Would I really rather step on a Lego when we have this gift?

I feel like God gave me a gift this week. As I walked the four blocks from my house to my office, I lamented that the horse stables are recently all gone and now there is a big hole. I don’t even know what’s going in there, but likely some kind of expensive new housing. With so much of that going on, it kind of irritates me. My mind easily goes towards the character of our neighborhood being under threat by capitalists as well as friends and neighbors facing spiking rents and taxes moving them toward forced displacement.  And I feel some kind of way about it. I’d rather step on a Lego then be stuck in midst of the ugly parts of gentrification.

That much wasn’t the gift. Maybe my “default setting” tends to be pessimistic or I have a healthy hunger and thirst for justice & righteousness – but I feel the brokenness of Shalom. When I walked this time, I felt astounded by how much good stuff Circle of Hope has been generating or helping generate right here in the thick of it for over a decade. There are loads of people who are choosing to do more with their lives than make personal profit paramount – so many that I felt free to not condemn or damn the stuff that didn’t make it through my personal righteousness filter that day. I felt genuine gratitude.

Since Jesus’ 40 day fast in the wilderness serves as our central story of why to do Lent, it’s is a good time to go back to Isaiah 40 or John 1 –

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
    the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
    a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
    every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
    the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
    and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

I have let Jesus transcend two of my bad instincts about this little prophecy about John the Baptist and the coming of the LORD. First – Isaiah talking highway doesn’t mean anything remotely like my conception of highway. Making the path for God did not mean putting up a toll road, a Cracker Barrel, Walmarts, oil derricks, or destroying the wilderness. It’s closer to the opposite. God is coming into the wilderness and we are preparing more for ourselves to participate (does God need a highway??) in the wasteland. The inside-out, upside down, and sdrawkcab way of God’s fullness gets realized in and through Jesus. Advent prepares us for His coming, Lent gets us into the wilderness with him.

Putting too much of a highway takes over the wilderness. My other bad instinct was to think that the coming of the LORD meant the wilderness is gone because of the stuff about mountains and valleys and plains. Maybe that would mean Jesus coming meant injustice was over or that I don’t have to suffer anymore. It’s the injustice and suffering that are the precise location for where Jesus comes to save and erode. My preparation does not mean it no longer hurts – but I have hope in the rising tide of Christ’s redemption project.

The US War of Terror reached a dubious milestone – over 1 million dead in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. We talked about some of the havoc that drugs (legal and other wise) wreak the other night at Doing Theology. God gave me this gift like a lovely wave – one that I could ride if I concentrated on it. It’s like surfing in Atlantic City. I can think about the pollution, predatory poverty profiteers, or grandmas chained to slot machines. That wouldn’t be bad – but then there’s this wave. I can ride it – but I’m going to need to focus. And it’s fun.  And I still want to work for justice. And I’m grateful for this gift today.

Catching a buzz on life: six crucial ingredients for unraveling your vexation

You may know already, but I’ve been learning how to assemble electric guitar kits. I love electric guitars for playing and owning but have little experience with tiny tools, finishing wood, electronics, and fine adjustments. I’m glad it was an inexpensive way to spend quiet time alone in my basement workshop learning and failing – as well as finding moments of great joy. I broke through a wall the other night in my first guitar kit (telecaster style) build, overcoming an obstacle that plagued me for about half the project. It was about 12:15am at the time, and the buzz I caught from the sense of accomplishment kept me up for the next hour or so, feeling so great I couldn’t settle down.

When I was there, I was thinking how much I wanted others to experience something similar – or at least tell their story. When I began the project, it was not about feeling good. Actually, the primary motivation was a cost-saving way to have a quality double neck like a Gibson EDS 1275. When I was hanging out with some friends from Neighborhood Film Company and Working Film Estb yesterday, some of these were becoming more clear to me. Dan at Working Film probably said all of these to me as he was describing how wonderful the second round of apprenticeships have been going (follow their link for more). As we at Circle of Hope are discerning our Second Act together, I hope these are encouraging to you. Here are a few crucial ingredients to unraveling a sense of vexation.

You’ll need to pay attention to your attitude. If your experience vexation, your likely to get frustrated or annoyed quickly. Make gratitude part of your daily medicine. Start with the good that you’ve been given rather than what you don’t have yet.

A sense of accomplishment and that lifebuzz really nailed my despair. I don’t think that feeling comes when I stick do doing things that are easy, or filling up my leisure time with entertainment only. Do something difficult – hard enough to need God. Your faith will grow, you will develop trust, and your sense of possibilities will multiply.

Quitting or turning back will likely sink your boat. Don’t give up after failing, or just because you haven’t succeeded yet. Maybe being raised a Buffalo Bills fan was good for my character, but I think the African proverb (at least I’ve read it’s African) “smooth seas don’t make skilled sailors” can bring comfort to the weary. I learned more in the past month about guitar setup through failure than I did in the past 20yrs of playing the thing.

Make a goal that is bigger than your feeling. Sometimes going backpacking gives me the opportunity to “put my horns on” and charge up a steep incline because I know it will feel good to be at the top. That’s a good reason for the day, or maybe even for the gym. If your goal is your feelings, you eventually will probably build up a tolerance to success or accomplishment and will never be satisfied. Make a goal that benefits others, produces something for another, or is something Jesus is giving you to do. You may not get a buzz right away or very often, but your vexation will start to get unraveled – freeing you up for all sorts of goodness.

When you have those rare (if you’re like me) moments of elation, jubilation, or hilltop rally – don’t rush the sweetness. Savor the moment. Every once in a while these moments should be private and are for you alone. Most of the time, I think they are better shared. You don’t need to brag or be proud in a bad way – have some authentic joy and share it. Tell your story.

Lastly, don’t hog the glory. When you do experience a win, acknowledge God’s move as well as others who participated. I have lived in community for so long that I might not even know what it’s like to do something by myself. Even if I contributed, there are always others who went before me or helped the process along. Share the treasure – such goodness is meant to be enjoyed by all.