[RadCast] Keep Emptying Your Hands (Luke 9:23)

… choosing to be a disciple/apprentice, denying self, embracing the cross, following Jesus — and doing so daily. Over time, discipleship becomes a habit and we *truly* change. By God’s grace, it is possible. http://www.radamdavidson.com

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Quarantime

My phone rang, 11:20am, Tuesday. A shiver ran down my spine when I saw that it was Lexi’s school. I love the people at WoodsEdge because of how well they take care of and train my daughter. These teachers and staff are excellent folks who are committed to educating the special needs population, even during a pandemic. They’re great folks, but I knew they weren’t calling just to say hello. My brain came up with a multiple choice list of what it might be:

A. Lexi is sick (this is very unusual — never pick A)

B. Lexi got into a “fight” (she can be um… expressive… but this probably wasn’t it)

C. Lexi was exposed to COVID 19 (always pick c)

D. (Always pick c)

No fever, no symptoms, but she was exposed to another student who tested positive and needed to be picked up from school ASAP. I wrapped up the meeting I was in and hit the road, my mind buzzing with the implications. A 14 day mandatory quarantine. Unclear answers on how this would affect the rest of the family. Would she show symptoms? Is the other kid ok? Should I cancel the rest of my in-person appointments? Should I change my ZOOM background? Why are Canada Geese so remarkably unkind, unlike their people?

Lexi has severe special needs. Our lives are altered by her presence in good and challenging ways. While she does limit me, she also grounds me. Yes, I have one hand tied behind my back, but my other hand is more dexterous. It’s humbling and even a bit humiliating to rely on other people, but it is good for the soul to acknowledge what everyone learns eventually: you can’t do life alone. There is no choice but to count on God and others.

By Tuesday afternoon, I had answers. First off, Lexi was fine — which is good — but would need to be monitored for symptoms over the next 5 days. Second, it would probably be best if I quarantined too, as I can’t really isolate from Lexi. Third, I work with a good team of people at Renovation who can reconfigure on a dime and make things good — better, probably — without me.

Wednesday rolled around. Day one of quarantine. All my meetings were Zoomtastic. Lexi was mostly cooperative, but her game was thrown off by being out of school. I couldn’t go anywhere, though I admit I did a quick run to the store early on because there were some essentials that we needed. Since then, I’ve been nowhere but in my car or outside, or in downtown Chicago.

Lemme tell you about Chicago by giving some backstory: by Saturday, my extroversion was desperate. Karen, my resourceful and saintly mother in law, came to the house and told me to leave. It was the kindest thing I’ve heard in a while. I drove west, hitting Laura’s Little Burger Joint, voted Michigan’s Best Burger, and ordered from outside. Then I drove west-er and found Lake Michigan. The sea was uncharacteristically calm, but the rain wouldn’t give up, so being outside wasn’t a good long term strategy.

I thought “what’s the most wasteful, ridiculous, and memorable way I could spend time to recharge, stay dry, be around people, and be home by 10pm?” And then I looked across the lake and it hit me (BAM):

I should drive all the way to Chicago for a slice of pizza.

And that’s what I did.

2 hours and 17 minutes later, I was there: hazards on, curbside in front of Lou Malnati’s on Wells. I called ahead. In a moment of clarity, I ordered an extra large deep dish, double pepperoni (there never really can be enough). After all, who would drive that far for one piece of pizza? My plan was perfect: they’d bring it out and I’d drive off somewhere safe to consume my treasure, like a half-tamed squirrel carrying a freshly dispensed peanut.

The pizza was delicious and was my excuse for making the trip. But the setting was what I truly needed to be recharged, recalibrated, and social without the risk.

Being in a town I love, driving through city streets that are both hustle and bustle… it was a nature walk of a different kind. The squeaky wheeled L above my head sang like birds as the howl of the diesel CTA buses croaked. People darted and flowed like fields of masked barley waving in the wind. A biker almost ran into me, like so many annoying mosquitoes. Is that a… a street band performing on 5 gallon buckets? Yes, like the site of a deer, leaping in majestic glory.

Bumper to bumper on Dearborn, LaSalle, Randolph, Michigan Ave, Upper and Lower Wacker, and that beautiful, beautiful Lake Michigan, now seen from the other side. The energy and urban flow brings me life. The concrete jungle. The humanity. The awkward site of the CloudGate, surrounded by no one.

I came home with 80% of a deep dish pepperoni. Hours later, I would eat another 20% for breakfast. It was an extravagant joy that came about because of a crisis. I was full of pizza and recharged in all ways.

In these strange days when Jesus is still Lord, I can say that a pandemic offers little slices of joy — yes, like giant hunks/slices of dish pizza — that makes for a great day after all. By the way, as of this writing, Lexi is symptom-free and every slice of joy has been consumed and I am rather happy about both.

Lexi beckons. She wants pizza, and I have no backup plan. I hope all is well with you.

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10 Years

Losing a parent is a major milestone. The span between my mom’s diagnosis and her death was far too short and came at a ridiculously young age. 10 years ago today was the first full day on earth without mom here. I remember crying as I fell asleep and crying as soon as I woke up this morning in 2011 — after those first few seconds of bliss where I didn’t remember what happened the day before.

What does time do? They say it heals all wounds. Time helps wounds scab over and become less painful, but the scars continue to tell a story. This scar is 10 years old. Phantom pains kick in now and then; a brush with something in this world will remind me of my mother, followed by the realization that she’s not here anymore.

I was driving last week and took off fast from a green light, my little hybrid car pushing it to the limit. I remembered my mom’s old Saturn wagon, which had a “Performance Mode” button on the transmission console, which I suppose was meant for when you accidentally navigated onto an active Nascar track. “Performance” made all 4 cylinders whine even louder. As my own car took off in its own version of “performance mode”, I had this thought:

I should call mom and tell her that this car is faster than hers, even in performance mode.

I thought this actual thought. She’s been gone for 10 years, and I’m reaching for my phone.

Yep, that’s a scar.

Sometimes Zac (12) will begin to tear up and say “I miss Grandma” or “I wish I knew Grandma more”. He’s mourning the loss of what was, as well as the loss of what could have been if she were still around. The future tense of loss is often more painful than the past tense.

Losing a parent is a major milestone. 10 years after losing a parent is also a major milestone. At this point, I just wish I could call her.

Time heals all wounds? Perhaps. The real healing, of course, is found in the coming Kingdom. Until then, life is leaps of joys pockmarked by bouts of surprise sadness.

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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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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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