Food Democracy

Long ago those miniature, plastic-coated spoons disappeared from our home. They accompanied the gnawed sippy cups and Bob the Builder plates that were sent for recycling. It has been a while since my wife and I battled a toddler’s will against ingesting liquified carrots, spaghetti, squash, pears, chicken-n-dumplings, and other assorted glass-jarred baby foods. In their first days of semi-solids, our children did not hesitate to express their preference for specific types, textures, and flavors of food.

Those preferences continue but have matured to include philosophical and ethical considerations. Instead of struggling through a preference for Apple Blueberry over Sweet Potato, food is chosen by convictions about organic, processed, vegetarian, local, free-range, fair trade, and all-natural characteristics. Even so, my family’s passion for fulfilling their dietary needs is no less intense than when pulverized peas were ejected in a moment of disapproval.

As I’ve watched these convictions develop, I’m surprised by my push-back on beliefs that differ from mine. When I find them unreasonable, confusing, altruistic, or unbalanced I respond with an exasperated rebuttal through a raised voice. I’ve been cynical, skeptical, and grumpy. I’ve balked at purchasing foods that cost more, smell funny, or crowd-out my preferred choices in the pantry. A fan of simplicity, my reserve of patience runs low when I’m required to prepare different meals to accommodate convictions I don’t agree with.

While diversity makes our lives interesting, it can also bring conflict. In my previous post, I mentioned my affinity for solitude and contentment with quiet, peaceful spaces. That independence affords me a measure of control over my circumstances. I can manage and even steer clear of volatile issues as I protect myself from having to reconcile my own convictions with others.

Yet, consistent isolation or cloistering with like-minded people can foster attitudes of justified self-centeredness. Howard Thurman, African-American theologian, philosopher, educator, and civil rights leader said, “All men belong to each other, and he who shuts himself away diminishes himself, and he who shuts another away from him destroys himself.” (The Search for Common Ground, 104) Does Thurman’s proposition apply to the food fights in my household? Absolutely. If I willingly shut-down or fortify myself against different ideas, beliefs, and behaviors I risk not only stunting my development but limiting the quality of my relationships.

When I find myself experiencing repeated frustration, negative emotion, stereotyping or making assumptions, I’ve given my desires inappropriate priority. I’ve allowed my convictions to corrupt my relationships. Henri Nouwen said, “Our human relationships easily become subject to violence and destruction when we treat our own and other people’s lives as properties to be defended or conquered and not as gifts to be received.” (Reaching Out, 119) My goal should not be to convert critics or overpower dissenting voices. To get vegetarians to eat meat or Ford owners to drive Chevys. Those aims can lead to frustration, misunderstanding, and division. As a believer in Jesus, my behavior is to support a peaceful unity. I’m to do justice, love kindness, and be humble. This does not mean I jettison my convictions. Nor should it imply that I be silent when I disagree. To the contrary, I should engage, speak, and advocate.

The Apostle John noted that Jesus came “full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) Notice the order: grace then truth. The grace our Lord gifts to us should inform our interactions and relationships. We should be kind and hospitable, listening first to understand. We should not fail to offer dignity and respect to everyone, allowing for disagreement while not maligning or disparaging one another. In short, we should love each other.

In the past few years I’ve learned a lot about food. I’m grateful to be led by my children into a new stewardship of my food consumption. Beyond food, I’m seeking to assume a humble, grace-filled, listening posture that promotes dialogue and relationship. I’m praying for strength to hold my convictions while being kind to those who think differently. I’m asking the Spirit for a holy courage to speak with gentleness.

In this third week of Advent, as we continue to ponder our “doing” (week 1) while being diligent with our togetherness (week 2), lets also consider our words, thoughts, attitudes, and actions. Are we advocates and unifiers? Does the grace of Christ pervade our interactions even as we stand firm in our convictions? From peas to politics, how we relate to one another is an indicator of what we think about God.

A Prayer for Unity
Heavenly Father, Obedient Son, Comforting Spirit —
Unified in divine diversity;
Temper our spirits with grace and truth,
and quicken our love toward peace-filled community.

So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
(Galatians 6:10, ESV)

A Converted Caravan

The photos shuffling on the display of my computer are of the Gros Ventre Wilderness near Jackson, Wyoming. During the summer of 2018, my youngest son and I, along with a handful of other fathers and their sons, set-out into that remote part of the American West for an 8-day adventure of vigorous hiking.

While the mountainous vistas are worth every step, such trips are not without tense moments and uncertainty. Weather, terrain, injury, illness, and mental fortitude are ever-present variables. During our 24-hour drive to the trailhead, our group pondered some important questions: Would the trail be navigable? Would there be good places to camp near a potable water source? Would the snow pack cause us to re-route and lengthen our hike or send us bushwhacking? What do we do if a bear eats our food, and did we bring the bear spray?

Our concerns were not unfounded. We encountered snow. We detoured. But there were no bears. More serious and unexpected, however, was our encounter with illness. As the days passed, one of our teammates became weak and exceptionally tired, struggling more and more with the rigor of uphill climbs. To assist, we lightened his load by dispersing items in his pack among the group. This continued until he walked packless, clutching only a small bottle of water. Still, his body wearied toward delirium and heat stroke. We stopped and rested often. Fully spent on our final day, our sweat-drenched friend groaned as he sat hunched over a scraggly Western Pine, and wept. We wept, too. And prayed. As we baked in an arid, sun-soaked valley, miles from our exit, a new dimension was demanded from our fraternity.

That hiking experience is not unlike the Christian life. The journey of faithful living is arduous, unpredictable, and shouldn’t be done alone. Yet in our current culture of rugged individualism, we might be lulled toward habits that isolate and behaviors that exacerbate a prideful disposition of, “I’ve got this!” And this individualism can seep into our spiritual practices. How? For me, I’m very content with quiet mornings of coffee, reading from Scripture and another book (or two), a bit of conversational prayer, and some writing. Just God and me and the stillness of the pre-dawn morning. While this solitary practice has merit, if I neglect to supplement my peace and quiet with face-to-face interactions, I’ll be spiritually under-developed and relationally malnourished.

Referring to the collective of professing Christians, Jamie Smith said, “Conversion is joining this caravan, not setting out alone.” (On The Road With Saint Augustine, 51) More importantly, Scripture commands us to make togetherness a priority. (Heb 10:24-25) It is in our gathering that we apply salve to wounds and reorient those who’ve strayed. We support and carry those who are weak. We encourage, edify, celebrate, and grieve — together.

In his book, Reaching Out, Henri Nouwen said: “The Church is not an institution forcing us to follow its rules. It is a community of people inviting us to still our hunger and thirst at its tables.” (88-89) From time to time, each of us will be desperate and tired, mustering our last bits of courage to take one more step. When those moments come, we need each other.

In my previous post I challenged us to consider our “doings” — our involvements, behaviors, and activities that determine who we are becoming. I’ve been meditating on my “doing” this past week as part of the Advent season. For the second week of Advent, I’m going to consider how my desire for introverted independence tugs me toward seclusion. I’ll be evaluating the balance of time alone with time in community.

How about you? Are you wandering alone? Are you regularly engaged with like-minded people of faith? Do you have friends who both challenge and support you? Do you consistently give of yourself and your resources for the good of others?

To finish the story, we made it out of the Gros Ventre. It required patience, humility, empathy, encouragement, and of course God’s kind providence. Looking back, it was a privilege to pace with our hurting friend during that intense and painful episode. He couldn’t have done it without us.

As people of faith, we’re members of a glorious caravan. We journey together. This day, let’s encourage one another to walk by faith, trusting the One who gives us hope through His birth, death, and resurrection — our traveling companion, Jesus Christ.

A Prayer Against Isolation
Friend and Brother, our Lord Jesus Christ,
Pioneer on the path to glory;
Invade my realm of detached independence,
amend my affections with desire for your people.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
(Hebrews 10:24–25, NIV)

With or Without You?

Not A Team PlayerThe air carried a hint this morning. The trees can no longer hide it. It’s coming.

Fall. The season of football and cider is cresting the horizon. Soon, colored leaves will cover the beach sand ground into my floor mats. Windows will open as air conditioning units taper toward hibernation. And schedules will inflate with a fresh cycle of activity.

The summer months afford an opportunity to get out, get away, and refresh. To do many things, or nothing. As someone who craves solitude, I welcome times of uninterrupted quiet. No requests, no demands. Just the peaceful still of me — and only me.

In contrast to those “me only” dreams, last week I shared breakfast with a few good men. Despite a minor setback with finding carb-free options (we were at a bakery — go figure) we successfully procured some dining fare and caught-up on our summer happenings.

One man changed jobs, another sent a son to Uganda for 10-days to install clean water systems, a third made a commitment to be baptized, and the last successfully relocated a noisy rooster. Our conversation ran the spectrum from excitement to pain, from dreams to discouragement. Sipping my dark roast, I listened and wondered at the complex paths we travel. I marveled at the providential intersection of our stories. It is good to live in community.

But I still like to be alone.

We need silent spaces. Detours from the din. Yet retreats to a quiet oasis must be bounded. I’m easily lured to the out-of-the-way corner. A closed-door room. The library. Places that limit encounter. But too much “me” distorts my perspective. The world loses its color. My empathy atrophies and my grace becomes small.

I become lonely.

Henri Nouwen said, “Real loneliness comes when we have lost all sense of having things in common.”* The stories of my neighborhood friends are, in part, my story. Sure, we all live near one another. But that’s not what makes their story mine. Rather, we are bound together in our humanness. We are joined in the outworking of maleness and marriage. We fell trees, share tools, read books, and watch March Madness — together. We are communal.

So as summertime fades and fall activities filter into the calendar, I must recognize my craving for quiet. At the first hint to escape, I need to do the careful, wise work of prayer, seeking Spirit-guided help with making room for people while making room for me. To prioritize a daily refreshment of gratitude through God’s Word. To find joy in the grand adventure of life — with others, and alone.

*The Return of the Prodigal Son, p.47

Move it!

We moved.

Three weeks ago we wrestled eight-year-old roots from country soil and replanted ourselves in the midst of suburbia. It was an arduous process. We’re still herding the last boxes into their rooms and daily attacking ubiquitous clutter. With rejuvenated clarity I’m remembering why I told my wife eight years ago we’d never move again.

In the turmoil of this transition brews a smorgasbord of emotion. The excitement of change brings energy through the anticipation newness – neighbors, bedrooms, noises, and experiences. Yet there’s the pull of the old – familiar, comfortable, trusted, and expected.

Memories – both pleasant and painful.

Written into our family story during the years at the former home are washboard roads. Power outages. Apple Wars. A snake in the basement, a mouse in the attic, bees in the floor joist and not a single bat in our homemade bat house. Star-filled skies and open spaces. The Wildcat Fortress. Air soft bunkers. Bee stings. Rubber boots and naked romps through giant mud puddles (he was only a toddler, so it was ok). A smashed-up, man-making John Deere lawn tractor. Pheasants, coyotes, otters, foxes, hawks, and chickens. A puppy. Walks through the orchard and fun on the quad. The Man Wall. The zip line. Adoption. Death.

Chapters well written – and treasured.
 
As we turned a new page on a new(er) home, the story was written with themes of work, heat, and humidity. Piles and messes and surprises and disappointments. A truck, a trailer, and tired backs. Firm, welcoming handshakes. Deep-fried chicken wings and warm corn bread. Conversation. Bike rides and bread-eating fish. French-pressed coffee. Ice cream pie. Ice cream sandwiches. Half-gallon containers of ice cream (yes, moving requires copious amount of ice cream refreshment) Hole digging. Chainsaws. Dangling wires and pockmarked drywall. Lasagna from scratch, blueberry pastry, fast food lunches and donuts. Kickball. Football. Voices. Laughter. Street Lights. Convenience. Friends.

Community.

A satisfying – and disruptive – opening to our next chapter.

The monumental task of moving can dredge emotion layered deep within our souls. Thoughts and feelings that betray strongholds of affection and inclination and fear. This disruptive force has invited me into self reflection. I’ve discovered that despite my natural propensity for introversion, there’s joy to be harvested from frequent neighborly interactions. And even though I prefer to be stubbornly independent, a humble reception of help secures long-term relational dividends. In fact, I’ve been so disturbed that I’m finding it less difficult to lay down my idol of accomplishment in exchange for the enjoyment of time with drop-in visitors. I’m even paying others to do work I could do myself. I’m loosening my finger-nailed grip on the desire for control.

I’m aware the relocation pendulum will sway from euphoria to second-guessing for some time. There’s beautiful and ugly with such transitions. But losses and gains and tears and smiles and hope and love are the threads of life that create a sacred tapestry.

Our recent move wasn’t due to boredom or lack of contentment. It wasn’t because we couldn’t think of something better to do this summer. I don’t seek-out such massive disruption. But where we live is important. Some say location is everything. I’m sure it’s not everything, but as we settle-in I’m asking God to use this new place to encourage my clan of seven toward a larger vision for community. For family and friends and relationships that are redemptive. My desire is that we each perpetuate a story that shouts “Glory!” to the One who saw each box we packed. Who envisioned the flat tire on the truck and broken trailer lift. Who smiled over hands that hung a “Welcome” sign and left cookies that anchored those first moments in our home into the bedrock of friendship. Who shows Himself a Strong Tower in every moment.

We moved. It was disruptive. And I am grateful.

Lone Ranger Manhood

Last week I was privileged to be a special guest.

No, I wasn’t invited to join Prince William and Kate at the London Aquatics Centre to cheer Phelps, Adlington, Lochte and Franklin. It was better than that. I was selected to be a guest blogger for Trevin Wax. Trevin’s blog is called Kingdom People and can be found on The Gospel Coalition website (www.thegospelcoalition.org).

Even though Trevin and I haven’t met, I think he’s amazing (yes, I admit my bias). He blogs daily. You should follow him. I’ve been encouraged, educated, challenged and motivated through his writing and collection of valuable tidbits from around the web. He also has a keen eye for excellent guest bloggers.

Anyhow, click here to read my guest post. Below is the long-version of the link.

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2012/07/31/you-are-not-called-to-be-the-lone-ranger/ 

In other news, my family is heading-out on an epic American West adventure. I’m sure our travels will provide plenty of fodder for future posts here on “Dwelling…”

Stay tuned.

Tapping the Draft

Full disclosure before I begin.

This post has nothing to do with beer. It’s not about hymn lyrics written to pub songs or tips for evangelizing the bar scene. And it certainly is not a treatise on a biblical view of alcohol consumption. I admit that I chose to prey on curiosities with a play on words. Even so, I will explore the draft – but in terms of biking, not beverages or the military. But first, some background.

My family recently returned from several days of re-creating at one of our favorite camping spots. While away we drunk deep of sun, sand, woods, and water on the west side of Michigan’s Mitten. It was spectacular.

In addition to the wonders of Michigan, I enjoyed a bit of bike riding. No, not the ¼ mile helmet-less rides around the campground loop. I’m talking a ride of the leg and lung-burning sort. The kind that fosters a deeper appreciation for motorized vehicles.

It was a breezy, sunny day that my son, a good friend and I chose to test our biking prowess. After dropping our families at the beach, we began our ride along the sand-swept coast of Lake Michigan.

Our pace was brisk.  The miles floated by. We felt strong. Manly. Alive! Like warriors on carbon and aluminum steeds. A modest tail wind and flat roads might have inflated our egos and heightened our enthusiasm. But that’s beside the point.

Well, it didn’t take long for my enthusiasm to meet a harsh reality. Several miles into our ride, we exited a busy two-lane highway with a gentle right-hand turn. As we did, my friend said, “It gets a little hilly up ahead.” Moments later it became apparent that he and I have different definitions for ‘hilly.’ It seems one man’s ‘hilly’ is another man’s ‘mountainous.’ I felt all of my 40+ years as I pathetically pedaled-up the pile of earth – hill or otherwise. Each bend in the road brought not the summit, but a steeper grade. The ‘hill’ seemed to laugh at me and my legs of rubber. Through sunglasses streaked with sweat, I could see my son 100 yards in front of me. I was jealous. And for a few moments, I wasn’t appreciating his youthful vigor.

It took some effort, but I finished the climb without significant delay. In the thin air of the mountaintop (a.k.a ‘hilltop’ to some folks), we caught our breath. I tried to blame my sad performance on being trapped behind a desk during the workweek. A classic case of office lethargy. Then I glanced over at my friend. Who sits in the office next to me. Who finished the climb before me. Who is a few years older than me. So much for excuses.

Fortunately, up-hills are eventually followed by down hills. My legs sang as we continued our trek with a winding descent. But in the midst of enjoying gravity’s pull, we encountered a biker’s nightmare.

Flat tire. No spare.

Rats.

Fast-forwarding this tale, we found some friendly locals who gave my son and his disabled bike a lift into town where the tire was repaired for an exorbitant fee. By the time my friend and I had ridden back to the bike shop, the bulk of our available ride time had passed. So, we decided to head back to our sunbathing families.

My son, fresh from his emergency evac was chomping at the bit. I told him he was welcome to take the lead and pace us back – this time into the wind. He bolted away from the bike shop while I scrambled to be the caboose of our little procession.

As we ground the gears – up hill and into the wind – my appreciation for the technique of drafting was renewed. In biking terms, drafting is when a rider stays very close and directly behind the biker in front. Doing so puts the trailing biker(s) in the lead biker’s slipstream. A biker riding in the slipstream does not feel the full resistance of the wind. Less resistance means easier pedaling, which means more energy for the hills (mountains) along the way.

My son was a workhorse. My friend and I drafted tightly. I was grateful.

Thinking about that ride and how I tapped the draft of my son, I’m reminded of my weakness. Of my need for help – help that comes through relationships. As a follower of Jesus, I get the best help through the community of saints – the Church. Many times I’ve been carried along in the slipstream of godly men and women who have allowed me to draft their faith journey. At times I purposely draft. Others times I ride unaware in the grace of someone’s slipstream. That’s how it works in a unified, loving, Christ-centered community.

The Christian experience winds along mountains and valleys. Kind winds nudge us forward while head winds demand extra helpings of the Spirit’s fruit (Galatians 5:22-23). As I ponder my roles of husband and father, I want to create a welcome and safe place for my wife and children to draft. I want to be strong and unswerving. I want them to observe how I tap into the power of God’s Word. How His Spirit guides me. And how I give and take (lead and draft) amidst the community of believers.

Hebrews 10:23–25 (NIV)

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.