Tuesday, December 2, 2008


One man isn’t any better than another, not because they are equal, but because they are intrinsically other, that there is no term of comparison.” –D. H. Lawrence

The pieces were old, chipped, worn with time, leftover fragments of a broken existence that had outlived its intended usefulness. What may once have been tiles, plates, an ornamented vase, were now littered shards of variant color. Individual pieces stood collected in time and space, each different in shape or size or hue, stories hidden within each one.

Small, brown, chipped at the edges, she was left swimming in a sea of white. Her people had lived in this great land hundreds of years before the white settler made his claim. There had been enough room for both cultures to coexist. But fear of the unknown had acted in haste, seeking to destroy what it did not understand. Today her people were integrated, mixed into a sea of white pieces like a smattering of unwanted mess. Centuries later, people still judged, still made assumptions, still considered the brown inferior. They delegated the fleck of her life to a spot below theirs on a racial totem pole.

New threatened by old.
Quiet threatened by loud.
Black threatened by white.
Old threatened by young.

Two women argued in a kitchen, two pieces broken from the same household pitcher, the same mold of society. Their ceramic faces wore thin, as silent threats volleyed across the room. They were baking pies. It was some disagreement over the recipe. A teaspoon of spice was shattering the confidence of both. Each wanted their own method to be judged superior. But who determines the standard? Does it have to be one or the other?

When will I ever be enough? Silent whispers rise from countless voices. Unspoken thoughts are lined with desperation…

I fear your success. It scares me because I recognize its value. Deep within, my heart admires your accomplishment, but I can never let you know, never let the world know. I refuse to acknowledge its existence. I can’t afford to. The world hasn’t left room for both you and I to succeed. One of us will fall below the other, and I will not allow myself to land at the bottom. So I have to turn my head from who you are, the value of your life, because only the fittest survive.

Shiny, bright, intelligent, he drove a Lamborghini, lived in a multi-million dollar house and brought home an eight-figure paycheck. Dull, plain, ordinary, he rode the city bus and struggled to keep food on the table. Who can determine the standard of their value? Two human lives existing within the same city. Who holds the measure of their worth? Are they comparable? Compatible?

She was gold, flashy, bejeweled. I judged her because she was different, because she wore paint on her face, bore a glittering rock on her hand, and shopped in a name brand store. I stereotypically classified her, summed up the value of her life, and mentally noted how my lifestyle was better, why I preferred my appearance, with my wind blown hair and artistically altered dress found in a downtown thrift shop. I created a mental list of reasons to justify my judgment… But did I stop to ask why she chose to live the way she lived, why she shopped in the places she did, why she wore make-up on her face every day? I never attempted to understand.

Dull threatened by flashy.
Jagged threatened by smooth.
Poor threatened by rich.
Broken threatened by whole.

She was one shattered piece among many. But they were all broken, every single fragment. They each had rough edges, sharp boundaries with which to keep the world at bay. Poking and prodding, each vied for its own space, alone. But what if their edges weren’t meant to create distance? What if they were meant to draw diversity closer together?

Tiers, layers, levels. The hierarchy of society assumes that given two alternatives, one must be better. By inference, one must also be worse. But maybe society is wrong. Maybe the best is relative. Maybe the pieces fit together.

“Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.” – Martin Luther King Jr. Reconciling the black and white pieces of America required the courage of a few who allowed their discontent with society to compel them to action. They were artists, setting aside their own defensiveness and individual boundaries to fit broken pieces together as art.

Not wrong. Just diverse. Not worse. Just different.

The church, like the rest of the world, is fragmented. The body of Christ exists in millions of little broken pieces scattered throughout thousands of sects and denominations. Each has their own way of worshipping. Some raise their hands and shout loudly towards the heavens while others bow their heads in silent reverence. To some degree, each fragment laughs at the others, convinced they have found the only way. I’ve witnessed the jibes first hand. I’ve heard the chortle within my own soul. I am not immune.

Why are people so threatened by what is different? Why can I not be equally comfortable with every stream of worship, every color of skin, every subculture of society? What do you have left to prove?

Preference is not objective. It blooms and withers as quickly as flowers fade in the fields. What is liked today may be hated tomorrow. The human heart has a way of changing its mind to suit the fashions of the time, the whim of selfish gain. Whatever most serves the individual at any given moment is assured to be the best. Everything else becomes a threat.

The bride of Christ was not redeemed to walk in fear. She is a body, a work of diversity. Her parts are comprised of both individuals and denominations, including races and cultures of every hue. Each has beauty to add to the design. One piece is not more important than another, just different. She needs every organ to function. Somehow the truth has been distributed throughout thousands of broken fragments. A clear picture cannot be seen until all the pieces are fitted together, until fear differences are set aside. Understanding will not be comprehensive until the mosaic is complete.

Step back from the space on the wall filled with these broken bits. You have been staring closely. Let your eye move from the minute to the grand scale. The picture comes into focus, the pieces of the world drawn together in the face of Christ. The Byzantine mosaic is more than a work of art. It is a lesson in the function of diversity.

A mosaic is impossible to create with only pieces of the same shape and tone and size. Variety allows for beauty. Art requires contrast to be appreciated, not feared. Fragments of clay and stone that used to have very different functions unite in one purpose under a vision of something more, a vision beyond individual existence.

Our brokenness has the power to unite us.

Monday, December 1, 2008


But words are things, and a small drop of ink,
Falling, like dew, upon a thought, produces

That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.
– Lord Byron

I am a writer. Or at least I claim to be. A university’s computer system lists me as such. It even knows the date I became one, the day I declared my identity: a writer. One day I wasn’t a writer, and the next day I was.

It reminds me of faith. I am a Christian. Or at least I claim to be. If the church had an electronic database they would list me as such. It wouldn’t know the date I became one, because I don’t know it myself. But my parents remember. They could tell me—one day I wasn’t a believer, and the next day I was.

But it’s not that simple. Repeating a prayer does not make me a Christian any more than declaring a major makes me a writer. It is only the first step in the process, the decision to begin. The initial decision only reorients my heart and my mind to follow a path. It doesn’t bring me to the destination. Thousands of steps lie between. Countless decisions still need to be made. Every day I face the choice to stay on the path, to walk a little further down the road. I have to choose to become.

The day I declared my major will remain meaningless unless I learn to write. I have to pick up the pen and start scribbling something or else the term writer will be nothing more than an empty title. I have to sit down at the keyboard and type. I have to practice crafting words. I have to actually write.

So too, the day I became a Christian will remain meaningless unless I learn to follow Christ. I have to start reorienting my life or else the term Christian will mean nothing more than an empty title. I have to change my heart. I have to practice obedience. I have to actually follow Christ.

The journey of becoming is a process. It requires time, effort, and attention to detail. It must be worked at relentlessly. No matter how often I write, I can always write more. No matter how much I learn about God, there will always be more to discover. No matter how many times I edit a piece, there will always be improvements that can be made. No matter how many times I correct the faulty tendencies of my heart, there will always be places in need of further refinement. Whether writing or living by faith, the process is never complete.

Writing once will not warrant calling myself a writer. Repeatedly pointing a finger toward the past, at a handful of words I wrote five years ago, will not confirm my skills as a writer today. I must offer proof. What did I write last week or yesterday? What am I writing today? My identity should be defined by who I am, not who I was.

If faith is a part of who I am, there will be evidence etched within the way I live. Expecting one prayer, muttered in years long past, to be the extent of my faith cheapens the work of God’s grace. A life of works cannot achieve salvation, but stagnant faith is dead. Active belief must be written into my life every day. Though the script will be imperfect, it must be written. Any rough form will suffice as long as the manuscript is current, defining who I am, not who I was.

The rough draft is the first step in the process, messy and imperfect. Writers are not expected to produce works of publishable quality at the first stroke of the pen. The finished product is accomplished through editing, the refining of ideas and sentences already written. Revision is half the process.

Faith too requires editing. It is tedious and painful, but necessary. Like writing, the revision of my faith requires stepping back and reevaluating, defining the purpose of my story, validating the authority of my voice, reorganizing ideas, removing the extraneous, adding the words that are missing.

As a writer, I have unique tendencies, patterns of habit, favored words. Sometimes they are effective, strengthening my voice. But there are other times when they do not fit the context, crowding the intent of my pages with frivolity. In these cases, the extraneous words must be removed, carefully extracted for clarity. The process of cutting my work can be painful, deleting words I took time to write, admitting what I loved fell short. But enduring the pain makes the end result more satisfying. It makes room for what truly needs to be said.

The editing process of my faith can also be painful. Some seasons feel more like surgery than editing. The stubbornness of my heart clings to its selfish tendencies, the preferred habits of frivolity. Yet, they must be removed to achieve the coherent manuscript. Room must be made for the best words. Each must be carefully chosen for a single purpose, every decision made to obtain the finished work: a life well written, read to the glory of God.

The end goal is slow to arrive. The path is strewn with little moments of accomplishment along the way, finished pages, words of encouragement, glimpses of hope. They stand as markers of progress by the roadside. But there will never be a sense of complete arrival as long a life persists.

True writers will never be content with idle thoughts and fingers. They do not finish a work and content themselves never to create again. If I am truly a writer, I cannot be discouraged by delayed arrival. I cannot use it as an excuse never to begin. I cannot be daunted by the giants who have gone before me. I must allow perfection to goad me onward. I want to be challenged. I desire to improve, to hone my skills to the sharpest possible point, to achieve excellence. The drive to write compels me. I will keep writing no matter how many pages I pen. It is part of who I am.

True children of faith will never be content to stop searching for God. They are not satisfied to step inside the gate of heaven’s kingdom and explore no further. In the words of A.W. Tozer, “To have found God and still to pursue Him is the soul’s paradox of love, scorned indeed by the too easily satisfied religionist, but justified in happy experience by the children of the burning heart.” Simultaneously yielding complete satisfaction and insatiable desire for God is the secret to faith well lived. The moment the child of faith ceases to search after the infinite expanse of God, the question remains: Where does their identity lie?

There are days when the drive to write does not come easily. There are seasons when the struggle to believe is acute. During the moments when I stare for hours at a blank computer screen, I verbally have to remind myself that writing is what I love to do, who I want to be. When the voice of God seems distant, or the pain of following His hand stretches my heart’s resolve, I have to retrace the truths of who God is, regaining confidence in what I know but can no longer feel. Whether writing or believing, the process takes hard work, determination, perseverance. It requires more perspiration than inspiration. But our identity depends on the continuation of the process. There is more left to write, more yet to believe.

Too many Christians have stepped onto the path of faith and stopped. Their story was never written with intentional purpose after the first sentence or two. Life after conversion hasn’t been lived well, and the church has suffered as a result. The lack of authenticity is felt by both those on the street and those in the pew. Time after time, the way the church has chosen to live has invalidated the authority of her voice. The discrepancy is easy to see. Her words write one story, while her life writes another.

In western society, many children of faith have been trained to be satisfied with the initial composition of their conversion. While the children of God are supposed to be satisfied, their satisfaction concerns choosing God over the world; it does not concern being content to stop growing, to stop crafting a story. The invitation of Christ leaves volumes yet to be written. There is still a journey to embark upon. There are discoveries yet to be made. It will take a lifetime and an eternity to explore the vastness of who God is. Conversion is only the beginning of the beginning.

I’ve spent hours rewriting these pages. Countless times I have cut, copied and pasted, searching for the right way to organize my thoughts. Tomorrow I may do the same. The best possible words are yet to be found. But that is the process of writing. The importance of my story as a writer is not to achieve perfection; it is to learn from the refining process. My identity relies upon the fact that tomorrow I will write. Whether I rework this piece again, or pen the rough draft of something new, I will write. It will be imperfect, but it will be written.

My faith relies upon the same principle. Today I will not find the best possible way to live, to believe. But the goal is not perfection so much as to engage the journey resolutely. The tedious process of removing the excess and adding what is necessary is worth the effort. It is the process of faith. My identity lies in the fact that tomorrow I will continue to believe, to write my story of faith. It will be imperfect, but I will not be content to leave it unwritten.

The Rhythm of the Dance

“It is not necessary for you to know how to dance when you dance with the one who loves you.” – Rhoda Calhoun

One, two three. Four, five six. Steps awkwardly counted. Left, right left. Right, left right. Strained movement. One, two four. His foot lands in the wrong place. She stumbles. Movement stops. Composure reestablished. Faces tense, harshly occupied with getting it right. His thoughts are all but readable: Concentrate or you will trip on her foot again. Observing from a distance, I watch their instructor demonstrate the steps. They start again, tentatively. One, counting. Two, thinking. Three, stepping. Both bodies moving with fear of mis-stepping, they shift to the left then the right before turning. Over and over they practice the steps, follow the pattern to learn how to dance. Silently watching, each movement I trace, but I am dissatisfied.

Their bodies are stiff; their movements are forced. They struggle to align their steps with the instructor’s voiced metronome, and it is painfully visible. But the most haunting factor is the eyes. They are not looking at each other. All their attention is glued to the floor. Every stumble, every trip, the placement of every step consumes their vision. They are not dancing. They are walking through the motions. Left, right left. Right, left right…

We all face metronomes, systematic voices that haunt our lives, compelling us to stare at the ground, to watch our feet, to make sure we step in exactly the right place at exactly the right moment. Missing a step reveals inferiority. Lose count and the music may pass by altogether. So we concentrate harder, look up less frequently, and spend all our energy planning how to dance.

But there is a symphony playing in the background. Somewhere, an orchestra, of grandiose proportions, is playing in a ballroom, filling it with sound. Barely audible, it wafts down through abandoned corridors to echo within the compartments of our confinement, stirring, haunting, inviting. Deeper within our hearts, beyond the metronome, lies an internal beat, pulsating a rhythm of unique dimension. Something divine and stately. It beckons for motion within the soul, dancers who will become one with the music. But continually the metronome ticks, building a rhythmic cage.

Throwing off the constraints of the world, to dance to a more heavenly beat, is the essence of faith. The orchestra of divine dimension is playing a waltz, causing our feet to itch for something more. But somewhere in the middle of the dance, the idea of heaven has become locked within the ticking of a metronome. Day after day it dictates. One, two three. The dance is constrained, morality enforced. Four, five six. Legalism tightens its hold. Left, right left. The Pharisees take the floor. Right, left right. The passion of two becoming one, in a journey of artistic intimacy, is reduced to a simplistic step pattern, a formula for what was once beautiful.

Christ did not come into the world to restore order with remedial formulaic steps. He came to invite his bride to dance. The cross was not a formality. It was an act of passion. He expects his children to live and move and die as passionately as He lives and moves and dies. Since before the dawn of time, His one desire has been to find a people who will become one with His heart. Through the ages He has waited, hand extended, heart poised, asking the question, “Will you dance?”

So the church accepts His outstretched hand, smiles into His face, and then fixes its eyes on the ground to watch and plan the steps. The music begins. With our vision so caught up with attention to the rules, the traditions, the patterns of appropriate behavior, we miss the passionate look in the eyes of our partner, the desire, the longing. His love smiles back at us barely noticed. We can only afford an occasional glance upward. We follow his lead, but only so far as He dances within the pattern. Beyond that we are lost. So we insist on having our way, of making God fit within the realm of our comfort. We aren’t really following. We are content to let Him be our dancing partner, when the opposite should be true. So he patiently holds us as we rigidly move to copy the steps we have already seen him make. The only problem is, the Master of the universe never dances the same steps twice.

Every day He invites us to the dance, but every day the dance is a little bit different. If we learn to trust, He will train us to catch His eye, to fix our gaze upon His face. The cues to move will come through the senses: the tilt of His head, the grasp of his hand, the flex of his muscles. They are felt rather than counted. Closer and closer we will move into his embrace, allowing Him to hold us more securely with each turn. As our head slowly drops onto His shoulder, we will move from looking into His eyes to feeling the pulse of His heart, all thoughts of counted steps forgotten.

The wisest man on earth was trained to forget the steps. Still breathless from the dance, King Solomon penned the words, “Man makes his plans, but the Lord directs his steps.” Solomon understood that no matter how hard the effort, the steps of life cannot be laid out accurately. God is the master of the unexpected. The best method is to close our eyes and dance.

However, it is not the easiest method. Dancing with closed eyes requires massive amounts of trust and flexibility within a society that offers none. The legislative metronomes expect every move to be planned and traced to the letter: education, career, marriage, children, retirement. Moving for sheer enjoyment of the process or the intrinsic value it offers is nearly a thing of the past. Stepping in passionate response to the love of God is borderline heretical. Society screams, the church pressures for every choice to have a reason, a practicality, a plan. Where? When? How? WHY?

When society furrows its brow in consternation and tries to analyze the plan I don’t have, I’m learning to say, “I don’t know.” And I’m learning to be okay with not knowing. When I hear the question for the umpteenth time, “What are you going to do with that?” my feet get a familiar defiant itch. “I’m going to dance,” I reply.

And I am. Slowly but surely the steps are coming, unhurried and unplanned. Faster and slower they wax and wane to the rhythm of the heart of heaven. He has me held firmly within his arms, and we are dancing. His muscles pulse with strength and security in the midst of an unknown song. When I stumble he holds me tighter. The longer we dance the more our movements become as one.

In the outset the step-pattern may be necessary, a framework for beginning. But there comes a point to move beyond the steps and feel the rhythm intrinsically. Dancing is about training two hearts to move as one. It must resound with the marks of life absent from a robotic three-step: sweat mingling, faces etched with passion, intentional shared purpose. It takes hours of practice and painful lessons of trust, layered with tedious repetition and discipline, to accomplish the unity required for the dance. Gradually the steps disappear, replaced by grace, agility, finesse. And when the lights go out in the ballroom, when we are dancing in the dark, when we can no longer see our feet or the floor or where we are stepping, the dance continues, flawlessly the same; we have learned to dance with closed eyes.

In a world where everything seeks an explanation, faith needs to encompass less stepping and more dancing. The dance becomes the explanation. When the church faces what it cannot understand she must turn to the dance. When her muscles ache from trying, she must continue to dance. When her soul lifts with wonder, she must dance, allowing it to rise in silent worship before the heavens. It is the opportunity for her to sink ever more deeply into the arms of the One who can lead her flawlessly across the expanse of time. Is it a moment of shared intimacy and love with her maker. It is her moment to express the inexpressible.

Dance provides for my heart what theology cannot, the outlet to speak when nothing else makes sense, the realm to move when the soul seeks to soar. I know faith cannot be built on passion alone. The dance cannot occur without a solid floor to stand on, but too many build the floor and leave it standing empty. The master of the dance awaits the heart of his bride, to take her where she has never been before. The church needs to ponder theologically, to search the Scriptures systematically, but at the end of the day I do not want to leave the dance floor forsaken. Heart thrown wide with anticipation, my ear is poised to listen for the echo of the feet that will join my own, rising to the rhythm of the dance.