09.30.16

worship

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:47 pm by Administrator

there are so many things that i love. and so many things that i think about, over and over again. i think about sex. i think about money. i think about the future, and about the impending apocalypse. and i think a lot about the past. i think about what i once wanted out of life, and why i don’t want those things anymore.

i think about God too. among all the things i think of, i think of God, the ever-searching, ever-pressing presence unbounded by time and space. i think to myself that the thing God desires from me is perhaps different from what He desires of others, because my gift is different from the gifts of others. from me, God demands heartfelt worship. to some, this might seem so simple; but it is not simple. it is hard to give the Lord my heartfelt worship. because when i give heartfelt worship, i give all of myself. it is my gift to give. it is my greatest sin, when i cannot give it.

i think about the lives of the saints. noah offered a sacrifice to the Lord when he stepped upon dry land, and the sacrifice was fragrant to God. it pleased Him. abraham offered his son isaac on the altar, and the Lord loved what He saw in abraham’s heart as the man raised his dagger with the intention of killing his only son. josiah read from the books of the law, and david danced alongside the ark, and christ took upon his shoulders the cross that would kill him. in all these moments, i see heartfelt worship. heartfelt worship is all-consuming. it is more than a token sacrifice, a painful letting of blood, a gesture of loyalty. it is the act, the attitude, and the posture of total submission to the point of self-extinction. heartfelt worship is self-death and spiritual resurrection, essentialized in a moment of consummate devotion to the Lord.

for various reasons, we have decided to leave our church of eight years. it was not an easy decision. for me, it was in many ways painstaking. we have tithed to this church faithfully; we have served this church to the best of our abilities; we have led small groups, sometimes multiple simultaneous small groups, every year that we’ve been part of the community. i’ve spoken publicly to this congregation, i’ve ministered to it with my gifts, and i’ve prayed constantly for its people. these were things i did because the Lord impressed upon me that i would not experience His blessing apart from the blessing of my people. i understood that i had to show my devotion to Him by devoting myself to His people. and i tried to devote myself to my church, even when i was angry at my church. i tried to put myself second to them, even when i disagreed with them.

there came a point when i felt the Lord tell me i could let go. and my question to Him was about blessing. if i walk away from this people, would God take His blessing from me? what about the thing He told me years ago, about how i could only receive blessing through the blessing of my church?

you have been blessed through them, as they have been blessed through you, He said to me then. my favor is with you now as it was then—so have no fear. and so i let them go. i let go of the anxiety, the fear of being wrong, the frustration with my people, the fatigue i have experienced being a servant to them. i let that go.

but i’ve missed worship. i feel that i have not experienced heartfelt worship among my people for a long, long time. there is a part of me that wants to engage in it just one last time, before i move on. but i wonder—what does heartfelt worship look like now? once, it consisted of service. once, it looked like a song that i offered with my own voice. perhaps heartfelt worship now will look like forgiveness—the giving of forgiveness, the receiving of forgiveness. i am forgiving my church for the ways it has stretched and challenged and wounded me. i am asking forgiveness from my church for departing it. perhaps this is what heartfelt worship is now. whatever it is, i know i must give this to God. it is my gift to give; it is my greatest sin when i cannot offer it.

when i was young, i did not know what i would become. i feared the possibilities. but i know now what i have become. i became what i have become because i was afraid to become something different. whatever i have become, i am still the child that can give God my life. i want to be that man forever. others preserve truth; others serve the needy; some build communities; and still others learn, quest, advocate, and make peace. they have their gifts, like i have mine. oh God, even in this confusing and difficult time, when i wonder who i am and what i was meant for, i know this: you demand from me heartfelt worship. don’t be displeased with me, despite my many failings. let me worship you again. let me build an altar to you, and place upon it the sacrifice of my life, and be to you now as i have always wanted to be—a living sacrifice, utterly devoted to you in life and in death and in everything that follows

09.16.16

the shallow earth

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:22 pm by Administrator

it’s fake. it’s death. i know it. all the incessant thoughts about my job, what’s next, my kids and their prospects, my bank account, my retirement investments, my health, my wife’s job, my church, my company, my country. it’s death. i know it’s death, because there’s no life in it. and i know there’s no life in it all simply because when the thoughts have followed their course and left me at their destination, the place where i find myself is a barren place, where i wait for another preoccupation to take hold of me. i am like the shallow earth. a truth was planted in me, but there was no room for the roots, and so the thing in me that i have to give, the life in me that was meant to be consumed, is withering on the vine.

i realize that this is the time of testing for me. nothing is going wrong. everything is normal. the pattern of my life seems familiar and suggests upward mobility. my relationship with God consists of occasional reflections and reluctant sacrifices. but at the root of it all, there is no real devotion. i don’t judge myself harshly; this judgment is fair. what i give to God is trivial and insincere. the excuse i give is the range of responsibilities i have. sometimes, i presume to define these responsibilities as the substance of my worship to God—but this is untrue. all of these things are death, because they are idols and distractions in the face of God who refuses to be cheated of His heart’s desire.

there was that time three years ago, in room 1627 of the Seattle Westin, when God brought me to my knees and impressed upon me the force of His nature. He told me that He would never share me with the world or with anyone in it. He told me that i would die before i gave my life to another. He told me that i was His and His only. and amidst all the turmoil in my life and the crisis of my marriage at the time, i understood that though i had sinned against many people, in truth the only one i had sinned against was God Himself. and so i confessed my sin to God and allowed Him to have me. and though i was thoroughly humbled and even humiliated in that time, He restored me and made me whole. a supernatural pain that had inflicted me left my body at the very moment that i devoted myself to the Lord.

i do not understand why my commitment to the Lord fades with time, why it cannot increase of its own accord. i do not understand why death in all its forms continues to work on the body and mind, like the pull of gravity. to worship the Lord requires daily labor. there are no feelings to sustain it; there is no motivation to propel it; there is no human strength sufficient to maintain it. the worship of the Lord is itself a miracle, and it requires a miraculous power to come into being and to please God who receives it. in the context of this truth, i feel helpless to pursue the Lord. i understand now as i understood it then that i cannot live a good life for the glory of God. such a life has to be given to me; and every day, i have to receive it, wholeheartedly and without reservation. though i love many things in this life, i must love God above and beyond all other things. and should my heart weary or be drawn to other things, i would lose hold of everything that saves my life.

i am the shallow earth. this life of work, family, and service—it is a lie. it is a terrible lie dressed in all the dignity and honor that a corrupted humanity can endow itself, but it is a deception and a betrayal nonetheless. in truth, i am a naked and terrible man seeking to dress himself, but the clothes i put on are filth and shame. once upon a time, i gave my life to Christ, and He placed on me a robe, a perfect robe, spotless and radiant, so radiant that it was blinding in its splendor. that robe is my whole life, the only thing about me that is worthy, the only thing i own that has any value at all. it is greater than my wealth, my home, my gifts, and my abilities. it is greater than the love of my wife. it is more precious than the lives of my children. it is the only thing of me that i can take with me into the next life, and i so desire to wear that robe as the very mark of my life, the signature of my identity, the sigil of my people. but i am the shallow earth. i buried that robe somewhere; i traded it in for rags. and i do not know how or why i did that. because i did that, i know what i am. i am worthless, stupid, and cruel. and i do not judge myself harshly; this judgment is fair. the beginning of redemption is the knowledge of who i am. this is what it means to be a sinner. i traded something infinitely precious for something worthless. i traded the name of Christ for my own name; i sought glory for myself.

forgive me. take from me what is death, if that is what is required for me to gain life. if death is the price for gaining life, then i choose death. i remember when my marriage and my livelihood were nearly taken from me. i would give up these things and more, if i could gain you. above all that i am and everything that i own, i value the name given to me through the death and resurrection of Christ. it’s the name i want to be remembered by. would you have me again, as you had me once? would you love me again, as you loved me then? remember me, Oh God, and do not pass over me as you passed over my elders and my forefathers in their moments of rebellion. remember me, the one you inflicted and disciplined and reclaimed out of love. i am no virgin any longer; i have been defiled and polluted by this world of murderers and self-idolaters. but as wretched and despicable as i have become, i have nowhere else to go. put me in the darkest corner of your home, but have me back in your house regardless. if there is still time for me, then let me live a little in the light of your life, before i am gone and forgotten

09.09.16

9/11

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:31 pm by Administrator

if the last entry sounded canned, that’s because it was a speech that i had to give that day. as usual, i couldn’t figure out what i wanted to say til the morning of, and even then i had to rap that whole damn thing out on my blog in twenty minutes before i rushed off to work. needless to say, i didn’t deliver it the way i wrote it. i’m not exactly sure how i delivered it, to be honest. that’s my process. it comes to me the hour before i go on stage in front of three hundred people, and even then i know it’s not really going to come to me until i’ve got the mic in my hand. it’s frustrating, weird, and magical all at the same time. it’s my process.

i wrote my 9/11 anniversary entry last year, and if i recall correctly, i said it’d be the last one i wrote. and in a sense, i think it was. i remember how i felt last year when i wrote that entry, and i still feel the same. once upon a time, 9/11 represented something personal to me that connected me to my nation and to my beliefs. now it represents demagoguery, ideology, and manipulation. for fifteen years, the idea of 9/11 has been used by my leaders as leverage, to corral my support for a series of wars i would have had no reason to believe in otherwise. my feelings, my spirit, and my tax money have been funneled into a crazed, multi-national, and homicidal rage against faceless fundamentalists, and even now i’m being force-fed “facts” that suggest that our fifteen years of war have thoroughly demoralized our enemies. i know that’s the story. it’s someone else’s story about the world. and it’s not my story. it never was.

black athletes aren’t standing up for the national anthem, and i’m glad they’re making that statement. they’re doing that because of america’s abuses against its own people: american citizens of color. but at what point do we collectively express shame—real shame—about our abuses against the world? who is going to pay for that illegal, unjustified, and inescapably cruel war that we foisted upon the iraqi people? who is going to take responsibility for the social decimation that resulted from that war and plagues that region even today? when will we as individual citizens be forced to reckon with the psychological horror we have inflicted with our drone strikes, cruise missiles, and torture chambers?

through all these years, i have stood up for the national anthem. to me, it’s such a beautiful song. sometimes, when i put my hand over my heart and i close my eyes, i want to cry, because it strikes me as such a powerfully tragic song. it’s a song about a man who believed all was lost in the midst of a great battle, when suddenly the vision of the american flag, still flying in the face of all-consuming flames, struck him as a symbol of the nation’s resilience in the face of a terrifying foe. when i hear that song and i think of all the evil we have both witnessed and committed as a people, i feel such overpowering anguish. i think of the soldiers and their families; the policemen who don’t come home; all the victims of all of our bullets in all of our cities and in all of the cities of other countries around the world. i think to myself, “we are learning from this pain, and it will make us greater as a nation.” but in my heart of hearts, i know it’s not true. we share equally in the corruption of the world we live in, and for an american, this is the most humiliating of all truths to bear.

9/11 is what made us see what we are. we are a people seeking to earn dignity from war. we are a people seeking to learn heroism from our sacrifices. but war has nothing to teach us, and it never has. we will never extinguish our enemies. we will never have peace. and as long as we set ourselves apart and carry on our shoulders this exceptional burden, we will continue to fight for something that just barely eludes us, at every turn

09.07.16

the power of us

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:26 pm by Administrator

i don’t talk much about the clinic i work in nowadays. but one of my fellow providers in the clinic made a decision last week to retire after twenty-five years in practice, and thinking about what we will become after his departure has made me think a lot about the clinic—and what it’s all about.

it’s a special place. we have seen many lives turned around and transformed there. we’ve seen hundreds of people come back from the very brink of death. we’ve had patients ask us to help them die. we’ve had patients who only see us when they’re high, because they’re too scared to come when they’re sober. it’s a special place, and it’s also a tough place to work in for the same reasons. the intensity of the work makes the support of colleagues that much more important.

i think that’s why when a doctor chooses to move on from our practice, it’s always a tough thing. it’s very tough for their patients, with whom they have uniquely intense relationships. it’s tough for the staff, who worry about the next doctor that will replace the one who’s leaving. will he or she be nice and easy to work with? will he be able to keep up with all the work? will she be able to hang in there with our patients?

there are three provider positions in the clinic where i work. since i started in the clinic six years ago, i’ve said goodbye to six doctors. that means every position has turned over twice in six years. the docs i worked with stayed for an average of two years. one left for health reasons, another to spend more time with her family, two left because of different career opportunities, and two left because of burn-out. i considered all of them my friends; it hurt to lose each and every one. but as the leader of the division, my concern went beyond my personal relationships. i worried every time that the clinic would lose something it could not replace. every time a different provider left, i thought in the back of my mind, “now the patients will hang it up and leave. maybe this is the straw that will break the camel’s back.”

but here’s the very strange thing. despite all the provider loss and turnover, our membership has doubled in the past six years; and the numbers say that our patients are happier with the clinic than they ever were before. it’s not me. i’m only in the clinic two days a week. how has the clinic grown and even thrived when the doctors have all left. as important as that individual doctor-patient relationship is, why have the patients remained so loyal to us?

i remember that there was a funny encounter a year ago i had with a patient i’d never previously met. he’d been transferred to me from the panel of a doctor that had recently left the clinic. i came into the room and introduced myself, thinking to apologize for the transition in primary care that he was experiencing, at which point the patient asked me, “how long have you been here?” i told him i’d been at the clinic for five years. “funny i’ve never met you before,” he said. “i’ve been here for twenty.” and before i could respond, he looked at me and smiled at me knowingly. he said, “listen, i know that you’re my new doctor and all, and i want you to know i’m ok with that. i’m ok with that. you know why i’m ok with that? because i’ve seen em all.” and he listed the names of the all the doctors and physician assistants that had taken care of him over the years. this doc had diagnosed him and walked him through the tough early days. that doc had taken over him and managed him through a bad infection. a physician assistant had laid down the law with him and pushed him through a period of addiction. in every case, the provider had brought something new and good to his life.

“they were all good to me,” he said. “so i’ve got no worries about you.”

now, i’d be one of the first to say that retaining doctors and keeping them happy and well are critical to the sustainability of any healthcare enterprise. but at the same time, i can’t deny that the past six years have also taught me something else: that the “power of us” can go beyond the personality or influence of a single person. “the power of us” can be built upon the lives and contributions of countless people—patients, doctors, staff members, community advocates—and it can remain with us even when they move on or pass away. it translates to a benefit of the doubt when there’s a tough transition or change. it manifests itself as a mission, the way only a lifetime of struggle and healing can show the truth of that mission. and it endures as a faith—the faith of the people who come to a place time and time again expecting to be accepted, cared for, and even loved.