When the Bad News Slimes Us

I had to close my laptop this morning. I couldn’t take it anymore, and that’s probably a good thing. Man cannot live on bad news alone, after all. We can’t survive on a steady diet of devastating exposés.

But how can we avoid them? Our lives are full of open windows. National tragedies, investigative reports, and so many allegations. So many unsettling stories… these things have a way of finding us. They tumble into our living spaces, these torrents of tragedy, and they drag with them an endless stream of simmering hot takes. And at the end of the infinite scroll, all of us feel slimed.

And I know, it is probably good for us to be disturbed once in a while. Truth has to shine, after all, even if it stings our eyes.The internet, that giant spider web of gossip and cat pictures, does some good in this regard. It can be a victim’s sword to cut from the wolves their sheep’s clothing; a smooth stone for a shepherd’s sling. Some giants must be felled, and felled publicly, for the good of everyone.

The air around dead giants grows toxic quickly, however.

How long can we go on breathing it? At some point, the ache in our hearts becomes too heavy, and we have to step away from it all.

I reached that point this morning, so I closed my windows, and folded up my laptop. Out the door I marched, armed with an Apostle’s ancient urgings to think on better things. Pure things. The lovely. The true, the holy, the honorable and commendable, the excellent and the just. (Phil 4:8)

Such advice sounds antiquated in a world of chronic anxiety and 24-7 news cycles. What good is it to think about rainbows while so many storm clouds hover overhead? Didn’t Paul know about the dangers of denial?

But then, denial is hardly a serious risk nowadays. Is it even possible to miss the depravity of mankind?

If you’re like me, you have the opposite problem. You stew over the bad news, not the good news, because bad news still sells best. Even in the digital world, heat rises. The wicked and reprehensible things climb our timelines and lord over our feeds. Bad news always existed. Now, it seems, it is the only thing that exists.

Except it isn’t. It never was.

So I took a walk this morning. The air was cool. Street puddles shown back the sun like funhouse mirrors on the floor of the world. The ground was littered with the remnants of last month’s ticker-tape parade we call autumn. Whimsical purples and golds, crumpled but still pumpkin-bright, all served to remind me of one thing: joy still happens here.

The trees were the best part. They are mostly bare now, but they live on, stretching their naked branches heavenward. It is nearly winter, but spring will come again.

Sadness and vileness and loss… these are real things. But then, so are laughter and survival and redemption. How many victories do those trees oversee? How much love is shared in the houses I passed? How much laughter is traded? How much beauty is created?

And then I consider my own home. How much joy do my children bring me? How much do I adore my wife? How blessed are we to have friends who so readily embrace us?

We will think about and grapple with many, many issues, but we must meditate on these things. Because in the age of bad news, they are easiest to forget.


Feature photo courtesy of Pixel2013 at Pixabay

In Defense of Jeremiah 29:11 (For the Graduate)

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV)

Jeremiah 29:11 used to be a safe sentiment; a well-respected, if predictable, sliver of scripture to write on a graduation card. That isn’t true anymore. We are in the midst of a backlash against this well-known verse, especially on the Christian internet.  There have been a myriad of snarky blog posts and smug Facebook updates pointing out the fact that Jeremiah wrote those words to Jewish exiles who had survived the destruction of Jerusalem 2600 years ago. As such, his encouragement should not be applied to a modern graduate.

The critiques come in all snarks and sizes. Some are harsh, and some hilarious. Take this one from the Babylon Bee, a Christian satire site that I happen to love: “Man with Jeremiah 29:11 Tattoo Recounts His Time in Babylonian Captivity”. And on Twitter, there was this, my personal favorite:

While technically correct and entertaining, I find this to be a curious critique. After all, Jeremiah 29:11 is not so different from any other scripture. Every piece of the Bible has a specific context. A real author was writing to a real audience in a real circumstance a real long time ago. Jesus spoke the words of John 3:16 to an anxious first century Pharisee in the middle of the night. James directed his instructions about caring for the widow and orphan to “the twelve tribes dispersed abroad.” Micah’s admonition to “do justly and love mercy” was intended for the split kingdoms of Israel and Judah seven hundred years before Christ. We quote and adopt these scriptures all the time.

And you know what? It’s okay, because we read the scriptures not as direct recipients but as beneficiaries. They are our inheritance. The bible was not written to us but for us. Together, as a church, we read over shoulders of our ancestors in the faith: the Galatians, Pastor Timothy, the church of Ephesus, and yes, even the exiles in Babylon. We eavesdrop on history. Then, with the help of the church and the Holy Spirit, we figure out how to apply those stories, those covenants, those sacred truths to our lives.

The question, then, is not whether it’s acceptable to quote a Bible verse that was written for another, but whether the verse in question is applicable and true in our current circumstance.

So what about it? Does God have a plan to give a good future to a freshly-tassled graduate?

In a general sense, the answer is obvious. God has good plans for everyone. It’s why Christ came to earth in the first place. He has a particular affection for the human race, and he wants us all to experience the fullness of joy, which is life with Him. The Gospel of the Kingdom proclaims the promise of Christ’s utter re-ordering of the world toward restoration. Broken things will be rebuilt. Ashes to beauty. Orphans to sons and daughters. This is message of redemption: regardless of the circumstances, God has a plan for our good.

There are particulars to be haggled over, of course, concerning judgments, hardships, and the circumstances that lead us to the cold realms of pain and destruction. The scriptures foretell of those grim realities. We will have trouble in this world. Nevertheless, Christ goes through all of it with us, and His modus operandi is hope.

The fact that the vast majority of Christians would agree with this principle leads me to think the real problem is less theological than cultural. In the digital age where we celebrate SELF above all else, we tend approach everything, even the scripture, with a narrow, individualistic bias. It is hard to fault a modern dreamer, then, for reading Jeremiah 29:11 through the lens of his own material success. He reads the words of the prophet and sees visions of his own professional triumphs and creative conquests. And somewhere inside him, he thinks, “Wow. God’s about to make me into something extra special!”

In this case, the critics make a crucial point. Jeremiah 29:11 is not a guarantee of personal achievement or even a sense of spiritual fulfillment.

Worldly success has never been the measure of God’s intentions. Rather, He calls us all into a life of self-sacrifice and generous humility. In short, He calls us to enter into His redemption story.

I cannot speculate about what God’s customized dreams might be for the graduate, but I am confident in this: His plan is good. He calls us to receive His love and to give it away for the rest of our days. He will show us how to do that, step by step, provided we will listen well and stay humble.

Whether we are living on the banks of the rivers of Babylon, or in an off-campus apartment above the Waffle House, that is a hope worthy of embracing.


photo credit: As The World Keeps Turning … via photopin (license)

That Time I Had Coffee with My Two Selves

I like to write early in the morning, provided I can get past my snooze button. As a positive incentive, I started setting my coffee timer to 4:55 AM, because a fresh cup is at least 8.5 times as wonderful as a stale cup. I smelled it when my alarm went off this morning, then dragged myself to the kitchen, filled up my trusty Allan Bros mug (not realizing the pot was already half-empty), and tiptoed into the living room. When I switched the light on, I saw at once that I was not alone. There were two men sitting on the couch, waiting for me. I almost let out a scream until I recognized them. They both looked just like me.

“It’s a good brew,” one of them says. He wears a thin beard, jeans, and an earthy flannel. “But we’re out of half & half.”

The other one shakes his head and takes a sip from his own mug. “Nope, he’s just blind. Sara just picked some up yesterday.” This one’s hair almost looks combed, and he wears khaki pants with a nice blue sweater.

I gape. “Who… what is…”

“Come on, you know us,” Flannel Jay says. “We’re you. The different sides of you. And by the way, I freaking LOVED your last blog post. The letter to Jack? You really put yourself out there.”

I sit down, feeling a bit less panicked. “Okay. Uh, yeah, thanks. I don’t know…” I look over at Sweater Jason and see he is biting his lip. “What did you think?” I ask.

He takes another sip and looks up at the ceiling. Is he unsure of what to say? No, he is just being diplomatic. He has an opinion. He always does.

“I don’t know,” he begins.

Flannel Jay interrupts him. “Don’t say that. You do know. Spit it out.”

Sweater Jason shrugs. “I think you over-shared.”

I nod. “I knew it! I agree with you. I feel like I’ve written about the whole ‘I have trouble with hope’ thing already. Several times, probably. And this last time, it’s like I told the whole world that I still suck in that area.”

“Dude?” Sweater Jason raises an eyebrow.

“Sorry, I shouldn’t say ‘suck’ in a blog post, should I…”

I hear a snort to the left. Flannel Jay has a mouthful of coffee and is trying not to spit it out in laughter. He lifts a finger, swallows, and opens his mouth. “Sorry, but nobody is offended by ‘sucks’ anymore. And even if they are, you’re just being real, dude. People need to connect with… realness.”

“Transparency?” I offer.

“Exactly, but not in a cliché kind of way,” he says.

Sweater Jay slaps his knee. “‘Transparency’ is a cliché whether or not you say ‘not in a cliché kind of way.’ That’s like using the phrase “just saying’” to get social acceptance for a rude comment.” He stands up and starts to pace. I hate it when he gets angsty like this. “Transparency in and of itself is not a good thing.”

“It’s not a bad thing, either,” Flannel Jay counters.

“Right. It’s not. But in that post, you,” and he points to me, “got transparent and even vulnerable about something you’ve supposedly beaten at least three times already. In front of a ton of people. Many of whom are in the congregation where you serve as one of the leaders.”

I slump in my chair. “I know. I know.”

“And you teach on hope all the time. You always used to quote Hebrews 11 about faith being the assurance of things hoped for, and then you say ‘if you don’t have hope, then you can’t have faith.’ You see what I’m getting at?”

Flannel Jay waves his hand. “He gets it. Give him a break.”

But Sweater Jay presses on. “You are called to build up peoples’ faith. But if you are telling them that you yourself don’t have any hope, then…”

“I get it!” I start to yell before Flannel Jay shushes me. We all get quiet for a moment. Then, I hear Jack in the next room. I can tell he’s wide awake and stimming. Specifically, he’s flapping his sun-glasses and duct tape while scripting something. A piece of dialogue from Kung-Fu Panda, I think, but I can’t tell which scene.

“Just admit it,” Flannel Jay whispers at last to his companion. “You want him to write posts about rainbows and butterflies, and how he’s got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in his heart even when he doesn’t. Well, there are real people who read this blog, and they are struggling, too. Some with autism issues, and some with… well anything. And being real is the only way to encourage them.”

“Encouraged?” Sweater Jason asks, looking baffled. “By the fact that he, a pastor, can feel every bit as weak as everyone else? What does that do?”

I’m getting nervous now. The two of them are whispering, but they are clearly upset with each other. I want to diffuse the argument.

“Who wants a bowel of generic Cinnamon Toast Crunch?” I ask.

“Don’t do that! Your wife hates it when you evade conflict with banter,” Flannel Jay says. He’s right. I feel ashamed. “I’ve been defending you here, but you actually need to answer this question. Not for anyone else, maybe, but for you: How does ‘being transparent’ show the hope of the Gospel?”

I put my head in my hands and close my eyes. My companions both fall silent. All I can hear is the sound of my son’s flapping, and a muddy voice that sounds vaguely like Dustin Hoffman as Master Shifu.

And in that moment, I remember the words of Jesus: “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

I take a breath, then speak. “If I have stressed my own poverty instead the Hope of the Kingdom–the beauty of Christ Himself–then I am truly sorry. Sometimes I get stuck in my head, and that’s a bad thing, because the answers aren’t in my head.

“But I’m still going to be honest, because He meets me in the honest places. That’s where I find myself being reborn. If I can point people to their own honest places, well… maybe they’ll find Christ there, too. Because that’s where He waits.”

When I open my eyes, my guests are gone. I take another sip of coffee and in a moment, my son runs into the room. He is wearing only his sagging green pajama bottoms and a hyperactive grin: “Daddy tickle me?” he says. It is not really a question.

I pull him into my arms instead, and thank my Father for new beginnings.

For Anna and Simeon (A Poem on Advent)

(This poem was formerly called “When the Soul Felt its Worth,” since it carries threads of “O Holy Night,” but I changed it because it works better as an Advent piece. I wrote and performed it a few years back for our church’s Christmas program. It works better as a spoken word piece, but I thought I’d share it here anyway.)

I

Since the days of old
When the prophets told
Of a King that would hold
The government on his shoulders,
And milk and honey in His hands,

The chosen race
Adorned in white lace
For centuries past her wedding day waits
At the alter for her faceless groom
A Messiah her grandparents swore would soon
Topple the Empire and finally deliver
The white picket fences from father Abraham.

Long lay the empire,
In a Pax that required
Legions, phalanxes and arrows afire,
Long lay the world
With battle flags unfurled
The everlasting hills groan
With agonies of war and famine and hope deferred.

Creation remembers
A fire, now embers,
Where family members
Were supposed to gather round
Feasting on fresh fruit and marshmallows
Plucked from the Tree of life,

And best of all,
He would be with them at their garden party.

But those far off pictures
Are eclipsed by real fixtures
Of sadness and tricksters
Shuffling thrones like shells
Over one elusive ball called deliverance.

So with limp expectations,
And weak incantations,
The world falls asleep again, and dreams about nothing…
…but morning.

396505396_db80e3fd75_b

II

Sin and error,
Grief and terror,
Grip the image bearers
Of long forgotten Hope,
And the angels wince at this new normal.

They surround His throne
Begging that He alone
Would call his faithful home
Or else get down there Himself
And do something.

But His ears are attuned
To the voices of two
Aged prophets who
Still sees visions of a coming King:

Anna and Simeon stubbornly sing.

From their wrinkled lips
Over incense whisps,
Their whispered melodies insist
That the violent plots of jilted progeny
That prodigals plotting their recompense
That the unbroken strings of brokenness would all,
themselves,
At last,
Be broken.
That HE would finally come to take His throne.

Anna she weeps,
Simeon keeps
The incense burning,
If for just another day.
Unless their strength finally falters,
And their heartbeats give way.

Not today.
Not till we’ve seen him.
Dear God, not today.

shepherds and angels

III

When Rachel’s weeping fills the skies
Her innocents, slaughtered like flies
By petty kings with jealous knives,
Midnight threatens to paint the hills
in permanent despair.

And it would have, too.
But for a star-shaped window
In the firmament,
And the Fathers light pouring through.

There, from that perch
He whispers words
The most anticipated ever heard
“The fullness of time has come.”

And at that,
Giddy galaxies dance and run
To watch Bethlehems skies
Where Heaven’s minstrels arise
With joyous operas improvised,

“He is here!
He is here!
Glory and Peace!
He is here!”

Herdsmen and Cherabim
Elbow the Seraphim
Just to catch a glimpse of Him
The Emperor of the Cosmos,
The King of a Billion Suns,
Under cover —
Sleeping on a horse’s breakfast.

And Men and angels
Wings-in-arms
Raise their glasses
To the Newborn Caesar.

But an honor still higher
Meets the ones who conspired
Over wax-fueled fires
In sleepless prayerful nights:
Anna and Simeon
Faithful and frail,
Feeble and mostly blind,
At last, receive Destiny Himself in their hands,
To be dedicated,
consecrated
and celebrated.

Long lay the world
In sin and error pining,
Till he appeared
In their arms,
In swaddling clothes
With a violent clash of hymns and prose
And the soul of man finally knows
It’s incomprehensible worth.

Because He came near
And His rule still advances
Taming cruel hearts with redemptive romances
Leading us back,
Calling us home
To the campfires of Eden.


Photo Credits:

Creative Commons license, Spiritual Boundary by vincos

Shepherds image, free use from FreeBibleImages.com

Feature image of Simeon and Anna: Artist Unknown

Autism Awareness: What I Want the Church to Know

Dear Church,

You don’t know me, but I am one of you. I was born in you and raised in you. I did mimes in parks and marinated to the soothing rasps of Chapman and Smitty. And now that I’m mostly grown up, I am one of the guys who sits on the front row and “brings the word” on a Sunday morning.

I have five children, and one has autism. When he was diagnosed, it rocked my world. We couldn’t communicate with him, and I got depressed about it. I withdrew. I got angry.

Five years later, he has made good strides in his communication, and I have grown, too. Granted, I’m still moody, but I’m not depressed anymore, and one of the biggest reasons is because of my brothers and sisters. The church. You.

I wasn’t on staff at the time of Jack’s diagnosis but my church leadership embraced my entire family. They took us in. They let us vent and cry. They listened. They went out of their way to love my son and accommodate us. To let us hurt and to help us heal.

You did this. And I love you for it.

But it went further. The entire church body embraced my boy. One Sunday morning, I was on stage giving the announcements, and he bolted to the front of the sanctuary to see me. I picked him up and let him say hi in the microphone. Nobody was irritated. They were delighted because they, too, are striving to know him. They love him.

You did this. And I love you for it.

I am a gushing fan, because I have personally felt the healing of Christ at your touch. My only regret is that so many others have had such radically different experiences.

In the past year, as I’ve hung around the online autism community, I have found very few others who are discussing autism and the Christian faith. There are many reasons for this, I’m sure, but the biggest one is this: we have not known what to say about the issue, but we’ve still tried to offer solutions, especially when it comes to children. And those solutions have driven people away over time.

Okay, it’s worse than that, actually. I’ve talked to many parents of autistic kids who have been simply uninvited from church fellowship. Their son was loud one service, or he was running through the foyer. So they were told not to come back. These are the exceptions, but make no mistake, they happen. All too often. Can I speculate on a reason?

I think it’s because of our views on parenting.

The fact is, there isn’t very much written directly about parenting in the Bible. I wish there was more. It’s hard to list good parents in the bible, but it’s alarmingly simple to find poor ones, even among the heroes: Jacob, Eli, Saul, David, Solomon, and Hezekiah, to name a few. Maybe it’s because we are so short good examples that we have turned to the book of Proverbs, where sayings such as,“Spare the rod and spoil the child,” become our textbook.

Having kid problems? “Give ’em some discipline,” we tell them, as if it’s enough. Because we know people who don’t discipline their rug rats, and their kids are brats, so that proves it, right?

I use that example for a reason: it has wounded many, many children with autism, and it has confounded their already hurting parents. I’ve talked to them.

This is what I want to say to you, brothers and sisters in Christ:
Autism is not a discipline issue.


It really is not. There are boundaries that will need to be drawn and enforced, but those are secondary.

Autism is primarily a sensory issue. Autistic people see things and hear things and feel things in a much different way than the rest of us. They receive extra “data” from their senses, and they don’t always know how to react. Sometimes their bodies just rebel against sensory overload, and that can be a confusing thing. A disconcerting thing.

But please, don’t assume it’s a character issue.

I prefer a different Proverb to inform my parenting: “Train up the child according to the tenor of his way, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Prov 22:6, Darby) In other words, there is not a specific mold for our children to fit. There just isn’t. There’s no perfect playbook. No magic bullets. Every child is different, and it is our job to figure out how best to lead them based on who they are.

This is a proverb for us, the church, as well as for parents. How can we encourage the health and growth of our own if we don’t understand them?

Hear me, friends. I am not bashing. I have seen such beauty in our midst. But I have also seen confusion at these intersections.

The CDC tells us that there are more kids getting autism than ever. They say it’s 1 in 68 now. Whether or not you take those numbers seriously, you need to know that there are many families in your neighborhoods that need the beauty of love that is found in your midst. Some of them are invisible, but you can open your doors to them like we did. Others will work up the courage to visit your services, sitting (or standing) in the back, looking apprehensive when the kids are dismissed to Sunday School. In order to share that love with these families, we must adamantly refuse to assume causes and solutions that we know nothing about.

I know we like things to be simple, and we sometimes panic when they are not.

We try to convince ourselves that the answer is easy. Right in front of us. We’ve got the Bible, see, so we’ve got answers. Nothing to see here, people. Move on!

But today is Autism Awareness day, friends, and we need to be aware of the insufficiency of our advice. We need to go back to our roots and remember that Christ Himself is the Answer. We cannot always think His thoughts, but we can at least be His arms. To welcome. To embrace. To be there for one another.

This is the place I found healing. Not in the abundance of words, but in warmth.

And I love you for it.


Photo from GeekyGlass.com

An Open Letter to Death

Dear Death,

Well, that was really something you did, taking out a 3 year old girl. By everyone’s account, she was sweet, adoring, and perfect. She could have been the poster child for Life itself. And her family… I barely know them, but I know they deserved more time. They are the best kind of people; the kind that pour themselves out for their neighbors, and who define their neighbors liberally. Instead of a reward, their little girl got a brain tumor, and now she is gone.

There were thousands of people storming the heavens for a better outcome. Is that why you persisted? Were you sticking your finger in the eyes of the faithful?

I know, I know, this is nothing new. Please don’t give me your résumé. I am all too aware that you take children every day. Some of my dearest friends have lost sons and daughters on the very day of delivery. Their tears poured out in buckets while their nurseries stayed empty.

And at that, I can almost hear your taunt: “Why are you still surprised at my coming? I am the only inevitability of life, and yet you persist in your impotent weeping!”

It’s true. Your coming still shocks and paralyzes us.

Mourning ought to be easy by now, but it is not. We wail, we wretch, and we swear. Then we retreat to a safe place until we can breath deeply. When we emerge, many of us do so with duct taped masks of composure and strength. Those masks, over time, might even become real. We can, in our weakness, become wiser and softer and stronger all at the same time.

Yes, Death, I am admitting the truth: we can learn from you, and we often do. We learn how to press forward. We learn the scent of sacred moments. We discover what it means to really embrace one another. Softness and gratitude–both treasures of the dark–become ours.

Perhaps this is why the Egyptians of old praised you so. They knew the little glances of good that came after your touch, so they celebrated you with myths and monuments. In doing so, they became your vassals.

But I will do no such thing.

I will not treat you as a lord but as a foreign brigand who drags the innocents away in the dead of night. For that is all you are. You were never made for this world. You are an invader. You haunt us with your inescapable shadows–tales of victories over every King and Pharaoh, every soldier who dared tempt you, and every soul who hid to avoid you. You eventually defeated them all.

Except for One.

Yes, Death. I remember your single humiliation: two thousand years ago by the Man on the tree. So you see, you are not so inevitable after all.

What’s more? This age will not last forever. That same Man will return to put an end to your dominance. His victory will belong even to the least of these. The children of the world will stand over you and laugh.

Until that day, we will not shrug at the sight of you, nor become accustom to your touch. Not ever.

This is our act of defiance: we will not call you “normal.”

Instead, we will continue our stubborn fight. When our fathers die and our children fly with angels, we will weep for them, and taste the wrongness of our separation. We will pour out our foreign grief like drink offerings to your Conqueror, the One who promised,

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

– J. Hague

Waiting in the Land of In-Betweens

It happened at the end of a long church conference. I was exhausted, but the preacher was in no hurry. I hate it when they don’t hurry. 

“If you are the parent of a special needs child, come up and get prayer.”

I wanted to slip out the back, but six of our church staff were with me, and I knew they wouldn’t let me wimp out like that even if I tried. They had held up my arms for too long.  So I dragged myself to the front of the sanctuary where a line of young ministry students stood eager to pounce. I chose a tall Canadian man in a brown, business-like sweater.

“My son Jack has severe autism,” I told him beneath the ringing synthesizers. “He’s seven, and he can’t speak and… yeah…” I stopped there to brace myself for a loud and sweaty prayer. But my Canadian merely closed his eyes and started to whisper. I leaned in to hear. He sounded gentle and confident. A prince next to his father’s throne. And then it happened: He said the word “breakthrough,” and I started to weep. 

It was a frustrating moment because I thought I was done with all that. For more than two years, I had walked that familiar path of grief. Denial I remember, but only because my mom used it in an email, as in: “I think Jack has autism and you are in denial.” I laughed, thus proving her point.

Anger and Bargaining came and went quickly, but Depression lingered. There were two, maybe three years of numbness and hiding places. There were specialists and therapies for Jack, and for me, a new personality that wanted to be left alone. I used to be an extrovert, they say. 

At the time, I failed to recognized the commonness of my journey. Only when I reached the end of it did my friend tell me,

“You’ve been going through the stages of grief, and I think you just reached Acceptance.” 

It was a surprising revelation for two reasons. First, I had always thought of grief as something that follows funerals and longs for the past. I missed the obvious other kind; the kind that slumps forward, casting a permanent shadow over tomorrow that can no longer be.

But even more significantly, my friend’s assessment of my progress was spot on. I had come to terms with Jack’s condition. We had been playing together and laughing together like never before. Even on bad days, when he might be in the middle of an epic melt-down, I could still feel peace. Joy, even.

And yet despite all this, I still found myself at the front of a sanctuary in a snotty mess. Still craving “breakthrough” more than anything in the world.

Seven months have passed since that night, but I haven’t really left the foot of the stage.

I confess I want holes knocked through the wall that keeps my boy distant from me, my wife and children. I want sunbursts of language, comprehension, and relational abilities. I want him to have a future.

Some have told me to let this hope die and embrace my new normal. They say autism is part of who my son is, and if I struggle with it—if I treat his condition as a thing to be cured by human or Divine hands—I am rejecting him. This viewpoint has its merits, but the accusation inside it knocks the breath out of me, because I already accept and embrace my son. For everything he is. I delight in him, his curiosity, his affection, his laughter. And if he never learns speech, or safety, or independence, I will love him no less. 

Others have told me just to try harder and refuse contentment. They imply that it’s my fault Jack hasn’t been healed or cured yet, and if I would just get with the right therapy or take authority (i.e., pray louder), then I would finally catch my breakthrough. That accusation hurts, too, because they don’t know how hard we have tried; how many nights we have held him, wept and begged God to intervene. 

Here is my dilemma: if I pray too hard, I start fixating on change, and I become less satisfied with who Jack is today. But if I accept too hard, then I give up on a better future for my boy. And try as I might, I cannot see how to call that “loving.”

How, then, am I supposed to live? Neither of these extremes is correct. Not for me, anyway, and not for many parents of special needs children. I trust there is a solution, but it must come from Christ Himself. Who else knows how to hope all things, endure all disappointments, and love without condition?

So for now, I wait in a land just east of Acceptance and west of Breakthrough. Here, I get swept up in my son’s unbridled laughter, then in quick flashes of torrential fear. Here, I thank my Father for my boy, who is enough, and in the next breath, beg Him for more. This is where I wrestle with God: in the already not yet kingdom. The Land of In-Betweens. 

When King David Ruled the Blogosphere

I see him running bloodstained through a dry riverbed. His men, blistered and spent, beg for a rest. He suppresses a sigh, checks the sun, and nods. It’s a terrible time to stop. Would Saul’s men be stopping? Maybe. Probably not. But there was a little distance now. And besides, a rest would give him a chance to write.

There is a dying tree offering shade over rounded rock nearby. That is the spot. Reaching into his satchel, he pulls out his treasure from a Philistine raid: a laptop computer. It is old, of course, but it does the job. Nothing like what he used in the palace, but that was a long time ago.

He plugs in a network adapter and signs in. More notifications. He had intended to shut those off months ago. The comments were always the same now. He’s either a hero for the underdog, or a young public menace, leading this rowdy and impressionable generation into rebellion. The truth was less interesting. He was just running for his life. Why couldn’t they see that?

The comments don’t interest him today. The unfinished post does. He had almost published it the night before, short as it was. His readers loved those visceral, angry posts. The Bethlehem Gazette was especially enthusiastic:

“As a blogger, David is pithy and controversial, and that’s why I read him. He doesn’t try to tie up his thoughts with cute little bows. The priests may hate him for it, but I say, Rant on, young warrior! We are cheering for you!”

Of course, that was the hometown opinion. It was supposed to be gushing, wasn’t it? There were just as many detractors, and not just the ones loyal to the current King.

He squinted at the dim words on the screen:

          “Forty-Three”

          You are God my stronghold.
          Why have you rejected me?

He had been exhausted when he wrote that. Hungry and afraid. And now, twelve hours later, he still had not eaten or slept after yesterday’s near disaster. The question felt more tangible now than it had in the dark.

He shakes his head and types in another question:

          Why must I go about mourning,
          oppressed by the enemy?

It would be yet another in a long line of questions in his head: What had he done to provoke the King? Hadn’t he been loyal to God and to Saul? Hadn’t he obeyed every order, no matter how dangerous? Hadn’t he begged for the chance to kill the giant? Why had Samuel not warned him of all this?

Life was messy. Samuel had never understood that. Maybe none of them had. The priests. The prophets. His father. Had they ever been hunted by a man they had adored?

Despair. That was all he knew now. God had deserted him. Just like everyone else.

And yet, his fingers start to twitch and crawl on their own.

          Send me your light and your faithful care,
          let them lead me;
          let them bring me to your holy mountain,
          to the place where you dwell.

A prayer? His prayers had run as dry as this river bed, but there it was. His hands continue moving. Faster now.

          Then I will go to the altar of God,
          to God, my joy and my delight.
          I will praise you with the lyre,
          O God, my God.

He stops to remember the lyre. The songs in the court of the king. Better days. Days long gone.

But he would sing again, one day. Maybe not today, but one day. And his voice would find the notes without a struggle. They would come easily.

He looks down over his men stretched out along the rocks, some still panting and bleeding. Loyal men. Good men. Some of them not even men yet, but fierce nonetheless. Time and again, they had stood firm against Philistines and Hebrews without falling back. They were true warriors. And to think Saul had once laughed at “that band of drunkards!”

David exhales slowly. He has not the strength to smile, but he can exhale at least.

          Why, my soul, are you downcast?
          Why so disturbed within me?
          Put your hope in God,
          for I will yet praise him,
          my Savior and my God.

His clicks “Publish” and closes the computer, not giving himself time to reconsider.

The Bethlehem Gazette would not like the upturned finish. They would call the post “trite.” They would say he was losing his edginess. But he did not care. Hope and sorrow… who ever said they could not live together for a time?

On Remembering Passion Week

cross_10


I need to cry my own full-throated “Hosanna’s,” free of illusions but awake to my naked needs.
I need to climb the hill, to look down over the city, and to weep for her lost innocence.
I need to feel desperation again; to feel it in the temple pilgrims who dared to hope He might be real, and He might be good.
I need to see Him heal the broken—on His own terms, and out of order.
I need to listen to His stories. Vibrant, full of mystery scandal, and hope.
I need to hear the clinking of coins, the crashing of tables, and the roaring of a Lion.
I need to follow the weary One, who ducks the crowds to rest with those who know Him most.
I need to weep with Mary, to anoint Him with my tears.
I need to smell the perfume and indignation, gratitude and greed, juxtaposed like clashes of ancient hoards.
I need to recline against His breast, like John.
I need to marvel at the Emperor of the Stars, scrubbing mud from traveled toes.
I need to suffer weariness, yet stay awake and pray with Him.
I need the crow of the rooster to siphon pride from my bones.
I need to cry with Him in His torture, even while they run.
I need to forgive, even while they shout, “Crucify Him.”
I need to know the weight of injustice on my chest, for “this man has done nothing wrong.”
I need to understand what blood and water means—that there exists a grief which kills faster than torture.
I need to mourn. Oh, but I need to mourn…
I need to light a candle for Him—an old, out of fashion candle fitting for the saints of old—to remember that my faith is not new, and its goal is not relevance.

And before night’s weeping turns to morning’s joy, I need bow my head and speak the five most insufficient words I know:
Thank you for saving me.

Why I’m Still a “Christian,” Not a “Follower of Christ”

Yes, I know they’re the same. To be a Christian is to follow Jesus. And I like the fact that “Follower of Christ” is more vivid and precise. It’s a great term. But I am not going to rush out and change my Twitter bio. “Christian” is good enough for me.

I understand why many do it. They want to say, “I don’t need chalky, legalistic Phariseeism. Just give me Jesus.” I have no problem with this.

But others do it for another reason: they want to distance themselves from Christians. I saw a Twitter update from popular pastor some months back. He was decrying the political actions of Christians he disagreed with. His embarrassment was obvious, and he used the incident to demonstrate why he no longer called himself a “Christian.”

Look, Christians of all stripes and affiliations have played the moron. Worse yet, some have been hateful and cruel. At such times, it is appropriate to say, “This is not me. This is not Christ.”

But is it right to then throw away the name based on distant association?

Ravi Zacharias said this: “To judge a worldview, philosophy or religion based on its abuse is flawed logic.” We know this is true. It is why our culture goes to battle against stereotypes of all kinds. We don’t judge the Muslim in the coffee shop for an act of terrorism abroad. We don’t pin the crimes of Mao Tse Tong on the college student who is enamored with atheism or Communism.

Neither do we demand that they change their names.

Do I think Christians are always right? Of course not..
Have Christians have done awful things in the past? Some have, yes.
Am I sometimes embarrassed by the statements and actions of men and women who call themselves Christians? Every time I flip past certain TV stations…

But despite the crusades, despite the fact that many self-proclaimed Christians were pro-slavery back in the day, and despite the fact that some have too much eyeliner and ridiculous big hair, I will continue to call myself a Christian.

If I stop, I distance myself further from the historical church. I say “you have all been wrong about everything.” I say “None of you got it, so I am starting over right now.” The church has grown and morphed and fought and split and worshipped and cherished. She has been ghastly wrong and gloriously right. She has given and earned black eyes, but she has also touched with healing hands.

Therefore, I will not throw the church under the bus. I will not weaken my link with St. Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, or the Apostle Paul in order to appease a cultural stereotype. I want to honor the memories of Wesley and Wilberforce, Lewis and Tolkien, of the saints thrown to lions, and of my own Grandfather, George Hague, who prayed with fire. I will even remember John Calvin.

Because all of our high-minded blog posts and reinventions would not exist without shoulders of saints on which to stand. We would not be tinkering with our own labels were it not for these men and women. These historical followers of Christ.

These Christians.

Confessing Cocaine and Twinkies

It was a Hall of Fame calibre excuse. One which hasn’t been seen since the Twinkie Defense. And it worked.

Here’s the story: A professional tennis player tested positive for cocaine. Big trouble for him. But his explanation was profound. He claimed the cocaine kissed off. Read more

The Greatest Trick the Devil Ever Pulled

Spiritual Warfare by Ron DiCianniIt’s been three weeks since Newtown, and I think we’ve pretty much talked about everything. Guns, mental health, medication, school security, and especially God. God-talk is always trending at times like this. People “turn to God,” and “lean on God,” and “find God” in the midst of suffering. Others ask “where was God?” or “why, God?” or “how could a good God do this?” In almost every case, the speaker rightly assumes that God is at least supposed to be the good guy. What I don’t understand is this: why is there so little talk of the bad guy?

The fictional villain Keyser Soze rightly said, “the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” It’s true. Read more

Parenting and the Problem of Proverbs

Sara and I are fortunate to have a community that seems to “get” the autism thing. That is to say, most people don’t assume we are bad parents when Jack goes limp on the sidewalk, or screeches for Puffins at Safeway. It probably helps that his words are so slurred and his stims so obvious. They can tell something is different. Not all parents are so lucky. Some get the “you-suck-as-a-parent” stink eye, even from family members. Read more

Good News: You’re Not Job!

First, know this: I am not making light of your experiences. You have lost friends and family members. You have experienced devastating relational fractures. You have suffered in body and spirit. We all have.

But you are not Job.

At first glance, I see why you think you might be him. Job was the most unfortunate of Old Testament figures. He is a man who lost everything and everyone he loved. He feels intense pain, and he knows he doesn’t deserve it. He is not afraid to ask why. Neither are you. His sorrows have multiplied onto more sorrows. You’ve felt that before. Maybe not now, but before. And you wonder why God is putting you through this.

But I tell you, you are not Job. And that is good news. Read more

Do Bad Worship Lyrics Keep Us Wretchy?

I recently read a beautiful post by Addie Zierman over at her blog “How To Talk Evangelical” about hyperbole in worship. In it, Addie talks about our tendency to go over the top in the songs we sing, as if we really have had nothing but joy, joy, joy, joy, down in our hearts all the time and every day, since we gave our lives to Jesus. As if the Christian life is all unicorns and grassy hills full of strawberries. Her main point: Let’s be real, friends. We need authenticity in our worship.

Addie is right about all of this, but I want to take one more step. Our lyric problems do not end when we embrace authenticity. In fact, if we stop there, we might end up in spiritual defeatism. It happens accidentally, but it happens often. Read more

The Diary of the Prodigal’s Father

 

Monday, May 4

We are still reeling, Grant and I. He hides his hurt by going out back to chop wood or shoot baskets. I stay on the porch staring at my cell phone, waiting for the special ring I programmed. It’s been over a month now since Miles said those things and ran away. I suspect Grant resents me for letting him leave. But keeping him here… what would that have done? Just kept his bones in our house even though his heart was far away.

I took a walk around the property this morning. It was warm and humid. Grant scoffed that his brother was probably “living it up” on the pier. I did not ask him his definition of “living it up,” but his accusing eyes confirmed my fears.

I can’t think about all that. Not yet. I just want my son back.

Thursday, May 7

Today I almost worked up the nerve to go in his bedroom bur the “Keep Out” signs on the door still hold some power over me. Maybe I’ll try again tomorrow.

So I did something else instead: pulled out a shoebox of some old Polaroids from when Miles was young. My favorite is this one where he’s about six and I am chasing him up the driveway. He is running home.

Saturday, May 9

It’s 5 am. An hour ago, I woke up from a nightmare. He was gone still, and now Grant was gone, too. Left a note saying the same thing his brother had shouted: that he wished I was dead, and was going to the pier. When I realized it was a dream, I muffled my crying somewhat, but Grant still knocked on the door to make sure I was all right. I told him everything was okay. I wanted to tell him everything. I hoped he would ask what happened. Instead he went back to bed. I think it scared him.

Now I’m sitting out on the porch under a comforter exhausted but my cell phone is fully charged, so I’ll stay awake. Sometimes it rings too quietly… Please call me, son.

Monday, May 11

Minor breakthrough, today. I made it into the bedroom. It was worse than I had imagined. I won’t say all that I found. That would help nobody, least of all Grant, who would resent his brother even more. I boxed up all of that junk and threw it in the dumpster.

Besides those things, the walls disturbed me. Of course, they were darkly decorated in that same “emo” style he dressed in–that much didn’t surprise me. But the walls themselves showed signs of abuse. A couple of holes, a few dents, and some sort of burn next to the bed.

After a lengthy hunt through the walk-in closet, I finally found the thing I was really looking for: Gary, the stuffed Giraffe I gave him for Christmas… how many years ago? 12 or 13? Anyway Gary and I sat down together on the bed and cried about how hard it is to be lost.

Tuesday, May 12

It’s noon, and apparently, I slept on the porch! Don’t remember how I got here. My phone was dead (that gave me an awful fright!), but I just checked the voicemail. He didn’t leave one. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t call, right?

Thursday, May 21

Great news! Or bad news… I haven’t decided yet. Miles is off the pier. One of his old girlfriends from school dropped by just now and told me so. She said he might have gotten kicked out. That’s the bad part. But at least he’s out, and that means (drum roll….) he might have no place to go! Which means he is closer than he’s ever been to coming home! I’m going to get his sheets washed in case he comes tonight.

Monday, May 25

I can’t sleep. It’s been four days and we haven’t heard anything about where he’s living. I hired three private investigators tonight to find him. Oh please, find him…

Sunday, June 28

A lot has happened in a month, and yet we’re no closer to bringing Miles home. Here is the long and short of it: We found out he was living on the southeastern edge of the city. It’s a rough neighborhood. Not in the same way as the pier is rough. Well, actually, it is rough like that, too, but it’s more than that. Far worse, actually.

My PI’s found him sorting through a landfill, picking out the plastic. Working for a sanitation company but not getting paid. I’m guessing he lost some bets with the owner. Anyway, they said he looked scared. “Very thin and very jumpy,” is what they told me. And he did not wish to see me. Warned me not to come, actually.

Grant and I were up half the night talking about what to do. We decided to send him a care package. We put some money in, along with some warm clothes and snacks and a note inviting him to come home. Grant got all their friends to sign it.

Unfortunately, the package was never delivered. He was already gone when it got there. So we’re back to square one. Nobody knows where he is, but he is alone. I see his face when my eyes close. Weak. Frightened. Unwashed. Ashamed.

My heart feels like a wash rag–sullied, pulled terribly tight, then twisted. Grief comes and leaves with no warning. My face will be dry, and suddenly the feeling hits my stomach and wrenches the tears out all at once. It only happens for a moment, but those moments happen often. Ten times in day, at least.

I’m so tired. Sometimes I wish I could just forget. But then I look at a picture of him as a boy. Or I look up at the treehouse we built. Or I hear the phone ring, or see that stupid giraffe… it all starts up again. My shoulders ache from his absence. I used to snatch him up and toss him up there, where he would sit and pull my hair for hours before I surrendered to him.

I cannot surrender now.

Monday, September 4

Grant pretends to give up hope. But I have written a song for when Miles comes home. I play it on the mandolin for my employees in the afternoon. It’s a happy song, but they cry, probably because they miss him, too, even though he was awful to them. I haven’t been very involved in business these months. Concentration is just too difficult.

That’s why I have extra time to write songs.

Friday, October 11

The thunder storm has me very nervous. What if he’s trying to come home? How will he make it? I am sending out three cars to look for him. There are fresh towels and hot chocolate in each one. Fifteen marshmallows in every cup, of course…

Saturday, January 25

The snow stopped enough for me to sleep on the porch again, although my staff insisted on buying me a ridiculously expensive sleeping bag that will supposedly keep me warm on the South Pole. And that’s where I am right now. The porch, not the South Pole. The great thing about snow is that it reflects so much light even at two a.m. I can see clear down the road, almost to town. It’s beautiful. I have my mandolin, but my fingers are a tad too stiff to play. So I’m just going to sing without it tonight. Grant didn’t want to join me (said I was insane), but at least I have Gary. He never gets cold.

Tuesday, April 5

Grant broke down briefly today. “Why didn’t you just make him stay home in the first place,” he screamed. Then he stormed out and slammed the door behind him. I wish he understood. You can NEVER make someone stay home.

Tuesday, May 4

It’s been a year since my first entry. Very soon, my son will change his mind and call me. I’m sure of it. My staff agrees with me.

Wednesday, August 11

It’s a perfect sunny day. I mean perfect. I hope Miles comes back today, because it’s a perfect day for a party. We had a pool put in out back last summer in anticipation of that. But I think today’s the ticket. (Grant is rolling his eyes, telling me to stop watching the road.)

Okay, so if he comes, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to call all of his friends and tell them to come over at 6 pm. I’m going to order about a hundred pizzas, and hire whatever band happens to be in the city.

(A jogger just went by. Thought it might be him. It wasn’t.)

Anyway, the party. When Miles walks up the steps, I’m not going to wait for an apology. People keep asking if I would. Have they ever had children before?! I’m going to tackle him. Hard. I’m going to tell him I love him. And then I’m going to toss him up and throw him on my shoulders. Okay, maybe not that, but you get the idea.

(Another jogger, it looks like. Scratch that. Someone taking a walk. Kind of reminds me of him, but he’s much to thin and slow. And yet… I can’t see his face. His hands are in the way… He just fell do–

It’s Still Wed, Aug 11th. barely…

Dad,

When you jumped off the porch to meet me, this book fell off your lap into the rose bushes. I forgot about it until tonight after you fell asleep on the couch. You were drooling on me, and i was a bit grossed out, so i thought I’d get up to find out where it landed. As you can see, it was open and upside down… pretty dirty.

So anyways, i read it. Sorry, I guess I should have asked first??? But I’d like to finish it for you. Hope that’s ok.

First of all dad, please believe me: I was crying before you tackled me. I’ve had cracked ribs before, Dad (remember my freshman year on the football team?), and I didn’t cry then either. The truth is I had my speech all prepared, but the minute I saw you, I just lost it. fell down. And then… BOOM!

Thank you Dad. For everything. For the welcome. The party. Thanks for smoothing things over with Grant. Thanks even for the song! (still, did you have to play it in front of the guys? really?!)

You’ll be happy to know i’m trying to take your advice. It’s been three hours since I last reamed myself out, “what were you thinking, you moron?” It’s going to take some time, I think, so please be… HA! I was going to write “please be patient,” but really. After reading this, I know I never have to worry about that! Never, ever, ever.

I love you, pop. I’ll be on the porch when you wake up.

-Miles