What Is Christmas? (It’s When We Defiantly Choose the Light)

new year's resolution

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Last weekend, I hosted my first Christmas party as an employer.

Okay, the truth is, I didn’t host it. My business partner has the gift of hospitality, so he was in charge of organizing the party for our therapy practice. But I figured the evening’s toast would fall to me, so on the morning of the party I awoke early to write it, intending to record a few words about the beauty of the past year.

But the truth is, for each of us at the party, 2016 was not always beautiful. Mess, loss, hardship, grief, sorrow. Professionally, we’d sat with the pain of broken people for a whole year. Personally, we had been those people.

I don’t think we’re alone.

In the last month, I’ve heard countless people say they decorated early for Christmas this year because they needed a little more joy. Many of us, it seems, were deeply craving a season of lights. And of course we were—do you remember this Year of Our Lord 2016?

This was the year of Syria and Aleppo and four million bloodied and displaced refugees with no place to go; of lethal bombs in Brussels and Belgium, mass shootings in Paris and Miami, a deadly renegade truck in Nice, controversial police shootings, and countless quiet tragedies in places not important enough to make the headlines. This was the year of Zika and babies born mortally wounded; of thirteen disastrous fires in the parched state of California and a single devastating blaze in Tennessee; of hurricanes and earthquakes and tsunamis. This was the year that art died in the form of David Bowie and Prince and Leonard Cohen and Gene Wilder and Professor Snape, to name just a few.

This was the year of Brexit.

This was the year that hate speech and hate crimes went mainstream once again. This was the year in which a presidential election left half of a country celebrating and half of a country grieving and a whole country—the most powerful on the planet—wholly divided. This was the year even the news—that most reliable of things—became fake and questionable and untrustworthy. This was the year we tapped on our news apps and held our breath, waiting for the next tragedy.

And that is only a fraction of the heartache that happened in homes and around the globe.

Of course we need a little light.

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How to Choose Your Friends in the Aftermath of the Election

The Presidential election has tested friendships and relationships of all kinds. In the wake of such a divisive contest, there may be only one truly healing way to choose your people…

empathy

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The day after the election, I had a scheduled phone call with a long-distance friend of mine. We live in very different parts of the country, have some overlap in our spiritual beliefs and even more overlap in our commitment to fatherhood and vocation, but my guess was that he voted for the other candidate. When he picked up, instead of saying hello, I asked him who he voted for.

I’m not very good at small talk.

Indeed, he had voted differently than me. We talked for thirty minutes about the election, our reasons for voting the way we did, and then we hung up the phone. After hanging up, I made a decision about the friendship: I decided he was one of my people. Because ideology and politics is not the most important criteria for choosing a friend.

Empathy is.

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How to Talk with Family About Politics This Holiday Season

What do you get when you mix family, the holidays, and politics? Gratitude and goodwill toward all, right? Well, actually…

election

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A number of years ago—when marijuana was still illegal everywhere—I stumbled into a particularly heated marijuana debate between two acquaintances. They weren’t a couple of half-baked high school kids raging against The Man; they were two highly educated professionals. One man was aggressively in favor of legalizing marijuana, the other man violently opposed to it.

They asked for my opinion.

I remember feeling a sense of dread, like I was wading into dangerous waters, with hungry things swimming beneath the murky surface. The debate did not go well.

They rarely do, do they?

Today, we find ourselves at the end of a season of unproductive debates, and at the beginning of a new season. We have important problems to solve and differing opinions about how to do so. Differences between people create tension, tension leads to conflict, and conflict usually results in gridlock at best and violence at worst. But it doesn’t have to.

In fact, sometimes, conflict can be the beginning of authentic community…

The marijuana debate had ended and I was in the car on the way home with my wife when I finally got a glimpse beneath the surface of the ideological waters I’d been swimming in. She explained that the legalization advocate had recently watched his father die a slow and painful death from cancer, while marijuana was the only thing that relieved his father’s suffering.

The man’s grief had given rise to his opinions.

In contrast, the marijuana opponent had been raised in a family torn apart by drug addiction. His brother had gone through repeated treatments and relapses and it had devastated the entire family. His pain, too, had given rise to his opinions. There was something floating beneath the surface of that contentious debate:

Stories.

The stories of two hurting people. Stories of fear and pain and anguish and loss. Stories that formed their ideas and opinions and beliefs. Stories that gave birth to natural conclusions about the way the world works best. It turns out, a person’s ideas are never simply their ideas. Opinions and beliefs are never born in a vacuum; they are always the logical result of our experiences.

Every opinion is a story in disguise.

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A Father’s Letter to His Little Ones (In the Wee Hours of the Election)

Dear Little Ones,

You are already asleep in your beds. It’s late, and I’m going to bed. It’s been a long election day.

election results

When this day began, I woke up, and I walked to the corner coffee shop in the dim, predawn light, down streets already aglow with Christmas lights. Ordinarily, I would have been cynical about the early start to the holiday season. This morning, I was grateful for the reminder that there is light in the world and, soon, we will be celebrating it. I arrived at the coffee shop. It was more crowded than normal. Almost certainly, these were voters who had awoken earlier than usual. But for a moment, just one blessed moment, I didn’t see voters. I didn’t see politics; I saw people. Just human beings, trying to wake up to yet another day, trying in some more profound way to wake up to this one life. They weren’t, at that moment, casting votes; they were just breathing. Eating. Drinking.

Little Ones, we have far more in common than in conflict, and we would know this if, instead of seeing fear and anger and ideology, we could see beneath the surface: our beating hearts, the blood pulsing through our veins, lungs filling and emptying, joints aging and aching. This morning, for one peaceful moment, I saw all these people this way, and in that moment, the lights on the trees outside weren’t the only lights I could see in the world.

It is late, and I’m going to bed, and it’s not clear how this whole disgraceful American season is going to end. I don’t know who will be the leader of our land. I don’t know how that leader will influence the laws of our land. These are things we cannot control. But as I turn in, I can tell you what we can control: the law of our family’s land—the law of this land inside our four walls.

We will love everyone who crosses our path.

Those who are most in need, are those who are most in need of us.

Fear is fired. It doesn’t get to call the shots for us.

Anger is okay. But not when it harms, only when it redeems.

Arrogance is natural, but we will call upon something supernatural within us to put it down.

Grace is a way of seeing. It is Love seeing the beauty at the center of everything. We will see to the center.

All those things your kindergarten teacher told you to do? Be kind. Share. Include. Create……Do them. Be laughed at for doing them all the way into adulthood. Keep doing them.

Remember, each of you play an indispensable role in this family of ours. Remember, everyone plays an indispensable role in this great big family of ours called humanity.

Little Ones, like those lights on the trees of the street, and like those lights in the people in the coffee shop, there is a light inside each of you. Here is the most important law of our little land:

Let it shine.

Yours,

Daddy

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How to Dream a Better Dream Than This Nightmare We’re Living In

Have you been feeling a little more afraid than usual? You know, just a little more…uneasy? I have. So have many people I know. I couldn’t make any sense of it, though, until I started having a recurring nightmare…

black and white thinking

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I haven’t had a recurring nightmare since childhood.

Until three months ago.

It begins with me standing in our kitchen, looking out upon our front yard. Then, suddenly, a large black-and-white conversion van comes barreling recklessly up our driveway toward the house. It narrowly misses the kitchen and passes out of sight, presumably to crash directly into the office next to the kitchen. I cringe and wait for the explosion.

But I hear only silence.

I peer around the corner into the study and, magically, the black-and-white van is sitting in the middle of our house. There is no one in it. It’s hazard lights are blinking ominously. Everything is dead silent. I approach the black-and-white van and, with trepidation, throw open its two rear doors. It is empty with the exception of a large box. Somehow, I know there is an old VHS tape in the box.

Somehow, I know the contents of the tape will be terrifying.

The nightmare dissolves at this point, and then resumes with me watching the tape on an old television screen. The images on the tape are like the most horrifying horror movie ever made. Death. Destruction and pain. Tragedy to the nth degree. And intermingled with all of it, a terrifying foreboding.

I always wake up at this point.

I avoided thinking about the nightmare for months. However, like all recurring dreams, until you get the message, it is unlikely to go away. So, I spent an hour fully immersing myself in the imagery of the nightmare. When I did so, the tragic images from the videotape receded and two other images from the nightmare became more prominent.

The first was the image of the tape itself, sitting in the black-and-white van.

As I meditated upon the image of the tape, a phrase kept coming to mind: “The tapes we play in our head.” Suddenly, I knew with relative certainty the tape represented my mental thought patterns—all the habitual narratives and stories I tell myself about myself, about other people, and about the world. My nightmare was telling me I’d been rehearsing some pretty crummy narratives about life. Then I realized: the images on that television screen weren’t of a horror movie; they were of the news channels.

My nightmare was telling me it’s time to turn off the news. 

My nightmare was telling me that the news is running only images of horror and destruction, death and tragedy, and that they are fomenting my—our—fear. Because the mental tapes we play over and over become our reality, regardless of what is really happening in the world. I’ve been watching too much news, and my mental world is being filled with the fear of it, while in the meantime, the good news is written all over the actual world, and I’m missing out.

The reality is, the world is also filled with beauty and wonder and joy and love and kindness and grace and charity and compassion.

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What We’ve All Been Searching for Since Childhood (A Post About Belonging)

At first, it sounded like nonsense.

A few weeks ago we picked up my son, Aidan, from two weeks of residential wilderness camp. He’d attended the camp with a friend from our town, and we were taking them back to the hotel for a decent shower before the long journey home. The two boys filled the thirty-minute drive to the hotel with a seemingly infinite stream of inside jokes born from their two-week adventure together.

Most of what they said made no sense to us. Yet, listening to them, you got the feeling something magical had happened between them—a bond forged in the midst of trials and tribulation and overcoming and rejoicing. Listening to them, you realized the code words they were using were the natural bubbling up of this deep magic. What is this deep magic?

belonging

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It is called belonging.

Closeness. Togetherness. Unity. The merging of two stories into a common language, a common vernacular. Each code word and each inside joke an icon of something greater, something bigger that cannot be completely articulated. Each retold story the retelling of some ineffable connection, the likes of which cannot be grasped but only pointed toward in laughter and delight.

At camp, Aidan and his friend put their phones away and took their hearts out. Instead of watching YouTube videos and sharing someone else’s stories, they created their own stories. Instead of learning someone else’s language, they developed a language all their own. At camp, they found a little bit of what they will continue to search for in middle school and beyond. Indeed, it’s what we’re all searching for all the time.

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Our Best Hope(s) in a Summer of Violence

hope

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An hour before gunshots rang out in Dallas, I was playing a game of basketball with my kids in the driveway—a game called Around the World, in which it’s every man, boy, and little girl for themselves. The game started pleasantly enough but quickly devolved. Cruel words flew back and forth. A ball was thrown, not at a hoop, but at a head.

Around the World, violence begets violence.

And in America, it has been a summer of violence. Orlando. The summertime killing fields in south Chicago. In Louisiana and Minnesota, two more black lives senselessly ended. In Dallas, five policemen executed for crimes they didn’t commit. And the next violent tragedy, whatever it may be, just waiting in the wings.

Like so many, I’m grieving.

Grief can take many forms.

Indeed, this summer, grief has taken many forms in me. Immediately, I want to get right up on my pulpit and pontificate about people and policy and politics. Immediately, I want to talk about solutions, because sometimes solving is a way of not feeling. Sometimes, quick solutions are denial in disguise. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, denial is the first stage of grief. I see this form of grief inside of me and all around me.

Yet, I know, my solutions are just a slightly more dignified form of my anger.

Anger is the second stage of grief, and I’m in a rage. I read the headlines and I want to scream until my throat is scorched. I saw an image of a sign held high at the Dallas protest: Know justice, know peace, f**k the racist police. I’m as conflicted as that sign:

My yearning for peace mutates into the very anger by which peace is slaughtered.

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The Parable of the Mass Shooting That Didn’t Happen

The gun sits on the car seat beside him.

He watches the people lined up outside the club. People? More like swine. Robotic pigs, programmed to get into lines, to work and to sweat all day and then, at night, to rub their sweaty bodies together on a dance floor.

The gun sits on the car seat beside him.

But it’s not just a weapon; it’s a promise that will finally be kept.

No one has ever kept their promises to him.

mass shootings

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His parents always told him they were interested in him, but when he tried to talk to them, he could see the faraway-glassy look in their eyes. And they told him they’d love him no matter what. But he overheard what they condemned in everyone else. Would they really love him if they knew the things he really thought, the things he really did, and the things he really wanted to do? He thought not.

The gun isn’t a weapon; it’s a promise that will finally be kept.

His girlfriend had promised him forever. In return, he’d promised her everything. Then, after all that promising, she’d had the nerve to tell him her feelings had “changed.” That she no longer loved him. That it was over. One more promise broken.

The gun isn’t a weapon; it’s a promise that will finally be kept.

The politicians promised prosperity. They said there was a formula to things: honest work, blood, sweat, tears, a house, a marriage, kids, and retirement accounts were supposed to add up to the American dream. But his father had worked like a slave for the company, and then the company abandoned him for cheap, overseas labor. The banks had robbed people blind on bad mortgages, and now his parents’ house was worth nothing. His parents weren’t dreaming; they were scraping by.

The gun isn’t a weapon; it’s a promise that will finally be kept.

The church promised him peace. They’d told him if he went every Sunday, gave his energy to their programs, his money to their building, and his heart to their Jesus, then he could be assured of eternity. But his problem wasn’t fear of the afterlife; his problem was despair about this life. He’d hoped the church would open the trap door, showing him the way to a deeper, more meaningful level of this life. Instead, they’d just kept making empty promises about the next one.

The gun isn’t a weapon; it’s a promise that will finally be kept.

So, as it sits on the car seat beside him, he wonders, why am I hesitating?

Why am I sitting instead of shooting?

Yet, he knows the answer. The man.

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The Antidote to All the Crap in Your Facebook Feed

When I’m procrastinating on writing—due to fear, fatigue, fear, lack of inspiration, did I mention fear?—Facebook is like a magnet.

One day recently, I could feel its pull, so I decided to trick myself into writing by giving into the temptation, going to Facebook, and crafting a blog post entitled, “The Antidote to All the Crap in Your Facebook Feed”—a sort of hopeful, redemptive response to all of the angry, nasty, and cynical news in my Facebook scroll.

The first item in my feed was exactly what I’d predicted.

A New York Times article about the anger at a political rally, replete with divisive comments from both supporters and haters. It confirmed my expectations, and I got ready to write a really good response to all the soul-sucking content.

But then I kept scrolling.

And it was the only article posted in the previous two hours that drained my soul.

The rest of the content nourished my soul.

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BREAKING NEWS: This Just Happened and the World May Never Be the Same

love

Photo Credit: Maria Eklind via Compfight cc

(UnTangled News)—The global community was rocked yesterday by a divorce that may alter the course of humanity and the future of the planet. UnTangled News can confirm some basic facts:

For millennia, Love had been married to Power, clinging to Power and riding on his coattails, relying on Power to transform people and the world. Love was afraid to exist on her own in the world—afraid of what people would do to her and say about her.

But yesterday, something changed. In hearts and homes and villages and cities and nations, Love finally gave up on the relationship. Love just up and walked out on Power, ending their partnership for good.

One close friend of the couple, who goes by the name of Inertia, was quoted as saying, “They were always at odds with each other. They kept each other in check. While they were together, you got the sense nothing would ever change. And I kind of liked that. Now that Love is free of Power, I’m afraid she’s going to change everything.”

Reports from Around the Globe

Reports pouring in from around the globe suggest Inertia’s worst fears may be coming true—now that Love and Power are divorced, Love has been free to sacrifice and to lose and to be vulnerable and to invite and to release and to honor:

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