Monday, July 30, 2012

Why Forgive?

In the wake of the tragic shooting in Aurora, Colorado so much emotion comes out. Disgust, fear, anger, and sadness permeate us as we try to make sense of something senseless. Think of heading to the theater to watch a much anticipated film to only end up witnessing up front or becoming victim of a bloody, violent, murderess rampage? Think of the horror, shock and pain that they went through. Now consider how our country reacts. There's been a spike in requests for gun carry permits in an attempt to protect oneself. There are talking heads spouting all sorts of divisive vitriol from both sides of the political spectrum.
Add to this, there's rioting going on in Anaheim because a police officer shot and killed an unarmed youth; Happy Valley is still digesting the penalties and public scorn from the Sandusky trial; and George Zimmerman is awaiting trial for the shooting of Trayvon Martin with all of the racial tension that has simmered through that incident. How do we as a society find healing in the wake of all that has been going on?
My suggestion is to look at two men as imperfect examples. The first is Pierce O'Farrill. He is one of the victims of the shooting in Aurora. He has chosen the Christ-like attitude to forgive. I have to admit in my walk I would seriously struggle to be able to do this. It takes a supernatural healing and heart change to be able to forgive those who have wronged you. We have tender spots in our hearts that will cry out in either fear or anger. Yet, a young man like this can step up and decide to forgive and to find compassion and desire to understand why someone would commit such a heinous act.
The second is Pope John Paul II. In 1980 Mehmet Ali Ağca shot the Pope four times. The reaction from around the world was (as in the Aurora shooting) disgust, fear, and anger. In 1983, the Pope visited Agca in prison. In one of the most talked about acts of his papacy, he forgave his assasin. Time Magazine's cover story for that week had a picture of the visit with the quesion: "Why Forgive?"

I believe that this may have been the Pope's most important act during his life. He fully demonstrated the Christ-like grace of forgiveness. After his death it is said that Agca was deeply saddened by the event, that he considered the Pope his friend and expressed his deep love for him. That is amazing healing!
Forgiveness is such a difficult thing but a healing one. I am very much walking the slow path to being able to forgive others. It is a process of release. Not only for the wrong doer, but a release of the chains of the wronged. When that step begins, we find our burdens lifted. We will continue on our journey to healing.
One of my favorite Christian musical artists is Steve Taylor. Once dubbed the Court Jester Of The Kingdom, he is known for his cynical, and sarcastic views of life in in the Christian world. He has lambasted TV Evangelists (I Manipulate), conformity (I Want To Be A Clone) and political influence of conservativism (It's A Personal Thing). Amazingly, he was so touched by the Pope's actions that he wrote this beautiful and positive song in response to Time's question, "Why Forgive". He just said "To Forgive".

I saw a man
He was holding the hand
That had fired a gun at his heart
Oh, will we live to forgive?

I saw the eyes
And the look of surprise
As he left an indelible mark
Oh, will we live to forgive?

Come, find release
Go, make your peace

Follow his lead
Let the madness recede
When we shatter the cycle of pain
Oh, we will live to forgive

Come, find release
Go, make your peace

I saw a man
With a hole in His hand
Who could offer the miracle cure
Oh, He said live
I forgive
Oh, He said live
To forgive
Oh, He said live
To forgive

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Legacy Of Kings And Coaches

2 Chronicles 33:1-7
"Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-five years. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites. He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had demolished; he also erected altars to the Baals and made Asherah poles. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them. He built altars in the temple of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, “My Name will remain in Jerusalem forever.” In both courts of the temple of the Lord, he built altars to all the starry hosts. He sacrificed his children in the fire in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, practiced divination and witchcraft, sought omens, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the Lord, arousing his anger."
Of all the "bad" Kings of Judah many will point to Manasseh as the worst of them all. A privileged teen when he came to power, he pretty much led the country into moral ruin. Scholars believe that Asherah poles were in fact phallic symbols. He encouraged and participated in all sorts of pagan worship. Most shocking of all, he was all for child sacrifice and even sacrificed his very own children. One would like to think that a dirt bag like this would receive the worst and deepest of punishment:
2 Chronicles 33:11
"So the Lord brought against them the army commanders of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon."
At this point we'd like the story to end. The sicko gets locked up and we all move on. Let him rot in his cell and the world is a better place. Not so:

2 Chronicles 33:12-17
"In his distress he sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors. And when he prayed to him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God.
Afterward he rebuilt the outer wall of the City of David, west of the Gihon spring in the valley, as far as the entrance of the Fish Gate and encircling the hill of Ophel; he also made it much higher. He stationed military commanders in all the fortified cities in Judah.
He got rid of the foreign gods and removed the image from the temple of the Lord, as well as all the altars he had built on the temple hill and in Jerusalem; and he threw them out of the city. Then he restored the altar of the Lord and sacrificed fellowship offerings and thank offerings on it, and told Judah to serve the Lord, the God of Israel. The people, however, continued to sacrifice at the high places, but only to the Lord their God."
Somewhere while Manasseh was in his cell he remembered the Lord and asked for forgiveness and God granted it! Proof that Manasseh's heart was changed was that he backed up his words with real action. So now we have a nice feel good story of redemption. This begs the question: Was Manasseh a "good" king or a "bad" one? I bring this up as we now have the dilemma of Joe Paterno.

Although he did not commit any abuse, he is accused of covering up the heinous acts of his former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky. Vulnerable boys were sexually abused by this man while Paterno and the administration looked the other way and waffled on what to do. In the end, the football program was more important than the lives of innocent children and the crimes were either ignored or worse, covered up. Rick Reilly talks of the deception he fell for believing that this hailed program was headed by a saintly benevolent man. The NCAA handed down a bevy of huge sanctions against the football program. Most interesting to me was that all victories from 1998 to the present have been vacated. This was clearly a sanction against the legacy of Joe Paterno. This cost him 111 victories and drops him out from the title of the all time FBS coaching victory list (scary irony, this means the last quarterback to win a Penn State football game as of this writing is Mike McQueary the man who first help break the scandal). In the past 24 hours, Paterno's statue was removed from the football stadium.

Even two years ago, Paterno was viewed in awe: a man who ran a clean program that had never had a sniff of scandal. He also won a lot. In a sport rife with cheaters and law breakers, his program appeared remarkably pristine. His players graduated, he was and still is revered as a father figure to many, he donated millions to the school and the program brought millions more to the institution.
So this begs the question: is Paterno's legacy that of a great man who mentored, generously gave and won the "right" way or was he detached enabler who  created a culture that allowed a sexual predator to destroy the lives of countless children?
Good king? Bad king? Good coach? Bad coach? Good man? Evil man?
The lines on this are blurred. The issue is that we cannot measure a man's heart. Only God has that ability. Add to that, we are all human and capable of all sorts of heinous acts. Each and every one of us left unchecked can find ways to condone any sort of evil behavior. Yet in the same person we can find incredible acts of charity, generosity and self sacrifice. That is the dilemma. So as for legacies, both Manasseh the King and Paterno the coach will settle in to the largest pool. They are human: frail and capable of the most positive and negative acts.
Most of all they are both cautionary tales. With power comes the great magnifying glass of influence but also scrutiny. May we all bow down and recognize that the great and merciful Savior, the Extraordinary, is our only hope. Let us humbly lay before him our crowns along with our shortcomings. He is the healer.
James 4:10
"Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will lift you up."

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Hands High In Praise

Late last week I got some great news regarding one of my children. It wasn't a life and death situation, but something I have been praying for and hoping for. When God finally answered with a huge "Yes!" I was stunned in amazement. The next reaction was spontaneous and very much unlike my normal reaction to things: I raised my hands up in joy. I was so happy, joyful and thankful that my body just reacted. Reflecting on this I realize that still after all of this time of hopefully maturing and growing in my walk with Christ I am way too reserved in my praise of Him; the Extraordinary. We have so much to praise Him for and yet not only is it limited in the time we spend praising Him it's limited in scope. Why can't we just scream, cry, laugh, bow, or dance in joy?

A big part of why men lack is that we are once again boxed in by the world's definition of a male emotion. We are created to be emotional, but we are stifled by social mores that dictate how we are to act. Way too early in life we are told that emotions are for the weak. We are limited to laughing and getting angry in terms of social acceptance. Pretty pathetic if you think about it. Men end up stuffing or detaching from their emotions; the end result is all sorts of issues including depression; rage; anxiety and fear. Praise is a huge and positive step in terms of integrating and experiencing our emotions. There should be a moment in all our lives when we seriously contemplate what Christ has done for us. Perhaps in a song, or a film on the Passion or a passage of Scripture could hit us so hard with the depth to which Christ went to show His love for us. It should bring us to tears. We should bow down in thanks. Let whatever emotion you feel towards God be fully expressed. It's quite freeing and deeply refreshing. It will ease much of the stored up pain that we all need relief from.

I know that Tim Tebow is a lightning rod of controversy but I truly admire the young man. He has that settled peace that most men twice his age lack. One huge reason is that he knows his true Father and is at peace showing his love for Him.
One other thing that we have to get away from is the fear of men. Why do we care so much about what everybody else thinks? Fear is the universal emotion resulting from the fall of man. We are so afraid of what others think. Consider how much shame and scorn is heaped upon public figures for any misstep. Once I heard a comedian mention why men don't raise their hands too high when they're dancing. He said it was because there's an invisible "queer" line just around the shoulders that men's hands can't cross. The funny part is that there is some truth to that perception. Why should we care what other people define things as? Those who are at peace with who they are seem to be able to rise above all of that. In essence it's absence of fear that frees us. Adam was afraid of God in the Garden after the fall. Conversely, Christ, the apostles and so many who have died for their faith faced their fear and peacefully trusted in their Father. That is amazing.
To draw us closer to our feelings and to show just how much we as men do feel, think about the big moments you have experienced in sports. With apologies to Bobby Thomson, Carlton Fisk, Bucky Dent, Alan Ameche, Bill Mazeroski, John Havlicek, Bobby Orr, and Joe Carter; here are some that come to mind that hit deep for me:

The rag tag lowly eight seed 1994 San Jose Sharks oust the mighty President Trophy winning Detroit Red Wings on Jamie Baker's late goal.
Randy Hahn's call:
"It's over! The San Jose Sharks have pulled off a miracle. They're going to round two, Detroit is out!"
Cal vs. Stanford in 1982. The Big Game. Simply known as The Play. Joe Starkey almost bursts a lung with his call:
"AND THE BEARS!!! THE BEARS HAVE WON!!! THE BEARS HAVE WON!!! Oh my God, the most amazing, sensational, traumatic, heart rending... exciting thrilling finish in the history of college football! California has won... the Big Game...over Stanford."

Something I've waited all my life to see: the Giants win the World Series in 2010. Thank you Edgar Renteria! Not the greatest call, but Duane Kuiper gets the honors:
"Swing and a miss and that's it! The Giants are World Champions!"
US vs. Russia in the 1980 Olympics. Some consider this the greatest event in sports history. This Sports Illustrated cover is one of only three covers in their history that has no caption. Obviously, we all needed no explanation. We all love the underdog story. Al Michaels made the call (in only the second hockey game he covered):
"Do you believe in miracles? Yes!"

In the lore of Bay Area sports, this is the biggest of them all. This was the beginning of the dynasty. The Catch. Sprint Right Option. Joe Montana to Dwight Clark. The voice of the hated Dodgers, and perhaps the greatest announcer of all time, Vin Scully had the call:
"Montana...looking, looking, throwing in the end zone...Clark caught it!"
Psalm 150:4-6
"praise him with timbrel and dancing, 
    praise him with the strings and pipe, 
praise him with the clash of cymbals, 
    praise him with resounding cymbals.
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord."

Just taking the time to think about those moments stirs something inside of me. Great memories. Times when I jumped up and cheered like crazy. We have it in us. We need to express it. Meditate on how many great things are in your life. Smile about them. Laugh about them. Cry about them. Raise your hands and scream at the top of your lungs. God created us to express ourselves.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Bandit's Dad Was A Smokey

When I bought my VMax motorcycle I was talking with my daughter, Ariel, about naming it and I came up with Sharky's Machine. As Ariel and I both enjoy watching the San Jose Sharks together along with the motorcycle being teal in color it kind of fit. The name Sharky's Machine is actually for an 80s action film starring Burt Reynolds. It's a typical guy film with a tough as nails cop and lots of bullets and a few explosions. It also features still one of the coolest stunts ever as a bad guy gets shot and falls through a high rise window. This week had AMC showing one of the most intense films of all time Deliverance. I'm sure I can find some time to write about the intensity and symbolism there, but I'll just leave it as getting to see Burt Reynolds with a broken bone sticking out of his leg is not for the faint of heart (if him getting his finger tips cut off in Sharky's Machine doesn't turn you stomach enough).

When I think of Reynolds I also think about a quote I heard at a men's group meeting with the Fight For Manhood. This is one of the most significant ministries I have been involved in and I highly recommend for you to check it out. Before I get to the quote just think of who Burt Reynolds is. At one time he was the biggest box office draw in the world. His hit movies include Smokey And The Bandit, The Longest Yard, and Gator to name a few. He has fame, fortune, the affection of glamorous women and was a star high school athlete. I know growing up he was considered the cool guy laughing at authority, making his own rules and carving out his own path. In many respects, he is the world's definition of a man's man. He has had all the world has to offer.

Ecclesiastes 2:10-11
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
    I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
    and this was the reward for all my toil.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
    and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; 
    nothing was gained under the sun.

Reynolds, like so many other men with riches, power, and fame are like Solomon. Yet somehow, having all the world had to offer didn't fill the void for either man. Here's the quote that rings in my brain so often when I think of Reynolds. It sounds a bit like my experience:

Burt Reynolds in Parade Magazine:
My dad was the chief of police, and when he came into the room all the light and air went out. There's a saying in the south - no man is a man until his dad tells him he is. It means that someday when you're 30 or 40, grown up, this man whom you respect and love and you want to love, you hope he'll put his arms around you and tell you, "You're a man now, and you don't have to do all those crazy things you're doing and get into fistfights and all that to defend your honor. You don't have to prove anything to me. You're a man and I love you." But my dad and me, we never hugged and never kissed and we never said "I love you." No we never even cried together. So what happened was later, I was deseperately looking for someone who would say, "Burt you're all grown up now, and I approve of you, I love you, you don't have to do those things anymore." But that didn't happen and I was lost inside. For most of my life, I couldn't connect - I was incomplete; and I didn't know then what I needed to know. 

There's so much in this quote I've spent a lot of time mulling over what he's saying.
One thing that stands out is how desperate he needs his father's love, acceptance and validation. Sadly, like most of us it never happened. Even worse, it seems that his dad was an intimidating presence. I wonder if my children would think that growing up, when I entered a room I sucked the air out? Our society has removed the father's all important role of giving identity to our children. We don't realize that we have been empowered by God to give a masculine love and validation. Our culture almost mocks the concept of rites of passage. I know that I wish that somewhere along the way someone gave me the consistent validation and masculine love I so desperately needed. As an example, my son in law who has served in the military (including a tour in Iraq), graduated college and won the heart of my most precious daughter obviously had not received that validation. The night before the wedding I gave him my own awkwardly presented but heartfelt and truthful personal validation. I told him that I was proud of him; that I would accept him, love him and treat him as my own adult son; and I told him that in my eyes he is a man. We hugged. At the wedding, before giving him Ariel's hand, I told him again that I'm proud of him. This is all so true. He is a good man and a man worthy of God's love. My continual prayer is that he daily becomes more and more confident of those facts.

Another surprising thing is that Reynolds wanted his dad to say "grow up and start acting like a man and that you don't have to prove anything to me." It's sad to see so many men who are desperately seeking validation. It's a vain exercise in of itself. Look at so much of the self glorification going on the music industry, on the playing field and on the political platform. Why can't we see past ourselves? Beyond that there are so many in their twenties and beyond who are still living like boys: consumed by their Xbox, cable TV, hobbies, and sports. I'm definitely not against personal pursuits, but how all consuming they can become (basically addictions). We so desperately need someone to tell us the truth: we're men and called to step up and live beyond our own pleasures; that we are committed to the well being and protection of others.
Also, what is clear from Reynolds is that we need to show our vulnerable emotions. I know I have a lot of growth to do in this area. Tragically, our society has so narrowly defined what a man is (Jason Gaddis calls it the The Man Box) that any emotion beyond anger is weak, for sissies, or is somehow an indication that you're homosexual. Sadly, showing emotion for a boy will invite ridicule. We learn to stuff our emotions and become incomplete and detached. We so desperately need dads who are willing to cry, hug, kiss and show genuine emotion. It is a long journey for most men to get there, but my prayer is that we can get there. Our wives, children and our world needs us to be more integrated intellectually and emotionally.
I'm sad to hear that at the time that Burt Reynolds made this quote, he had enough self realization that he knew he was lacking. He was lost inside, he couldn't connect with others, he was incomplete and didn't know what he needed to know. That is a great description of how I lived a large part of my life. Without the direction of an earthly father we will feel lost. Even with a good earthly father, his weaknesses and sin will leave gaps in our development. Only God can fill that gap. Only through His intervention and the placement of others who will walk the journey with you will you find the answers. I know for me it's a complicated, difficult journey but I am blessed with great friends with whom I owe a debt I could never repay. I also have a great God who did intervene in my life. He has somehow broke through all of the hurt and confusion and guided me to a better place. My hope is that whether we are an international superstar or just a regular guy with a family and a mortgage we all find what is lacking.
Hebrews 12:1-3
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Madea (aka Tyler Perry), I Owe You One

At some point we've probably asked, "What one celebrity would you want to meet?" To that some would pick a famous actor, athelete, or statesman. Recently, my answer to that question has changed. The famous person I'd most want to meet is now Tyler Perry. The odd thing is that I am not a huge fan of his TV shows or movies. To be honest, the humor is not my taste and the cultural context is something that is not familiar territory for me. So the question is why would I choose him? The thing that does fascinate me is that he has a message. There is a deep voice in his works that speaks to the deep pains that we experience in life. It speaks to the facade that we put up when in reality we have deep wounds that we need to face and heal from.

This is the reason is that I owe him a debt of gratitude. I would like to just shake his hand and thank him for being willing to talk about his past. Last year he appeared on Oprah Winfrey and talked about the physical and sexual abuse he experienced as a child and how it affects him. He was brave and healthy emotionally enough to step up to give his voice to abuse. To be honest I rarely watch Oprah but my wife wanted me to see it since so much of the struggles in his life sounded like mine. She was right on the mark. For that all too short hour, Perry along with other men spoke of the fear, shame, pain, anger, detachment, withdrawal, self doubt, self hate and confusion that permeates the life of a man who has experiened abuse. From what Jodi saw, I had that "deer in the headlights" stare as I watched Perry talk about the feelings I had also felt. It's like a deep dark cavern that was inside my heart was suddenly hit with a bright light. I'm not sure I can put all of those feelings into words, but it was painful, relieving and frustrating all at the same time. Perry mentioned that writing about his experiences and his Faith in the Lord were great parts of his healing.

I felt like a heavy burden was lifting off of me, but also a deep anger was seething about the loss of "what might have been" sunk in. I feel like I have carried so much of the shame of my failures when in part there was a pattern established in my life early on that helped me survive what I was going through. Unfortunately, this pattern was a hurtful and destructive one in my adult life. I hurt over the lost opportunities, broken relationships and general self loathing that I had to walk through. Thanks to God and Tyler Perry, this was the epiphany moment that started me on a better road.
When taking stock of my life, I realized that I was bullied in a deep and painful way. It was prolonged and never addressed. What I learned was to suppress the hurt, fake like I wasn't in pain and continue to be a good kid so that I could be left alone. I now can see when I am starting those withdrawn, detached, cynical patterns and break away from them. The key is to know who I am in Christ. I, like everybody else, is the deeply valued son who is blessed and loved. God has secured me and I now live safely within His care. My sincerest hope is that if you can relate to any of this, seek out the healing that you richly deserve.

Psalm 23:1-3

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He refreshes my soul.

As for Tyler Perry, I now watch his shows and films with a more understanding perspective. My hope is that the deep messages that he presents will speak to this world. He is a brother in Christ and my prayer for him is that he continues to heal and find success.