Beast of Burden #relationships

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“I’ll never be your beast of burden, my back is broad but it’s hurting”

A classic line from a classic Rolling Stones track. Most people catch it when they see it or hear it, and many started singing it when they see read the quote. I know I did. Whether you like the Stones or not, you have to admit their musical impact is iconic. Good or bad, their music casts a large shadow on our contemporary scene, and their lyrical content has followed the same path. I could mention a simple term like “sympathy for the devil”, and emotion is solicited. Prior to the 1960’s, it would mean very little. It is amazing how music can have so much impact on individual lives, as well as carve out a cultural lexicon that outlives many moments amidst its contextual history.

Ironically, the music that impacts us can be so subjective that the meaning with which it was penned often is lost in the meaning it solicited within the hearer. “Beast of Burden” is one such example. I, among many, many other music fans out there in the land of rock ‘n’ roll interpreted the song as meaning something completely different than what it actually was intended to say. The framework and delivery gave me the impression that it was a love song. A rock ballad. Something Mick Jagger wanted to say to that special someone in his life. Especially pertaining to a love interest that he wanted to bring to a new and important level of commitment. It sure feels that way as I sit here humming it in my head.

It was for a special someone, just not a love interest.
Surprisingly, the song was written by Keith Richards for his friend and lead singer Mick Jagger. It morphed as the band played around with it to its current form, including some allusion to women, a direction many of their songs go. The song is actually an anthem of friendship, regardless of some of the lines that point towards a love relationship. In fact, the original sentiment is based on Mick having to carry the weight of the band while Keith was struggling through drug addiction, and eventually a trip to rehab. Mick may have seen his role as a friend and band mate to do what he did, continue carrying the burden so his friend could become whole again. It is a picture of two things, unintentionally becoming a burden to the one we are closest to, and being a burden bearer without being recognized as such.

Both happen. We rely on a friend for so much in life. So much so that we forget the pack they have been carrying for us all this time, or the cart in which we ride with them under the yoke. This song shares a common element in all our relationships, but I think especially of marriage and friendship. The structure under which we felt we entered the relationship changes over time, often without our consciously perceiving it. People change, we change, and we usually do not do well with seeing it until a crisis point forces us to refocus our place together. A beast of burden is both incredibly necessary, but it can also seem a nuisance.

All our relationships have beasts of burden, we just do not do well with distinguishing and understanding who they are, nor why they play that role. Or even when they got there. Taking time aside in your life to reflect and refresh, as I have over the past couple of months, can be great in discovering your beasts of burden. They need to be recognized. Where you have become a beast of burden is good to see as well. Those relationships are not always healthy or true to all that God desires of us or the other. But they are present, and we need to take stock of how those important relationships fit into our becoming more as He intended. More than likely, a beast of burden is in place for a good reason, and there is unimaginable value to you being together. But understand what you represent to one another.

“One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)
It reminds me of a sentiment shared by Dr. Larry Crabb in his book Shattered Dreams. When you create a list of your closest friends, the ones you truly feel loved by and love for, it tends to be that you love them for what they do. It seems so selfish, but it is so true. Those closest to me in love are all beasts of burden. Nowhere is this more evident than in my married life. I think, and hope I am right, that when my wife and I are really clicking along we understand that we lean heavily on the other, all the while maintaining a strong sense of self. But that balance of understanding is difficult to track, and unless crisis exposes that the scales are off, we will not even notice that we are bearing the burden of another continually. At my healthiest, I recognize this is a reciprocal action but also know the other is lovingly doing so, and it shows. And I realize that I can be the same to them in turn. At the low points though, the list can be heartbreaking. Because you know they are bearing far more than you are able to give in return. But an exchange of goods and services is not the point of the song, nor of love in general.

Love keeps no record, it just knows that sometimes we are bearing, and sometimes we need to take a load off. True love acknowledges both.

Crap happens…

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At least that’s kind of what the Fatburger guy said after I told him how my day was going. Good reminder.

Long story short, I decided to take in another conference out west. Felt a little unsure about that passenger side rear tire, but filled up the spare and felt good about hitting the road. As I was getting within hopeful distance of Regina, knowing I had a number of hours beyond that to go, my bladder reminded me that it would be time to stop. And then the rear speakers got loud. At that point I realized the music was coming from the rear, and I was refamiliarized with the deep bass of treads coming off a tire.

I pulled over, acquainted myself with some bushes away from the highway, then prepped everything for a quick change. Bags on the highway, figuring out how to use yet another type of compact jack, a cruel reality amidst realities hit me. The spare had a nail in it that I forgot to fix. Great timing.

Impeccable in fact.

Picture me in the image, praying over that stupid tire while cursing every driver that had to pass close enough to make my already tilted car sway towards me on its tiny pedestal called a jack. Then imagine the thankfulness I gushed when that tire made it the 50 kilometers to Canadian Tire.

Good reminders on a day of well laid plans:
Crap happens.
Other people don’t necessarily give as much of a crap as you possibly think they should. Especially on the highway.
And it’s worth thanking God when the alternate plan comes together.

Mission in plain sight #whoweare

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Much like your facial expression, the mission of your existence is far more visible to those near you than a well worded statement.

I had to grab a shot of this wall stencil, and the corresponding message on the ad banner, at a local Starbucks. They have always been pretty open about what they desire for stores and parishioners, as you can see. I wonder how many people have noticed the message on the wall change over the years? Since the late 90’s, when I began to attend regularly, I started to take note of their mission and vision as a company. The experience aligned with what I desired in my attendance, and it was confirmed by managers who became friends. I remember one such manager sharing with me that they were “selling an experience”, not a product.

Take note of what the wall and banner say. Good product, fast and convenient. Not an experience. Not sure if this is a response to the consumer, or a desired outcome for the business. Our mission and values tend to fluctuate between the two.

Did you notice the church language in my summary by the way? Along with being a pastor, I have been an observer and anecdotal speculator of church for some time. And it will show up in my writing frequently, especially with regards to our systems and leadership models. Church language works when talking about Starbucks because there are too many similarities and parallels to ignore. Having time to visit churches and meet with folks of different walks lately has been a blessing, refreshing, and eye opening. I will share more insights on these moments later.

The church, like many organizations, can have the tendency to display a desired mission that is very different than it’s facial expression. This is based on hopes and dreams. After a while, many will not even notice the wall the words are painted on, or the banner, or even when the statements are changed over time. Largely, this is because the message has already been received, or those owning it have clearly conveyed it. Even when we choose to offer broader or vaguer statements so we have room to play under them, we leave little to interpretation by our actions.

What does your face say?

FROM HUSTLE TO FLOW #DISCIPLESHIP

In case you actually need me to tell you, you should sign up to receive updates from my blog by email. Just saying.

Now, some thoughts on the picture of a post-it note… And moving from hustle to flow. Yes, it is an old saying, but it kept coming to mind as I considered discipleship and Christ’s Passion week, and the two verses in the picture. So bear with me if this is too old for you. Others may read on…

This contrast has made its way into all kinds of contexts. Over the passion week I was struck by their contrast in my faith and calling over the years. I spent a part of a Lent retreat reflecting on these verses. With my recent transition I realized how I was drawn to one more than the other, in my work and personal devotion, and even family life. It all seemed to come to light by comparing two synoptic gospel passages, from the same sermon, but the interpretation holds such different meaning.

So are you more hustle? Or more flow?

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I have blogged, preached, shared, taught, reflected… Ad nauseum on the Matthew passage. Perfection is both elusive and desired in parallel in the life of each of us. Some ignore it and seek solace in imperfection, all the while stifling the pressures it presents. Others are crushed under the pressure, and never feel relief. Ironically, those who speak the most about experiencing grace tend to be those who exhibit its absence. I know I have been guilty of this crime. It is like living in all hustle mode. Striving for something that is elusive, and feeling frustration in our shortcoming.

We love preaching the sermon on the mount version of this verse, but it is a difficult living.

What about the flow? What about the feeling of grace? I love how Luke focuses on the word compassion. I think we all crave one who ‘suffers with’ us, but it isn’t earned. Therefore it isn’t complete. At least in our temporary understanding. So we struggle with not hustling for something already given, and take it out on each other. It just feels better to pass the burden of perfection on each other.

Compassion feels like such a loser so long as we can fight to be perfect.

This is where humility trumps our fight. We struggle with the Saviour’s example unto death, even though He rose victorious. The amazing part in this story is that we learn to be both because both were freely exhibited and given through Christ. Crazy. It is a mystery yet in our hands to understand all at once. But we can’t hold one over the other as a better way. They are both true and real in Him.

Perfection is something I can create a metric to accomplish. Compassion, not so much. Funny thing is part of God’s perfection is His perfect compassion. I desire to put the metrics aside, and pray that I can learn to have more flow in my life. His flow, his hustle.

His perfection.
His compassion.
My lacking in both.

My social media fast #socialmedia

I’m not used to using hashtags these days since choosing to remove social media from my diet for the Lenten season. How refreshing!

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I felt that after years of using it as a means to communicate with people in ministry, find old friends, stay in touch with family, and act as a platform for my own creative mediums, I needed to reevaluate what it meant for me. My blog posts, and checking in usually on Sundays to make sure I wasn’t missing personal messages, was what I aimed to maintain. I did pretty good, slipped occasionally, and tried to remember to think on the finished work of Jesus Christ when I was tempted.

That last part was difficult, because I was not associating social media with the work of Christ anymore. That’s pretty big if you consider any part of your life of faith. Instead, this is what I was associating with it.

Anxiety. Not having anything to check and wondering what I was missing in idle moments.

Busyness. Why do I need to check on these things?

Importance. There is a sense if importance related to seeing people’s updates, and pretending they are relevant to your well being. You are a curator of personal moments, and you get to think you are now involved in them. You are not. Then of course there is the phenolic phenomena of self-importance, where you need to check and make sure your life is being viewed and appreciated by others.

Boredom. An escape from solitude, moments of peace, and personal revelation, can all be discovered by creating boredom in the absence of Facebook. It’s amazing. 10 years ago this would not have been boredom. But suddenly the intervals between checking up on everyone was called boredom; and if you wait too long, i go back to the first item on this list.

Binary thought. I have mentioned this before, but social media changed our concept of time. From a global, context driven view of our surroundings, to a linear mindset of only yes/no/like/quick response. Post is only an index item to momentarily review before springing forward and up to date.

The crap filter was full. Oh there were plenty of community moments mixed in, but they became increasingly hard to find on my timeline/newsfeed. (Those are ironic names for what the algorithms deem most important for me to see at the moment. Neither are true to their names)

So this last week I chose to have a personal retreat as part of Jesus’s passion week, and to consider different aspects of reflection. Almost entirely in silence, until near the end. At a few key moments I turned on my phone in case of any family emergencies. Eventually the texts began to roll in. No urgency, just sh*ts and giggles to break the silence on the other end, waiting for an immediate response. Again. And again. I took the bait and suddenly realized that I was waiting for more and ignoring what I had accomplished up to this point.
Off.

Contrast that with an old friend who had been walking me through my recent church departure and had been around to talk life on both sides of that bridge. He joined me for coffee one afternoon at this cottage somewhere near nowhere. It was strange to have human contact. When we weren’t talking, we say quietly listening to the fire. And then spoke when there was something to say. I had not felt comfortable with this concept in a long time.

At the end of it all, I will still use social media. But the concept that stands clearly to me going forward:

What actually needs to be said.
What actually needs to be heard.
What actually needs to be seen.
What actually is community.

Security needed! #goodfriday

So what does it mean to operate your life out of fear?
Fear intrigues me because it is so a part of everything that we do, yet we do not learn to do it. Most of us cannot remember the first time we felt it, and we do not know the how or why of our reactions in it.  When someone is truly ‘startled’ they respond a certain way, but why? I mean when someone is really scared, not just the reaction to impress the person trying to scare us. But why do we even fake being startled for the other person’s sake? There seems to be some kind of desire within us to feel secure and safe, in all parts that make us who we are, not just when we walk down a dark, secluded street.

I remember scaring the snot out of my youngest sister once when I was in junior high.  She worked way out in the country and had to drive home, usually on weekends, late at night.  My dad’s farm is pretty creepy at night so it was pretty easy to set the stage for a good fright.  Well, I had all the lights turned off, knowing she would be on her, and had the TV glowing in the living room, so the light added to effect.  All I had to do was lie down on the stairs to our basement, at the back of the house on the way to the living room.  Just beyond the glow of the TV.  I think I lay on the stairs for over an hour waiting.  Irene came in through the front door and yelled, ‘Hello!’, with a bit of hesitation in her voice.  She expected me to be at home and all was quiet, this was even better than I had imagined!  It felt like an hour of waiting on my stomach, but it all paid off.  She slowly made her way around the corner looking into the living room, but not seeing my face in the shadows at floor level.  Suddenly, she looked down and let out a blood-curdling scream. 

I am also reminded of my son Corban learning to swim with me when he was just a little guy.  He had an intense fear of the water and would hold onto my neck for dear life.  I can remember him pulling my hair and even his nails digging into my neck. He would squeeze so tight that I can remember water not being able to get between us in the pool. Why was he so afraid at such a young age? Well, when he was just 2 years old, back at the church where I worked at the time, he fell into the baptismal tank with all his winter clothes on. He sank to the bottom instantly. Had it not been for my daughter Ariel screaming for us he would not be with us today. He remembered this moment clearly.

Irene’s scream was genuine. She was startled. Her body, mind, emotions all reacted in fear. They all did something. Her image reminds me something we lost to sin in this world; the ability to feel completely safe and secure no matter what. We are unable to walk from birth to the grave without ever having to react to anything that we feel may be trying to harm us. This can be physical, social, emotional, mental, etc. You fill in the blank of all the things you are afraid of. Think of the ‘stupid human tricks’ done in front of everyone. How many people do you think would not come up and try something different for everyone else to see, because they will stand out? That is a thought out fear in action. It is also a reaction to feelings of the past.

So you know what fear feels like. The sweaty palms. The uneasy stomach. The fidgety feet and hands. The distracted look in your eyes because you’re now thinking entirely about your fear.  Stammered speech. Shortened breath. You get the drill.

So what does security look like?  What does it mean to feel safe?  How do we fill that longing?

Well, let’s start with what is safety…
“Jesus asked, “Do you finally believe?  But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me.  I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:31-33)

I think that safety is your living out your God-given ability to move and live on this earth. It is more than just not suffering physical harm, it is an overall desire and state of being in everything that we do. It is not something we can do on our own. Why? It is part of our being created, it was granted by our Creator in the first place, by design, and must be sought and found from the same source. If we are not seeking our security in Christ we can have all the positive thinking in the world, and we will still run into the clutches of the same feelings and memories of what causes us fear. The fears rule us rather than our conquering what causes the fear. Does this mean you will not encounter reasons to fear? Absolutely not. It just means you are entrusting what will happen with those situations to the One who can protect you from them. This is an eternal state of mind. This is being comfortable with having things go really bad and still being OK with not having control. Control is our way of thinking we can change things around. That is a lie.

What is God offering us?
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”
(Philippians 4:6-7)

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So what does it take to come to a place where you can live in security? What does real security look like in your life? Are you grasping at something that offers only a bit of shelter, or maybe a momentary hiding place, or even the feeling that everything is going to be OK? God offers us some perspective on bringing security and safety to the people who choose to follow Him in Scripture, as we have already seen, but it has to do with what it means to focus on Him in all we do. It is our surrender to Him where He takes us from a place of belonging to a place of security in life. 
I remember the first time I really felt at peace when I worked at my last church downtown, not thinking I needed to defend my place or my existence. Just being at peace and allowing God to be in control of my life and being. The darkest street, the darkest character, the darkest situations, really were not enough to shake my being. It still got unnerved from time to time, but I did not rely on a false sense of security to take these moments away. “It is in His hands.”

So what does God offer us for our deepest need for safety in life? Peace.

This is more than just a simple desire for the world to just ‘get along’.
This is more than being at school at not seeing another fight, or another kid get picked on.
This is more than you not feeling angry.
This is more than an end to all violent crime in our city.
This is more than finding your ‘happy place’ at home in front of the fireplace.

Peace is not a saying on the side of your Starbuck’s cup.  It is not just an ideal to be fought for, which is actually an oxymoron. Peace is what God offers to guard your heart and mind as you live for Christ!  That’s huge.

Peace is what brings you out of the ordinary state of being, where you hope that nothing bad happens, and you walk with confidence. Because Christ is your life.

Peace is what brings balance to your daily happenings, regardless of what others may do or say to you. Because Christ is your life.

Peace is you coming to grips with your lack of control and lack of need for it in order to feel ‘safe’, because it is not yours to be had no matter how hard you try. Because Christ is your life.

Peace is your seeking security and safety for those around you, in your city, and in your world, so they too get a glimpse of what God desires for them. Because Christ is your life.

Peace is simply not being reliant on the world around you to provide your security. It cannot. Peace was designed to work itself out of God’s temple. That is you. Because Christ is your life.

Significance and Importance needed!

Do you feel important in life? Is there a sense of significance in what you do? 
I think that just like a bad sibling rivalry, we tend to compare ourselves to the people around us far too often. We are all vying for position, trying to figure out how important we really are. We look at someone next to us and think of them kind of like a measuring stick or a carpenter’s level. We compare whether we are off the mark or not.  Oh sure, we each have a different part of our lives that we like to measure as part of personal development, but we all have a level hidden away. The more things we find to measure, or the more off we feel each one is by comparison, the more insignificant we feel about life. It comes to the point where, just like the other needs in life, we can feel ourselves crumble because we don’t measure up, or we don’t quite have things smooth enough, or straight enough for us to keep God’s perspective at the forefront of all we do.

“Everyone is off the mark, but God has done everything He can to remind us that we are all that He wants.” (John 3:16, Eric Paraphrase Version)

We seem to go 2 ways when it comes to feeling unimportant or insignificant:
1. I act like I don’t care, and I’ll be off the mark. It’s just a let down, so why bother trying.
2. I care too much, and I’m constantly trying to make my life count to others.

The In-Between? Well, it is kind of like my old wooden carpenter’s level at home.  I can’t always find the bubble in the middle because the glass gets a little cloudy. Sometimes I spend a lot of time trying to find the perfect ‘middle’ on this.  It’s there, the perfectly level moment, but sometimes I’m just not looking in the right place.

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There is a place in-between those thoughts.  What is God’s perspective on your importance?
There is a place where we abandon trying to figure out how important we are compared to everyone around us.
There is a place where we learn to feel acceptance for who we are, and try to give that to others as well.
There is a place where we don’t take every time we are pushed to the ground as being our place in this world.
There is a place where we stop pushing people to the ground so that we can feel good about how off the mark we really are.
There is a place where you accept Christ, and realize that He has accepted you as well.

In my search for significance, striving for great things in order to be noticed, I keep coming back to something Jesus said to His disciples when they asked about being great…

“Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22:26)

In our search for significance, a true sense of importance in life, we must remember that God holds the level or plumbline on our lives, and He brings the perfection, not us. He desires for you to be purposeful, and strive for excellence, but at the end of the day your sense of significance rests in being His and His alone. His image, His child, His opinion of goodness.