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Be as Uninteresting as You Can Be? (Thoughts from David Foster Wallace)

I stumbled across this David Foster Wallace interview from almost 15 years ago.

A few of my thoughts are at the bottom after the snippet.


DFW: No one is asking questions about the connections between how we live, what we drive, and the things that are happening [in the world].

INTERVIEWER: Are there means of rebellion [from the status quo]?

DFW: There are people doing it all over the place…The people I know who are rebelling meaningfully don’t buy a lot of stuff and don’t get their view of the world from television and are willing to spend 4-5 hours researching an election rather than going by commercials.

The thing about it is in America, we think of rebellion as this very sexy thing that involves action and force, and my guess is the forms of rebellion that will change anything meaningfully will be very quiet and very individual and probably not all that interesting to look at from the outside.

I’m now hoping for less interesting than more interesting.

Violence is interesting. Horrible corruption and scandals and rattling sabers and talking about war and demonizing a billion people of a different faith in the world – those are all interesting.

Sitting in a chair and really thinking about what this means and why the fact of what I drive might have something to do with how people in other parts of the world feel about me isn’t interesting to anybody else.


Here’s the full interview.

Whether you agree with DFW or not, it seems strikingly applicable to our world, perhaps particularly this week.

Parts of it also strike me as complexly-privileged, specifically the ability to “wait it out” with quiet, uninteresting, rebellion.

But I am especially struck by the gravity of the “interesting” and how it plays out in the stories of our world.

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The Three Migrations of God

You’ve probably heard it; I can almost guarantee it.

It’s been called the most overused piece of music in history. Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana is an iconic composition, comprised of twenty-five movements using medieval imagery and poetry to explore themes of fate and fortune.

But you probably wouldn’t recognize it if you heard one of the twenty-three middle movements. Most are obscure and unknown to a popular audience, but the opening and closing movements  – O Fortuna – have been used in countless commercials, campaigns, and scores. Like I said, you’ve probably heard it.

But have you really heard it, if you’re only familiar with a single movement of a multi-movement piece?

Each of the twenty-five movements of Orff’s masterpiece look, sound, and feel different as they move from beginning to middle to end, but it’s all Carmina Burana. Only a few measures of the piece have become memorable, but it’s the movement throughout the entirety of the composition that makes it a masterpiece (if you have an hour and four minutes, check out this recording. It’s terrific.).

When you think of movement, you might think about Carmina Burana. Or you might think about airplanes and transit. Or you might think about dance.

Movement is a necessary and vibrant reality of life – to be alive is to move.

I believe in a God who is living, which is to say I believe in a God who moves – a God who migrates! The scriptures unveil the story of this movement-God who is revealed through three migrations.

The First Migration is the Movement of the God who inhales and exhales.

The Scriptures’ opening words proclaim that “In the beginning, God!”

In the beginning, before anything else happened, God was.
God existed.
God filled the expanse.

The Poet of Beginnings does not suggest we imagine anything, in the beginning, but God.

In the beginning, when God began to create, there was inhale (Go ahead and inhale. Feel the rise of your lungs and the contraction of your belly.) and there was exhale (Slowly let it out – as your chest sinks and your stomach settles, call out a name, sing a note, breathe a breath).

When God began to create, creation was called into existence with voice and life was breathed into the first humans. This is the first migration of God, the movement of the God who inhales and exhales.

The Second Migration is the Movement of God to God-in-Flesh.

The opening chapter of John’s Gospel is a work of mystic-poetry, describing Jesus as the Word that spoke creation into existence, the Word that was both Life and Light. That Light, John writes, came down to the people of God, making a dwelling (a tabernacle, a roaming outpost of the holy – light, life, beauty) in the common place of their neighborhood.

Studies of human movement will often talk of the dual factors of push and pull. A person is pushed from a place, often because of less-than-desirable conditions, and pulled to another, because of a hope or promise or hint of something better.

This second migration of God, though, reverses that push/pull. The Word moves from a place of God-dwelling to the place of dust and dirt. The Light migrates into darkness.

The Third Migration is the Movement of God as Wind and Whisper.

Acts 2 records the outpouring of God’s Spirit on the people of God.

Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit.

This movement, the third migration, is a return to the God who breathes, yet in this movement God is described as the essence of breath itself. Breath is a movement that happens naturally, often without thought or conscious intent or noticing. Yet it is movement.

Throughout Acts, we see the Spirit moving outward beyond the bounds of Jerusalem following Jesus’ mandate to go outward to Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. God-as-Wind-and-Breath beckons the early Jesus followers from the upper room to the ends of the earth. This Wind and Whisper of God is a force of movement and migration.

The church has struggled for centuries to adequately name the experience and portrayal of God-as-immigrant painted in the scriptures.

Early on the church landed on the idea that there’s one God but three persons – Father, Son, and Spirit. This three-yet-one reality has been described with the Greek word perichoresis.

peri: ‘around’ like perimeter or periscope
chorei: move, advance, go, or to dance like choreography

This is our God, a God of Movement, a dancing God.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Remember that God is not an eternal throne sitter in some palace far away, but a God who roams untamed in our world. This is a migrant God we follow, one who crosses boundaries and hops borders and moves down and out and in and up. This is a God who cannot be put in a box!

The story of the Scriptures – and our story – is a story of movement. We’re not to long for the olden days but to move ahead into the woven-together world God is making. The end of the story is not Eden, but Eden surrounded by a beautiful city, a new city.

God’s moving, and we’re invited to join in on that movement!

I put these thoughts together as part of our exploration of the Immigrants’ Journey at Open Door. 

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Do You Trust Your Own Soul To Speak Truth?

parker-palmer-black-and-whiteOver the last few months, I’ve been reading Parker Palmer’s A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life. I often read books quickly: skimming for ideas and thoughts that will stir creativity, capturing the big picture while discarding the rest.

A Hidden Wholeness has taken me over a year to get through (I actually found a coffee shop receipt from the day I started reading – July 8, 2013). It hasn’t taken me this long because the book is long or dense (it’s not) but because it’s deep and provocative.

Palmer’s premise rests on the idea that there is an undivided and integrated life within our grasp if only we make space to listen to and trust our soul. In contrast to life lived in wholeness and integration, Palmer speaks of the “lost ones:”

The lost ones [those who have become divided from their very soul/self] come from every walk of life: clergy and corporate executives, politicians and people on the street, celebrities and schoolchildren. Some of us fear that we, or those we love, will become lost in the storm. Some are lost at this moment and are trying to find the way home. Some are lost without knowing it. (1)

Rather than listening to our soul – the voice within – we’ve been taught to deny, ignore, betray, silence, and withhold trust from that sacred space inside. And yet Palmer says “we can reclaim our lives only by choosing to live divided no more…a choice so daunting that we are unlikely to make it until our pain becomes unbearable, the pain that comes from denying or defying true self” (37).

In order to hear, listen, and trust our soul and move towards integration, an undivided life, Palmer suggests practices that can move us forward on this journey (none of which are quick, easy, cure-all gimmicks or sales pitches):

  • Believing that within our soul resides a wise teacher.
  • Finding community which allows us to speak and be heard, a space Palmer calls “being alone together.”
  • Listening deeply and engaging creative exercise that further deepens our listening.

A few years ago I began some serious wrestling with the notion of original sin, and specifically the way that idea has shaped and formed the way I perceive my own value and worth. In this piece, I asked if we are children of God or children of the devil, and if there is a way we can be both? Here’s a snippet of that inner-dialogue, which gets to the heart of what Parker Palmer addresses in A Hidden Wholeness:

Are we born children of the devil? Utterly depraved. No good thing – no good thought! – can come from us. We are reprehensible monsters, not only capable but destined for evil. Our ancestors were created in God’s image, indeed, but that image has been so shattered and tattered that we dare not even think about it lest we find ourselves trapped in our overconfident arrogant state. There is nothing in us worth redeeming, making the grace of redemption nearly unbelievable.

Are we born children of God? Created as things of beauty, reflecting our creator’s own image. Unique amongst all creation with magnificent potential, bringing unmatched joy and satisfaction to God. Through no fault of our own as well as through terrible faults of our own, this image is distorted, faded, and shadowed. But, at our core, this image can still shine through, reminding us and others of the created glory and beauty of all humanity awaiting redemption. There is something in us worth redeeming, marked for redemption by the unmistakable grace of creation.

I’ve continued to ask these questions and wrestle with these ideas without coming away with a simple answer, but I’ve found deep hope in the asking and wrestling. And as I’ve come to appreciate, trust, and listen to my own soul – trusting my created-ness – I’ve found myself better attuned to listen and trust in the Creator and Jesus, the firstborn of Creation.

I’d be curious to hear from you:

(How) Do you care for your soul?
(How) Do you create space for your soul to be heard?
(How) Do you trust your own soul to speak truth?

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There Are No Lakes Till Eternity (On Reading Rilke)

We are not permitted to linger, even with what is most
intimate. From images that are full, the spirit
plunges on to others that suddenly must be filled;
there are no lakes till eternity. Here,
falling is best. To fall from the mastered emotion
into the guessed-at, and onward.

Rainer Maria Rilke, To Hölderlin

Poetry lends itself to reading between the lines and finding meaning that may or may not have been intended by the author. This is true of poetry in general but certainly and particularly true of Rilke.

Rilke wrote in the language of German and the language of a mystic, neither of which is my native tongue. So when I read his works they are translated once by a scholar from German mysticism into English mysticism and then a second time as I translate Rilke’s mysticism into some grain of truth or beauty that I am capable of comprehending and wielding.

The nature of this dual-translation is such that I’m never sure if what I find true and beautiful is actually Rilke or something that emerges in the long journey from Rilke’s written words through the translator’s pen to my mind. Or both?

But I’ve been dwelling all day on the above-quoted section and find in it a deep truth of the human condition. Despite our deepest desires for safety and shelter, life rarely permits us to linger. Even when we find ourselves in a moment of fullness – saturated with meaning and emotion and love and beauty – it is fleeting, and then only an image of fullness rather than true fullness, which does not exist on this side of eternity.

To live is to fall into the guessed-at, and onward.

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The God Who is Altogether Different

Way back when, in the days of patriarchs when cities were a novel idea, gods were said to roam throughout a city – their city – providing resources and protection in exchange for devotion, loyalty, and sacrifice. Move past the city walls, however, and your chances of being heard by your city’s god quickly decreased. Like a wireless speaker or walkie-talkie, everything’s dandy until you move out of range. The signal weakens and distortion creeps in until there’s no reception – just white noise.

So you pick a spot (thereby picking a god), set up camp and stay put.

And if you had to leave and venture out to another city, you hoped to (your) god you wouldn’t run into (their) god lest you face the wrath of (some) god.

I imagine that this notion of a place-restricted god – a localized deity –  shaped what those early listeners heard in the words of the first chapters of Genesis.

The story begins with a god carefully crafting a beautiful garden in which to dwell. A plush and pleasing home for any deity, made particularly good after the garden is populated with creatures formed from the very dirt they were created to care for. In the cool of the day, as the story goes, the god would walk alongside the creatures (no doubt, the reader thinks, in order to remind them of the rules they were to follow and the chores they were to accomplish and how lucky they were to live in such a garden under the care of such a god).

“Adam and Eve” by Marc Chagall (1912)

Despite these daily reminder-walks, the creatures rebel. They cross the creator of this garden by disobeying a specific and clear directive. Surely, the reader thinks, surely after such an act, these creatures – these mud slaves – will cease to be in relationship with this god. Surely they’d be lucky to even survive such an act of defiance.

As would be expected, their disobedience does upset the garden-god and they are kicked out of the paradise-place.

The reader chuckles.
Serves them right
.
That’s what you get when you piss off your god.
With no god to protect you now, you’d be better off dead.

But we keep reading, and we are surprised.

Yes, the dust creatures are kicked out of the garden. But the god they crossed offers them gifts of grace – animal skins fashioned into clothing. Warmth and protection from the elements, a covering for their shame. The God of the Garden chooses not to abandon this ongoing creation-development project that launched with so much promise.

The God of the Garden leaves that paradise-place, pursuing the creatures – the family fashioned from the earth by wholly muddy hands – into the rugged wilderness.

You’ve disrupted the design, but I will design a fresh start for you.
You’ve stepped off the garden path but I will prepare a new path.
You’ve walked your own way, but I will walk that way with you.

This is not what gods are supposed to do.
This is not a short-range god of limited coverage and localized concern.
This is not a quick-tempered god shallowly appeased.

This is a god who is altogether different.

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Gratitude #3 – Kairos Hollywood

I don’t think I was looking for you when I found you, but maybe I was.

We walked in, weary from six months of shopping around on Sunday mornings for a place to learn, a place to worship, and a place to call home.

We were not looking to move to Hollywood. We were not looking to enter into a season of bivocational ministry (we didn’t even know what that meant). We were not looking for a reason to stick around Los Angeles after finishing up grad school.

But somehow we found those things and more when we found you.

frA creative and eclectic community.

Risk takers and question askers.

Open to ideas and input.

A piece of clay willing to restart the potter’s wheel when a new shape was more conducive to faithfulness on mission – even when painful and disorienting.

It was a Saturday morning and I was sitting beside the little pool in our student housing apartment. My phone rang and it was JR, asking me if I’d be interested and able to preach the next day at our Kairos gathering.

It had been about a year since we had first walked in the doors. Sure, why not?

Psalm 80 was the text, and I spoke about lament as a communal practice. Restore us, not restore me. This is about us, together. Mistakes and gifts, pain and grace all swirled about in the mixing bowl of life together in community.

I broke some rules I’ve since set for myself. I used too much Hebrew. I spoke too long. I used a lot of umms and you knows which, umm, I still use a lot. You know?

shadowcommunityBut you let me speak. You were encouraging, you pushed back, and we kept moving forward.

And you let me lead. Or, more accurately, you challenged and expanded what I thought leadership was, and then invited me into that.

You are the type of community that does not pedestal its pastors. Sometimes I had the mic and sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I answered and sometimes I questioned. You did the same. It was always a conversation and never a monologue.

I was a pastor but I was also a husband and a dad and you didn’t ask me to put those things to the side for any greater cause. The cause was simply our life together and inviting and seeing how God worked in our midst. To be a dad, a husband, a friend, an employee, a neighbor, a patron, a servant – these were all deeply embedded in my job description as a pastor in our community. 

The greatest compliment I received during our season with you, Kairos Hollywood, was not about speaking, counseling teaching, administering, budgeting, hosting, or teaching. It was that the three of us who were called to equip, lead, and pastor the community, equipped, led, and pastored alongside. Not from the front, not from behind a microphone or podium, not from a high and lofty place above – but alongside.

So I am grateful to you, Kairos Hollywood (and, also, to our brothers and sisters in Kairos Los Angeles churches across the city) for helping me find my voice, for allowing me to guide, equip and shepherd, for showing me that to pastor is to walk alongside.

I’m grateful for who you are – a group of people centered on Jesus, listening to the voice of God and responding in the faithfulness made possible through the power of the Spirit.

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I Stand In the Goodness of Dirt

I was looking over a draft of a personal narrative theology I began constructing a while back. I didn’t get very far, but the draft opens with this simple line:

I stand in the goodness of dirt.

We are a mysophobic people. We don’t like germs and we don’t like dirt. We fear those things because we’ve given them the power to make us unclean.

So we shower. We scrub our hands. We control our climates – heating and cooling with machines – to avoid sweats and shivers. We rinse, wash, spin and then rinse, wash, and spin.

We apply chemicals on the parts of our body most prone to smell. We “plug it in, plug it in for freshness with a new spin” so the air around us stops smelling like…us. We seal off doors and windows. We pay for new cars so that our car can smell like a new car instead of an old car (which smells like…us).

We only shop at clean and shiny stores where we can buy clean and shiny food. We want to eat meat but do not want to see eyes or blood or feet or beaks. We scrub, scrub, scrub our fruits and vegetables. No dirt for us, just clean and shiny food.

Somewhere deep down we’ve equated being dirty with being unclean in its fullest sense – defiled, unworthy, bad.

So we scrub, scrub, scrub.

I guess what I’m saying is that we’ve forgotten where and what we come from.

The ancient Hebrew stories of beginning (which have been compiled into a book we call Genesis) start with God calling the universe into being and, in that brand new universe, cultivating a garden. Planted in that garden and given life through God’s own breath was אָדָם – a creature formed from and named after the dust and dirt and soil of that first garden.

In the beginning, God created dirt-y and dust-y humans and it was very good.

I just finished reading Sara Miles’ latest memoir (which I really enjoyed…check it out): City of God: Faith in the Streets (Hachette, 2014). In it, she explores her neighborhood – San Francisco’s Mission – through the lens of Ash Wednesday’s call to remember dust and ashes, to remember the cycle of life and death, to remember our humanity.

How often we forget our humanity. How often we forget the gift it is to be human. How often we forget to stand in the goodness of dirt.

The story of Christianity is ‘good news.’ Too often that goodness has been construed through a lens of escape.

Escape from our bodies, escape from this earth, escape from the dirt and the dust.

The goodness of the Christian story lies not in escape but in embodiment.

This embodiment is an invitation into the freedom of realizing and embracing who we were created to be.

Crafted in the Imago Dei, being transformed into the Imago Christi so that we might experience the redemption and glory of a dust creature living in right relationship with the one who calls forth and forms life and beauty from the dirt and names it good.

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