Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Shutting My Eyes

Today I don't want to see. I don't want to see the homeless men gathered on the corner in my city, jobless and ignorant of their purpose. I don't want to see the lines for free lunch at the shelter. I don't want to see the storage unit filled with bags and bags of clothes, the only possessions of a homeless woman who hoards useless things and panhandles to pay her storage rent. I don't want to see the family with no food and two weeks to go until the food stamps get renewed. I don't want to see the man who is trying to get a bus ticket home and feels like he has to make up a story to get it. I don't want to see the two men I helped with bus tickets last week, in case their stories weren't legit. I don't want to see the man painfully shuffling to the shelter for his free lunch, taking over an hour to walk a mile and a half up, an hour to walk a mile and a half back. I don't want to see the cold rain soaking the coats of those who cannot even afford bus passes, much less cars, as I pass by, dry and warm. I don't want to see the women in our shelter who will have no home in 5 days. I don't want to see the struggle, the inequality, the lack. The needs overwhelm my soul to point of tears and despair. Today I don't want to see.

The Anchor of Praise

I recently spoke at UNC-CH's InterVarsity chapter, and I was feeling really heavy inside. I wasn't sure how to pull my mind from its funk and sadness in order to be present to the students there and to be able to give the message God had laid on my heart. A good friend prayed for me, and in his prayer he asked God to help me remember that it wasn't my job to fix any of the people I was broken over and it wasn't my job to make the world right. As God would have it, that theme repeated itself throughout the night as the student leadership reminded us during worship and during prayer and during testimonies that our role as Christ-followers is not to fix people but to love them. Now, certainly loving people doesn't mean always agreeing with them, rubber-stamping all that they do. But it does mean accepting them, receiving them as they are, and longing for God to be the transforming center of their lives. There's great freedom in realizing I don't have to be in charge.

As I prayed in back on my own, I tried to find the words of Psalm 93 in my Bible, but I had it in my head that they were from Psalm 103. Turns out, that was a fortuitous mistake - what a joy to read this Psalm in The Message translation and to rest not only in God's power as King, but in His intimate goodness as my shepherd and savior. Whether anyone else knows it or not, my God is a wonderfully good God. He offers healing and pardon, redemption and freedom. He is a God of justice, working for the good of those who are down. He is compassionate and gracious to me – He doesn't treat me as a slave who sins but as a son that He loves. In fact, He doesn't define me by my sins (nor does He remember them) but instead defines me by His love and His work on the cross. God knows the weariness of my soul, the fleeting nature of life here on earth, and He has compassion on me in all my frailty. God offers such blessing and life to those who will receive not only His love but also His leadership, and He leads us to do what we were created to do – give Him praise and glory.

As we worshipped that night, I couldn't help but think, "Why would anyone walk away from this love? Why would anyone choose a life unsubmitted to this loving Father? Even if you didn't believe in a god at all, wouldn't there be a part of you that wished He were true and real, if He were really this wonderful?"

And I go back to the opening lines of Psalm 103 – Praise the Lord, o my soul; al my inmost being praise His holy name. Praise the Lord, o my soul and forget not all His benefits. In all things, at all times, praise the Lord and do not forget His goodness.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Learning to Enjoy the Madness

After Wake Forest lost their first round game to Cleveland State, I was thinking about the way those guys must feel and how they could easily be tempted to see their season as a disappointment. I hoped that they would remember that at one time they were ranked number one in the nation, and that they would remember the feeling that they had when they beat UNC and Duke at home – I'm guessing that there'd been nothing like that in their young lives. I hoped that they had enjoyed the journey and enjoyed all that they'd experienced this season.

Well, that got me thinking about my own enjoyment of the season as a Carolina fan. Many of us in Tar Heel nation measure most seasons' success by whether or not we cut down the nets in early April, and more often than not, our team (like most) comes up short. Many times our teams have as much talent as any in the country, and we sort of demand that the talent produce winning game in and game out, and there are years like 2005 where our talent leads to a title. But interestingly, I think that my favorite Carolina team will forever be the 2005-06 team, which was Tyler Hansbrough's freshman season. That team certainly didn't cut down the nets – I'm not sure they made the Sweet Sixteen. But they played hard every game, they won games they shouldn't have (such as beating Duke on JJ Reddick's Senior Night), and they played together as a team. I loved that team for who they were, not what they ultimately did on the court.

Last season while watching Carolina play a nail biter at Clemson, which we ultimately won at the buzzer, I was taken aback by my anger during the game, and something in me broke. It was, after all, just a game, and much of my joy at watching had been consumed by frustration at the possibility of losing. That lesson stuck, and I have not let the Heels dictate my moods as much this season. But here at tournament time, I find the joy again being eaten away by fear of losing. This team, if any team, can win it all. Yet talent alone doesn't win games, and there may be a game soon where the bounce doesn't go our way.

And the question becomes, am I going to let that rob me of enjoying Tar Heels basketball, easily one of my favorite things in the world? I've had the chance to see the Heels play live seven times this season, several of those from lower level seats. That means 5 times of going to the Dean Dome and hearing the same familiar songs by the pep band and screaming my lungs out, and one time going to the ACC Tournament. I've seen one of the greatest players in ACC history (Hansbrough), the ACC Player of the Year (Tywon Lawson), and one of the most improved players in the country (Wayne Ellington). I've celebrated wins with friends, I've took one of the Glenwood kids to the Kentucky game, and I got to go to the Clemson game with my wife. I've had a Tar Heel game to look forward to almost every week since November, and out of 34 games, I've celebrated a win 30 times. Carolina basketball and March Madness are too much fun to get lost in whether or not we win the big prize. I want to enjoy the madness, and who knows, maybe there will be a title to celebrate as well.

Friday, March 20, 2009

An Anchor for My Soul

I've recently been overwhelmed by the world. It seems to me that everywhere I look is brokenness, that there is no moral compass. I see the choices that people are making and the destruction of lives and souls that comes from them, and I want to scream, "Can't you see that doing things our own way doesn't work?" And yet in today's culture, to tell anyone that their choices are wrong is unacceptable (unless they are hungry to truly do the right thing and have given you permission to speak freely). I feel like an old fogey longing for the good ol' days; the standards that I feel are right and honoring to God (and best for us) seem so old-fashioned. But I know the joy and the feeling of wholeness that God has brought as I have known His grace and walked in closer obedience to Him, and I think that 'old-fashioned" might just bring the life that I see our world craving.

When I look at the world and see only brokenness, my soul is burdened and weary. In some moments, this feeling leads me to compose angry blog posts in my mind, an "open letter" to the world around me, demanding change. In other moments, it leads me to despair and to begin to wonder where is this God that I worship?

But as always, the Lord sends me back to my old friend, The Psalms. Psalm 93 is only 5 verses long, but it speaks directly to my soul in times of chaos. The Lord reigns. Despite all around me that says God is not in control, the Lord reigns as King over all. Even though we all long to be king, to be the one in charge, God is on His throne and will not be removed. That is an anchor for my soul, a truth on which to stand my ground. But verses 3 and 4 describe how I feel – the seas are raging; the oceans are thundering. The image here is clear – chaos, powerlessness, fear in the face of something bigger than you. We all know that being seaside during a hurricane is not the ideal.

But God….But God is mightier than the chaos of the seas, mightier than the noise of their breakers, mightier than their crashing. The Lord on High is mighty. God is not moved by the chaos of sin, by the destruction of our choices. He is not made impotent by our stubborn resolve to do things our way. His ways are not corrupted by our unwillingness to follow. God remains the holy, good, and perfect King.

This is the truth that leads me to trust and hope. God is good. God is in charge. God is.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

All Turtles Aside, a Great Weekend of Baskeball

This weekend I had the amazing fortune to be given an entire book of tickets to the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament. I’ve never been to all the rounds of the tournament before and I wondered if that much basketball would be overkill. Not a chance! Watching four games in one day on Friday was so much fun (especially since the Heels survived their opening round game), and then two more on Saturday were just right (except that the Heels lost).

Our seats were in the lower level, about 30 rows from the court, and the only bad thing about them was that they were in the Maryland section. An idea of how bad Maryland fans are – I almost pulled for Dook in their semifinal matchup this weekend. The last time I pulled for Dook was 1991, and I doubt I ever will again. But I came close.

Here are some reasons why: During their game, a fan in their section stood up to cheer for their team. An older man behind him yelled at him to sit down, even though the man’s view was not impeded. The younger guy cussed back at the old man. Other Terps around them cussed the young guy and told him to sit down. This happened several times during their opening game. I’m no nature expert but I began to wonder if turtles in the wild eat their young. There seems to be a Maryland fixation on not standing during games, because we heard a few more comments (though less vociferous) during the Carolina game when we would stand to cheer or to simply see over the rest of the crowd who had also stood in excitement. When the wine and cheese crowd from UNC is too into the game for you, there’s got to be a problem.
Then, when the Heels lost, the woman behind me sounded as though she were going to cry with joy, exclaiming, “I can’t believe they did it! It proves that anything is possible!” Over and over. And over.
Those who know me well know it takes more than a couple minutes or a “it’s just swell to be here” reminder to get over a Heels loss; give me 30 minutes or so and I’ll be fine.
Unfortunately, the Maryland fans don’t know me well. Just after the loss, as I am sitting quietly and replaying some of the game’s last plays and wishing the Heels weren’t out, the Maryland fan beside me asks if I would like to sell my ticket to the final on Sunday, and then I was offered a “Fear the Turtle” sign to hold, which I politely declined (if a glare can be polite).

All that aside, it’s great to be around so many ACC fans. Even when their teams are out, the fans stay for the whole weekend because ACC fans like basketball, not just their team. I even bonded with a Dook fan who had on a hilarious shrt from The Office. To get to see some of the top teams in the nation go at it for three days in a row has been a really great experience, not to mention the chance to be on the road with three other guys, away from the responsibilities of home, and just talking a about the Heels, basketball, and the Lord (yes, probably in that order) and laughing a lot - what a gift!