all this tomfoolery

“Gardiner and Theobald.”
“Yes, hello, may I speak to Mary Smith please?”

“Sure! May I tell her who is calling?”
“Yes, it’s John Doe. How are you doing today?”

“Oh, I’m doing fine. How are you? Let me see if I can reach her for you.”
“That would be so great. Thank you so much.”

“John, I’m not able to reach her at her desk, would you like her voicemail?”
“You know what? I’ll just send her an email. I guess I really just miss talkin’ to people, you know? Thank you so much. Have a great day!”

The conversation happened at 10:09 am and I thought about it until I left the office. I don’t know who John Doe is (and that’s obviously not his name) and I don’t know why he needed to talk to Mary Smith (also not her name) at my office and I definitely don’t know why he told me (the unnamed receptionist screening calls all day like a boss) about his desire for human connection.

I tried to answer calls a little differently the rest of the day, more like a human and less like a robot. Sure, I already have my favorites. There’s the guy who calls from NBC who has the kindest voice and the absolute best lilt to his phone pleasantries. Then there’s the guy on the 15th floor with the exaggerated English accent that rolls out into a musical melody. But, most of the calls I answer during the day make both of us sound like robots. We go through the call/response like office liturgy, an ode to the places we work in order to spend time in the places we don’t.

But, it’s kind of nice to be a robot. I mean, I can triple multi-task now – answer phones, redirect calls, create fedex shipments, all while carrying on a halting conversation with my coworker about the benefits of oregano oil. I’m not sure if I can do any of those multi-tasks super well if I do them all at once, but that’s where the robot benefits come in: things get done.

Anyway, John Doe’s phone call this morning really rattled me up. Just yesterday, I was talking to my coworker (in one of those halting conversation beneath the mounds of multi-tasks) about how incredible it is to have language – letters and words and symbols that smash together into phrases and sentences that explain the reality we walk inside everyday.

What is more incredible to me, today at least, is that we have an emotional attachment to that language. We want to speak and be understood, to listen and to comprehend. And all this tomfoolery with email and text messages and electronic robottery makes us feel like we’re missing something pretty elemental. Sure, we might lose some efficiency, but I’m not sure what we gain is “worth it” in the long run.

Maybe it is and maybe this is just another rant against technology. But I get you, John Doe. I like to hide behind typed words for efficiency’s sake and for anonymity and for the protection of it, but sometimes I just really miss talking to people.

I’m going to try to do that more, so thanks for the inspiration, caller-I-will-never-meet. I am literally off to (my friend’s) Grandmother’s house in the country tonight, where the old-fashioned kind of communication is going to make a lot of sense. Maybe I’ll pick up a few pointers the city has forgotten.

if you’re stuck in a well

Last week, the pastor preached on Ephesians 2 because we’re about to start a series in Matthew. The passage is one I know well and one my heart returns to often because it’s covered in grace.

For by grace I have been saved… grace is both the route of my salvation and the vehicle. And I’m overwhelmed by the ride. So, when we turned to Ephesians for the Scripture reading, my heart knew the way around the words.

But something about the way he introduced the sermon felt different and along the way he used an unfamiliar analogy that I’m still thinking about six days later. He said, “When you are stuck in the bottom of a well, you can have all the positive thinking in the world but you will still be stuck in the bottom of a well. You can say all the right things and even recite words of Scripture over yourself if you think that will help, but the words have no power if only you speak them.”

Here’s the nitty-gritty: If I’m stuck in the bottom of a well, my words are powerless to get me out. I can speak true words, false words, fake words, or frail words. It doesn’t matter what kinds of words I throw at my prison, they will all bounce off like the dark death of a deep well.

Words are powerful.

I believe we all have a conversation happening inside us – something the soul speaks to the heart and vice versa. There is a conversation happening and sometimes it is true and encouraging and edifying and sometimes it is the opposite. Words are powerful.

But words are only powerful to save when spoken by a certain One voice. I can repeat the words, but they are only powerful because God first spoke them over me. Scripture is not powerful because I memorize it or speak it aloud or love it or lean into it.

Scripture is powerful because God is faithful and the promises it spells out are blood bought.

God spoke over me when I was lost in a hopelessly deep, dark well. He spoke true words about breathing life into dead bones and then I came alive. And He speaks true words into my lungs every day to keep my dead bones breathing. No one else has that power.

No amount of counseling or advising or encouraging or tolerating can have the kind of power that His words possess. I can tell a friend a thousand times that she is freed from fear, but my words have no power. I can tell a brother he is freed from anxiety, but my words will always fall short.

As we read through Ephesians 2 last week, I thought about God authoring those words to His children who sat helplessly in the deep wells they’d dug for themselves. I thought about hearing those words of grace spoken over me by the only One whose words could change my reality – the only One whose words have the power to lift my feet to freedom.

Amazing grace.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10, ESV)

an empty seat where I should sit

He said it so casually I didn’t realize why I was smiling.

“….don’t mean to sound curmudgeonly…”

I think my brain giggled with delight a bit and when I went back to retrieve a reason, there sat “curmudgeonly.” It was more than just that word, but it could have been just that word as well that tickled my imagination like the first sprinkles of a storm. The conversation rolled on and the excitement came like waves on waves.

What is this? This thing that doesn’t make sense and doesn’t make money and doesn’t return anything but bubbling delight that wells up from my innermost soul? And how can I get more of it?

C.S. Lewis spoke of the unique chemistry of friendship that exceeds our efforts to manipulate a similar result.

“In friendship…we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another…the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting–any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends, “Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.” The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.” ― C.S. LewisThe Four Loves

This man on the phone is still a stranger, but I can confidently say his words were no accident – even if just to wake up a part of my imagination that should not have been sleeping. As we talked about writing and creativity and living slowly to savor the beauty, it was like seeds scattering on freshly wintered Spring soil.

This one silly, long-syllabled word was that dusty ray of light peeking through a crack in the door to salute the sun outside. After I hung up, I stopped pacing the floor to look at my scribbled notes. What a beautiful and funny thing, language. It is reminding me there is an empty seat where I should sit among those who act as instruments through which God reveals His beauty.

This. I need to do more of this and talk with people who bring out the beauty of God’s fingerprints in me while I watch God reveal His fingerprints on them. 

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

Fanfaronades and Delighting in Others’ Delight

Fanfaronade
Swaggering; empty boasting; blustering manner or behavior; ostentatious display.

This word, fanfaronade, popped out in the list of Unusual Words Rendered in Bold Graphics. I love words, or don’t you know that already? Well, I do. I love words because words make language. Language is that stuff that floats between people and between people and God. Language describes things, explains things, and… puts clothes on the skeletons of emotions, ideas, and surprises.

Fanfaronade is just funny to say. The syllables fold out like the person who wears them. You know the type, right? She’s that person everyone is regularly embarrassed to be around. She’s known for “making a scene” at the airport check-in counter and also when she’s ordering coffee at Starbucks. Her recent accomplishments are never secrets and her failures are unfortunate misunderstandings of her gifts. She’s never a supporting actress, even if she has to cause an emergency backstage to be front and center.

Though she would protest her theatrics described as such, fanfaronades are exactly what they are. The word doesn’t even have the dignity of distinguished pronunciation.

fan-fer-uh-neyd

It sounds like something an Uncle Bob might say about his out-of-control, pre-teen daughter Samantha who insists people call her Savannah the Singing Star. “Somebody’s gotta tell her we’ve had ’bout enough ‘o them fanfaronades ‘o hers,” he’d say. Can’t you just hear him?

I love the graphic from Project Twins because this is the noise following people who are known for fanfaronades – bleating horn blasts that crowd out all other sounds in the room.

I’m thinking about fanfaronades as I spend time with family in one of my favorite places – where beaches rival any in the world and half the blueberries never make it past the pickers. This little one, Natalie, is my almost constant companion for our West Michigan family vacation.

I chase her around and then she chases me. And I see how my brother and sister-in-law spot her fanfaronades and find many teachable moments. She announces her time-outs with resignation, but she always comes back calmly accepting her supporting role (at least for now). She doesn’t exactly know she’s fanfaronading, which is why she’s not… yet.

But we should know better.

Why can kids call spades spades without hesitation and we struggle to admit our charades?

I love to be around Natalie because something wild in me wants it to be all about her – I want to do things that spark wonder in her eyes. I want to give in when she says, “again” again and again and again. I want to hear her giggle. I want to witness her taste blueberries off the branch and build sand castles on the beach. I want to watch her delight in life.

I know there’s such a thing as smothering little ones with too much. But, I realized something happens when I’m around her. I want to do less fanfaronading because it’s not about me anymore.

I’ve wandered around with words to land at these conclusions:
1) Jesus – the One most qualified to speak all and only about Himself – spent his whole life pointing to the Father. He didn’t consider equality with God something to be grasped.
2) I’ve got to figure out how to take my affections for Natalie – the way I delight in her delight – and live that way with everyone. I want to delight to watch others delight.

Is this some of God’s heart for His creation? Does he delight in us as He watches us delight in Him, in life, in others?

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

experience: the great necessitator

A brilliant sunset with purple and gold and rusty hues.
A child swinging with legs pumping and face aglow.
An orchestra woven into the sidewalk and a choir decorating the ordinary day with an overwhelming melody.

Experience is the great necessitator and what it requires is words. I know the whole premise of an amazing experience is that words are insufficient – that descriptions are incapable of the glory of whatever occurred.

But words are exactly what experiences require… because without them we will never understand why a crowd of strangers, wrapped up in their own little worlds, would be drawn together by musical notes to participate in a glorious performance that causes children to wave their arms and grown people to stand with gaping mouths.

Why can music do this? How does man’s creativity wield such beautiful and magnetic power?

Where does this beauty come from and does it have a name?

Today, people all over these great United States are celebrating a day of independence with parades and flags and all sorts of star spangled accessories. But if experiences are simply ambiguous reasons to throw celebrations, we’ve denied experience what it really needs: words.

Explicit, meaningful, deep words that make sense of the beautiful and point to its origin.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

why words will never go out of style

In the beginning, God spoke; at Mount Sinai, God wrote.

God’s relationship with humanity has always been understood through words. God very intentionally used language to communicate who He was, what He required, and the consequences of disobedience.

He did not merely paint a striking sunset followed by an unsettling thunderstorm.
He spoke.

Yes, His words carried the weight of canyons and oceans and galaxies far, far away. What came out of his mouth was not paintings, but real, vivid, breathtaking landscapes. God’s words wove intricate molecules together and held them there.

And then God reached his finger down and wrote a book, etched on two tablets. He did not draw a picture or send an instagram photo to the people of Israel who had just been rescued out of slavery. He wrote words.

What gives?

Words, it seems, are going out of style.
My generation is being romanced into image-only relationships where words are subliminal (if a picture is worth a thousand, why write at all?).

It is not that images or photographs or illustrations or cartoons are poor ways to reflect our Creator. Au contraire! This is exactly how we reflect God, because he’s given us the desire and ability to create in a way that points to His perfect Creative hand.

But God did not leave us to figure out His plan for redemption by viewing only his perfect and miraculous creation. He spoke to the people. He wrote out the law.

The redemption story jumping out from Genesis to Revelation is not a mystery because God used language to explicitly communicate His plan for salvation. We are not left standing in front of an abstract piece to interpret its meaning. He gave us Creation – beauty beyond belief – and then He spoke to us and explained the significance of our existence, the despairing end of our freely chosen separation from Him, and the hope of restored relationship in Christ.

He wrote it out.


And that is why words will never go out of style.
God speaks with words.

Are we listening?

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

These thoughts come from my reflections on the book Lit! by Tony Reinke. Check it out for yourself if you want to understand why reading is so important.

lost in translation

"Luke", mixed media on canvas (Makoto Fujimura)

As I sat listening to Nancy Pearcey, my pen wavered, scribbled, wavered, and surrendered. Her masterful articulation put my pen strokes to shame. I won’t try to summarize or capture her description of Francis Schaeffer‘s two story dichotomy in our society today. For that, I will wait to dive into the pages of Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning.

For now, I want to mention one thought: lost in translation.

When Pearcey was asked, “How can we bring this message to our culture today – what do we do practically to get this message out?” at the end of her seminar, she lamented a dreadful linguistic loss. She sighed, “Well, we talk about it.”

Sadly, it’s hard to find words and harder to find conversants. As we rush into “progress” and grow out of our too-small, sacred shoes, the Gospel gets lost in translation. As Makoto Fujimura, prominent NYC artist, describes it,

“We, today, have a language to celebrate waywardness, but we do not have a cultural language to bring people back home.”

Tonight, I watched the film 50/50 with some friends. I was struck by all the ways language broke down around the main character diagnosed with cancer.
His friend fails to communicate love as he follows the haphazard advice of a book.
His girlfriend can’t find words to describe her guilt.
His therapist can only speak textbook and theory.
His father speaks the language of forget and his mother, worry.
And he, the main character, tries hard to speak no language at all.

Today, we have all sorts of language to walk people out to the ledge, but (in all our progress) we struggle to give a living translation of the Gospel in a way that brings people to the only safe Refuge.

God designed us for relationship – a right relationship with Him and Creation. So far, we’ve used great word wizardry to narrate – even glorify – the ways these relationships are wrong. We flood the cinemas with the drama and doom of this language. We overwhelm bookshelves with this unsettling lexicon.

So where is the Gospel in the language of this culture?

let LOVE fly like cRaZy