The Discipline of Remembering

The January–February issue of Outside Magazine features a dietary experiment performed and reported by endurance athlete John Bradley (All Systems Go, p.47). The exercise, as it were, included spending eight weeks each on six different diet plans ranging from popular fads to clinical studies: the Abs Diet, the Paleo Diet for Athletes, the Mediterranean Prescription, the Okinawa Program, the advice of a personal nutritionist, and the USDA’s nutritional pyramid. Along the way he recorded every meal, snack, and caloric drink, and workout, and made bi-monthly visits to his doctor for blood work, weigh-ins, cholesterol checks, and body composition analysis. You can read the entire article by clicking here.

The most interesting piece of this article to me, however, were the conclusions of the nutritionist, Laurent Bannock, he worked with during his research. Apparently Bannock has spent years researching diet strategies based on ethnicity. Bannock believes that one’s genes have “equipped” him or her for specific foods. Furthermore, Bannock contends, a diet comprised primarily of these “remembered” foods leads to greater wellness. For his part, Bradley experienced improved blood profiles, a leaner body, more sound sleep, and consistently higher energy levels using Bannock’s diet strategies. So it appears that our genes have what may be described as a “memory” that reacts positively to reminders of our heritage—in this case dietarily, but perhaps this phenomenon has broader application.

I remember hearing a few years ago that, in some sort of informal poll, the word “home” was acknowledged as the most favorite word in our vocabulary. (Who comes up with this stuff?) Like most people, I had never once stopped to consider my favorite word. But after thinking about the results of the poll, I can understand why “home” was voted the most favorite. It has the long vowel sound that is so pleasant in our poetry and music. But it also asks us to … remember. And if “home” is our favorite word, then “remember” just might be our most profound word. In one of his most recent releases Peter Gabriel sings the words “I … I remember” from the most inner part of his heart. His vocal is both primal and profound at once. There’s something so perfect about remembering—even the hard stuff. “Remember” beckons us to consider our own stories, where we are, and the road we’re on. Scripture tells us, “… if a man should live many years, let him rejoice in them all, and let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many.

A diet that reminds us, a word that stirs the heart, and a word that invites us into our own stories. Ecclesiastes 3:11 reveals that God has put an eternity into our hearts. I’ve seen this explained in more than one way, but what makes the most sense to me is that God has created us predisposed to “remember”—not only our own stories and the stories of our times, but the loss of Eden, the wonders of creation, and beauty of the gospel. Our hearts—our emotional seats—are wired to recognize our personal stories when we sense them bubbling up around us.

And so I wonder if along with the spiritual disciplines of study, worship, service, prayer, community, confession, and submission, if we should also practice the discipline of remembering. It seems, in the spirit of Lauren Bannock’s dietary conclusions, that our hearts also have a “memory”. There’s truth to be discovered in retracing the paths that led to where we are in our own stories—powerful memories, the things that move us, and the things that won’t seem to go away. Consider those things that have been lost, those things that have been gained, and those things yet to be born from the womb of time, yet the heart still manages to “remember.” There’s karthasis in the process.

The Stuff of Super Heroes

superheroes02“That little bit of sadness in the mornings you spoke of? I think I know what that is. Perhaps you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing.”
the movie Unbreakable (2000)

Unbreakable gets lost in the recent spike in superhero movies: Spiderman, Batman, Ironman, Hancock, The Fantastic Four, Superman—even Laura Croft. Admittedly, part of the problem is that Unbreakable was released more than 8 years ago and was the follow-up to writer/director M. Night Shyamalan’s wildly acclaimed The Sixth Sense. If you haven’t seen Unbreakable, the movie focuses on David Dunn–a man who has never been sick, never been hurt, the only survivor of a horrific train wreck, and who can bench press a ton of weight. Even though all the signs are there, he never, not once, stops to wonder if he has been created to be more than a security guard. Instead, like the man by the pool at Bethesda, he is content to greet each day the same, allowing today to flow seamlessly and effortless into tomorrow (John 5:4ff). What we come to find out—what David does not know—is that David Dunn is a superhero cut from the same cloth as the ones mentioned above, yet he has never donned a cape, attempted a rescue, searched his heart, been touched with passion, or even tried to fly.

Have you stopped to wonder why these superhero movies are so successful? Really, the plot lines are fairly consistent, yet the lines at the box office aren’t getting any shorter. It could be that we sense a greater calling on our own lives; that we’re all struggling to find the superhero dwelling within and we allow ourselves—maybe even prefer—to be satisfied watching superhero-ness played out on the screen. Scripture can support this reaction to that “little bit of sadness”.

  • You are seated with Christ in the heavenly realm (Ephesians 2:6)
  • You are God’s “work of art,” created to do good works (Ephesians 2:10)
  • You’ve been given the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16)
  • Christ Himself is in you (Colossians 1:27)
  • You are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14)

The truth is, yes, we are more than tainted by the fall and Original Sin. We cannot begin to fathom what was lost, but neither can we begin to fathom what we have to re-gain. And maybe the taint resulting from the events of Genesis 3 and the stain of sin—as true as this is—do not represent what is “truest” about us.

Zephaniah 3:17 tells us that God delights in us with shouts of joy. God delights in us—even the messes we make. He is cheering for us. He has created each of us “fearfully” and “wonderfully”, but I wonder how many of us live as such. Our days represents God’s curriculum of life and every day brings with it another opportunity to find the superhero within.

It’s Oprah’s Universe?

universe1I read a recent article on Oprah Winfrey. (Did you guys know that she is crazy?) Apparently Oprah has bought into a lot of the new and non-traditional approaches to modern medicine. That in and of itself isn’t so bad. But what is so bad, I couldn’t help but conclude reading the article, is how the army of Oprah followers hangs on her every bit of would-be wisdom and advice. I guess everyone is searching.

We’re like that errant missile in The Hunt for Red October that’s just looking for something to lock onto. The most likely candidates come in the various distractions available to us: celebrity, television, fantasy, food, sports, recreation. There was an instance in my high school physics class when the teacher pointed to his desk and said, “Theoretically, I could cut this desk in half, then cut that in half, then cut that in half … for infinity.” What he was saying is that, yes, the universe is infinitely big. But there is also a reality that suggests the converse: we can also go infinitely smaller. I recall my revelation upon realizing that infinity not only stretches outward, but also inward. That is, we have an infinity within ourselves. So what? So maybe there’s more to find in our own stories than what we realize. Maybe God reveals more to us deep within the “me” of each one of us. Here’s a passage from a book called Soul Cravings that fits here:

We are all searching for ourselves, trying to understand who we are, hoping that we might discover our unique place in this world. We are all sojourners on a common quest.

A film called 21 Grams has a narrative that revolves around the value of a human life. Its lead-in refers to a phenomenon that happens at the time of our death.

“They say we all lose 21 grams at the exact moment of our death … everyone. The weight of a stack of nickels, the weight of a chocolate bar, the weight of a hummingbird.”

The question posed is simple yet profound: “How much does life weigh?” The implication, of course, is that what is lost in the twenty one grams is the human spirit, that there is more to us than simply flesh and blood. So let me put my cards on the table: I believe you are more than water and dust. At your core you are a spiritual being of infinite value. To be human is a gift. You are created by God, and you have immeasurable value to him.

Jesus once said that the kingdom of God is within us. Yet most of us don’t even bother to explore the possibility that this might be true. It seems that what he is implying is that we have a better chance of finding God in the universe within us than in the one that surrounds us.

Name The Animals

interior-w-ceiling-wgaThinking just a bit about God giving Adam the role of naming the animals. Never really thought much about this. It has always just made sense in a father-letting-his-son-have-the-pleasure kind of way. But being asked by Andy Crouch to consider this with more intention and depth I’ve come to realize that, really, this event is more akin to God making room Adam’s creativity. God could have named the animals Himself, just as the book says, and just given Adam a manual for how to maintain. But He doesn’t. What He does do before stepping back, though, is provide the raw materials required to conjure Adam’s creativity. Crouch describes it like this:

And this is what we see, subtly in Genesis 2 and more clearly in Genesis 3: In order for humankind to flourish in their role as cultivators and creators, God will have to voluntarily withdraw, in certain ways, from his own creation. He makes space for the man to name the animals; he makes room for the man and the woman to know one another and explore the garden. He even gives them the freedom, tragically but necessarily, to misuse their creative and cultivating capacities. God is always willing to be present, walking in the garden in the cool of the day, but he is also willing to grant humankind their own cultural presence. Without this gracious carving out of space, they would never be able to fulfill their destiny as divine image-bearers

The idea of God stepping back—actually withdrawing His presence—is admittedly a little new to me. But what makes a lot of sense in this respect is His tolerance for mistakes. That is, this makes it absolutely clear to me that He can deal with our mistakes; our messes; our questions; and dare I say given my conservative heritage even our disobedience. Although I don’t think this is necessarily conditional, I am compelled to add that our objective is significant. If our desire is to live with abandon, delighting in creation in addition to justice and righteousness and lovingkindness—if we’re living as the image-bearers of the one true God and out of the new heart He has given to us—then He is more than willing to redeem all of our “stuff” and make it work for good. In short, God gives us room to create. He is willing to let go of the bike and run alongside.

At the heart of the message lies what we make out of the word we’ve been given. Do you insulate yourself and hold on to what you’ve got? Or do you begin each day risking everything? How we answer these questions will say alot of about how we will ultimately look back at the question Gandalf puts out there in The Lord of the Rings: “The only question is, What are you going to do with the time you’ve been given?” It could be that we live too safe. It could be that we’ve become too soft. It could be that we’ve forgotten how to live as kings and queens in the Larger Story. Perhaps we have failed to accept our birthright. Although Eden’s lost, there are certainly elements of our original fingerprints that can be re-captured with a step in the right direction. He has given us—you and me—what we need. Now God is saying to us, “Name the animals.”

Man on Wire and the Beautiful Things

notre_dame_12editedNetflix delivered the Oscar winning documentary Man on Wire to my house more than two weeks ago. Karen and I have been waiting for the perfect, angst-free, quiet, uninterrupted two hour period of time to push the DVD tray closed and lose ourselves in what I’ve heard is a great story. If your house is like mine, then you understand how just the thought of such a two-hour span reveals the eternal optimist that lies within me.

I’m not a big documentary fan. But given the Academy‘s recognition, a friend’s Facebook status, and that I liked Winged Migration a few years back, I thought I would give Man on Wire a go. I wouldn’t describe this movie as “must see.” I would, however, encourage anyone with an eye for style, an imagination that is too often found wanting in today’s world, and an appreciation for history to give it a shot. It documents tightwire artist Philippe Petit‘s 1974 walk from the top of the South Tower to the top of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

The reason I would write the first words about this movie here is this: there is a subtle beauty inherent. I think much of it has to do with the romance I associate with the world we lost on September 11, 2001. I know that our pre-9/11 world was just as flawed as what we currently have, but there’s instinctive in the human heart that makes the past more perfect and less real over time. The filmmakers were intentional, I think, in making the World Trade Center a tragic centerpiece in the unfolding drama. But the subtle beauty is also associated with Petit’s “walk” across the towers of the Notre Dame Cathedral in his hometown of Paris. I’ve read books on beauty. I’ve tried to write about it. It seems to be always just beyond my words. Regardless of my efforts, there are those moments when you just know you’re close. It’s in these times I feel like I should be grateful for what looks and feels like an invitation into something transcendent. For whatever reason, I felt like Petit’s tightwire walk at Notre Dame was his own unique invitation into beauty.

Ultimately, this is where beauty can be found. Beauty is found out on the tightrope. It’s found in our first steps into the unknown.

“He didn’t want to conquer the universe, just beautiful things.” That’s what close, if not romantically linked, friend Annie Allix said of Petit. Half asleep, I was roused by these words and quickly grabbed something to write them on. Petit was in search of beauty and, by taking his tightwire act public, was–and somehow still is–inviting us into his quest. That’s just a beautiful concept. Beauty at this level has innate risks. It requires vulnerability. Pursuit. Sacrifice. I think what I was struck with in this space was my own tightwire. That is, where is it? Petit’s feat, and the whole of Man on Wire, asks us to find our own tightwire and be willing to accept the call out into the wild. Ultimately, this is where beauty can be found. Beauty is found out on the tightrope. It’s found in our first steps into the unknown.

In this context, the “beautiful things” to which Allix refers are so much bigger than the universe. Whereas I’ve always considered the universe to be the “macro” and those things around me to be the “micro,” Man on Wire asks me to at least consider the possibility that this could be backwards.

Rhythm of Life

rhythm_in_bluesThere is a rhythm to life. A friend of once swore that everyone moved to the beat of “Baba O’Riley“. He took me for a drive around town while the song played over and over to prove it. The exercise was a strange one, but it does acknowledge that my friend sensed what most of us sense: that there is an order and elusive natural rhythm to things. In life there is back and forth; up and down. Nations rise and fall. Life runs us through mountains and valleys in unequal parts. Governments expand and contract. Seasons come and go and come again. The ocean ebbs and flows. I’ve read that our physicality actually has its own rhythm. That is, that your body, mind, and soul has something like a “natural order.” Or, as Bagger suggests in The Legend of Bagger Vance, that we all have that one true, authentic swing that we must find.

This is on my mind today because I’ve been wrestling with a revelation I had during a recent prayer time. I had my list and had gone through it. The time with God was very dynamic and conversational. I prayed for my two daughters and my wife. I felt like I had hit the exact mark. I prayed for several friends. It was worshipful. (How could it not be. I was in Colorado.) I felt like I had hit on all the needs and expressed my heart to God in a way that was sincere. Then I heard this: “So what do you want?” And you know, the answer to this simple question was very difficult for me in that moment.

Rhythm arouses desire, but also controls it.

This was about desire. That I am unable (or unwilling) to express my deepest most sincere longings of the heart reveals much about my own story. We are asked to listen to our desires—the deepest longings of our heart. In a culture that condemns malcontentedness, consumerism, and materialism, we draw the quick conclusion that our deepest desires are bad, dangerous, or destructive. So we suppress desire. We kill it. And honestly, if you want to play life safe, it makes sense to take your desire and put it somewhere far far away. Of course there are risks associated with listening to your heart and they are great. When we allow ourselves to hope we also make ourselves vulnerable to great loss. And totally giving into desire, absent of control or governing, is a path to ruin. And this is why we have been given the rhythm of life. Rhythm arouses desire, but also controls it. Finding our one true, authentic swing, allows us to move easy in the harness. Jesus tells us, “Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” What is this if not an invitation to desire?

So in the journey I’m on I often think back to Shunammite woman found in 2 Kings 4. She had helped Elisha by providing a room to use as he traveled between two communities. You’ll have to read it. But basically when Elisha asked her, “What can we do to re-pay you? Anything at all?” She told them there was nothing even though, if you read it, you’ll see that what she had actually done was killed desire to protect herself from disappointment. Perhaps she have vowed, “I’ll never put myself in a position to be let down again.” Sound familiar? And then there is the time when Jesus asks a blind man, “What do you want me to do?” For the blind man to say, “Make me see” is the equivalent of praying for a million dollars. Sure, it would be good to have a million dollars. (It would be great!) But do you dare ask for more? It’s almost like Jesus is daring me to ask the question that’s on my heart.

So what do you want?

We can be sick in a lot of ways. One of those ways is being out of the rhythm that God has called me into. The rhythm is a convergence of authenticity and healing. It’s knowing your heart and the story God is allowing to be told through it.

A-Rod in the Larger Story

Rodriguez SteroidsTime did not begin at Genesis 1. There was a time before time. This was a time prior to Genesis 1 or before any of our clocks—carbon or not—began recording the activities of reality. This was a time when there was a harmony in the heavens between God and the angels. In this time there was apparently no creation as we now know it, but only absolute peace and fulfillment. But evil found its way into the mix: there was an insurrection in the heavens. You can read about the hubris that led to a cosmic rebellion that sent the arch-angel Lucifer and a third of the angels away from the accord of the heavens in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28. This event led to betrayal, rebellion, and ultimately a period of chaos. The Betrayer and his followers were cast out and, as Genesis opens, the Spirit of God broods over the void.

The word used in Genesis 1:2 for “hovering” is the same word used in Deuteronomy 32:11—”He watched over His next like an eagle and hovers over is young.” Literally, the word can be translated as “brooding.” Accordingly, the Spirit of God is “brooding” as the scriptural account of creation begins. So, as the fantastic event we now know as Creation is about to take place, another one has only recently concluded. There’s a stillness. There is an ominous feel here in the exact moment between times and history stands on the threshhold. This moment of our time represents the transition from Act I to Act II in the Larger Story God is revealing.

So in Act II what does God do? He does it again. He creates the earth and the seas. He creates the mountains and the skies and the animals. He creates night and day and the crown jewel of His work—humanity. He breathes life into Adam and from this life creates Eve–as always, the most beautiful last. He pronounces it all good. And on the eve of creation; on our honeymoon in the garden that was given to us, known as Eden, what happens? Before the dust has settled from the rebellion in the “time before time,” it happens again. Betrayal. Our paradise lost echoes today; its ripples moving out across time and space. Romans 8 tells us that even creation groans to be released. Time has been affected. Our emotions are tainted by this Fall. This time, however, there is a plan for redemption put in place. The coming Christ is foreshadowed in the proto-evangelium of Genesis 3:15.

And so Act III begins as Adam and Eve are instructed to leave the garden—not for punitive reasons necessarily, but so that they do not eat from the Tree of Life. After all, eating from the Tree of Life after being separated from God would have meant permanent separation. God can deal with our disobedience, our messes, our questions—He promises to redeem it all. But what He could not deal with—and cannot deal with— was permanent separation from Adam and Eve. So they had to leave paradise.

Act III of the Larger Story includes most of biblical history and all of human history. There is much work to be done yet in the third act of our reality. We–you and I–have a crucial role to play. God has invited us into His story. Act IV in the Larger Story God continues to reveal is, as Gladiator‘s Maximus knew very well, “not yet”. Act Iv remains our promise.

In this Larger Story the stakes are high, the ammo is live, and the bullets are real. There is a Hero-Redeemer and a Villain. There are twists and turns. There will be betrayal and intrigue. Loss and pain. The Larger Story chronicles a daring rescue behind enemy lines. And of course there is a beauty to be rescued. The beauty is you. It is me. It’s the person next to you and the guy driving down the street. This is the story we are called into. This is the adventure that God is inviting us into.

It is because of this that I do not care what Alex Rodriguez did or didn’t do; what he said or didn’t say. So this is Agonistes’ official response to A-Rod and the steroid-in-baseball issue that has been getting so much press. As a culture, we have become obsessed with trivia. In short, we are not a serious people.

I understand that the games are fun. The personalities are interesting. And trust me when I say that I agree that we need our pastimes and hobbies. But I think we should do serious self-analysis about how we deploy our emotional energy—perhaps our most valuable asset. The Villain of the story would like nothing more than to keep you in your seat and in the smaller stories where you are tame and safe—and as far away from the Larger Story as he can keep you. Your adversary, the Villain, knows that in the Larger Story you would be very dangerous.