly search for missing pieces.

That is, until Jesus tells her this:

“Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” John 4:13,14

My analogy of missing pieces is parallel to Jesus’ thirst analogy. All those pieces that you try to use to fill the gaps will never fit. And, so, you will constantly be searching for new pieces and retrying old ones. Jesus is the only one who can truly complete you – you were designed that way.

Blaise Pascal said the following of this phenomenon:

“There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person, and it can never be filled by any created thing. It can only be filled by God, made known through Jesus Christ.”

Everything you try to fill that vacuum with will be unsatisfactory and ultimately cause you to thirst again. Food, sex, alcohol, approval, victory – they’ll always fade, which is why you always want more of them.

It’s time I stopped driving. It’s time I stopped trying pieces over and over that will never fit. It’s time I drank from the real fountain of life.

To Save the World (John 3)

When writing a blog post for every chapter in John, the low hanging fruit is probably John 3:16.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16

Even those with no Bible experience at all know this verse. That’s good, I suppose, since this is one of the major tenets in the Christian faith.

Inside this verse is an entire theology lesson that sometimes gets lost in the ubiquity of the words – God as omnipotent, Christ as savior, God’s intense love, eternal life, and much more. And, honestly, I had forgotten that this verse is a quote from Christ himself.

I think it’s important, though, to read one verse further:

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. John 3:17

I lose sight of this all the time.

Bible scholar Chuck Missler likes to point out the difference between creation and redemption in terms of effort and cost. Creation required 6 days from God. In fact, the Bible spends only a handful of chapters on it. But, the redemption has required every day since the fall, every chapter in the Bible speaks to it, and of course, like John 3:16 points out – it cost the death of his Son.

All of that redemptive effort and the heavy price tag was for one purpose – so that the world (you and me) might be saved.

We all have relationships with people who condemn us. We live in a world that in many respects prefers to condemn failure than celebrate success. And, for most of us, we spend too much time condemning ourselves.

Amidst all of that condemnation, it’s easy to think that is what God is all about – just a more powerful, all knowing harbinger of condemnation. All the better to condemn you with, my dear!

These two verses demand the opposite:

God sent his Son out of love so that the world might be saved.

Yes, it’s a difficult message to believe, but that’s because of our weaknesses, not because it isn’t true.

Dying Next to the Pond (John 7)

Two years ago, I went to a week-long survival school in the deserts of Arizona.

As you might expect in the low desert of Arizona one of the primary exercises is finding water. So, about two miles from our basecamp, we were practicing water collection techniques.

First, we dug a solar still – this requires the digging of a large hole, a sheet of translucent plastic, a container, and several rocks. The container goes into the hole; the plastic covers the opening of the hole completely (weighted at the edges by rocks); then, a small stone is placed in the middle of the plastic directly over the container. This creates an inverted cone with the tip hovering above the container.

The premise is simple, the moisture in the ground evaporates, hits the plastic where it re-liquifies, and then as drops begin to form drips into the container. And, 24-48 hours later, you’ve harvested water where none was before.

There is a problem with this, however. It took 6 of us 90 minutes to assemble the solar still. The next day we had a cup of water… between us. Not so efficient.

So, we moved on to the tree still. This involves a smaller plastic bag (or a piece of plastic formed into a bag). Similar premise to the solar still: use the plastic to engulf some foliage, the moisture will evaporate out of the leaves, and ultimately collect in the bag. 24 hours later, we have a couple of teaspoons of water that tasted like tree tea. Strike two.

The next day, we set out to look for a real water source – we had condoms we were to use as canteens (no joke). Anyway, we walk two miles back to the place where we made the solar stills, past our tree stills, and literally 50 yards beyond my tree still was a small pond. We got into it, got our clothes wet, filled our condoms (with water), and left.

All of that is interesting survival stuff, but the real lesson is this. I was so focused on digging a solar still and rigging a tree still, that I completely missed the pond.

It is possible to die of dehydration 50 yards from a pond.

Every day, I’m building stills that aren’t working. Every day, God is close but I don’t see him. Perhaps the answer is to look beyond the task – to quit wasting time and energy on trivial stills and focus on discovering a real water source.

If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. John 7:37

I don’t want to die 50 yards from the pond.

A Little More Like Me

I was at a coffee shop this afternoon – doing what I normally do at coffee shops – trying to write really compelling blog posts. I prefer sitting next to the window so that I can at least pretend that I’m outdoors and it also gives me an excuse to get distracted by people walking by or cars driving by or a woman swinging rubber balls on ropes… oh, wait, that just happened today.

She was seated on the patio just next to the table I was working at. On said table: a cup of doughnut holes, an open book, a frappachino, a pack of menthol cigarettes that didn’t seem as tall as a normal pack (shorts? that’s just a guess, I’m not up to date on my cigarette lingo), and two white rubber balls attached to chains attached to wrist straps. Scene set.

After a few minutes of reading, she stood up, attached the wrist straps to her wrists, and then (gasp) began swinging them around in specific patterns. Now, it didn’t appear that she was doing an interpretive dance routine more than she seemed to be preparing for an interpretive dance routine. She was practicing certain moves and combinations over and over again.

At first, a twinge of annoyance ran up my back. “Great, I’m going to have this weird ball dance going on in my peripheral vision all afternoon.” But, then I heard a couple behind me begin to make fun of her – laughing at her admittedly odd hobby (art?). They pointed out the disunity (my word not theirs) between a coffee shop, a pack of cigarettes, an open book, and a rope-ball dance. My hyper-judgemental nature couldn’t really disagree with them.

In that moment, though, I wanted to be that girl (or, at least as comfortable with myself as that girl was). See, I know myself. If I were passionate about obscure rope-ball acrobatics, it would be a secret. I would practice in the basement with the blinds down. I wouldn’t practice outside in my backyard, yet alone outside the windows of a Starbucks.

I can’t help but wonder if she’s happier than I am. I wonder if she practices here because she has nowhere else to practice or because she likes to interrupt her practice with sips of frappuccio. I wonder if she cares that the people behind me are making fun of her or if she knows that they’re just projecting their insecurities onto her (like I am). I wonder if she just wants to put on a show for anyone who will pay attention to her or if this is truly who she is.

I hope this is just her.

One of my favorite quotes is from Tom Rath:

You cannot be anything you want to be – but you can be a whole lot more of who you already are.

I hope today I can be a little bit more like me.

I Don’t Think Enough

I recently attended the SCORRE Conference (which was life changing by the way). A huge takeaway was this: every piece of communication – whether that’s a speech, a blog post, or a conversation – has a goal. If you don’t decide what the goal is, the words will find their own goal.

Usually, for me, that undefined goal isn’t to deliver value, it’s to be seen as smart, or funny, or wise.

And, in order to achieve that goal, I will often feign authority on topics that I honestly have no authority in. Yes, I’ve heard someone else talk on the subject or read an article about it, but really I’m just parroting a source (that I most often trust). It’s not thinking, concluding, inventing – it’s passing along info that feels right and that will make me appear smart, funny, or wise in the moment.

I’ve done this countless times when talking about God, the Bible, and Christianity. You’ve probably heard someone like me say something like this, “The Bible says such and such – I don’t remember where it is, but I know someone told me about it once.” Maybe those words have escaped your own lips. Sometimes that ‘such and such’ might have an intended purpose, but often those words are simply tools for that unintended goal of approval.

I need a goal change.

Part of this journey for me is closing the gap between what I am comfortable passing along and what I actually know. Finding out for myself what’s around me, how the world reacts, what the Bible says, what God’s plan is for me. I’m tired of being a parrot. I want to be some other creature instead… maybe a human, I guess. But a human who isn’t arrogant. A human that doesn’t have to pretend he knows what he’s talking about so that he can feel smart.

Part of this journey is to figure out exactly what I believe and why. Based on my own experience. Based on my own research.

A lot of Christians (a lot of people, really) out there don’t have a clue what they believe. I’ve been one of them for a long time. And, it needs to change.

I need to work harder for insight.

This blog is a challenge for me to think more. To inspect those things that I have previously believed based on someone else’s insights, especially as it relates to God, the Bible, and life.

In doing so there may be ideas, sentences, even posts that aren’t accurate. Feel free to engage with those in a constructive manner – I’m here to learn after all.

This is a challenge to think more. A challenge to spend more time disentangling ideas and less time as a parrot.

Are You Loving Well Enough? (John 13)

When asked what the greatest commandment was (by an antagonistic group of Pharisees), Jesus responded simply:

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22: 37-40

Then, to his own disciples not long before his death, he adds another, which in many ways is just a combination of the first two.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13: 34-35

This is Jesus’ most important teaching to Christians – a teaching that ultimately altered the course of the world forever. A teaching that most of us Christians have largely forgotten.

How are we as Christians going to be identified by the world? By the number of times we go to church? By how often we read through the Bible? By the tattoos of Bible verses or Celtic crosses on our arms and mid-backs? (No offense, they do look amazing.) By how well we can dismantle the Evolutionary argument? By the amount of money we give to charity? By the number of verses of Amazing Grace we can sing without looking at the words?

No. The answer is simple, but far from easy. By loving one another as Christ loved us.

The primary directive to his disciples is to love. And, not just love, but to love so strong, so fiercely, so mercifully that it mirrors his sacrificial love for us. That love is how the world will know that you are a disciple.

Here’s the point: if you are not being identified as a disciple of Christ by the outside world by more than a Bible on a shelf or where your car is Sunday morning, then you’re not loving well enough. It may be time to recommit.

And, I know what you’re thinking (because I’m thinking the same thing). I’m no good at loving… so… how do I love like that? The truth is, I don’t have the answer, but I do know this, everything Jesus did (yes, everything), was out of love – every sandled step he took on earth was loving. He can be our model… if we let him.