[RadCast] Easter Monday, still resurrecting (1 Cor 15:19-22)

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I spray painted the shrub in our front yard, ok?

The doorbell rang, making all of us run through the list of what it might be: a neighborhood friend, someone dropping off folded laundry (awesome), an Amazon delivery.  This time it was a lawn-chemical company.  They wanted to talk to the homeowner, which worked out well because that’s who answered.  I walked outside to hear the pitch and enjoy the sunlight, fresh back from its vacation away from Michigan.

The peddlers, lawn-chem, wanted to help me achieve the front lawn of my dreams.   “Have you ever treated your lawn?”  Obviously not.  I mean… look at it.  Lawn-chem wanted to give it a spring chem-ing, to help it achieve maximal lawniness.  Thankfully I had just produced proof that I didn’t care one bit about having a chem-lawn: the shrubbery.

I led the lawn-chem door to door team over to our front yard monstrosity, a 70’s shrub that has slowly been returning to the wild form whence it came.  I showed them the broken tow strap tied loosely around the base of the shrub, saying “see that tow strap?  I tried to rip this thing out of the ground last year and it snapped — 3,000 pound tensile rating and POP!”  Lawn-chem was impressed.   Then I said “see these branches here?  They used to be brown.  See, when I tried to rip the shrubbery out, some kind of tree vein must’ve snapped, so these branches atrophied and turned the color of desert.”  Team lawn-chem looked puzzled.  I pointed and said “look closer: they’re spray painted.”  That’s right.  I spray painted some of the branches of our shrub so that the dead brown stuff wouldn’t look so bad.  This is like spray-on hair, or at least a bad combover, and no one is fooled.

To tell you the truth, it’s not even a good paint job.  It’s a totally different shade of green.  Even if you squint, it still looks fake.  It mocks any sense of outdoor suburban aesthetic.

Using my visual aid, an unhealthy horticultural specimen propped up by Hollywood effect, I asked them the obvious question: “Do I seem like the kind of guy who wants to have his lawn treated?”  The lawn-chem duo, already scoping out their next doorbell, agreed that our conversation was moot, which was very kind of them.  I, too, wanted to be kind, so I added “listen, I’m not your guy, plus, I’ve got little kids that play out here, so I’m not huge into toxins and such… but look over there: his lawn is stunning… there’s your target customer.”

Lawn-chems thanked me.  I wished them well.  And sure, tell the neighbors: it’s spray paint.

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The Disruption of Lent

Lent is a 40 week season of preparation.  We’re working our way to Easter — a great celebration! — by taking seriously our spiritual formation, realizing that you can’t have a resurrection without a death.  Jesus calls us to die to self, but we end up being kept alive (though barely) by solutions that give a rush followed by vacuum.  It’s a lot to think about and requires a certain perseverance on our part, made possible by the wonderful grace of Jesus.  Stir us up, Lord.  Disrupt us.  Awaken us.

Referring to this season of Lent, author Thomas J. Talley writes:

To do this is to enter for the time upon a different sense of who I am, a more profound sense of who I am, achieved by disengagement from preoccupation with the structure which normally defines me.  It is a matter of rediscovering ourselves by forgetting who we are and this forgetting, this turning in a new direction, is metanoia, conversion, repentance.  Repentance is not preoccupation with an unsavory past, but the very opposite of that.  It is the positive embrace of our helplessness as a moment of transcendent truth.  It is the exciting discovery of humility, of poverty, of nakedness, and of the utter seriousness of life in God.

Disruption, friends.  Liturgical disruption.  A temporary disarranging that makes us employ our senses in ways we didn’t previously need.  Like rearranging your desk and bumping your left knuckles on the stapler that once sat patiently on your right.  We take new paths to the same old jobs for the sake of variety.  We appreciate cow pastures or coffee shops we never noticed before.  We couldn’t have noticed them because we were on familiar ground.

Familiarity numbs us to the ever-presence of Father, Son, and Spirit.  Emmanuel means God is with us.  In our boredom, God becomes an old winter coat in the closet that we stumble across when we’re looking for our umbrella, forgetting and thus surprised that my old coat was here the whole time!

Lent pushes us out of familiar territory.  Unprotected by routine, our souls smack their lips, wipe their eyes, and look around bleary, asking what time it is…

And that’s when we’re ready for resurrection.

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Friends, Readers, Countrypeople: Lent me your ears

Some people hear the word Lent and their Protestant shields go up, with phasers set on Reformation.  They’re weary of Filet-O-Fish commercials and forehead ash residue.  “We left that medieval stuff in the 1500’s, when Luther put that thing on the door!”  But I assure you that Lent — the ancient practice of observing the 40+ days leading up to Resurrection Sunday — is an extraordinarily helpful practice for any follower of Christ, be they Catholic, Protestant, or even Anglican.  Anglicanism, incidentally, is where I trace my roots as a Free Methodist –> Methodist –> Episcopal.  John Wesley never turned in his Anglican badge. Actually, it was probably more of a vestment, or maybe some kind of sash.

In other words, I’m a protestant/Anglicanish follower of Jesus.  I have faith in Christ — His life, death, and resurrection — and I try to pattern my life after His.  And that, my friends, is where observing Lent is so very helpful.  Let me try ‘n’ explain.

Lent remembers the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring hunger, thirst, and the “best” temptation, in that it came right from the “top” guy.  When Jesus says “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me,” He speaks from the personal experience of self-denial and submission to His Father — to the point of His discomfort, suffering, and death.  There is nothing false, no presumption, when it comes to Christ’s call to follow Him.  We do as He says and as He does.

As it turns out, my life doesn’t give me the opportunity to head out to the wilderness for 40 days.  I gotta work; we gotta get the kids to school.  “Mr. Davidson, where have your children been and why are they wearing potato sacks?” isn’t a question satisfied by a harrowing story of spiritual pilgrimage, transformative as it might be.  Maybe if we homeschooled… nah.

What can I do in these 40 days?  I can say no to certain things: sugar, media, coffee.  In saying “no”, I’m leaving room for a solid “yes” for spiritual transformation and better practices like prayer, serving others, going deeper.  The idea that we can somehow prove our worthiness to God by suffering is absurd.  Abandon that line of thinking.  No, this is about taking control of my appetites and getting more serious about spiritual pilgrimage while still living like a responsible grown-up (or at least my best version of one).

There’s something meaningful about changing up our routine during for Lent.  Anytime is good, but now is especially powerful because:

  1. Lent is observed worldwide.  It may not be obvious where you work/learn, but observance of Lent aligns you with millions of Christ-followers.  In other words: you’re not alone.  You are part of the community of faith, with Jesus at our center.
  2. Lent models the way of Jesus in a tangible, life-changing way.  Turning down a customary slice of pie might not be much, but, if done for the right reasons, the disruption can lead to openness, which then leads to a new kind of hunger beyond food.
  3. Easter will be more meaningful.  The motif of death to self/life in Christ will find a pinnacle at the celebration of the Resurrection.

It’s not too late.  We’re a few weeks out from Easter (April 21, 2019) but you can pick up a Lenten practice anytime.  I’ve hinted at a few already.  If you want more ideas, let’s chat.  Start your research in prayer, simply asking the Lord for a chance to become more like Him.  He loves that prayer, dangerous as it may be.  I hereby invite you: Lent with me.

Let the comments begin:  Do you practice Lent?  Is it a new practice?  Are you uncomfortable with it?  Have you ever worn a potato sack?  Discuss…

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Both Emily and I graduated with Music degrees from Spring Arbor University.  In fact, we met in a class called Music Perspectives, which, for us, has the double meaning of seeing music from different perspectives and meeting our perspective spouses.  Well played, SAU.

Anyway, us two music majors didn’t want to force our kids into music.  We both grew up around music but, as far as I can remember, I never felt pressured into it.  This is a good thing.  But Emily and I actually went to school and took on debt to know what we know.  As we watched our kids in the early days of their music-making, it wasn’t always easy, holding back Whiplash-like admonishments like you’re posture is off, you need to practice your scales, tune that or I will destroy you.  

Thankfully all three have drifted into music at their own pace.  Mac is turning into quite the guitar player.  It used to be that I’d show him how to play chords and strum.  But now the teacher has become the student, thanks in part to YouTube tutorials and his superbly plastic brain, which picks things up instantly.  Zac plays complex rhythms in mixed meter and has a perfect internal metronome.  He’s a better drummer at 10 than I was in college on our summer band tours.  And Lexi, unique as she is in so many ways, loves to go over to the piano and play all kinds of wild intervals.  She looks for two notes to bounce between, searching until she finds the right consonance — a Perfect 5th, Minor 7th, Augmented 4th (we discourage that one).  When she’s not playing music, she needs to hear her Wheels on the Bus mix tape.  I’m no statistician , but I can confidently proclaim that we have clicked that link 38 billion times in the last week alone.

We are fortunate to have some great instruments in our home which get played quite regularly.  Our house sounds like a busy weekend at Guitar Center, except that no one is playing Stairway to Heaven and I’m not selling warranty protection plans.  It’s not all top notch equipment, but it’s good.  We love the cacophony on the Kawai, the Strat, the Gretsch, the Yamaha, and even the Behringer.

Imagine my strange delight, then, when I noticed that everyone was playing the Fisher Price version of all these instruments.  A Paper Jamz guitar, a Yamaha “My First Drum Machine” unit, and frisbees for cymbals.  But then I realized that this was for an outdoor concert to welcome the spring, and, as much as I like a driveway music festival, I sure felt good about having the beaters out in the weather rather than the real deal.

One of these days — maybe on a Tuesday — we’ll do something all together as a “musical family”, like the Partridge Family did so many years ago.  The only reason I know about David Cassidy et al is because of reruns on the Nick at Nite cable channel.  Knowing some of the backstory always gave me a deeper understanding of Danny Bonaduce, though I cannot fully explain the enigma to this day.  Nor should I.





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Distractions & Prayer

I struggle with a regular prayer life, which makes me kinda feel like a Lenten Loser.  Lent is the time of year where we’re supposed to get better at the whole prayer thing, not worse.  It’s like spilling coffee all over the inside of your car while the outside is getting washed (you know, from the bumps of the automatic carwash — I can’t be the only person to have experienced this irony).

“I’m not very good at prayer” is usually caused by one of two factors: Time and Distraction.

Let’s talk about these, won’t we?

If you fall into the “I’m not very good at prayer” category because you don’t set and keep a time to pray, then be of good cheer: your problem isn’t as bad as you assume.  Speaking from experience, this is merely a case of a bad diagnosis.  How discouraging it must be to think that we are bad at connecting with God when, in reality, it’s just a matter of moving the day around.  To put it more succinctly: “I’m not very good at setting and keeping a time for prayer.”  It’s not that I’m bad at prayer, it’s just that I’m bad at scheduling.  Perhaps this problem isn’t as hard to fix as it seems.

How do I fix my time issue?

Setting a time for prayer is easy.  Keeping it is hard.  Most everything else you do is in strict observance to the clock.  An alarm tells you to get up, a boss tells you to be at your desk by 9, your English prof demands a paper by midnight.  Somehow you abide by these rules every day.  Every stinking day.  The reason we struggle with setting a time for prayer is that there’s no direct negative correlation, at least not that we detect.

First, decide in advance when you’re going to pray.

Without a specific time in mind, a prayer time left to chance has a good chance… of being forgotten or pushed later and later in the day until your Colbert/Netflix binge lulls you to sleepytime.  I know you’re not a morning person because of how angry you will get when I suggest this: get up earlier in the morning so that you can pray That’s the only way it works for me.  If I miss my 5am wake up call, I can occasionally get away with pushing it to 5:30 or 6, but, after that, the chances I will have a solid prayer time are quite diminished.  Just set a time and do it.

Second, decide where you’re going to pray.

Pro tip: if you want a deeper prayer life, don’t multitask it.  By this I mean don’t drive/take a shower/read the news feed as you pray. Indeed you could pray during these times, and maybe you should, especially with how you drive (just seeing if you’re still angry about the morning thing).  But multitasking is a myth.  We can only do one thing at a time.  Multitasking is just doing two things in quick succession — and wasting time and energy switching between the two.  By deciding where to pray, you set aside a mini sanctuary that is meant for only one purpose.  For me, it’s my Mom’s old drawing table, set up in the dusty corners of my basement.  I know that when I sit there, facing that direction, it’s prayer time.

Third, decide how long you’re going to pray for.

You’re working on time management, right?  Time management includes when you start something as well as when you stop.  For me, it’s one hour.  That’s a HUGE bucket of time in my day, but, for my life, it’s vital.  It may sound like a long time to you, but here’s the stinger: after an hour, I don’t want to stop & the time flies by!  That’s strange.  Do yourself a favor and don’t try to win any saint medals – just set a realistic time limit (10 minutes? 20 minutes? 5 minutes) and see where it goes.  Pastoral disclaimer: if the Holy Spirit has you go longer, don’t drop my name as a reason to stop.

Now that you’ve got a plan for making and keeping a prayer time, you’ll find another prayer deflator: distraction.

Distraction: I’m bad at concentrating [squirrel] during prayer.

This one is common to everybody.  Praying along, and all the sudden you can’t stop thinking about your March Madness Brackets or how to replace the rotors on your Nissan.  You’ve probably heard someone tell you to push the distractions out of your head.  Here’s some advice: don’t.  Explore the distraction.  Follow it, doing so in a conversation with God.  You can push it aside but it’ll keep crawling up onto the table.  Put a lasso around it, consider it in the presence of the Lord.  Why does this distraction come to mind?  If you can treat your distractions as a gift, you may find that the Spirit of God is pulling the conversation in a better direction.  I have found that entertaining the distractions with Jesus in the mix has an arresting effect on what was initially seen as a troublemaker.

Prayer is a conversation, not a presentation

If you were sitting at this table conversing with me and saw what I just saw, our conversation would’ve stopped.  I won’t go into detail (you had to be there) but, when that bird flew into the… sorry, you had to be there.  Wouldn’t it be weird if I went on talking as if it didn’t happen?  You’d think I was zoned.  OR what if I apologized profusely for the distraction and kept asking you to forgive me for it?   Awkward, right?  Hardly conversational.  There is no powerpoint in prayer, we’re not onstage, and there is no pressure to present yourself as someone you’re not.  Be free.

Pastoral disclaimer: if the distraction is a voice that tells you you’re no good, etc., don’t entertain that.  That can be pushed aside because it’s simply not true.

If it’s a time issue, you can fix that.  If it’s a distraction issue, try just going with it.  Can you imagine a prayer life that wasn’t based on anxiety and instead found a home in just giving it your best shot?  That’s the kind of thing you’d do for a friend, and that’s exactly what the Holy One invites us to.  Grace is amazing.  It’s Lent.

How have you conquered these two obstacles in prayer?  Where’s your struggle?  What’s your challenge and/or encouragement to others?  I’d love to hear!




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Handful of Animal Crackers and a Swig of Milk

My favorite snack as of late is a handful of animal crackers and a swig of Vitamin D milk.  I put 5-9 in my mouth and then marry the cookies (inter-mouthily) with the milk.  This saves dishes (except for a small cup) and gives just the refreshment I crave at the time.

Someone gave us a huge container (10 pounds!) of said crackers, and we’re all finding that the seemingly endless supply makes our family feel very rich indeed.  It doesn’t take much.  A scarcity of animal crackers, on the other hand, raises a level of exclusivity, like a signature series of goods.  When they’re there, I eat them.  When they’re not, you guessed it: I don’t eat them.

If I were you, I’d try it.  Before you do, allow me to offer one caveat: this doesn’t work with skim milk.  At that point, you might as well have a mouthful of croutons instead.  Croutons are far too concentrated to take an entire mouthful at once, skim milk or not.  The first idea that pops into my head is replacing the milk with Ranch dressing.  Do as you like, but don’t knock it until you try it.

Sometimes I’ll do that with an Oreo cookie — cookie, milk, enjoy.  But never with croutons.  Please don’t do that one unless you really want to.  Either way, be sure to let me know how it goes.

I thought I’d write this because it’s hardly political yet moderately divisive. Your input is welcome.

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