Expanding Al Sabo

If you’re in Kalamazoo and looking for a patch of woods with intersecting trails, a variety of terrain, and stunning views, look no further than the Al Sabo Land Preserve. Since moving here, we’ve spent lots of time hiking, exploring, and stumbling across the occasional Massasauga Rattler. I just wrapped up a 4 mile hike on this fine evening, and was excited to see that they’re making some progress on expanding this already massive trail system by 212 acres, thanks to the acquisition of an adjacent Boy Scout camp.

Soon to be the Arthur E. & Mildred H. Woollam Nature Preserve 

The above sign has been there forever. In the past, some hikers have transcended the warning and kept going, only to be shooed away by someone looking to earn their “shoo away” badge. Upon today’s hike, new signage and fencing has been erected, which is promising.

Not every fence keeps people out, as seen above in a different part of the Al Sabo preserve. That’s some stagnant water.

It should be noted that much of our local drinking water is pumped and treated within the bounds of the preserve, thus the intention of keeping it, well, preserved.

A hulking building pops up out of nowhere on the landscape, like when the folks on the island discovered a hatch on LOST.
This is one of my favorite intersections. The seasonal sepia tone will soon be cast aside by vibrant green.

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The Easter *Season* (Not Day)

As Christmas has Boxing Day (Canada), Easter has back to school Monday (at least in my district). Spring break was last week here at DavidsonHaus, our unhurried mornings fueled by Fruit Loops (not actual fruit) and YouTube. Now the kids are all back in school. “Back” meaning that some are socially distance in a public school and some are in the basement peering through ChromeBooks. The morning has gone well so far and everyone is in the right place.

Please note that I was not on spring break last week, as it was high time to prepare for the biggest Sunday of the year — Easter. After a meaningful Holy Week, with its twists and turns through Hosannas and Terror that culminates with an empty tomb (Indeed!), we are now “done” with Easter.

No, we’re not!

Robert Webber says it best in his book Ancient-Future Time:

“The primary metaphor for the Easter season is the church as the resurrected people living a resurrected spirituality. Because of Easter we are in union with Christ and are called to live in our baptismal identity in his resurrection. This essential theme of Easter cannot be communicated in a day. It takes a season.”

As I said at Renovation yesterday, you can’t possibly pack a Resurrection Party into one worship service. Not after all that has happened, all that buildup, and all that celebration. Nah. We can’t be done. There is more to explore, more to be reminded of, more life to live.

When a student graduates from High School, we spend an afternoon at a ceremony, go out to eat, maybe have an open house. After that, it’s right to whatever is next — career, college, trades, etc. But rarely does a fresh grad have a cap ‘n’ gown on Saturday and a new job in Tulsa on Monday. Rarely. Why? They need time to get established. To reorient. To repack. Sure, they might work a job or pick up a class. But there’s time to come to terms with it. In fact, the entire Senior Year of High School is our coming to terms with whatever is next.

Incidentally, for my senior year, it was a weekly donut delivery to the Band Director in exchange for showing up to first hour 45 minutes late every day. It was win-win. No academic awards, but I sure did get… more sleep… ugh. Probably should’ve tried harder.

But don’t let that confuse what we’re trying to say here. Easter is a season. As we eat candy scored at 50%, let’s remember that much has changed because Christ is Risen. We are risen with him — made like Him, like Him we rise. What does that actually mean? It takes a season. We are united with Christ and believers all over the world. How can that be? We don’t even speak the same language, and some of us go to the traditional service! We are united beyond all other denotation. It takes a season. Jesus is victorious over sin, death, and satan. How does that play out when I’m tempted? If I’m stuck? If I’m wrecked by the world? It takes a season.

Welcome, dear friends, to the Easter Season.

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Life Update

Someone sent me a message looking for a particular blog post that I wrote 5 years ago, and that search reminded me of the importance of writing. There is some value in what I write that, I’ve heard, helps people, and I hope it helps you. There is value, too, in the untangling of my own mind and soul that writing provides, which helps me. The discipline of stringing letters into words and sentences forces order to my normally multi-track mind. In other words, this is important for my own spiritual formation. Knowing that you might read it adds vital accountability that, unfortunately, has been lacking. I regret that.

Of course, I didn’t know my regret it until I started reading and writing again. See? It works!

The pandemic has a refining effect. Priorities are re-prioritized. Some relationships are stronger, some weaker, and some are lost in the fog. One relationship has been legally severed. I’ve gained 30 pounds and lost 3 — another Jenny Craig success story! Traditional wisdom says that dudes over 40 have a far more difficult time keeping in good physical shape. I affirm the traditional wisdom. Thanks, lack of testosterone. And thanks, relentless Facebook advertising about middle age supplements that will bring back the fizz.

You’ve probably been through quite a bit in the last year, too. We are surrounded by tales of depression and excitement, severe loss and exciting opportunity. About a year ago, it was decided that we’d take a collective week or two off to try and straighten this virus thing out. The response to the pandemic has been like every storied home repair project. A two-week job has stretched to 52 weeks, and we’re still making regular trips to Home Depot. The cashiers know us by name.

The worst part of 2020 was having to file for divorce. I worked so hard to avoid it. I have written about the power of addiction in previous posts, so I won’t go into great detail here. I will say that I know she’s a good wife and mom at the core, and that our brains will lock us into an absolute living hell of reliance on a substance at all costs. All costs, including friendships, family, even your own health. I will say more, hopefully with measured care and a desire to maintain the dignity of everyone involved. This is the opening salvo: as of late November 2020, I am divorced.

“I am divorced” is a phrase I never imagined writing. I promised people I wouldn’t. I vowed that I wouldn’t. Every letter on the keyboard stings as I type that word. Divorce. God hates Divorce. I know that because well-meaning (I like to think) people told me so, in rejection to what had to be a public announcement. By the way, I hate divorce, too. In this situation, it was a terrible but not difficult choice, no matter what happened to the pastor. Speaking of which, the pastor (that’s me) has been investigated and officially cleared to continue in ministry, for which I am thankful. So yeah, I’m still at it, glory to God. I am grateful for a denomination — the Free Methodist Church — and for leaders, a process, and a reasonable conclusion. I am grateful for a supportive congregation. Most understand the situation enough to know that I avoided it at all cost.

It became truly unavoidable.

If you didn’t know that, you know now. I should tell you that I’m an open book, not afraid to have difficult conversations about my own situation and suffering. I may not be able to answer every question, but I have learned over the years that it’s much easier to just talk about stuff than it is to keep it hidden. Inauthenticity takes a lot of energy, and I have too much to focus on to worry about image management. I yam what I yam.

The best part of 2020 was the opportunity to get closer to Jesus. You know all that stuff about the shadow of death, coming to Him weary and burdened, etc.? It’s true. Romans 5:3-5 is where I’ve set up camp for the last year or so. It’s the next sentence, but don’t glance over it.

“… we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

This sums it up. Friends, if you don’t know Jesus, I highly recommend you search for Him, as I can guarantee that He loves you, is on your side, and is looking for you. The guarantee isn’t one of no suffering, but rather the presence of God during suffering. You’ll be ok.

The other best part of 2020 was all that time at home with my kids. My job is portable, in that I can do much of it from my house and/or at strange hours of the day and night. In fact, we had church from my basement for a few months before live-streaming from the church building. My kids were home from school at first, then slowly wiggled back, though I still see them much more than I did BC (Before Covid). That has been a gift that I would not trade for anything. Also, I appreciate teachers even more.

What about you? There’s nothing like taking inventory of what’s gone on in your life. Chances are that someone might resonate with your story and find some help. Perhaps they’ll realize God’s love in a new way (as I have). Might even find themselves drawn to him, to return to their maker. And there might perhaps be some authentic joy, even in the suffering. So it goes.

Thanks for reading and for being part of my life.

(PS: I’ll keep writing)

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That’ll Never Happen

I’ll tell ya one phrase that hast lost all meaning in our era: “That’ll never happen.” As a kid, I was full of questions and worries about this great big world. That phrase, uttered by a trusted adult, gave finality to the conversation and closure to my fears. “What if there’s a volcanic eruption in Michigan?” That’ll never happen: no volcanoes. “What if Zombies eat the Tooth Fairy and then come after me?” That’ll never happen: Zombies aren’t real, and Tooth Fairies are lightning fast.

Last Tuesday, if my kids asked me whether a mob of zealous Trump fans could break into the Capitol, snap a police barrier, scale its walls, and attempt a coup, I would’ve said that age old phrase: That’ll never happen.

It did.

No volcanoes in Michigan. No zombies. But, here we are, one week later, one impeachment later, and wouldn’t you know it: It happened.

Many of my friends — some of them leaders — immediately spoke up on social media, which I appreciate. I, on the other hand, have been slow to speak. I couldn’t say much because I was in shock. Still am. We have information coming at us at an enormous pace. Just when you get some bandwidth to start processing something, another flaming boxcar comes roaring down the tracks. As I write, President Trump has been impeached again, making him the first US President to be impeached twice. “That’ll never happen.”

It did.

I know that I have friends and congregation members that span the political spectrum. I also know that, as a minister, I must be responsible with how I talk about politics. My first and foremost mission is to help people find, follow, and be like Jesus. I like to laugh. I enjoy a good satire. I like a giggle with a deeper spiritual impact. But, when it came to “saying something” about the events of January 6 2021, I have struggled to find language that would 1) keep everyone happy and 2) keep focused on Jesus. This might be one of those times where I can’t do both.

I believe what happened at the Capitol was the equivalent of domestic terrorism. That absolutely should not have happened. Many have cited that the birth of the nation and several points throughout our short history have included some level of violence and revolt for the sake of freedom. I humbly point out that there are lots of things we did 240 years ago that we don’t do today, and indoor plumbing and better methods of discourse are just a few examples. “It had to be done” is a ridiculous rationale for violence. People are dead, and the foundations of democracy have been put to the test like never before.

Once the Capitol was breached, what was the plan of the demonstrators? A hostage situation? A slaughtering? Trump flags on the podium? Did they expect the US government to just go “ok, ok, he can be president again”? Sure, most of the folks who got into the building started trashing the place and taking pictures for their court case simply because they didn’t know what else to do, leaving them to default to DC tourist mode. Yet others had deeply sinister intentions. Were it not for a few brave souls, including Officer Eugene Goodman, we may have witnessed a number of political leaders hurt if not killed.

I believe that President Trump stirred the pot and helped nudge this event to reality. If nothing else, he certainly didn’t calm the situation, except for a tepid response hours into the siege. I believe that these are the marks of a poor leader. In fact, form leadership perspective, I find it telling that he put his failed election on the shoulders of his Vice President so Pence could somehow “reverse” it. I find it alarming that he pointed the angry mob in the VP’s direction. I find it horrifying that it seems to not be a big deal to Donald Trump. Or maybe it is, and we aren’t hearing about it because Trump’s primary methods of communication — Twitter and the like — have been disabled. No sources that I have encountered have spoken of Trump’s remorse.

Perhaps someone might say “hey, hey, hey… you don’t know the whole story, and who are you to call Donald Trump a poor leader?” That’s what makes this — all of it — so difficult. None of us know the whole story. Media is biased. You are a consumer being sold a product called “news”. Me too, thus my hesitation to speak up in the first place. But I ask you: what else have we to go on? How many first hand accounts and anecdotes from insiders do we need before we can connect the dots and make some kind of sketch, crude as it may be? Are we no longer free to form opinions if they violate the beliefs of another? Often it would appear not.

I believe that we have seen an example of implicit racism on our hands in that a group of mostly white demonstrators were treated very differently than a group of black demonstrators. This makes me sad because, deep down, I know it’s true. We have some healing work to do in the church and in the world. We have some repentance to do. We have some re-learning to accomplish. As a white person, I have become more and more aware of deep biases and assumptions about different ethnicities that govern our own souls more than we realize. It’s been true of me, at least. Lord, heal us and help us to see each other with your eyes.

I support the DC Police and wish they had more backup. Every police officer I personally know is a genuine, humble, dedicated servant who is willing to risk their life for mine — and yours. A few but not all police are corrupt. A few politicians. A few pastors. A few business leaders. Etc. It’s part of living in a broken world.

I am genuinely surprised that the president still has an approval rating in the 30’s. I am really surprised that 46% of the US does not believe he should be impeached. Maybe someone can help me understand. Remember back when Trump said “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters”? Prophetic.

IF you are a Trump Supporter, I do NOT condemn you. I don’t want you to unfriend me. I don’t want you to stop going to my church or any church. The Kingdom of God is much, much bigger than that. Followers of Jesus must be known for their rebounding joy in dark days. We must be known for our hope. We must be marked by our concern for the widow, the orphan, the oppressed. We must be at peace with each other. Only the Holy Spirit can do such powerful internal soul work in each of us.

IF anything, I condemn the violence that took place one week ago, and I do feel that we witnessed a severe leadership breach in the Executive Office. And I grieve. My heart is heavy. I wrote in my prayer journal last Friday that I feel genuine concern for the future of the United States. I don’t think the violence is over. I fear for the week ahead and the coming inauguration. We’ve crossed lines that I never imagined, and neither did you. Until now, we all assumed it to be true: That’ll never happen.

I recall John 18, where Simon Peter sliced off the high priest’s ear, Van Gogh style, in enraged protest of the arresting mob. Jesus, shaking His head and pulling Peter back, says “put your sword away” as he reattaches ear, Mr. Potato Head style. Pretty sweet, but there’s a point. Followers of Jesus fight differently. Different methods, different motivations, different outcomes.

So what? Prayer. Obviously, prayer. But how do we pray? We pray for humility. I don’t know it all, and I’m sure I wrote something here that I will regret. Some regret will kick in right after I hit publish (that always happens to me). Some regret will kick in after someone comments or sends me a text. Some regret will remain when I read this in 5-10 years. That’s the risk with vulnerability, and I hope you can see what I’ve written in that way — and not as another person telling you what they think and so you should think, too.

We also pray for wisdom and revelation (Ephesians 1:17). Wisdom to address a violent injustice and call it what it is; revelation to see the violence inherent in our own souls, even as God is loving us through it.

We fight for truth and justice. We disassociate the cross with the violence and terror at the Capitol (and everywhere else). We live the Sermon on the Mount.

We remember that a political leader will always let us down. In fact, any leader will ultimately let us down. That’s why all of us need to look to Jesus. He’s the only perfect leader that is unacquainted with failure.

Until His Kingdom comes in fullness, we simply trust that God is at work in these tense, ugly, divided times in the US. Remember that there is more going on in the world than just what’s happening in the US. Recall the love of Jesus for us, and be that love for someone else right now, because they really need it.

Remember that Jesus is Lord. Can he be kicked off His throne? That’ll never happen (for real).

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I find a strange peace in stumbling across something that a Church Father wrote 1700+ years ago that seems to be unfolding yet again politically and even in the church. Athanasius writes:

“But human beings, being again foolish, despising the grace thus given to them, so turned away from God and so darkened their own soul, that they not only forgot the concept of God but also fashioned for themselves others instead. They fabricated idols for themselves instead of the truth and honored beings which do not exist rather than God who is, worshipping ‘the creation rather than the Creator‘ (Romans 1:25), and, much worse, they even transferred the honor due to God to wood and stones and to every material object, and even to human beings, and went even further than this, as we described in a former treatise…” – St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation, Article 11

I know it’s a mouthful, and sometimes it helps to break down what the old guys say in order to understand their long, flowing, quite possibly run-on sentences. It looks like this:

  • Human beings are fools (we know this, which makes God’s grace both wonderful and undeserved)
  • We tend to turn away from God because our expectations aren’t met.
  • In our turning away, our souls darken and our memories of God slowly fade.
  • In the vacuum of godlessness, we start finding idols to worship (Romans 1:25)
  • Because we all want to honor someone/something, we make our idols out of whatever is tangible and valuable: money, notoriety, comfort — and people.
  • We know that things are really out of hand when we start worshipping fellow human beings, wherein a hero (a billionaire, an artist, a president) take the place of God.

How does a person avoid this? We stop the pattern by acknowledging our shared human foolishness, which we have to keep in the forefront — not to make ourselves feel bad but instead to have a firm grasp on truth. I’m a fool.

Once stopped (I’m a fool!) we’re ready to change directions — and turn to (or back to) God. The church word for this is “repentance”. Followers of Jesus have to repent sometimes, as an idol works its way into our lives.

Even when we assume the centrality of Christ in our lives, it’s easy for other idols to sneak in. Sure, we like Jesus and even listen to him sometimes, but our comfort comes not from him but something else — simply defined as an idol.

Followers of Jesus are easily duped into idolatry of a human being (a pastor, a musician, a president) if that person happens to say the right things that employ the words of Jesus to affirm their biases. Once that happens, it’s a tough turn back. The gravitational pull of our perception of personal godliness, which is often the cross draped in a flag, is almost too difficult to pull away from. Why? Because we equate a disassociation of our patriotism/nationalism with walking away from Christian faith, and that’s a no-no.

But, when we have Christianity replaced by a crappy replica idol, the joke’s on us: it turns out we weren’t participating in orthodox Christianity in the first place, but rather a bastardized version of the gospel that fits predetermined parameters which align with our tightly held values. This particular gospel has very little to do with the gospel of Jesus and is, instead, a gospel of personal comfort that behaves so similarly to what has been normal in American Christianity that it is rarely, if ever, challenged.

Yet… here we are today. Dylan may have sold his entire catalog, but I think I can say without fear of copyright violation that the times are still a changin’.

I don’t write this as a know-it-all. Please, Lord, save me from any spirit that makes me sound better than anybody else. I believe that there’s Jesus “up here” (hands in air) and all of us “right here” (hands side to side). However, if we can step back and see the slick sophistication of idolatry and acknowledge our own proclivity to what Athanasius talks about, it might do us some good.

I don’t think it’s a bad thing to second guess ourselves from time to time. “I’m right, and you’re wrong” is the only mantra that seems to generate a response these days. Who are we listening to? Where are we asking humble questions? How are our perceptions changing? Where is Jesus in all this? How can I be a citizen of the Kingdom in the midst of social and political chaos?

I recall the story of the storm. Jesus and his disciples, out on the lake. The clouds rise up, the rain and wind hit, and the waves threaten to overturn the boat. The disciples are freaking out while Jesus is asleep. So they ask him to do something, and he does. Here we are, watching all this go down, and Jesus is… asleep? Certainly at peace. This is the part where we stop panicking and ask him to do something. In me. In us. In the world.

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[RadCast] You’re Weird. Good! Now — be used by God

John the Baptist is a great example of a peculiar person submitting to God’s call, making himself totally available in every way, and recognizing the power running through (not from) him. If you follow Jesus, you have that power, too. Use it. (Mark 1:7-8) http://www.radamdavidson.com

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Lexi’s Eye Appointment

You and I go to the eye doctor and look at distant charts consisting of progressively smaller letters, voting for ONE or TWO. Since Lexi is physically 16 but mentally 2, she can’t really answer questions about the E on the top line. If I didn’t already know, I’d be rather curious about how an eye exam for someone who cannot read actually works. As it turns out, the gang at Kellogg Eye Center (you’ve tried the cereal, now try the exam!) at the University of Michigan (still winning in some minds) is very good at checking the eyes of those of us with special needs.

A quick dilation (don’t ask how the eye drops went) and a comparison of light refraction is about all they need to decipher if Lexi needs glasses or not. It makes me wonder why you and I don’t undergo the same simple exam, rather than the stress of deciding which one is better: ONE or TWO. I don’t know about you, but that whole inquisition with the giant knobby lens machine in our face feels like the worst final exam ever. ONE OR TWO!?! WHICH ONE LOOKS BETTER? Don’t get this wrong or you WON’T BE ALBE TO SEE CORRECTLY FOR A YEAR, at least ONE or TWO years.

Not only do I give five stars to the team at Kellogg Eye Center, I also give high kudos to my son — Lexi’s brother, Malachi — who was unsurprisingly willing to take the afternoon off of school to join us and give me a hand with her. His presence made things much easier indeed. I am blessed and grateful for each of my kids. On this trek to Ann Arbor, I found myself again thankful for what Lexi teaches me about joy and grace, for Malachi’s vigilant servanthood and good company.

Behold: this is how teenagers wait, with phone in hand…

By the way, Lexi doesn’t need glasses, and that’s probably a good thing. When she encounters something she doesn’t like, she throws it across the floor and/or into the trash. Brussels sprouts, poorly disguised Melatonin tabs, and, I imagine, her prescription and pricey glasses.

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[RadCast] The Discipline of Celebration :::

As a recovering control freak, I find it difficult to simply be in the moment and enjoy the blessings of God — and there are many blessings indeed. I’m learning the discipline of celebration, which I’m working out in real time. I’m praying “teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” as I look back. I’m praying “establish the work of our hands, Lord,” as I look forward. (Psalm 90)

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[RadCast] Is Jesus Stressed Out Today?

Yep, things are about to change. Tomorrow won’t be the same as today. What keeps Jesus from stressing out? And what motivates us today — fear or love?

Psalm 103:13-19

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It’s All Temporary

Someone from the church works at the local coffee house. I mentioned on Sunday that I would stop by today, and I did. A stellar decaf latte got the job done. I used to dislike milk in my coffee, but a mission trip to Brazil changed that. Anyway, the coffee was here one minute, gone the next.

Large. And in charge.

Like you, I have received approximately three metric tons of political mail. Shiny and colorful card stock, printed both sides. This weekend, someone went through and put a bunch of door hangers on each of our handles. As the winds kicked up Sunday evening, they flew all over the neighborhood and mingled with the fallen leaves. Here in suburbia, machines with cup-holding fingers pick up piles of leaves we pushed to the roadside. Can the flyers get picked up that way, too? It’s about the same amount.

Do you think they’d take the pumpkins as well?

I couldn’t help but take a moment to drink in tonight’s sunset. Outstanding work. I knew it would only look like this for a few minutes, so I captured it. Very Bob Rossian.

How many colors do you see?

These three items have something in common. They are all temporary. The hand and gut warming cup of coffee is consumed and forgotten. Leaves that worked all summer have died, just as half of all political hopes shall do when the votes are counted. The street lights are on until the sun shows up on the other side of the sky tomorrow (you know, Lord willing). And a Tuesday election will come and go. A term in office will come and go. The kids will tell their own kids about 2020 and what it was like. I’ll be drinking coffee for as long as I can, which isn’t forever. At least not here.

No, there’s nothing new under the sun. It’s all cycles. Eternity is in the beyond, above, elsewhere.

Every day here is a gift. Observe, enjoy, but don’t fret. It’s all temporary.

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