Monday, April 25, 2011


I was handed a paper that I shoved in my pocket unread. But, later, the title caught my attention as I was about to drop it in recycling: “Relax.” That word thrust me back to a “Teen-dom” ruled by mullets and neon, where “relax” was used to call people back from hysterics because of some youthful limit-pushing.

The article must have been written with that in mind. Here’s a snippet: “Everyone now take a step backwards and a quick, deep breath, and remember, before it begins, what this is supposed to be about. It is supposed to be about kids and too often we—the adults—lose perspective and get caught up in our own . . . ambitions.”

This caution was for parents in my son’s baseball league: A written notice for adults to cease the vein-popping, hernia-inducing stupidity that comes with believing your kid is the next Jose Bautista. It is plain talk: Relax and remember what it’s supposed to be about. Baseball is about enjoying leather and laughter, bat and ball, sunshine and sweat. Adults, not kids, turn it into ambition and agendas.

This relaxation primer should be given to some people in the church. When once we first believed—when the wonder of grace, the love and justice of God, the passion of the cross, the depth of our sin, the glory of resurrection, the transformative power of the Holy Spirit and Jesus-centred community first startled us awake—did we not pour from our depths the words of that peculiar band of my youth, “Send me, take me, use me, spend me, I am not my own”? These are the self-abandoned sentiments of first love.

Then, slowly, stealthily, we succumb to agendas and discontent. Someone lets us down. A decision we don’t like is made. Something is called “foul” that we’re convinced is “fair” (or vice versa). Someone else is given a responsibility we covet. We suddenly forget what this is all about. We make the kingdom about me or about those who think like me. We lose perspective. We turn on each other. We get caught up by ambition or trapped by past pain. It’s as if we need a note that says, “Relax.”

This world is a broken place inhabited by broken people. Abortions of baby girls in India are staggeringly rampant. AIDS is producing a generation of fatherless and motherless kids. Folks in Japan and Haiti would simply be glad for a house. Your neighbours drown in a sea of debt as their marriage crumbles. That awkward kid on your child’s team is being abused. Loneliness is pandemic. Countless many are heading towards eternity bound by sin and blinded by idolatry.

And you! You have been made alive in Christ by faith. You have been set free by the gracious act of God. You are following a new master and are a citizen of a new land. You are part of an amazing community of saints in heaven and on earth who carry a treasure in jars of clay. Have you lost the plot? Have you placed your ambition ahead of your Lord’s?

Relax. Step back before you start another parking lot conversation, letter campaign or Facebook defriending. Take a breath before you make some political play rather than gospel move. Remember who this is for and what it’s all about before you ruin it for the kids, before tarnishing both your name and his.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Mapping The Interior

Maps intrigue me. It’s fascinating where people settled, why, and the names given to those crossroads and deltas. Sadly, with our growing dependence on GPSs to cheat, map reading may be a skill forced into extinction. This may have more dire consequences than we think. Maps record our histories, guide return visits, and point us to new frontiers. Dots, lines, and letters on a page reveal what has shaped us and the convoluted roads we and others have tread.
The Plains of Abraham. Queenston Heights. Dawson City. Vimy Ridge. Bay Street. Walkerton. Mayerthorpe. The names alone tell a story. Marks on a map invite us to take a journey into the soul of a people. Outdated maps uncover the ever changing ebb and flow of human geography. For instance, why did the Ontario city of Berlin, where sausage and sauerkraut are staples, change its name to Kitchener? Whatever became of Frobisher Bay? Look internationally and Leningrad is no more and the 2008 Summer Olympics weren’t in Peking; and yet they were. Curious, isn’t it?
Explorers like David Thompson are fascinating and most young males imagine mapping wild interiors like he did. Once upon a time some friends and I mapped a scavenger hunt that took participants around our township by car. All they had to do was follow our clues and directions. Many left. Few returned. Of those who managed to straggle across the finish line no one actually completed the hunt as charted. The reason: we had made a grave error in our mapmaking. At a crucial intersection we had sent people left when they needed to turn right. We were no David Thompsons.
Navigating the contours of our own interiors can be, similarly, full of good intentions yet marked by utter failure. There are diverse locales in a man’s heart that even he, homo-erectus-who-needs-no-mapus, is hesitant to explore let alone lay down a path for others to follow. Like a closed country, we do not easily open ourselves to the outside world. We can be our own North Korea.
Recently this became personal. A conflict awakened things in me I thought I had moved beyond. Apparently there are “further up and further in” lands in me I am unfamiliar with. I hardly knew what to do with this uncharted terrain. Where did these emotions come from? Why is this bothering me so much? Lord, cartographer of my heart, what is going on? I could hardly put it into words. Ever been there? Ever been too scared to travel down that dark lane?
This most recent mapping of my interior required some means of grace.
I required the grace of Scripture. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” croons Psalm 119:105. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” instructs Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16. The ancient Word has taken so many on surprising and transforming internal journeys and it happened to me again too.
I needed the grace of companionship. Every Lewis needs his Clark. Every Lewis and Clark needs their Sacagewea. We can’t map the interior alone. Many claim to have tried, but I’m convinced that’s just a line of Buffalo chips on a trail to nowhere. Saying you’re okay and you’ll go there alone is a big smokescreen to hide fear of back roads. I needed a mentor and friends. I needed my wife. Through their words, listening ears, wisdom, prayers, embrace, and rebukes, I found my way again.
I found rest in the grace of the incarnation and the resurrection. Everywhere you go, there you are. So goes the irritatingly pithy yet nonetheless true declaration that I can’t escape myself. Thankfully and gloriously, I can’t escape the risen Jesus either. Everywhere I go, he is. He knows all about mountains, valleys, and even agony in a garden. He was tempted in every way as I am. God himself knows what is true from false in me and still he calls me “Son” because I trust him. For those afraid of what lives in the back country this is enormously hopeful and frees the boyish explorer to venture into the interior that the fearful man risks cutting off from the outside world.