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In the last year I have been wondering how so much great art, literature, business success, music, charity and church growth have been accomplished by such distorted -and oftentimes tortured - personalities.
If you read a few biographies, other than George Washington and a very few others, you get a sense of how extraordinary talent is almost invariably carried by cracked souls and inflated egos. One of my favorite quotes is from “Amadeus” wherein Salieri pronounces his judgment on Mozart and God at the same time:
“I heard the music of true forgiveness filling the theater, conferring on all who sat there, perfect absolution. God was singing through this little man to all the world, unstoppable, making my defeat more bitter with every passing bar. From now on we are enemies, You and I. Because You choose for Your instrument a boastful, lustful, smutty, infantile boy and give me for reward only the ability to recognize the incarnation.”
To help me sort my way through this, I always go back to the short parable of the weeds found in Matthew 13.
The Parable of the Weeds
24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27 The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28 ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29 ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
It’s a conundrum to me but I know it is true, and I know I do not want to be Salieri in the end. I know I will not be Mozart but how can we have a genuine appreciation for the genius God has implanted and live with the so imperfect messenger he has chosen?Comments
Today I went to the funeral of a young 29 year old man who killed himself after nine years of fighting schizophrenia. He had Christian music playing in his car and a book by his pastor on the seat next to him. Until he went away to college he was "normal" and showed absolutely no signs of mental illness. He was a kid. Just a kid.
Schizophrenia is a disease that typically begins in early adulthood; between the ages of 15 and 25. Men tend to develop schizophrenia slightly earlier than women; whereas most males become ill between 16 and 25 years old, most females develop symptoms several years later, and the incidence in women is noticeably higher in women after age 30. The average age of onset is 18 in men and 25 in women. Signs often appear suddenly and without warning.
It was in college that the symptoms developed for the first time. He called his father and asked him how long his Dad had been in the Mafia and how long the chip had been implanted in his son's head. After that it was a lifetime of therapy for hallucinations, psychotic drugs with oftentimes terrifying side effects, extended stays in specialized facilities, family turmoil, isolation and paranoia. In the end, it was a losing battle and he ended his life alone in his car. It didn't matter to the family that their son had a 50 times higher risk of attempting suicide than the general population or that a full 60 percent of young men like their son attempt suicide at least once and that 13 percent are successful. But, those who suffer are far more likely to harm themselves than anyone else. News and entertainment media have linked schizophrenia and criminal violence when that is just not true. Most people with schizophrenia harm themselves and not others. But, somehow, the statistics and the grim preparation are not comforting. They do not make it easier to every day face the prospect of the phone call that comes far too often with the tragic news.
At the end of the service we were led in singing not a dirge but "I'll Fly Away". Nothing could have been more appropriate.
Some glad morning when this life is o'er,
I'll fly away;
To a home on God's celestial shore,
I'll fly away.
When the shadows of this life have gone,
I'll fly away;
Like a bird from prison bars has flown,
I'll fly away.
He did..and so will we.Comments
My father grew up in poverty in Nashville, Tennessee.
My grandfather was a pastor, who also happened to be an Irishman named Bunyan. He was somewhat forced to move from church to church because he would tell the truth about the departed at funerals. However, my grandmother was determined that my Dad would get out of their poor neighborhood and - while making something of himself - he would make something of her life as well.
She could not go but she could send him to be successful.
As many of you know, men who become successful often discover the allure of expensive cars. My Dad discovered Jaguars... or they discovered him. For my father, they represented something more than success. I don't think I have to explain this to you because many of you grew up in similar circumstances and have been discovered by something alluring yourselves.
Jaguar, while a magnificent symbol of success, was not always a quality product. You can read about the tired owner who went to the factory to complain, and on a wall was a chart of the number of faults per 1,000 cars. At a time when 200 faults per 1,000 cars were considered unacceptable in North America, the Jaguar chart showed 1,200 faults per 1,000 cars.
Apparently Jaguar owners loved telling stories about their car’s flaws –mostly small talking in the shop while the cars were being repaired. In fact, Dad would laugh about needing two Jaguars…one for the shop and one for the road. One of the guys in the shop was known to say, “You allow four hours for a trip, one for driving and three for repairs.”
It was all true, but there they were sitting faithfully waiting for their Jag to be loaned to them for one more week - maybe two at most.
But one thing most people don't know is Jaguar's long-time sales slogan: Grace, Space and Pace. As the founder of the company once said, "The car is the closest thing we will create that is alive.”
I thought a lot about that slogan while preparing my opening remarks for The Gathering conference this past weekend. The Jaguar slogan is actually perfect for the time we spent together at The Gathering this past week.
The Gathering is always a place of grace. “Graceful”describes the way a Jaguar moves and handles; it attracts attention but does not demand it. Grace is a pleasure just to be around when it is present. We all know people full of grace, and hopefully, that described our time together in how we related to each other in Dana Point, as well as every other day of the year.
We will be graceful and kind in spite of our flaws.
Of course, we also hope The Gathering community is always a place of grace for people who are bearing burdens and need help. I like what Philip Yancey says about that kind of gracefulness. "Grace does not depend on what we have done for God but rather what God has done for us. Ask people what they must do to get to heaven and most reply, ‘Be good.’Jesus' stories contradict that answer. All we must do is cry, ‘Help!’”
I can tell you that The Gathering is a good place to ask for help, at the conference and the rest of the year. Please let us know how we can help you. It is our privilege.
We also want The Gathering to be a place of space for you, both at the conference and in community. I have five chairs in my office modeled after the seats of a Jaguar and everyone tells me how roomy and supportive they are. You don't fall back and get lost, but they don't press in on you either.
The Gathering is a safe but not sterile place. We are a space to discover and to ask questions without feeling stupid. We want you to find support and encouragement without getting overwhelmed.
Finally, The Gathering has a particular style of pace. Everyone who has been to a Gathering conference before can tell you we work hard, eat well and even laugh some. This year we have plugged in some classes without formal speakers, roundtables for open discussion, special interests that might pop up unplanned, and of course, the usual free time and opportunity to choose to do nothing at all if that is what you need.
A friend of mine says, "We come to beginnings only at the end." Those words are true.
Now the good part. The conference may have ended, but we have come to a new beginning.Comments
A recent column by David Brooks, 'The Life Reports' included this line: “Resilience is a major theme...I don't think we remind young people enough that life is hard." The purpose of the column was to report on the thousands of responses he has received to his request for readers over 70 to send him ''Life Reports' or little essays in which they evaluate their own lives. In reading them he discovered how many had difficult lives and one of his conclusions is the above quote. Our young people need to be reminded more than they are about the inevitable difficulties of life for which they may not be prepared. Scott Peck, in his classic opening line from 'The Road Less Traveled' said simply, “Life is difficult.” Is that a truth accepted by previous generations but overall a surprise to our children?
I had plans anyway to have coffee with two young friends (both in their late 20’s) but sent them the Brooks article and asked them to spend part of our time discussing it. What I heard was encouraging. “Yes, I think while I was certainly given more incentives and resources to achieve than some of my peers growing up, there was also the understanding that these were not entitlements but investments. People (not just parents) investing in my life had expectations that I would not assume a life of privilege and entitlement. These were not endowments or a safety net or a way to avoid natural consequences and risk. They were opportunities.”
“I have no sense of living a charmed life but, so far, I have not faced a terminal illness or divorce or a career being derailed. Still, I don’t feel guilt about my life being interesting, satisfying and challenging. I do feel gratitude but not with a sense of dread that it’s just a matter of time until my turn comes. I am not unaware of the difficult lives of others –even others my age who are unable to find jobs or satisfying work –and I know I am not immune. However, I think their experiences have allowed me to develop a deeper empathy with them.”
One common experience? Both have parents and grandparents who have shared stories about difficult times in their lives in a way that difficulty is seen as normal and even interesting. These stories were not preached –they were simply recounted. They were not war stories about unusual hardships but conversations about life. Both young men remarked how important those stories were and how much they value the ways in which they became a part of their own lives and understanding of the world.
Scripture is right about this one. “Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations; ask your father, and he will show you, your elders, and they will tell you.” This is how we learn.Comments
I grew up with two competing perspectives on worry. The first was Mad magazine’s idiotic Alfred E. Neuman’s famous phrase, “What, Me Worry?” That helped shape my sense that worry was something we should do unless we wanted to end up looking like Alfred. Only an idiot would be free of worry. Worry was something of a responsibility and part of the legitimate burden of growing up. If I didn’t worry then I would be forever locked into a mindless adolescence. On the other side of things I was also taught the Biblical perspective on worry. It is almost a sin to worry. If I had the relationship with Christ that was intended then I would be not irresponsibly carefree but certainly not feeling more responsible and mature by worrying. So…like most people…I was caught between responsible anxiety and small faith worry.
While I may have come to some resolve about that issue, I do wish I had read Mary Oliver’s “I Worried” earlier in life. No, it is not Scripture but there is a final release to it that I did not find in the way the Bible passages were taught to me. She speaks for me and many others. Maybe for you, too
I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?
Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?
Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,