Friday, February 27, 2015

Envy, Invisible Presents, Clubber Lang, Apollo Creed, and Akward Moments Pt. 3

I love the Rocky movies, probably due in no small part to my history as a boxer.  (Let me clarify, I love Rocky I-IV.  The last two movies, like the final Harry Potter book/movies don’t exist in my dojo.  They never happened.  Although with that said, I am mildly intrigued by the next Rocky movie titled “Creed”.)  They are those rare movies that instantly captivate me when they are on television, no matter what else I’m doing.  And what’s not to love?  The ultimate underdog overcoming overwhelming odds due to tenacity, hard work, and an even harder head.  I think at some level, we can all relate to Rocky, which is why he remains such a powerful and captivating character even in the midst of the pure narrative absurdity (which I adore) in which these films exist after the original.

Like with most things (darn you seminary!) I tend to dig a little deeper than I ought sometimes, trying to mine all meaning from all things (okay fine, I did that before seminary.  Seminary just made me really good and or obsessive about it.).  And anymore, it’s not Rocky that I relate most to, it’s Clubber Lang.  I always found him to be a compelling character.  If you are old enough, who can forget the first time you ever saw Mr.T?  When he burst onto the scene?  You couldn’t take your eyes off of him.  He was both captivating and just a little bit scary.  But when Rocky III hit?  He was pure villain, the bad guy that Rocky had to find a way to overcome.  In my ten year old mind, Clubber had to go down and go down hard, especially after he sort of, kind of killed Mickey.  There was no empathy for him and I cheered wildly when Rocky finally vanquished his foe in the rematch.

However, I recently re-watched all of the Rocky movies, that is to say Rocky I-IV.  When I came to the third, I saw Clubber far differently than perhaps I ever had.  Clubber wasn’t a bad guy and I daresay that perhaps, for at least three-quarters of the movie, he wasn’t the bad guy…Rocky was.

Clubber was from the streets and was hungry; much like Rocky had been all the way back in the original Rocky.  From his vantage point, he knew what the championship meant; it was the top of the mountain and perhaps a way out. (Not sure Clubber would have ever left the streets)  Rocky on the other hand?  He had won the belt in Rocky II barely beating Apollo Creed and then he had gone soft; real soft.  He started fighting stiffs, he became cultured, living in his fancy house, with his fancy cars, and his awesome robot (that I wanted so badly as a kid).  Rocky forgot where he came from and more importantly who he was.  And what did he intend to do?  He intended to retire comfortably; satisfied with empty victories and comfort.  He had become everything that he probably thought that he never would and he had somehow become not only okay with it; but he had convinced himself that it was somehow honorable.

In polite society we expect to have civil conversations, conversations that affirm our now-ness and who-ness.  We are told that we must be nice, that we must not upset anyone.  We believe that through polite discourse, especially as it pertains to the church, we can be guided where we need to be, doing the things that we need to be doing.  (I really wonder what OT prophets would have thought of that approach lol)  But what happens when we start believing the hype?  What happens when we believe our own lies?  What happens when we no longer resemble that which we started out as some 2000 years ago?  When we spend more time fighting about pet issues and each other, than we do fighting for souls?  With our hands?  Our hearts?

More times than not, I take solace in the streets and my little piece of heaven in the shadow of Churchill Downs.  We don't have the time or patience for most of these fights and these arguments, we're too busy walking in the dark places and bringing light.  I am thankful, immensely so, that we have "figured it out" in as much as one can.  I think back to my love of polemics and a good theological scrape, and I am thankful that the thought of those things just make me tired anymore.

The anger?  The teeth gnashing?  The name calling?  All of the garbage in the name of the Church and Christ that pollutes my Facebook feed; it could all be erased if we would just take the time to remember where we came from and who we are called to be.  Pet issues disappear in Christ, in focusing on that glorious, invisible present.  Unity comes in simply trusting Jesus and the Holy Spirit to do their jobs.  Jesus saves.  Not me, not you, and especially not us when we are acting a fool.

Sometimes it takes a Clubber Lang to call us out, to force us to remember, to compel us to action.  He is raw, intense, and unpolished...but he is effective.  He knows where Rocky came from, because it is his reality; it is where he lives.  He knows what buttons to push.  From his "low" vantage point, he can see the absurdity of what and who Rocky has become.  Most days, I feel a bit like Clubber Lang.  Hungry, irritated, and more than a little exasperated.  (I keep holding out hope that when my team and I walk the places that we walk, that sooner or later, we are going to run into another pastor, another group of disciples.  These are the places the Church needs to be and we are seemingly alone.)  However, he is also passionate, consumed, and knows not only who he is, but what he is.  Grace and Heathen Church have helped me to remember where I came from and they have also helped me to understand who I am when it comes to Kingdom things.

However in that, as much as I have grown to love and relate to that character, I have also realized that there is a better way.  When I speak to colleagues, to friends, and on the increasingly rare occasion when I enter into the fray of these ridiculous fights, and I challenge them to join me in the "hood"; my heart screams there is a better way.  A more effective way.  Clubber reminds and challenges in a very forceful, combative, shaming way to get what he wants.  In the midst of our penchant for absurdity I will often invite people to the "hood" simply to shut them up and perhaps, in a way, to put them in there place; I know they will not come.  My world scares them.  In those instances, I am Clubber; daring and provoking you to remember what you are not.  (Minus, you know, the unfortunate words for Adrian lol)  I think perhaps tough, Rocky's old adversary Apollo knows a better way...a passionate call to remember what you are.  Part IV to come... 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Envy, Invisible Presents, Clubber Lang, Apollo Creed, and Akward Moments Pt. 2

I had a vision about 3 years ago.  No I don't think it was one of those visions, but I suppose it could have been.  I was rehearsing a sermon during Advent, preaching to my "empty" church, when I envisioned in front of me the most glorious and amazing gift wrapped present sitting between me and the pews.  It sparkled and glistened in my mind's eye, even giving off it's own soft glow.  It's amazing how clearly I still remember this day.

I stopped rehearsing long enough to ponder the image in my mind and I instantly had understanding.  I pastored a pretty wonderful group of people, but I often felt like I was banging my head into a brick wall as I tried to provoke them to a faith of action.  I don't think anyone had ever challenged them the way that I did (there's a reason why I'm a healthy 8 on the Enneagram personality test lol).  However standing there staring at that glorious, invisible present I understood that I was going about things all wrong.

By sheer force of will and personality I was trying to mold my churches into the Christians that I thought they ought to be.  I was not a taskmaster standing over them and this was always done with an abundance of love, but I was a persistent bugger.  Push, push, push.  What I understood in that moment was that my job, my challenge was not just to tell them about the invisible present before me, but rather to help them see it as well.  The present of course was representative of Christ and the very real, life changing, eternity altering redemption and freedom He offers.  In some ways, my job got easier in that it was not my job to tell them what the present looked like, but rather to facilitate their ability to see and experience it in all of its glory.  In other ways, my job got a whole lot harder; my job was now clearly defined as helping people to see that which is invisible, to believe where they might otherwise not believe.  Probably explains why I still incessantly challenge/ask, "Do you really believe the things that you proclaim?"  I see that present often and I'm pretty sure that at some level every Sunday when I'm pacing and stalking around the church, I'm very much aware that it is right there in between us.

Now I would imagine that some of you are crying out that I'm encouraging people to see the Jesus that they want to see; you obviously never sat in a seminary class with me (lol).  I have very strong beliefs, positions, ideas, and a clearly defined theology.  In that, I believe that there is only one Jesus Christ, one that is perfectly capable of communicating with others as He has done with me.  I also believe that He is perfectly capable of defining Himself through the revelation of the Holy Spirit and scripture.  And remember what I said in Part 1?  I trust the Holy Spirit to do His job.  I am only a facilitator to the introduction; and then a shepherd to the flock.

Why bring up the invisible present?  With all of the bickering, fighting, hand-wringing, and teeth gnashing going on in, around, and about the Church, I cannot help to wonder if the Church has forgotten the gift.  Is the Church even capable of seeing it anymore?  (I think it is, but it goodness does it ever need reminded.)  I see a whole lot of fighting in, around, and on the present.  I see people taking blind swipes at the gift in an attempt to seize it, when in reality they're only tearing its paper and pulling off its ribbon.


When I talk with other churches, pastors, and Christians about what is going on at Grace, I often times get some weird looks.  They've heard the stories (I drive people crazy on Facebook updating about Grace), they've seen the results, and yet, I still get the same blank stares.  This is trench ministry here; you dive in, you get your hands dirty, and you don't worry about what might happen next.  I think sometimes they look at me in the same manner that I probably looked at others at another point in time, "Yeah that's all well and good, but it's not for me.  That type of stuff is for other people."

I want to be very sensitive here.  Ministry needs to be happening in all contexts; rich, poor, white, black, brown, purple, none of these things matter.  Ministry needs to happen whether in the nicest, biggest, most lavishly equipped churches to the most basic house churches to the streets.  But to what ends?  If it is not towards the ends of discipleship and loving the people that Jesus loves/loved, I'm not sure what we're doing.  I think about how I envisioned this calling going (lol) and the reality of where I find myself today, and I count myself one of the luckiest people on the face of the earth.  This place will allow you one of two paths, and two paths only.  You can hide behind the doors while rarely ever engaging the neighborhood.  It will indeed allow you to exist and to die in "peace".  The other path?  You can engage it in the totality of its brokenness.  There is no dipping your toe in here or there to test the waters; its all or nothing.  Folks in this context have heard and seen it all, especially when it comes to "Christians to the Rescue!".  You want to engage them, then by all means, but you'd better bring all you've got.  If they sense you're not all in or not being forthright, they will shut you out in a hurry.  They know in a pretty big hurry whether or not you believe and live the things that you proclaim.  Places like this demand authenticity.  It is intense, at times harrowing, and at all times beautiful.  It demands your best; it holds you accountable. It is such an invigorating breath of fresh air as not only a pastor, but more importantly, as a Christ follower.

I tell people all of the time that one of the greatest gifts and joys of pastoring in a context like this is that I never have to wonder what to do next.  The answer here is so easy; I simply have to go for a walk.  I look around the blogosphere, at my newsfeed on Facebook, my hearts breaks, and truth be told, I find myself a little irritated.  The ills of the Church, the failings, and all of the stuff we get so caught up in are so easy to remedy.  Ministry is not difficult, the solution hasn't changed, the example left for us some 2000 years ago, has not become obsolete.  Simply go for a walk.  Learn to see the invisible present again...or perhaps for the first time.  Help others to see it.

Part 3 to follow...

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Trooper's Eyes pt 2

Seven years ago this month, I posted my very first piece on this blog.  Weird how things work.  The title of the piece?  “Trooper’s Eyes”.  I'll post the rest of the previous series soon...


Ash Wednesday is kind of sucking around here.  We’re in the midst of a historic stretch winter wise here in Louisville, which I love.  What isn’t so great is that we have had to cancel our Ash Wednesday service and it’s looking like our Thursday and Friday night activities are now likely to be canceled.  I also just got some really crappy, albeit not unexpected news.


As a Wesleyan, I’m a believer in prevenient grace; the idea that God is pursuing each and every person with reckless abandon from the moment of conception until either justification or death.  I believe that as a part of this process, God most certainly uses the people in and the events of our lives to draw us to Him.  In that, I do believe prevenient grace ends at the moment when we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  I sometimes get irritated when I hear others continue to talk about the events of their lives after having received Christ as prevenient grace.  Yeah, I know, big issue to get irritated with (lol).  However, I do believe that God does continue to use the people in and the events of our lives to His glory.  And perhaps, a good dog here and there.

At this moment in time after having had a couple of good, solid spurts of tears; I’m believing that I’ve been snookered by a divine conspiracy.  There is a period of time in my life that has been turned over and dissected by yours truly, so many times that I have come to the conclusion that I’m truly never going to figure any of it out.  But today?  Today, I think something new has been added to the equation, something I never considered.


Way back in the early part of my journey of injury and illness I bought a little German Shorthaired Pointer pup named Gus.  At the time, no one, including myself knew how badly I was hurt or how bad things would get.  I absolutely loved Gus.  He was a very sweet puppy that was an incredibly talented pointer.  One time while playing with him with a quail wing at the end of my fishing pole, I dropped the pole to run in the house to take a phone call.  When I came back outside, Gus was still pointing that wing.

As my health rapidly deteriorated, I had less and less time for Gus.  And for anyone who has GSP’s, you know that they are incredibly demanding dogs, especially as they are growing.  I eventually was forced to make the decision to give Gus to a friend who was an avid bird hunter.  Gus would have the life that he deserved and it broke my heart to part with him.  That was in the mid 90’s.  Over the coming years as my health and situation continued to deteriorate, I often spoke of Gus and how much I missed him.


In 2005, my health was worse than it had ever been.  I spent most of my time in bed, enduring excruciating pain.  I was scheduled to have a surgery that Rickelle and I each were secretly convinced would end my life.  I even had a conversation the day before with the surgeon, “If this goes bad, please just let me go.”  The rest is as they say history.  I awoke from the surgery that probably should have ended me, knowing that something was different, but not knowing what exactly.


Several weeks after surgery, secretly wrestling with the implications of what may or may not have been taking place in my body, Rickelle came to me with a newspaper ad.  “German Shorthaired Pointer Pup, last of litter, $150.”  To say I didn’t want a puppy at that time would be a massive understatement, but she said to me, “At least go and look.”

Now it should be noted here that my wife truly is one of the most brilliant and intelligent people I know and that is saying something.  She should have known better, I mean what on earth in the previous decade made her think getting a high energy, high drive puppy was a good idea?  Another point?  I had yet to share with her my inner wrestling match.  Something had happened on the operating table, something changed and it scared me to death.  What if it proved to be a cruel trick?  So much of the disease that I suffered from baffles doctors; perhaps this would be just another example.  I couldn’t trust it yet.  “At least go and look.”


I had never been to Wilmore, Kentucky before.  I had no idea what it was or why I should know what it was.  I didn’t know what an Asbury was, much less that there was a seminary located a few blocks from the address I was traveling to with my son to see this puppy I really didn’t want; a seminary where I would later spend some of the absolute best years of my life.


We pulled up and knocked at the door.  The gentleman who answered asked us to meet him around on the side of the house.  When we rounded the house, a gangly, clumsy ball of legs and kinetic energy came bounding out of the door.  He was absolutely stunning to look at.  Big and beautifully marked, my first thought was, “Why on earth is he last?  Why on earth does this guy only want $150 for him?”

Those questions would soon be answered.  We were told a story of how this last pup had in fact been the pick of the litter, but when he was about four weeks old, his mother tried to kill him.  She crushed a portion of his skull, requiring some reconstructive surgery.  He told me of how it had been touch and go, that they didn’t think the puppy would make it, but he did.  The pup’s name was Trooper because he fought and survived.  The only remnant of the horrific injury?  A lightening bolt shaped scar right between his eyes.  Despite that, no one else wanted him.  As he was telling me the story, he had no idea that there was no way I was leaving without that puppy.


Oh the times that I have regretted that decision.  Trooper was not only highly energetic, but he was bullheaded, stubborn, and just generally annoying.  I remember telling him through clenched teeth one time, “I now know why your mom tried to kill you!”  There was no way to wear him out.  A walk?  That was just encouraging him. Fetch?  You had just sentenced yourself to having a slimy tennis ball plopped in your lap for hours on end.  Ignore him?  He screeched like a pack of howler monkeys.  You want to know the greatest injustice of it all?  I learned shortly after getting him that quail are rare in Kentucky and pheasant are non-existent.  As I would later find out, this dog was monstrously talented with birds.

At my wits end, exhausted and frustrated, a friend finally suggested, “Have you tried taking him to the dog park?”

“Dog park?  Dog park!?  What on earth are you talking about!?”

We went that same day and it was glorious.  He ran and he ran and he ran.  I felt kind of stupid just standing there watching him, so I started walking the perimeter of the park.  That first day I let him run for a solid hour and I walked a handful of laps, the most physical activity I had done in years.  At home that night?  Trooper was calm and dare I say, enjoyable?  We went back the next day and the next and the next.

Within a few months, we were spending two hours at the dog park every morning at 5am.  I got to where I was walking twenty laps at the dog park; 10 miles.  Every day.  No matter what.  Rain, thunderstorms, snow, sub-zero temperatures we were out there.  Miss a day?  Trooper made you pay for it.  We didn’t miss. 

We became something of a legend at the dog park.  I would joke with people who would ask why we walked so much, “If we don’t, he’ll die.”  Inevitably they would get concerned looks on their faces, “Why!?  Does he have a medical problem?”  My response?  “No.  Without running this energy off of him, I’ll kill him.”


In those countless hours and miles, Trooper and I became inseparable.  In many ways we kind of became extensions of one another.  But something else was taking place in those miles and hours; I was getting better, I was getting healthier, and I was getting stronger.  Whatever had happened on that operating table, whatever had changed was coming to fruition in a dog park.


Divine conspiracy; I believe I have been snookered.  “At least go and look,” she said.  Without Trooper, I’m not sure what would have happened to me.  He forced me to get up, to keep moving, especially when I didn’t feel like it.  He forced me to kick in the door that had just barely opened in the recovery room, to take a chance; to bet on a long shot.  Sometimes when a miracle presents itself, we actually have to get up to claim it.  We have to chase it.  Sometimes we need company on the journey; a friend.  A few short years after bringing Trooper into our home, I was attending that seminary a few blocks from his birthplace in that town I’d never heard of.  Divinely snookered indeed.


Trooper slowed with age and became the perfect gentleman.  He’s one of the most lovable creatures God has put on this planet.  His favorite thing?  Snuggling under the blankets on the couch.  For a while now, there has been some telltale signs that things haven’t been right with him.  Lumps, bumps, sleeping a lot, moving slower.  He has seemed to have aged at an accelerated rate over these past two years.


Over the past few weeks, it seems more and more of my friend is slipping away.  We don’t let him play anymore; he hurts himself.  I haven’t taken him to church with me in a long time; he has trouble on the tiles.


We went back to the vet today.  He doesn’t want to put weight on his hand quarters and leans forward.  His lymph glands are now swollen.  I deal with death a lot.  It’s part of the job.  I recognize it, know it, and also recognize the difficulty in sharing bad news with loved ones.  Despite that, I asked the vet, “So, this is it?”  I needed to hear it from her.

“Pastor, he has started his journey.”


Seems somehow poetic in a beautiful way despite my broken heart.  Trooper in so many ways pulled me from “that” journey and sent me on another one.  And now I have the honor to walk him back to where he found me.  I knew it had started, but hearing the vet say it, well, that just brought it home.


If we hadn’t had to cancel church tonight, I would’ve been preaching in part on Genesis 3:19, “From dust you came and to dust you will return.”  It is the journey of us all.  Death is as much a part of life as birth.   At some point over the coming weeks or months, I will lose my friend and with him no doubt a piece of me.

God used this dog, who truth be told, is probably a little too much like me for comfort, to save my life.  Divinely snookered.  My heart breaks, but I am thankful.  Thankful for the pain because the pain is love.  Thankful for the journey, and that we still have a little ways to go.  He will return to dust.  Someday I will too and on that day, I fully expect to be greeted at some point by a gangly, clumsy ball of legs and kinetic energy.  Death and resurrection.  Seems somehow fitting today of all days.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Envy, Invisible Presents, Clubber Lang, Apollo Creed, and Akward Moments Pt. 1

I've made mention in the past that I'm envious of my wife's "news feed" on Facebook.  Now, let me be clear before going any further, I love or at least like the people on my friends list or they wouldn't be there.  With that established, my wife and I exist in two entirely spheres when it comes to our friends (generally speaking).  My friends list?  Predominantly church folk and pastors.  Her friends list?  Artists and horse folk.

My news feed is inevitably dominated by the gnashing of teeth.  Daily, hourly, I am reminded of the horrific state of the Church, how broken we are, and the impossibility of our current state.  Hope is gone.  My news feed rings the alarms of division, hatred, and disdain for one another.  I see an awful lot of energy, a ridiculous amount, wasted on crying to anyone that will listen about the myriad scourges of the contemporary Church.  I see repeated articles of why this group is leaving the church and why that one is leaving, and why we'll never get this one back.  I see disagreements devolve quickly into flaming salvos of utter disdain; with absolutely no room or option for discussion.  Minds have already been made up to hate.  And you know, as I say so often to the people that know me, "We made our bed and now we've got sleep in it."

My wife's feed, which has a fair number of atheists and agnostics, has none of that.  Zip.  Zilch.  Nada.  It's so peaceful.  I've not witnessed flame wars.  I've not seen the gnashing of teeth over how broken the horse industry is, even though most would readily agree that it is, but rather I see people offering solutions to salvage what they love.  And while there may be disagreements, they are almost universally united by their love of the horses.  And the art crowd?  They're so blissfully okay with being different that nothing seems to ruffle their feathers too much.

Two (technically three) different spheres of "interest" and two entirely different news feeds.  To read my news feed would make you think that all of this "stuff" that we espouse, that our beliefs that are supposed to redeem, reconcile, and restore do the exact opposite.  Our faith makes us angry, vengeful, and impotent.  We get so wrapped up in our pet causes, our positions, that we stop living as Christ followers...if ever we did.  We wonder why people consider us frauds.

My bishop recently sent out a letter reminding us that our mission, our call has not changed; we are still to be about our Father's work, we are to be about making disciples.  This has been my rallying cry for quite some time.  I have often challenged/wondered, "How on earth do you have the time and energy to be about disciple making when you are expending so much of each to combat your brothers and sisters?"  And my goodness, what does our witness to the world look like?  Simply check out the differing news feeds of Rickelle and I for a good, very clear commentary on that.

I'm not sure that I've ever espoused my views on any of the "hot button" issues facing the church today.  Gay rights?  Immigration?  Israeli and Palestinian situation?  This no doubt will irk and irritate many, I can hear it now, "You have got to take a position!  You have an obligation!  You are failing in your duty as a shepherd by remaining silent on such things!"

Giggle.  You want to know what my position is on all of it and everything?  Jesus saves.  Corey doesn't save.  I'm a mess; seriously, you have no idea.  I can at times be uncouth, ornery, loud, cantankerous, and I sometimes laugh inappropriately and at inappropriate times.  I'm tattooed and will probably get more.  I'm letting my hair grow back out and think that it's hilarious that all of the gray I've accumulated makes my hair nigh unmanageable.  I'm an Oakland Raiders fan too.  Lord, help me.  Seriously, I spent a good chunk of my morning prayer on these subjects.

However, I am fearless in my faith.  I will not only gleefully take Jesus where no one else is willing, but I will take Him to those who you have no time or heart for.  I'm not only unafraid to touch the "unclean", but I'm willing to try to hug the life back into them.  I will stand in the gap for anyone.  I have found the Kingdom in the here and now in South Louisville.  I have seen the burning bush and I have quite literally taken off my shoes in its presence.  Jesus saves.  It is such a blessing to be able to step out into this mission field to get away from the "clanging cymbals".

My position?  My position is simple.  I know my role and I trust the Holy Spirit to fulfill His.  I trust that despite my faults, the love of Christ flowing from me is what people will remember and what will impact them.  I want people to see Jesus in my actions and my heart, I want to facilitate the introduction between those I encounter with the risen Christ.  It's not my job to dictate that introduction, to make it on my terms, according to my position, aside from Jesus saves.  I would much rather Jesus share with someone what His position is rather than to have it fall to me because I will screw it up; I know this.

My faith, my theology, my positions, all inform who I am and how I pastor and I still keep coming back to the same conclusion; Jesus saves.  What if we stopped all of the gnashing of the teeth and the screeching to come back to that central truth?  To be united in the power of Christ to save?  What if we took all of that energy poured into disagreement into really, you know, being the hands and feet Christ?  How different would the Church be?  How different would the world be? 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Random Musings About Perspective and Weather

I was going through some of the unfinished posts I've accumulated over the past few months and decided to start posting some of them.  This one is unfinished, or at least I think it is...not really sure.  I'm not even sure exactly when it was started; October 2014 maybe?  Seems right.  Given that is about changing perspectives, I decided to go ahead and post it.  Why?  Because my perspective now is far different from what is written.  Now, when I look at this piece, it feels a little self serving, like something that would irritate me if someone else wrote it.  Then?  In the moment?  It was very sincere, very pure and was an outlet for what me to work out what I was feeling.  That's what writing does for me.  I should also add that what I had, what I was doing then; I had no idea what I had and that really is the only reason why I'm going to go ahead and post it.  Make no mistake though, I learned pretty quick what I had :)


I feel like I've got a confession to make up front; I'm not sure this post is going anywhere.  I don't have a conclusion in mind or a particular point to make...I think.  It's just some random thoughts that seem somehow connected and maybe even important.  Beats me; I just know I feel like writing about them :)

To know me is to know that I love cold weather and I love Christmas.  The love of Christmas is far too nuanced for this post because it's all at once theological, neurotic, and sentimental.  Perhaps someday I will try diagram it, but then again...maybe not.  However the love of cold weather is mainly rooted in a love of snow and the fact that it signals the approach of Christmas.  However, I think it goes beyond that.  I feel more alive when the air is crisp and the wind has bite.  It stirs something within me that brings a peace and a contentedness that I cannot explain beyond the well established fact that I'm just a bit weird.


The older that I get the more convinced I've become of three things (among many lol).  The first? It seems that there is a cultural phenomenon that dictates large swaths of our populace enjoy misery.  People will find any and every reason to be miserable; just look at my Facebook feed lol.  Christmas, Columbus Day, political parties, each gets so old.  The second; misery it seems, truly does love company.  They want you to join them in their misery and will climb upon a soapbox at the drop of a hat to pontificate about the righteousness of their misery.  Thirdly, the misery du jour is often comically fleeting.  I mention all of this, because I am not miserable, nor am I inviting you into any sort of perceived misery...although I fear it might seem that way.  It's not; I assure you.  While certainly cantankerous, it tends to be a joyful cantankerousness :)


Something else I've become more convinced about, has nothing to do with age, but perhaps experience.  Discipleship, chasing after the nail scarred savior that bids us to come and die, is I think at times best measured (you know, besides fruit) in changes of perspectives.  The transition, the morphing of our perspective into that of others, but especially that of the aforementioned savior.  Can we see, understand, discern, and truly be impacted by the perspective of others?  Is the perspective of the one we pursue becoming our own?


A couple of weeks ago, on the first chilly morning of the year, I walked outside barefooted, in shorts and a t-shirt.  The grass was wet, the wind was blowing lightly and I found myself standing in the grass; my eyes closed, taking in long, deep draws of the cold air, while my toes wiggled.  I realized that a massive smile was painted across my face and that to the neighbors, well, I'm not sure anyone would have been surprised by the sight.  I was just drinking it all in, using every means of perception at my disposal to experience it.  It raised within me an unexplainable joy...and then with a single thought, fleeting as it was, my heart shattered and it would seem my world changed.


I have been shopping for a new winter coat since about the second week in July.  Seriously, it helps me to stave of the long, hot days of summer.  I found one in particular that I liked, but it was expensive, real expensive.  I tend not to chase brand names (except when it comes to toilet paper and ketchup; I'm weird like that lol), but this particular coat was of a brand that is a cultural "must have".  I was drawn to it not because of the brand, but rather because of the functionality of the coat (layers, waterproof, etc).  But I kept looking at the price tag.  "I rarely ever wear a full on winter coat!"  I argued with myself.  "Why spend that on something I'll only wear when I go sledding?  And let's face it, there aren't that many sled worthy days around here."


As I stood barefooted in that cold, wet grass a single thought pierced the euphoria.  "You can go inside any time that you want."  My mind raced to my friends.  Some of the very best, most loyal, most loving friends I've made here or anywhere; they can't go inside any time they want.  Suddenly that cold, crisp air didn't seem so friendly and invigorating.  The grass that I was playing with between my toes felt just a bit embarrassing.  I was slammed with a very sudden, very jarring change of perspective.  What I welcomed, what I loved is the stuff of nightmares for people I care about.


For the longest time, I couldn't stand the thought of wearing suits.  I found them to be uncomfortable and constraining.  I like to be able to move; freely.  Besides, they kind of represented everything I wasn't.  But then I became a pastor and I bought some suits; nice, tailored, expensive suits.  I soon decided I liked them.  Besides, that is the uniform of pastoral types, right?  Put the suit on, represent Jesus, everyone is happy.  Changed perspective.


I participated in a staff retreat a few weeks ago and during the "sanctified dreaming" part of the retreat, my dream was simple, "Climate control in the building."  At the time, I was a handful of weeks away from no longer being able to keep regular or even irregular office hours.  Too expensive to heat the building and the four space heaters I was running in my office last year just didn't cut it.  Today, I had to run one of those space heaters.  The time is quickly closing in when I will not work out of my office until Spring.


Several weeks ago I sat with a group of pastors and said in my very straightforward, I'm told blunt manner, "You want to reach people with your church?  Go to them, get out into the street."  The looks that I got were akin to having farted loudly in polite company; I know the looks well.  Ministry rarely happens in sequestered offices, nor is it the exclusive domain of the buildings with crosses over them. From my perspective it begins in the streets, it happens outside.

I take great pride that so much of my ministry takes place outside the building.  I like to walk and talk where few others would dare drive.  The savior I chase walked in the same type of places and I can only hope I walk in the same way; bringing love, hope, and dignity to those who do not tend to receive such things.  I walk in places where it is a very real possibility that an unseen needle will come through my shoes.  I walk in places where someone who considers you a friend one minute, might unwittingly and unwillingly morph you into something far different the next.  I walk over and through human waste at least a few times a be with friends.  And I love it.

Suddenly, standing there in the grass, the nice suits, the pastoral uniform once again felt a little weird to me.  I've spent far more money than I care to admit on looking pastoral and yet I was balking at spending a very small fraction of that to be able to walk the path of a disciple.  I felt more than a little embarrassed and a whole lot of convicted.  Change of perspective.