Friends are friends forever.

I’ve been thinking a lot about friends recently.  Not the ones on Facebook.  Those are not friends.  I suppose they could be, but let’s be honest- the concept of “friend” has taken a pretty strong turn in recent years.  I might argue that concept has taken an absolute beating.  I am talking about the real kind of friend.  I’m lucky to have a couple of those, and I think for no other reason than conversations and thoughts I have had in the past few weeks have led me to realize the depth of these relationships and ultimately the absolute need for them.  To let these people know how much I appreciate them and to thank them for the years of “service” if you will I am going to write a quick note to them and about them and hopefully let you all in on a little secret- you need a friend.  Maybe in the process you fine people will be encouraged to reach out to an old friend or find a new one- someone to share life and adventures with.  So, here’s friend 1 (these are in no particular order.)

It was one of those things.  I got talked into some retreat-y thing towards the end of my high school life and I wasn’t terribly excited about it- I didn’t know a ton of people going but being the ridiculously extroverted weirdo that I am, I probably saw that as a challenge.  Plus, I heard there was a skit competition.  I cant remember much of the weekend, but I remember a moment where I met a guy.  I rode the school bus to this event and it was pretty horrible.  It was a far ride and, well, school bus.  Upon unloading from the bus, I remember standing there and wondering what I had gotten myself into when in the distance I saw some headlights coming towards the bus at probably an unsafe speed.  The lights zoomed into a parking spot and screeched to a halt and behold- an older but still very sexy, black, tinted out Audi.  It was sharp-like the Knight Rider of Germany.  Whoever this was driving was on a mission and clearly knew how to make an entrance.  Out popped a skinny white dude with cool hair and enough moxy for anyone to know, this guy- he was headed places.  Smooth, confident, and quickly capturing the attention of any lady within a 3 mile radius, up strutted Greg.  Like I said, I don’t remember our interactions that weekend and I don’t even remember the skit competition, but Greg and I connected.  I rode back home in the German Knight Rider with Greg and we made it home in record time, because, this kid could drive.  He was like a wheelman. When we arrived back in our area, Greg wanted to do something fun.  I didn’t know what that meant, but he had an idea.  We drove to a local shopping center and parked outside a Petco.  I wasn’t sure what type of fun one could have in a Petco parking lot, but- Greg somehow did.  He opened his moonroof.  He then (as if this was planned) reached into his backseat and procured a megaphone.

Yes.

A megaphone.

Greg came prepared. We sat for 20 or so minutes advertising made up deals on pooper scoopers to passing customers while using mostly terrible accents.  It was like one of those hidden camera shows minus the hidden cameras and probably lacking in comedy.  We had fun.  Greg and I continued to develop our friendship- we got together and “jammed” which consisted of trying to play one Weezer song and then sitting and talking for a long time about all manner of things-God, life, music, etc- followed by writing a song about poop, complete with harmonies and only using the lyric “poop.” (It even had this sick acoustic metal kind of breakdown chorus where we sang “POOP-POOP-POOP-POOP” in a low, gutteral tone. Watch out Taylor Swift.We comin.) I think we might have even performed “Poop” at an open mic.

Our friendship grew, but like the first time Greg zoomed up- he was on the move.  He was headed places.  Always out in front, ahead of the curve, on to the next thing, the next adventure.  I remember at one point Greg was living in some slum-like house in Oakland (the section of Pittsburgh where the University of Pittsburgh is) and I went to hang out with him to find him living/working in a dark basement.  He was excitedly showing me some new technology he was working on programming on his computer called “flash” and he was talking about how it was going to change all sorts of stuff on the internet and I was like, “Um, ok. Cool man. Can we go eat?”

Greg left Pittsburgh soon.  Then came back, then left, then….like I said, Greg was on the move. His creative nature and need for something new drove him, adventure called him. In this adventuring he met a young lady who turned out to be as adventurous and creative and amazing as he was but who also provided that balance, that steady presence that adventurers need.  Jannelle and Greg got married.  I remember when he called me (I cant remember where they were living at this point, because, adventure!) and told me they were expecting their first child.  I thought, “well, that’ll slow them down!” It didnt. They continued adventuring, but now they were creating.  Jannelle is the most unbelievable photographer I’ve ever seen. She doesn’t take pictures, she tells stories.  It’s an art that very few, in an age of pocket cameras, know, honor and practice. (Check it.) Greg continued adventuring, working for companies, creating things- content, brand strategies and the like, essentially coming up with new ideas.  Greg has launched ideas and businesses that have not worked.  “Geez Jonathan, why would you mention that?” Because. I am honored to know someone with the balls to “fail.”  No one sets out to fail, but most are even unwilling for that to be an option.”Safety” is tantamount.  People who are willing to fail and carry on, those people change the world.  “Failures” are only that if you call it that. A better word is “lesson.” People who change the world understand lessons and therefore don’t ever actually fail, they simply carry on.

Greg, Jannelle and their two beautiful children live in Denver, Colorado now.  Greg started a company creating web content and it’s amazing.  (Check it. Then, hire him.)  He still has so many dreams and ideas it can be overwhelming to talk to him.  But, quickly, that overwhelming gets pushed out of the way by the reality of being inspired.  I was recently in Denver and we got to hang out.  I’ve been lucky to be able to catch up with him from time to time over the years.  We, as usual,  did dumb things- like try on cowboy hats in a questionable souvenir shop.

We drank margaritas and ate tacos, from the street (Greg assured me “street tacos” did not contain cigarette butts and pigeon feathers.  They didn’t.  They were actually the best tacos I’ve ever had.)  We drove around and talked as if there weren’t a couple thousand miles and a bunch of time between our last in person conversation and this one. He told me what he was dreaming, how he felt about stuff and asked for my thoughts.  We listened to each other, laughed and it was- it was what friendship should be. Real. Honest. Vulnerable.  He told me I said something to him the last time he left Pittsburgh, when many were questioning if he was running away.  Apparently, I said, “Greg- you’re going to be you wherever you are.” He has. He wasn’t running away.  He was running ahead. It’s what visionaries and dreamers do.

Being one who blazes trails, who runs ahead of the pack and senses the future can be an awfully lonely thing. It can be dark.  Scary.  But, people like Greg and Jannelle- they’re turning the lights on for the rest of us.  Sending us a message from the a future world, “THERE’S GOOD STUFF HERE! COME ON!” I love you, man.  Thank you for showing me how to run and not being afraid of the doubters, even in the midst of doubt. Please don’t stop dreaming, chasing, and moving ahead of the pack. You and Jannelle are creating the future. You are raising children (really well!) who are going to launch off of your giant shoulders and extend the trails you’ve been hacking away at clearing.  People will look back and know they are where they are because the Althoffs went before them.  Thank you for being my friend and for everyday striving to be the person you were created to be.

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On the storefront below the crash test dummies captured mid embrace reads the phrase, “Love is the Drug.”   Seems legit.

 

 

 

 

 

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Of Life, Rock ‘n Roll, Stories, and How the World Gets Better.

Stories.  They have been the thing that have carried the world from generation to generation.  Before the dawn of the internet, books carried history.  Before books, people carried their history to the next generation verbally, or by scrawling important things on a wall.  That really is the entire history of “stories” in a nutshell.  They tell something. Typically, something that needs to be told.

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I love a good story.  My friend Matt recently tried to get me caught up on some cinematic things that he felt I really needed to see.  He gave me “Inception” and “Interstellar” and told me I was required to watch them.  He seemed quite serious, so I did.  When he asked me what I thought about Interstellar my report was mixed- “I didnt know about the story- I mean, I guess I gravitated to the element of the father saving his child, the sacrifice, etc….” Matt was not pleased with my review.  He was shocked I didn’t grasp the depth of the filmography, the twists, the mind blowing space time continuum element, Mcconaughey, which I said, “I guess outer space was cool…” For Matt, the story was in the telling and what went with it.  For me the story was in the deeper message and I am fairly certain he would pull a different deeper message from the film.  That’s the other cool thing about “story”- it can mean different things to different people.

Stories matter and just as much as the story the method of delivery of said story matters, if not more that the story itself.  If a story is amazing but is never heard by anyone, is it still a good story? (The old tree falling in the woods thing.)

I love a good story.  Whether it’s the story of a garbage picking robot who saves all the people (WALL-E, one of my faves…) or a story that a neighbor relays to you about life in a different era, the method of delivery is as important as the story. Which brings me to the power of music.

I like music as much as I like stories.  I was raised in a house filled with jazz and lots of other stuff.  Some of my earliest memories involve sitting on the steps down to our basement as a tot (age of 3-4 years old?) listening and watching my parents wedding band practice.  They dropped all the hits- James Ingram (Ya Mo Be There!!!), Miami Sound Machine, Stevie Wonder- you know the stuff.  And my dad sang the really high parts like a boss (which makes me feel a lot better about my ‘tenor and up’ comfy singing range.)  That story is deep in the “important memory” parts of my life. It’s right up there with meeting my wife, getting married, losing, winning, feeling lost, feeling found- all amazing stories in this epic journey called ‘life.’  They all have formed me but the musical ones really speak to me.

Regardless of my very young introduction to what some have termed “yacht rock” I’ve found myself still drawn to music, and more specifically to rock ‘n roll.  My favorite band is Mutemath.  I have seen them a number of times and they are, without a doubt, the best live performing band I’ve witnessed.  Sorry U2- you’ve got all the money and tricks and toys and really good music- but the MM boys bring the swagger. (Not that you dont, Reverend Bono. And Adam.)  MM’s rhythm section of Darren King and Roy Mitchell-Cardenas is unmatched and I really appreciate that as a hack bassist myself. (I love you, Roy.) They carry the band. Vocals are bananas and  the guitar work fills in all the cracks.  It’s just musical perfection, in my humble opinion. As a bonus, they give 117% everytime they take a stage.  (Google their live pics, or watch a live video.  Chaos ensues.)

All of their albums have been complete, not just built around the hopeful success of one or two singles.  In November 2015 they released their most recent album, “Vitals.” I was honestly taken aback by it.  It didn’t have the feel of the others- in fact, it was quite ‘electronic’ in nature, with a lot of synths filling the spaces where I would normally be salivating over Roy’s sick lines (I love you, Roy.  If I didn’t mention that…) I purchased it because I am a supporter of them, but- wasn’t sold on the album.  I have a feeling they may have heard this from a number of people- it was outside of their mold, outside of what was expected. Dont get me wrong- it’s a cool album, and the band has talked about how they always wanted to make something like this. It just wasn’t on my “Mutemath greatest hits” list. I wasn’t grasping the story, or maybe the story it was telling wasn’t resonating with me.

Then, this video came out.  I honestly totally missed this when it was released, but saw it yesterday and was so…moved. Because, STORY.

Enter Lala.

If you didnt need tissues, you might not be a real human.

In the midst of the stuff I didn’t think I liked, or wasn’t speaking to me, I became moved by more than the music.  It’s the story. Love, commitment, joy, beauty.  That’s the story.  Then the music magnifies it- like midday sun through a piece of glass.

But, isn’t this the thing with music? With art as a whole? It’s ability to carry the story.  The power that it holds.  I would never have known about Lala without Mutemath. Heck, there’s another video where one of the guys who helped make the video, who was from Lala’s town/area, said HE didn’t even know about Lala. How would I ever have known? This is just one tiny example of the power of art + story.  And there rests the HUGE opportunity.

We live in a completely connected world.  We are quick to discount the ability to find an answer to anything in less than a second.  (Thanks, Mr. Google/Al Gore.) I myself sometimes find myself at odds with our “over connection”-maybe more so the fact that we tend to miss real connection (have you seen WALL-E?? We’re headed there, ‘Merica!!)  But, this connection ability also provides a real opportunity. Not just to meet people you thought you would never meet, but to tell stories, to tell them better, to tell them with lots of senses attached.  The ability to speak of good things is definitely there, and as an optimist and one who believes in the future- this is quite the gift!  It seems art has always had this power- that creative element has always given poets and prophets a strong medium, but this world and connection has put us at a tipping point.  Will we use our intrinsic abilities to create for good, or not?  Because, we all have stories.  Much like my conversation with Matt about Interstellar- we took away totally different things.  That one story spoke very differently to each of us.  Does that validate one of our interpretations or feelings more than the other? No.  We’re created differently, he and I, and in that lies the beauty and ultimately power of the art + story.

It is definitely within each of us to do.  What stories will we tell? How will we hear others stories?

Here’s to stories, rock ‘n roll, Mutemath, Lala and the power of art- it can change everything.

Dear christians- dont be a hallo-weiner.

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There is so much hubbub surrounding Halloween and being a christian and justifying taking part in what is probably the most costumed and sugar filled occasion of the year. I grew up being allowed to trick or treat. My brother and I were Hans and Franz in the heat of the “glory years” of Saturday Night Live. We came to pump (clap!) you up.  I remember one halloween gathering at a local church where a kid had to open both doors to get his costume in the hall.  He made a freaking tank out of cardboard, complete with turret with a hatch that opened. I think we were ghostbusters that year, but you can’t compete with that.  Being dressed as a panzer is superior to anything else. (You also can’t go up onto someone’s porch to get your pillowcase filled up. These are the risks you take in being awesome.)  Two of my other friends were the “Moon man” from the old McDonald’s ad campaign (which, was kind of creepy.) We had fun.  We got candy.  Strangely today, to my knowledge, none of us worship satan or used frolicking about the neighborhood or that mini snickers as a “gateway candy” to practices in the occult.
In a world where the church has lost ground (a lot of ground) in their place in society, we need to live better. In living better, we need to be better representatives in culture, a culture which is profoundly post-christian. (Look it up, it’s what we are.  It’s not a bad thing. I’ll save that spew of words for another day.) Our culture is spending 6.9 billion (with a B) dollars on halloween this year.  Also according to CNN, 41.2 million children aged 5-14 will potentially be out looking for candy.  Your candy.  From your porch.  At your house.
I know christians who will be locking the door, turning off the lights and hiding somewhere.  I know others who will be retreating to churches to pray or ask God to come and be present in their communities.  We used to have the WWJD bracelets back in the day.  It got pretty out of hand, but I think the basis of it was good- What would Jesus do? I think there’s a second question to be asked that could also guide our thoughts and actions in how we engage culture WWJB- Where would Jesus Be? I don’t think he would be retreated to a church prayer meeting or hiding under a bed with the lights out waiting for the doorbell to stop ringing.  I think he would be sitting on his porch, or the porch of one of his friends, handing out the best candy available.  Not those popcorn balls, either.  Good candy. My cousins had a neighbor who was a bit well-to-do who handed out KING Hershey bars.  The big ones.  Everyone knew.  When we were at their house, we’d go there.  We knew it was a good score.  I think Jesus would be that guy, giving out the best.  (As an aside, knowing what we know about the world, I also feel like the best might be well made.  This could ruin your candy shopping as a whole, and it should.) Yes, I think Jesus would be handing out the best candy, giving out high fives and “WHOA LOOK AT YOU!”‘s to all the little astronauts and Elsas and Avengers.  Why? Because, it’s not about one day a year.  It’s about being present.  Jesus was present wherever he was.  Sure, he took times to go and pray or be with his inner circle of friends but, he was present with the people around him.  He was teaching us a better way and now, as our culture has gone away from a baseline understanding and acceptance of christianity, we have to go back and study what he did, how he lived and be as much of Jesus in our communities as we can.
Am I saying dress up as witches and warlocks and put creepy things in your yard? No. Am I saying you should attend your friend’s fun-filled séance? No.  (Though, I can promise you, taking holy spirit to that environment would probably cause some interesting things to happen.)  But don’t turn the porch light off, go to church, and then beg God to show up in your community and change things.  You just passed up an amazing opportunity to put Jesus on display. You are the one whom he has sent to change things, to be a light, and you can’t do that when you’re hiding when everyone is actually out looking.

P.S.- If I find out you handed out tracts, I might egg your house.  It’s in the bible.

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It’s not actually about Franklin Graham. It’s about me. 

In the past few years, I have been trying to grow in how I not only respond to things, but also how I actually process things. Historically, I simply wouldn’t do that. I’d just let rip whatever commentary came to mind knowing that I could spin it to be funny regardless of how not cool it might have been. Sarcasm and bluntness were my lady, and I thought they were a-ok.  A few years back someone I deeply respect, a person I count as a spiritual parent, told me that they had defriended me on Facebook. I asked, “Oh. Why?” “Well,” she said, “you’re a jerk.”

I was surprised by the bluntness of her feedback but not at all really taken aback by the statement itself. I could easily see where she would get that.  In the following weeks and months I began to seek better ways to speak and act.  Jesus was frank.  He was honest. Sometimes, he was a bit of a riddler, but would often explain his riddles and parables to those closest to him. Even in that, he was honest. You don’t see many of the people Jesus was dealing with commenting, “oh. He was a jerk.” Even the Pharisees and religious leaders (the ones he really gave it to more than anyone) scripture says they often left kind of tongue tied, or perplexed. They came to him with malice in their hearts and the intent to trap him- and were left speechless by his responses. There was something about speaking the truth IN LOVE that he was a master of.  I wanted to do that, too.  I didn’t want to be known as a jerk, because- I knew jerks, worked with jerks, was around jerks, and I didnt want to BE a jerk.

In recent years, I have definitely been working on me and by the grace and spirit of God, I can say, I’m proud of some of the growth I’ve made.  I don’t get wound up over politics anymore. It’s just not worth it! I look back at the arguments I used to have and the shade I would toss people “discussing” my political beliefs and honestly, I am ashamed at times. But this is life- we live, we learn, we grow. There is however one thing, or actually person, who has still stuck in my craw- Franklin Graham. He sends me straight to defcon 5, fully armed and ready to launch. Recently, I posted on Facebook something a little bit questioning of his motives as to why he would say something he said- the discussion which followed was a good one, for the most part. But, before we get to that, let me give you some background.

I work for WorldVision. I love the organization. I truly do. I believe so strongly in what we do. Our leadership is tip top. Our president is an amazing human. The work that is accomplished is literally kingdom stuff. A few years ago, they made a decision as an organization that was in the news for about 24 hours. It was a decision that the leadership felt was in the best interest of the org. There was quite the hubbub. Many Christian leaders came out opposed to wv’s decision and it created quite a stir. Mr Graham was one of those people. He said “world vision is not a Christian organization.” Not Christian? An organization is a thing made up of people. By stating it isn’t Christian, you are saying the people who are the organization are not Christian. That’s quite a judgement.

The situation cleared up publicly within a few days and life went on. So did the “statements” by Mr. Graham, about any number of things. It always seemed so downright vicious. So hard hearted. So very un-Christlike. I naturally felt like, “hey, this guy is bringing it, he’s never going to see what I say, I would just like to point out this hypocrisy.” Or, “he’s attacking people again, people I know and love that I think Jesus would defend, so here I am!” And so I would make a counter statement. With great…snark.

Two weeks ago I began two things simultaneously, just by happenstance. I began reading a new book by Pastor/Author Hugh Halter called, “Brimstone.” I also began listening to a podcast by Rob Bell about the flow of forgiveness. (It was a series of 5 podcasts that popped up Monday through Friday, a new episode each day.) Amidst these two things, God began to speak to me. About me. About my heart. About my future and the things that are coming down the track for me that He has prepared. These ideas will be vital to my future and I was pumped! And then, he started to speak about Franklin. “Whoa. Wait a second, God. This is kind of off limits. I don’t have a problem with him. It’s the stuff he says!” I began to understand that I was holding unforgiveness in my heart and judgement against a brother. (This was brought up on the Facebook rant fest by my friend, Summer. Thank you for your balanced words, friend.) The other point that hit me like a hammer actually came from my mom when she said, “You spend a lot of time talking/thinking about Franklin Graham.” What was being gained by me in thinking this way? Really? FG wasn’t going to read my Facebook post, and even if he did- is it really going to change him? No. So, why was I posting it? Why was I able to move beyond so much political nonsense and other subjects that in the grand scheme of things just don’t matter and instead focus on existing and being present in the name of the kingdom of heaven and peacemaking, but not this thing? Not this subject?
I realized I liked my hurt. It empowered me. It gave me a leg to stand on in judgement. And honestly, anytime we judge, we’re just trying to one up ourselves. We judge because of our brokenness. “I’m awful, but THIS GUY….”and then we carry that crud around as a badge of honor when it’s actually a weight slowly dragging us to the depths.  The second we judge we feel superior, but in actuality we are driving divisions between our brothers and sisters, our fellow beloved creations, instantly taking away their value. This is Genesis 3 in a nutshell. This is the brokenness of humanity. The pointing of a finger is a dangerous thing.

So, after reading Halter talk so brilliantly about living a life of holy non-judgement (seriously- read this book!) and listening to Rob talk about the process or flow of forgiveness and the power that exists in that act (seriously-listen to this podcast!) and then having Holy Spirit gently speak (with a bit of a force) to my heart I quickly realized, I don’t have to be mad at Franklin Graham anymore. It’s benefiting no one, including me, people I want to know about the love of the Father, and most importantly, it’s not benefiting Jesus himself.

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(A few samples of some incredible thoughts in “Brimstone.”)

 

 

Mr Graham, I doubt we will ever see eye to eye, but I forgive you. I will no longer harbor this hurt and anger inside my heart towards you. There is too much work that needs to be done, too much grace and love that needs to be expressed and too much hurt in the world to be bothered adding to it and to spend time and energy tossing rocks.

I’ll close with a quote from Brimstone- “We are all in process, so unity calls for prayer over those we disagree with, not nasty Facebook posts.”

 

Zing.

 

Thank you Lord for your voice, the voice of others like Hugh, Rob, Summer and Mom in my life, and ultimately for the unbelievable power of forgiveness.  May we all know each day how much better love is than judgement and forgiveness is than carrying around a weight in our heart.

POPE-ING AINT EASY.

If you’re looking for a last-minute (well maybe not last-minute, as it might need to be shipped) gift idea for me, here’s a little something:

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The Pope has landed.  Pope Francis fever is sweeping the country, and I’m not even mad about it.  It has been interesting to see the responses to the Pope’s adventures for the first time in the US.  They’ve really covered the whole field of reactions from nauseating on one end of the spectrum ( Fox News guy stating something about Jesus loving capitalism and being glad you are making money….yeah, I dunno) to the people who maybe get really wrapped up in this sort of thing to the point of “man worship.”  The responses are everywhere in between, too.  My friend Adam raised a question on the book of faces asking “if Jesus himself showed up in flesh, would he get as much press as we are giving to the Pope?” There were lots of responses from, “no, because we aren’t even allowed to say His (Jesus) name in public,” (which I tested moments later, and in fact, I could and did say his name, so I don’t grasp that logic.)  There were a bunch of responses that elicited a general “yes” and some that elicited a general “no”- essentially, there were lots of thoughts there.  All good.  All different opinions and feelings.  I have read about people also generally miffed at the Pope showing up and messing with their life and rhythm (dude shuts down streets and stuff, he’s a rock star.)  People also angry because of the more recent history of the RCC and the terrible scandals and abuses that have occurred and that is understandable.  So, in essence, the Pope brings out lots of feels.
I read about something interesting happening today.  The pope was apparently invited to lunch with some D.C. elite, the politicians.  You know the ones, they hate each other most of the time, but when there’s a famous person around, I’m sure they become buddies really quickly to get a table with him or her, photo-op, etc.  You know the routine, they’re simply representing US, you guys,… Now there’s a legit HOLY person, and they wanted to have grilled cheese with him. Or more likely cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off or lobster or something. So, what happens? Pope says no.  Pope has plans.  Pope goes and feeds some homeless folks instead.  In that moment I realized some stuff.

This pope may be the closest thing to how we should be all the time.  Sure, he has to put on the fancy swag, and the pope-y rings and stuff- that’s part of the office.  (Though I get the distinct impression Pope Francis doesn’t seem to care for all of that.)  Pope Francis is crushing the stereotype of this hierarchical leadership that we’ve propped up in the church since the moment Constantine said, “yo, christianity is what’s up.  Lets make it official.”  Hey, you Protestants aren’t off the hook, here. We all have our power ladder within our church context.  Even the evangelical world.  We all know there’s “a path.” First you are the pastor for the old folks or the pastor for the children (especially if you happen to be a female because, well, that’s what you are supposed to do.) Then there’s another rung close to the same level there for the “youth pastor.”  Once you pay your dues, do some summer kids’ camps/all-nighters/Golden Corral outings, you might get to be an “associate pastor”.  Then maybe a “teaching pastor.” Then when you’re older you can be a “lead pastor” (wait, aren’t all pastors leaders?…) Titles.  We love that stuff.  It gives us the space and ability to say, ‘that’s what the pastor is for” or “that’s the pastor’s job” etc.  But here’s the Pope, considered the highest runged holy man in the Christian faith’s world (excluding Bono) and he’s blowing off senators to feed the poor, to ride in his Poped out jeep or tiny hatch back and stopping and praying for children along the way, laying hands on the disabled.  Washing the feet of prisoners.  WASHING.  FEET.  BARE.  FEET.  TOENAIL. FUNGUS. FEET. Because, love wins.
While the pundits argue about what the Pope’s political allegiance is, (but we’d never do stuff like that in church, nooooo no no) where he lands on issues, how we can harpoon him for this or for that, Francis is simply going about his business as if he’s going about someone else’s business.  I remember another guy saying something similar.
Now don’t get your undergarments all twisty- I’m not calling the Pope Jesus or God or any of that.  The Pope is a man, just a person, like you or me. Again, I think the Pope would agree with the general essence of that statement.  We humans have made this position (and all of our professional christian positions) more elevated and important because, honestly, we apparently need that.  So, yes he’s going to get the press more than Jesus would because we have demanded that.  Every time we fire up the blinky lights, fog machines and entertainment complex church, we are demanding it.  Every time we run an ad campaign to get some transfer growth, we are demanding it.  This is the culture we have created for God to exist in. I digress.

Regardless of where you land on the “Love of Pope” meter, the reality is he is carrying a message of the faith, that “holiness” is attainable not by office or status but rather by action.  By heart.  By the way you live.  If the Pope can do it, why can’t or, maybe more importantly, why shouldn’t we? Even from his position of power he is returning power to the powerless.  He is offering hope to those who might not have any. He is bowing the knee of power to the most broken of society.  Isn’t that the gospel? I honestly believe there is a move of the spirit taking place in the RCC, and I think Pope Francis is a big part of it.  I recently heard a talk given by Father Cantalamassa who is basically the priest to the Pope and all the other leaders in the Vatican.  He spoke so beautifully and deeply of Holy Spirit and its moving on the earth and how God is drawing people from every background together.  It was gripping.
Is the Pope getting the attention? Sure.  But I really believe there is something afoot here.  Let the Pope do his thing and watch and maybe we can all learn some things from this simple leader who seems to honestly believe and act upon the things he says.  Which is refreshing.

(*Addendum -This is not an “everything is perfect with the pope” statement. To reiterate, he’s a man, within a construct of religion, which will always present issues.)

 

And now, for my favorite Pope Francis meme:

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Church Signs.

I rather enjoy signs. Church signs, more precisely, I think give us a great amount of insight as to what is going on within a body of believers, or maybe on a higher level, what is going on inside the church in the west as a whole.

Take this church across the street from my house, for example. Mainline Protestant. Sundays that I skip church (too much of anything can be a bad thing. Sometimes the best church on a Sunday morning is pancakes with your family and a walk in the woods…) I see the same few faithful attendees pull up for their weekly church event. I know the pastor is a younger fella and is traveling in from the big city to lead this flock. So this is what the sign says this week and has for the past couple weeks :

 

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Apply here. Advancement guaranteed. Sunday 11 am. Pastor Darryl.
I don’t know what this sign is supposed to mean, but here’s a list of things that come to mind when I read it:

  1. This is a club. The last membership I signed up for was for Costco. I like Costco pretty well. You go in there on a Saturday and in a short amount of time you can have a cart full of anything you need, including a 34 gallon jug of maple syrup and some new socks, and you will probably leave with a stomach half full of assorted tasty samples. (#protip- it is acceptable etiquette to take 2 samples before resorting to disguises.)  I like the Costco club. At the same time, I know some of my friends can’t just walk into Costco like I can. They didn’t sign up. They didn’t pay their dues. They don’t have a mega grainy picture on the back of a card emblazoned with the word COSTCO on it. They are not welcome in the club. I don’t ever see Jesus offering up a club to followers. There’s nothing exclusive about his ways.
  2. Apply. The last thing I applied for was a part-time job. Again, I was asking for permission to come and do work for someone else in exchange for payment. When you apply for something, people don’t just give you a pass and welcome you aboard, they check you out. They look at your experience. They call your references. They want to know “are you going to be a good team member, will you represent us well.” I don’t ever see Jesus with an application.  Can you imagine the scene? ” Well Peter, it says here you didn’t make the grade in religion school, so you’re just a fisherman. Tell me about that.” Or, “Well, Judas, you seem like you have a way with money- you know how to manage it. We could use a guy like that.” (Probably should have checked that guy’s references. No doubt he was a cat owner…) I don’t see this in Jesus. No one applied.  He never interviewed.  He called from among them, from in their midst and people followed and brought all of their bad references and poor job experiences and criminal records and unsure personalities with them.
  3. Advancement.  This one gets me. What exactly is the advancement opportunity? Member? Super member? Usher? Head Usher?  Or is this simply a silly nod to “come here and get into heaven later?” I don’t see Jesus offering many advancement ops. I mean, he dealt with this issue for sure. His guys were always trying to figure out who was the best out of them. Who got the seat of honor. Who was “the man”- behind Jesus, of course.  Some of them even dragged their mom into it at some point by getting her to do their dirty work to get the top spot in the “next to Jesus sweepstakes”- a sweepstakes that apparently Jesus wasn’t even running. He offered advancement, but it was always very “non advancement” sounding- the first shall be last, blessed are the poor/children/weak/peacemakers, love your enemies, turn the other cheek- none of this is very powerful sounding or attached to a very advanced position. Because, at the end of the day, isnt that what we’re selling here? “Advancing” signals a leg up over someone else.  We have now installed a ladder and you are going to want to get to the top because this is America, and this is how we roll.

Is this effective? Do we believe we are reaching people who are no longer responding to our exclusive church environments, our clubs where you’ll find advancement if you apply and put in your time? Or do the people this sign are directed towards simply reading these things and moving along, knowing they simply don’t have the resume or the card or the good references to get them in the door? Statistically, that seems to be the case, the church is losing regular attenders across the board, the only growing number seems to be those dechurched or unchurched or “unaffiliated” or- you get the point.  People aren’t just “walking away from religion” because the world is a cold evil place, but people are getting tired of the schemes to get them in the door. We need to re-evaluate everything we as “the church” are doing. We can’t offer a “club with advancement” to people who are looking for family. Belonging. Love. Identity. A community to ask tough questions and maybe just talk.  I don’t go to Costco for those things. I can’t purchase those things in a weekly visit and they certainly aren’t best served as samples.

 

As I drove by the sign the other day, I noticed they changed the opposite side and it said something interesting:

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Alanis Morissette call your office. This is ironic to me.  I wonder if maybe this community doesn’t realize that there are signs that God is leaving for them- that people are searching for something to believe in, they just are not really present where the people are searching? I love the church.  I can say with 100% ease that for many years, I didn’t.  I cynically judged them for not reaching people, for not being what they claimed to be, and this all came from being a part of the club for too long and seeing all the people who just were not making the cut be left outside.  Watching us.  I was burned out and my naturally sarcastic nature (not a fruit of the spirit) quickly mutated into a cynical hatred.  I wanted no part of it.  Then at some point, God dragged me into the desert and began dealing with me, asking me “You can’t care for something you wont be a part of.”  That was a tough season, but I needed it for whatever the future holds.  God left me a sign.  For the past many years I’ve been heeding that sign, trying to do what I can where I can to be a part of the community of church as a whole- offering the things I am good at or gifted in as a resource as best I can.  However, reality is that sometimes the signs are missed.  Maybe decreasing attendance, stagnant activities and no one signing up for or applying to the club ARE actually signs from God to churches.  Maybe they should read it.

What the church has is not a sample to be offered as people casually stroll by with a cart full of products.  It is also not just a job, where we can come and earn our way to the top.  It is a full meal, demanding a table, full involvement and the willingness to give everything away.  That is the sign Jesus left us to read and pass along to everyone around us- there is no more club to join.