The Truth About Glory

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When you’ve written as many words as I have over the years, it’s kind of a big deal to set one aside as the favorite.

As the author of creation I’ve always believed God has a special love for, and kindred spirit with journalists, because of all the things he could have used to communicate with us, He chose the written word. Ink on paper.

Transcend is my second favorite word of all time. I love that word. The way it looks in print, the way it flows from the tongue, the profound meaning it conveys to move beyond that which is commonly known and understood. Transcendence is such an honorable pursuit in anything worth pursuing.

Discern is a word that ranks high on my list.  I love this word especially because it engages so much more than a simple understanding. Discernment comes with time, experience, lessons learned, relational context, and it’s a wonderful characteristic of wisdom.  During the later seasons of life, we can discern things in a transcendent manner, I believe.

Infinitesimal – a word I simply adore for its meaning (an indefinitely small quantity with a value approaching zero) and for the wonderful memories I associate with it, as it was a favorite of my old boss U.S. Rep. Marion Berry. He loved using it as a description for the intellectual abilities of so many colleagues who disagreed with him, and the descriptor was often exact. I catch myself using it in the same manner far more frequently than I should.

Here’s a clip of my old boss in rare form on the House floor. This is one of my top three favorite memories of moments of service to this great Southern legislator. He didn’t use his favorite word here, but I know he wanted to. This is worth watching if you want to get your day started with a laugh. It’s classicly known as the “Howdy Doody-Looking Nimrod” clip in reference to a Republican colleague. Debatable judgment here, but nevertheless … MB wasn’t a happy camper this day. Occasionally, if but rarely, I miss the good ole’ days like this.

But glory, oh what a wonderful word to exalt. Glory. It’s my favorite beyond all others.

In the Greek, glory is best translated as weight. So when we ascribe glory to something in balance to other things, we give it significance and importance. It’s especially relevant in the context of God’s own desire for His glorification. It takes a transcendent discernment to know this isn’t a selfish Godly characteristic, but one that’s for our own good, especially in our pursuit of truth.

And it it helps if we understand several other of God’s characteristics and engage some linear thinking.

In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth and the life.” It doesn’t say He admires the truth or respects the truth, but rather that He IS the truth.

Romans 11:32 offers enlightenment of God the Father as transcendent of our earthy understanding. Here’s an easy-to-read version of that verse:

“Yes, God’s riches are very great! His wisdom and knowledge have no end! No one can explain what God decides. No one can understand his ways.”

Read A.W.  Tozer’s thoughts on the pursuit and understanding of God the Father …  Tozer’s pretty deep:

“When we try to imagine what God is like, we must of necessity use that-which-is-not-of-God as the raw material for our minds to work on; hence, whatever we visualize God to be, He is not, for we have constructed that image out of that which He has made, and what He has made is not of God. If we insist on trying to imagine him, we end with an idol, not made with hands, but with thoughts; and an idol of the mind is as offensive to God as an idol of the hand.”

That’s worth a lifetime of meditation.

Yet, God clearly instructs us to pursue a holy knowledge of him, and the answer is right here.

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity.” 2 Peter 3:18

It’s all about Jesus, and it’s a pursuit so beautiful in that it’s a never-ending quest. We can look forward to an eternity of developing a relationship with the Father, through Jesus the Son. Now, and forever. To Him be the glory, the weight, the relevance. The never-ending pursuit of truth is the glorious pursuit of Jesus.

It’s such a transcendent notion, my infinitesimal mind can barely discern it, but I’m trying.

How glorious.

Thank you, Jesus.

Vaya con Dios, for now.

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The Truth About What You Hallow

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(Blogger’s Note: I’ll create a second video journal tomorrow about preparing for pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago. It will be published here on the blog, and distributed through my personal Facebook account. If you’re not a follower, and wish to be, just click the button to the right.)

Every good thing, and every failure is traced to that which we adore most. It’s all about what we hallow. And it’s clear what God desires most from us, is not our moralistic behavior or good deeds, but our genuine adoration.

It’s contrary to everything we’ve learned and requires a change in our point of view particularly because behavior and deeds are those things which are seen (even placed on exhibition and measured), and yet, adoration is an unseen characteristic of the heart.

Just before He gives us the model for productive prayer, we read this counsel: He says, don’t be a hypocrite elevating yourself in the public places, but go away privately and close the door. And don’t babble with a long litany of fancy words. “I already know what you need,” he says. Then pray in a manner like this:

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”

The very first thing we do, is to hallow. It’s not a word you hear often, maybe because of its precise meaning – to honor, glorify and set aside as holy. The word is so unique in meaning, it survives many biblical translations.

What God wants most is our adoration. I’ll try explaining how I learned this as truth. We all adore something. It’s how we’re wired.

***

In my early years as a Christian hallowing God wasn’t so easy. As I wrestled daily with family responsibilities, never-ending bills and small-town pressure to climb an exhausting social ladder, everything seemed grounded in my abilities as a provider and a doer. As the storm weathered over the years, I nearly killed myself beating those necessities into submission.

Then, it became dangerously fun.

I learned how to make money. One step at a time, I surmounted the social ladder. After thousands of bylines,  attending endless social fundraisers and parties, and even my relatively good and moral standing in the church, people knew my name. I adored it.

Then, on a cool, crisp beautiful October day in 2009 it ended as if everything I set aside as holy was sucked into a black hole, never again to see the light of day. My publishing business closed. I entered a time of depression that was like nothing I’ve ever known before or since. I remember telling Dana I literally couldn’t ‘see’ tomorrow. The blindness went on for at least three years.

The money was gone, the party invitations stopped coming, there were no more bylines.

It lasted until I somehow realized one day that a real, fixed, unshakable truthScreen Shot 2015-10-04 at 6.09.17 AM must exist out there somewhere, and that it was the only thing worth really pursuing.

I can stand on a street corner as a fool working to draw attention to myself all day long, but it’s pointless. It’s what I do in private that matters. The ultimate truth is what I see in the mirror.

If you take anything from this post today, I hope you take this thought:

What you do in secret drives your view of yourself.

That’s worth some meditation. It really is.

Just yesterday, I spent nearly six hours on a 15-mile training hike for a 600-mile pilgrimage across Spain that begins in two weeks. I can tell you from the core of my soul that I spent nearly the entire time, praising and adoring the Creator. I was all alone, just a backpack and a pair of shoes, in a place, where so to speak, the door was closed.

It’s His infinite creativeness, I think, that permits me to do this, and it’s something I’m particularly drawn to on these long walks.

I’m a creative guy. I create things. Mostly words and ideas as they relate to communication. Start throwing around analytical jargon, numbers and a spreadsheet and consider me “checked out.” So when I think about God as the creator/author of all things it’s practically impossible to put my adoration elsewhere. Everything flows from that.

Moreover, when I think about the extremity and highness of His glory in creation, versus the low place where He sent his Son to pay my debts, I find no option but to hallow His name. It’s the highness of His majesty and the depth of His love and grace.

Praise and adoration is what life’s all about, and it frames the context for everything we do.

Vaya con Dios for now.

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The Truth About Training

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“So, I must be taken as I have been made. The success is not mine, the failure is not mine, but the two together make me.”  ~ Charles Dickens

Just about every worthwhile thing I’ve pursued involved some training.

It’s the least enjoyable aspect of any pursuit, and I’ve often wondered when I’ll find an interest that doesn’t involve some uncomfortable regimens. It takes intention to get spirit, body and mind on the same page. And it’s been the case whether I was training for a marathon, pursing an education, building a business, or making pilgrimage across a country.

These are some training elements I’ve learned through personal experience:

  • Most importantly by far, you have to know what it is you’re training for. That sounds simple enough. Ten years ago when I trained for my first marathon, the goal of running 26 miles in four hours and thirty minutes was paramount. I wanted to “beat” that time, and virtually made the clock my enemy. Fourteen months later, and four hours and fifty minutes after the starting gun at the Memphis St. Jude Marathon, I crossed the finish line physically and emotionally depleted, nearly in tears. I’d blown the goal by 20 minutes. The goal should never have been more than a pure finish. Begin at Point A. Finish at Point B. Then rejoice. That’s all I really needed to achieve. I trained completely for the wrong goal. It was a true lesson learned. My goals for trekking the Camino de Santiago next month are radically different. It’s not about a finish time. I’m working to prepare my body to deal with the discomfort of a million steps, but moreover making ready my mind and spirit for conversing with God along the way. On the camino, I hope for nothing more than “to be.”
  • For most any endeavor, training takes time. How do you eat an elephant? One small bite at a time. It’s the toughest thing in a world that calls for immediate gratification, but there’s always unknown purpose in training. It’s the very best process for self discovery, and beats lieing on a psychiatrist’s couch. I’ve done both, and far prefer the former to the latter.
  • It takes discipline. Training’s a lonely job. Everyone loves to cheer you for the big, final event, and show up for the afterparty but no one  cares about the relentless, Screen Shot 2015-09-27 at 6.12.11 AMmonotonous, tedious days of training. Consistently, the best time I’ve found training for anything is between 4 and 6 a.m. You inconvenience almost no one during this time. No one’s going to set the alarm but you. Tougher yet, no one’s going to get yourself out of bed but you. If you have a “quiet time” or a daily time of devotion or just talking to God, I think early morning is the best time. It just starts the day well. Discipline is the toughest part of any training, yet so beneficial because, when mastered, it  can spill over into so many additional areas of life. Waking up is a good thing.
  • It involves lots of ups and downs and considerable discomfort. By nature, training hurts, whatever the realm of discipline. And it can have its surprises. Years ago, I couldn’t resist the lovely early Sunday evening weather to run a five-mile route along one of my favorite thoroughfares. I was listening to music, enjoying the sunset without a care in the world. The next thing I knew I was laid out flat on the sidewalk trying to put two thoughts together, wondering what the heck just happened. I’d been knocked completely unconscious by a full Dr Pepper can a couple of young guys tossed from a car moving 40 miles an hour in the opposite direction. It hit me square between the eyes. It might as well have been a comet. Probably should’ve gone to the hospital, but no one stopped to help, so I walked home, dazed and in moderate shock. Unexpected things happen during training. Highs and lows.
  • Visualization is a key, and often overlooked component in maximizing training. The hard work over the long haul is sometimes just too much to manage if you don’t see yourself crossing the finish line, holding your finished product, or imagining the joy of any job well done.  It’s so important to SEE yourself in the place of victory.
  • Training involves overcoming temptation. The notion of a Zinger with some chocolate milk crosses my mind at least once a week. Occasionally, I cave. Most times, I resist the temptation. Life involves much temptation. Recognize your temptation isn’t weakness. It’s your humanness. Jesus managed temptation through the recollection of God’s word. He came back to the truth He knew as foundational, firm and fixed. It may be the most difficult of all things we manage as we train through life.
  • The most beneficial aspect of any training regimen, may be the best and most enjoyable. It’s rest. Do you realize the time during which your body and mind get stronger? It’s when they rest. As you walk, or exert any physical energy over time, you’re actually destroying muscle tissue. You’re breaking it down. As you sleep, the muscle tissue rebuilds itself, stronger than it was before, so you can do more the next time. I love that you get stronger as you rest both your body and mind.

So many people have asked why I’m training for pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago when it’s such a long journey anyway and the body will adjust after a couple of weeks.

It’s because I want to maximize the experience and avoid as many unnecessary problems as possible. It’s an experience with the potential to reveal so many things, so minimizing the distractions is important.

It’s Sunday morning. Dana and I walked 13 miles yesterday and my physical body is enjoying rest and new strengthening. I’ll be stronger tomorrow. So, I’ll focus on my spirit today with fellowship and learning at our small church and our growing family and friends.

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The Truth About Solvitur Ambulando

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It’s a phrase I’d never heard until just a few months ago. Solvitur ambulando.

A well-read and accomplished friend who’s already thru-conquered the Appalachian Trail made the simple post on a recent social media thread where I’d let the waiting world know I was out on a practice hike. Solvitur ambulando, he wrote, succinctly.

I was embarrassed not to know the Latin phrase, and too curious not to look it up. I’m sure that’s probably what he intended.

“It is solved by walking.” … solvitur ambulando. How lovely, and how true.

“The geographical pilgrimage is the symbolic acting out an inner journey. The inner journey is the interpolation of the meanings and signs of the outer pilgrimage. One can have one without the other. It is best to have both.” ~ Thomas Merton

I never even thought much about pilgrimage until the seventh grade when a social studies teacher I had a slight crush on taught about Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam where some two million religious faithful trek to Mecca each year. To a young kid who thought mostly about basketball and what was for supper, something like religious pilgrimage seemed a distant and “foreign” practice  mostly undertaken by crazed zealots in far away lands.

It was 32 years later until I made a random click on a movie simply called The Way Screen Shot 2015-09-26 at 6.00.33 AMwhen I learned that pilgrimage went beyond something people pursued in biblical times. It’s actually been going on for thousands of years.  And I was hooked. I didn’t know when, or how, or even why. But it was on, and I knew it.

Emilo Estevez and father Martin Sheen teamed in 2010 to create The Way, the story of a father who heads overseas to recover the body of his estranged son who died while traveling the camino de Santiago, and decides to take the pilgrimage himself.

Along the journey he discovers the difference between “a life we live, and a life we pursue.”

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Pilgrimage – in its purest form undertaken on  foot – is, in fact, a religious rite shared by nearly all the world’s faiths.  A pilgrimage takes our shared metaphor of life as a journey, in which a lone sojourner may struggle with physical challenges, emotions, and hope through the wilderness, and turns it into a concrete, bodily experience. It converts the abstract into a tangible path, with real goals and obstacles and pain and joy.

A pilgrimage like the camino de Santiago can be as tangential as an adventure/vacation, or as solemn as a time purely dedicated to commune with God.

Whatever issue the pilgrim finds on his heart, … solvitur ambulando … it can be solved by walking.

I’ve certainly found it to be true in my training hikes. Several hours, several times a week out walking with blue skies, trees and a worn, winding footpath have freed up my mind and spirit in a way that I now covet. God and I are talking, and sharing thoughts, and I can feel His guidance taking me in a purposeful direction.  Together, we are solving things by walking. Solvitur ambulando.

It’s now 22 days to departure and the training is entering a new phase. It’s a lovely fall Saturday in Arkansas and 13 miles await.

I wonder what we’ll solve today? Solvitur ambulando.

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The Truth About Hearing That Voice

(Blogger’s Note: Perhaps it’s an appropriate moment to share just a word about my writing philosophy, especially what I write here on the blog.  I don’t aspire to, consider myself, or even necessarily admire the lable of “Christian writer.” I’m a writer who’s a Christian, but I honestly just write about the things in which I’m interested.  At this moment, and hopefully beyond, my highest aspiration is that of a growing, ever-maturing disciple of Christ. So that’s reflected in my writing and I couldn’t change it if I wanted to. I don’t seek out a Christian audience. In fact, I go out of the way to write for everyone, Christians, atheists, agnostics, widows,  drunks, manic depressives and grumpy old men sitting in a recliner by the fireplace sipping fine brandy.  We’re all in this together. I want to write about the things we all think about somewhere deep down, yet rarely discuss aloud. With that caveat, parts of today’s short post may contain a bit more “Christianese” than I normally prefer.  Sometimes, it’s hard to get around.)

“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

The training walks for the Camino de Santiago are now increasing in both frequency and distance.  It offers a lot of thinking time to someone who probabaly already thinks too much about too much.

As part of my pilgrimage prep I’ve been reading a lot lately, both in the religious and secular genres. Much of the reading has been focused on awareness. One book title is, in fact, titled “Awareness” by Anthony de Mello if you’re interested. It was recommended by my friend, Jay Gunter.

The readings have caused me to think a lot about the things I do, why I do them, and the real motives behind them. Am I giving to charity because I want to make a difference, or just to feel good about myself, or worse yet, because I hope to gain something in return?

Am I sitting in church because it’s what we do in this town, or because I genuinely want to learn and serve in community?

And the big question that came out of nowhere this morning: Am I writing because it’s what I’m meant to do, or because in some twisted way, I just like drawing attention to myself or my work?

The bigger question I moreover asked myself was this: Would I actually go on this pilgrimage if I couldn’t write about it, and talk about it? Would I go, if it was just to spend time alone with God, and no one ever knew the difference?

***

I’d like to think the answer to the latter question is “yes,” but maybe I’ll never know, because I heard God answer the former question and that was that. That’s all there was.

Allow me a quick sidebar.

What I’ll write in a moment raises this interesting question: How do you hear God’s voice? Maybe even more difficult to distinguish is this: How do I know when it’s God’s voice as opposed to me just telling myself something I want to hear?

I wish I could answer that question definitively. Maybe someone who reads this and has a better understanding than me, can offer their thoughts in the comments section. Please feel free to join that discussion here. I simply cannot answer the question definitively.

I’m not one of those people who will tell you I clearly hear God’s voice on a daily or even yearly basis. It’s honestly a rare thing for me to hear it with crystal clarity. But it does happen, and it happened this morning.  (Maybe one day I’ll write about the two “visions” I’ve had in my life. Yes, I said visions. In 49 years, there have been two. Alas, another time.)

Here’s what I do know. The occasions when I do hear God’s voice are helped when I’m most intentional about my bible study, prayer, meditation and a genuine search for truth. Sometimes, I’m better at all that than others. This is a moment when I’m pretty disciplined in all those regards.

End sidebar.

***

So I’m strolling along this morning two miles into a 10-mile trek, full pack in tow, and not necessarily talking to God as much as I’m talking to myself, and I ask myself that question about whether I’d be interested in the camino if I couldn’t write or talk about Screen Shot 2015-09-24 at 1.10.37 PMit. This is a big deal for me, you see, and I really want to be aware of my motives here. Otherwise, and without that awareness, what good may come from it? Surely none.

Then God enters the conversation and answer that question just as clear as a bell. This is what He said:

“I want you to write about it. I made you to write about it. I created you to write about me. This is what you do. Listen to me and I’ll tell you what to do. Tell everyone.”

I’m no longer going to question my motives.

I’m just going to write. It’s what I do. He told me so.

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The Truth About Two Kinds of Wilderness

I loved the wilderness as a kid. May be even more drawn to it as an adult.

My father’s love for duck hunting ensured I spent my fair share of time in the

My dad, David Watkins, doing what he loved so much. Duck hunting on the St. Francis River. I must have seen him strike this pose a thousand times.

My dad, David Watkins, doing what he loved so much. Duck hunting on the St. Francis River. I must have seen him strike this pose a thousand times.

woods. Each cold, dark morning as we’d make the 15-minute boat trip to the duck blind I’d always imagine Curt Gowdy’s voice in the back of my mind as if we were the featured adventure on American Sportsman. Every moment on that river thrilled me.

Other days I enjoyed building stick houses at a small pecan grove near our home. I could take refuge there protecting our homestead from the mammoth creatures that would surely would make their way down County Road 513. Settling into those stick shelters was especially fun on the rare winter days when a deep snow blanketed the countryside and you could hear a pin drop from miles away.

At 49 years old, the television I enjoy most today are any number of shows where a guy gets dropped in the woods with nothing more than a machete and a rusty tin can to survive for a week. The idea of it all obviously appeals to a significant demographic and I think John Eldredge had it right in his 2001 bestseller Wild at Heart where he contended so many men are bored with themselves and fail to pay attention to the deepest desires of their heart that would ultimately make them more valuable to their families and society.

In 35 days I’ll catch a couple of planes and a train en route to St. Jean Pied-de-Port, France, to trek the 550 miles of the ancient pilgrimage Camino de Santiago across northern Spain.  And honestly, I’m already feeling the faint call of the Appalachian Trail  for the grandaddy of all wilderness adventures.  Each year, a few thousand people attempt a thru-hike on the AT from Georgia to Maine, or the reverse. Only a couple of hundred make it. Seriously, how can anyone resist that challenge? Dana wisely reminds me to take these things one at a time and savor the day. Alas, she knows my proclivity to self-sabotage the grandest of plans.

Yes, I love the wildness, and have spent my fair share of time wandering there. Sometimes, it was with intention. Other times, not so much.

It’s the difference in the wilderness that we

(1) Accidentally find ourselves in, and;

(2) the one we intentionally put ourselves in.

***

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 5.54.55 AMI’m betting there was a time in your life when things were going really well. You were climbing the professional/social ladder, your relationships fruitful and abundant,  people cared what you thought, said, and did. You enjoyed a series of mountaintop experiences and the view from your vantage point was pretty spectacular.

And just as quickly, something happened. A layoff. A broken relationship. A shortcoming in judgment that violated your moral conscience.  And all of a sudden the view from 20,000 feet is much less picturesque. You’re in a valley and the trail leading out seems impenetrable.  Mostly, you feel lost and very alone.

A few years ago I had both a friendly and professional relationship with a local church pastor who was doing a great job leading a congregation out of a nasty church split.  He was a decent and moral man. I believe he still is.

But somewhere along the way he picked up some bad personal habits that got him into money trouble. For four years, the church withheld payroll taxes from staff paychecks, but the $150,000 in withholdings never made it to the IRS. Then there was a $450,000 bank loan that used the church’s real property as collateral, but it, too, was never directed to the greater good. It all went in the pastor’s pocket.

Months later I sat in a federal courtroom in Little Rock and watched a judge sentence him to 33 months in prison and full restitution. I’ve never seen a man who, more abruptly, found himself in the wilderness.

***

The wilderness has a way of sifting us down and reducing us to the core of who we are, and to the crux of what we need. Just like the church pastor, I’ve found myself in the deepest of wilderness valleys on a few occasions. They were times God used to teach me things like patience, humility, and a greater understanding for the plight of others.

The consistent thing I’ve found about different times waking up in the wilderness is this: There’s always a cost to leave. You may have to leave some friends behind. Some habits or dependencies.  Some things you thought to be your greatest pleasures.  But God supplies the strength to do so and he opens up a clear trail to the next mountaintop with an ever greater view. Entering the wilderness is free. There’s a cost to take your leave.

***

With intention, Jesus put himself in the wilderness for 40 days. While I’m not sure all the reasons are clear for his doing this, I think among them was to show us the fixed, North Star quality of scripture and the way it grounds us in helping to resist temptation. Matthew 4: 1-11 is some really good stuff. Today, as I’ve “evolved” I believe more than ever that the key to life is God’s spoken word revealed in the Bible. I know not everyone believes that, but I surely do.

For almost four years now, Ecuador has been my wilderness. The times I’ve spent there with Dana, and sometimes, alone, have been among the most formative in my life. It’s a quiet place, where I can think, and be, and do, without distraction, and I’ve always believed I returned from Ecuador a better person than when I went.

***

While the first wilderness costs you something, the second wilderness gives you something.  It’s why I’m looking so forward to the Camino. I desire this wilderness experience, and I pursue it with expectation.

Whichever wilderness you may find yourself in, you can come out better on the other side. I promise.

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The Truth About Your Situational Identity

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I hate catching myself as a hypocrite. It happened just yesterday.

When Dana and I realized some time ago that the corporate world is really no place for either of us, and that we actually wanted to do some things in other parts of the real world – some things that actually had meaning – we had some very real decisions to make about bills and income.

The result is we honestly just kind of piece a living together in different opportunities we find. The more restrictive it is, the less likely it is we’ll consider it. It’s easier than it once was because our bills aren’t extraordinarily high.  A few years ago the mere thought being labeled as anything other than the consummate professional would’ve appalled me. I’ve SO moved past it all. At least so I thought.

When Dana called me yesterday and asked my opinion about taking a one-day job where she’d pass out promotional materials for a new company at this Saturday’s Arkansas State – Missouri football game, my first reaction was telling her she didn’t have to do anything that menial. I processed it for a few moments and realized what I really meant  was, “of course we shouldn’t do that, what on earth will the people think?”

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Then I quickly remembered I, myself,  had just come from mowing a neighbor’s yard for 40 bucks.

The identity double standard we can have is ridiculous.  In Ecuador, we literally wouldn’t give something like this a second thought. And didn’t I just write last time about all the lessons I’d learned in putting my value in what I do? Two steps forward, one step back, eh?

A big part of the national discussion this year has focused on identity, symbolism and judgment. An olympic decathlon champion chronicles his struggle with gender identity and now wears lipstick and a dress.  Another – the leader of an African-American interest group is outed as caucasian – and explains she’s a black person trapped in a white woman’s body. She’s actually lived a lie for years.  And from stars and bars to rainbows, let’s not even talk about the identities we’ve placed in our flags.

Apparently, our identity means a lot to us. It clearly must represent something important.

***

When I studied mass communication in graduate school I completely loved the research of organizational behavior, especially as it relates to personality profiles – how we naturally behave, and how we adjust that behavior in different environments.  What I learned about myself  is that I’m actually quite good at being someone different when there’s a chance it will benefit my own self interest. For manipulative purposes, my subconscious will actually change the identity I project if I let it.

Keep in mind, I spent four years working for a member of congress, and another five years as a professional fundraiser. Both are areas where a chameleon can excel.

It’s one of the most revealing things I ever learned about myself, and is probably in the top three things that disgust me about myself most. It likely also has something to do with not always being comfortable in my own skin. I try to maintain a high awareness level about this tendency and sometimes, I actually have to guard against slipping into another persona, and work at just being who I am. Ugh.

I many ways, it’s what the world has trained us all to do, but it shouldn’t be that hard, and really it’s not.

***

Your identity can be like the way you perceive truth. It can be situational if that’s the way you make it. But when I write about “truth” these days, I’m not writing about “a” truth, I’m writing about “The” Truth.  The Way. The Truth. The Life.

The Truth is that your identity isn’t situational at all. It’s as fixed as the North Star.

I like what this Rick Warren devotional says about embracing your identity in Christ:

“Your faith will grow stronger as you do this.

What that means is that you abandon any image of yourself that is not from God. You stop accepting what others have said about you, how they have labeled you, and how they have defined you.

You start believing what God says about you, that he is pleased with how he created you, and that HE defines you.

You’re not defined by your feelings. You’re not defined by the opinions of others or your circumstances. You’re not defined by your successes OR your failures. You’re not defined by the car you drive, or the money you make, or the house you say you own, but most likely, the bank really owns.”

The thing is, if you don’t know who you are, then you’re vulnerable to other people telling you who you are.  But the concrete, solid Gospel TRUTH is that you are who God says you are, and no one else has a vote in the matter.

Have a great weekend and vaya con Dios for now.

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The Truth about Walking by Faith

 

Walk by Faith

 

I spent the first 45 years of my life literally drowning.

Driven by a fear of failure, I was drowning in control issues, constantly working hard to manipulate the circumstances and produce favorable outcomes. This was true in both business and family. It was exhausting working so hard, presenting the appearance of having it together when everything was falling apart.

It was one crisp fall day six years ago in the midst of economic circumstances I never saw coming when I realized all the possibilities for manipulation had come to an end. There was no favorable outcome to be had. My publishing business would close, and my perceived identity would be lost. When a control freak obsessed with a successful reputation loses control of it all, things go dark fast.

Incidentally, I knew better than to put my identity in my business, but I did it anyway. That’s a whole ‘nother discussion. But I knew better.

It was, or at least I thought it was, the most tragic circumstance of my life. Depression is an awful thing. Certain personalities handle it even less successfully than others. I wouldn’t wish it on the strongest warrior.

My road to overcoming depression was long and winding. It mostly involved good people like my wife and mom never giving up on me, but there was only so much they could do.  At a certain point the responsibility of crawling out of the mire was mine, and mine alone.

Getting better was a painfully slow process for both me and my family, and it’s really only been in the last couple of years that I’ve felt renewed, refreshed, and re-energized.

Almost all of it had to do with the ongoing process of learning how to walk by faith.

It’s one of those biblical terms that’s so easy to overcomplicate, label as ill-defined, and completely misunderstand. We over analyze so much today.

These are  five steps that helped me understand more about walking by faith.  It’s not exclusive to other things, but these were key:

  1. I had to realize a choice always existed.
  2. I had to understand that not only is it my purpose, moreover, it’s my very nature to glorify God.
  3. I had to shut up and listen.
  4. I had to come to terms with the fact that my life is more about others than it is about me.
  5. I had to learn to lean on God (not my own understanding) for the wherewithal to execute His purpose for me.

About #1: I’m a huge creature of habit. I like certain routines, am comfortable in certain ways of thinking, and yet while open-minded, am very slow to make radical turns in philosophical/moral thought. Maybe it’s more aptly described as just being set in your ways. Or maybe I’m just “hard-headed” as we say in the South.

I had to learn to let God confront me about these things. I had to comprehend that in just about every circumstance there’s a choice between righteousness and sinfulness.  My inclination is to sinfulness. Alas, there is always a choice.

About #2: I had to wrap my mind around the truth that I was created and wired to deify/worship/revere (insert whatever word you wish) something. I’ve revered a lot of things in my life, but ultimately, I’m placed on earth to have a relationship with God. He doesn’t need my love or admiration. He simply desires it. That’s pretty huge.

So when I pray now, it’s not just a laundry list of asking for daily provision or this or that for my family. It’s just giving praise and glory to His magnificence. “Our father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.”

About #3: I had to learn how to stop running my mouth and my mind. I’m one of those people who, until you get to really know me, appears quiet, removed and fairly distant. I don’t know why it’s that way, but it is. Within my inner circle, the people with whom I’m most comfortable, I almost never shut up.

There are times when it surely appears God is silent. In fact I think there are unquestionably times when God IS silent. More often, however,  I think, we mistake his silence for our noise and inability to hear.

I once calculated that I’d interviewed more than 15,000 people in my journalism career. That’s a lot of people. Honing the skill of the interview may be the most valuable professional thing I’ve learned in life. You have to listen. It’s the ONLY way you’ll ever know the next question to ask. You have to listen.

About #4: It’s simple really. The most profound thing I read in Rick Warren’s timeless book Purpose Driven Life, is this: We are most ourselves when we’re serving other people. It’s true. Not much else you can say.  If you don’t meditate on anything else today, meditate on that. Here it is again: We are most ourselves when we’re serving other people.

About #5: I like reference points that get me where I’m going. Maybe it’s a blaze on a hiking trail, the North Star giving me reference to another object in the sky, or the GPS lady checking off certain markers along an unknown road trip.  The one, singular thing I desire more than anything else in life today is a growing, developing, never-ending pursuit and understanding of the truth. Here’s my philosophy toward that end:

“So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” ~ Romans 10:17

The truth is, my understanding right there, in that verse above. All of it. Everything.

None of this is easy for me. It’s a work in progress. Always will be. But there’s nothing but time, right?

 

 

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The Truth of My Uncertainty

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Today marks a milestone day in my preparation for pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago. I am six weeks out from departure. From the moment the thought entered my head almost four years ago, I knew this day would be one when I would become even more serious, and begin the most final stage of anticipation for the experience.

For me, it’s not a casual thing to prepare for such a journey, walking daily some 45 days and 550 miles solo across a country where I’ve never been.

The first real stage of my preparation actually began two months ago.  As the cliche’ goes, I began preparing my mind, my soul, my heart and my body. For someone like me, the danger has never been lack of preparation. Rather it has always been preparing too vigorously, too soon, and getting burned out instead of peaking at just the right time before the real pilgrimage begins. I’m obsessive-complusive like that. It’s not something that’s going to change.

Today, my legs are comfortable at a daily base of 7-8 miles. That number needs to be at a solid 15 by October 17. So, there remains much work to be done.

I’m reading and studying my bible more aggressively than at any time maybe in the last 10 years. It’s so refreshing. Why I had wondered so far from this important daily time, I may never understand, but I’m thankful to be back in that practice that is now my most important time of day.

I’ve prayed about, and have selected a team of five people I will ask to pray for me along this journey. I’ve yet to contact these folks, but the time is coming soon, and I’m confident they will be pleased to do so. I  hope to make these people a special part of my journey.

I’m reading heavily in the secular areas as well, about adventure, and new ways to think, and how men have approached the second half of their lives with different thoughts about intention. I’m really trying to broaden the way I see the world, and have a greater capacity for understanding.

A few times before, I’ve done some things that I considered as pretty big personal challenges. And I’ve always enjoyed the necessary time of preparation that leads up to the actual “thing.” This time is actually as much about the journey, and the learning, as the actual journey itself.  Having now experienced two months of that “preparatory training time,” I feel as good about myself as a person as I’ve felt in a long time.

But still, I have so many questions about where this journey is going, and how it will play out.

  • I wonder just how much I will miss my family. I’ve never been separated from them more than three weeks.  The camino will require seven weeks and change. I know the answer. I’ll miss them a lot.
  • I wonder how the pilgrimage will affect me as a writer. Will this experience bring me to a point where I actually sit down with intention to write something real and significant?
  • I think some people actually misunderstand the camino as a magical place that offers the answers to life. I view it as more of a quiet, private time in the “wilderness” where I focus on listening and the chance God will truly speak to me if He so chooses. I wonder if He will do so, and if He will do it with clarity? I’m working on listening to Him. He will do His part. I must do mine.
  • I wonder if I will be able to see the pilgrimage experience for what it really is, and look far beyond all the metaphors and clichés? I want this experience to make me a better person.
  • I wonder if this will be a time when I can forgive myself for some of my most regretful sins and shortcomings.
  • I wonder what it will be like to experience “homelessness” for 45 days, waking up in a different place every single morning.
  • This is not an unimportant question. I wonder if my body will hold up for 550 miles across unpredictable weather, elevation changes and a pretty radical change in what it’s been accustomed to for the last five years.
  • I wonder if this experience will somehow make me a better husband, and father, and son.
  • I wonder if it will actually offer me some clarity of thought for direction and purpose for the last few decades of my life. This may be the thing I desire most from the camino.
  • I wonder if it will help me feel the things I feel all the more deeply.
  • I wonder if it will help me better understand the Truth of Life, and the real, unmasked, uncomplicated truth about myself.
  • At this journey’s conclusion, I wonder what will be next. I have a hint that I may actually already know. Lord, help me if it’s true.

Big questions. Maybe this journey will shed light on a few of them. Maybe none. Only God knows.

But it’s fun and exciting to contemplate. That’s worth something for sure.

Now, on to less serious things for the day. There’s a Labor Day cookout to conquer.

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