Sunday, October 31, 2010


Last night, totally spontaneously, I made a red-wine reduction sauce.  Seriously.  (Those who know me don't believe this could possibly be true, but I'm telling you, it is.)  As I was making it, I was wondering what exactly was happening and why exactly it is called "reduction."  The recipe I was using said to reduce the liquid by half before putting in several other ingredients.  So, is it just reducing the amount, and if that's the case, why not just use less to begin with?  No, that's not all that's happening, just like a bulb of garlic is VERY different than a clove of garlic.

In cooking, reduction means thickening or intensifying the flavor of a liquid by boiling.  Through this process, flavors already in the liquid are concentrated.  This is why various cooking websites counsel you to use a "good" wine for this process.  If the wine doesn't have any good flavors to begin with, there is nothing good to intensify or concentrate.  So reduction actually increases the flavor.  This cooking lesson came at a good time for me.  I had spent all day packing up stuff and giving or throwing it away.  Reducing.

Why?  Beginning a couple weeks after I got back from Africa, I started feeling a dull ache of anger.  It arises at strange times, always unexpectedly.  I don't always recognize it as anger, and I hadn't been able to put my finger on its cause.  On Friday, on the train ride home, I finally got it -- I recognized the anger when it came and I knew exactly what caused it.

A young guy came aboard midway through the ride and by then, all of us who had gotten on downtown had gotten comfortable, spread out our things, stuck our earphones in, and tuned out the world.  This guy approached a man in a suit who was sitting in one seat and whose stuff was sitting in the other.  The young guy asked if he could sit where the man's stuff was.  Without looking the guy in the eye, the man said "No," stared out the window, and took a swig out of a giant Budweiser can.  You would think I'd just witnessed a serious criminal act.  Rage bubbled up from inside of me and I looked around to see if anyone else noticed.  I was incensed.  How did this man (and it's not just him) become this way?  How did this become okay to say, to do?  No one said anything.  No one else moved.  Because of where I was sitting, there was nothing for me to do, although I do wonder if I would have acted if in a position to do so.  But, how is it that we believe our stuff deserves a seat on a train, even when another person wants it, has no other seat to sit in, and asks politely?  At that moment, all the anger I'd been feeling came together.

I have been angry because of our excess.  My excess.  Your excess.  Excessive on the inside.  Excessive on the outside.  It's not just the excess, but the failure to recognize the excess.  To come to believe that excess is the normal, or worse, not enough.  Our excess is exemplified in two things: excess stuff and excess self.  And the excess stuff just feeds the excess self.  So much so that we have entire places, houses for our stuff (called storage facilities).  I recently pointed out to my daughter how ridiculous it is that we have little homes for our extra stuff.  Before I finished the thought she added: "Especially when there are people who don't have homes."  Good point, and this is where the excess self comes in.  What if I took what I spend to store my stuff and instead put it towards a home for a homeless person.  I'm not kidding.  I pay $139 per month to store stuff.  There is a men's hotel downtown where a person, who God loves just as much as He loves you and me (and that is an incomprehensible amount), and who has no home when it's 34 degrees, or 12 degrees, or 0 degrees to sleep, could stay for over two weeks for that price.  But so far, I have deemed my stuff more important.  I am concerned only that I have a home . . . self. 

Our external excess is distracting us from what God is wanting to do in us, the flavors He wants to enhance, concentrate, and intensify through a reduction process.  When He made us, He built into us all kinds of good things, good gifts.  Jesus said there is no greater command than (1) to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and (2) to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  (Matt. 22:36-39)  Right now, we don't even love others as much as we love our stuff.  And it is this that allows us to deny a person a seat on a train because our stuff needs the same seat.  Or to come up with reasons not to help those we walk by everyday.  To allocate resources to store and maintain things instead of people.  To believe we are too busy to have a conversation with someone who is too difficult, too needy, too different.  To refuse to buy coffee that is fair trade because the store that sells it is 5 miles farther away.  To be seduced to buy a new i-pod when there is nothing wrong with the one we have.  And, it is why Jesus said: "[i]t is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."  (Matt. 19:24)  

So, I have decided to reduce.  I will reduce by half before adding any more ingredients.  I will make less, or decrease, my excess.  I have started on the external excess, cleaning out the home I rent for my stuff.   I will also reduce on the inside.  This will take God's help, for sure, but includes continuing to try to love others -- and I don't just mean family and friends -- as I love myself.  Because what I want more than anything is not more stuff or more self.  I want God to intensify, concentrate, make stronger, the good things He planted in me.  What I want more than anything is, in the words of John the Baptist, that He becomes "greater and greater" and I become "less and less."  (John 3:30)  There's only one way this is happening: reduction. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

And A Little Child Will Lead Them.

On Sunday, my ten-year old daughter decided that she wanted to pack six individual bags, each containing an apple, a banana, and a baguette for the homeless people I pass on my way to the office.  On Monday, she packed these bags at 6:30 in the morning before school.  After she finished packing, I put my arm around her with pride and said:  "God will bless you for this." She smiled and shook her head, in disagreement or uncertainty.  I said, "Really, He will."  She hugged me with gratitude, the way she would hug God if she could.  I felt like I was really teaching her something here.  You know, that God blesses those who feed the hungry, serve the poor.

But then she taught me.  And God taught me through her.  "Mom," she said, "we should put Scripture in the bags from when Jesus fed the one million people."  I smiled and said, "you mean the five thousand?"  She said: "Whatever." (What this means from a pre-teen is: "do you think he couldn't have fed a million?")  Knowing that story as well as I do, I advised that it was too long to put on an index card, but that I would find something more suitable to include as I rode the train downtown.  (Ok, I didn't really say it with these words, but looking back, I'm afraid that was the tone.)  She shrugged, as if to say "Whatever.  I think the story about feeding the million is best."  As I got on the train, this came to mind: "I am the bread of life..."  Perfect!  That would be perfect.  Short, meaningful, there's bread, but not really bread . . . I was just so proud of myself.  So, I looked in my Bible to find where this was.  Yeah.  Perhaps YOU knew this already, but when did Jesus say this?  Just after he fed the one million (five thousand).

Okay then.
So, I wrote John 6:35 on an index card and put it in each bag.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

"Take the Marine to Lunch"

Part 2 of "my story"
-- to my dear friend, Steven.
 (Part 1 is here: Did Something Happen)

"Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by."  (1 Kings 19:11)  Recall the rest of the story?  "Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.  After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.  And after the fire came a gentle whisper.  When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave."  (1 Kings 19:11-13)

Several weeks after my experience at Willow, I decided I wanted to commit my life to Christ. But I didn’t just want to think it quietly in my head. I wanted to write it down, say it out loud, read it over and over, tell everyone I knew, and live it. So, on December 20, 2008 (remember this date), I wrote out a prayer as best I knew how in my journal:

Thank you for not giving up on me and appearing to me. I am today turning my life over to you and I am ready for what that means. Even though I know I am not worthy of the sacrifice you made, I accept Jesus Christ and ask that you forgive all my sins. I am coming to you as a sinner and in repentance for past and current sins. I know I am imperfect but I am trying. Please take me in and help me.

I didn’t know exactly what this commitment would entail. I was still learning (still am). I did know, though, that I had never been more sure about anything in my life. I felt like I was on fire, like I could do anything, like God was walking every step I took with me.

On a January morning in 2009, I was riding the train downtown to my office. I settled into my seat and cracked open the book I’d been reading for several days. I had read a couple pages, when five words came into my mind. These five words were clearer and louder in their impression on me than if a voice had said them out loud. They were: “Take the Marine to lunch.” I had not been thinking about lunch. I had not been thinking about the former Marine who sat on the Jackson street bridge on my path to my office asking for money. I'd passed him dozens of times in the last several months walking to work. Those five words were from God, I was sure of it. This was one of those whispers from God I’d heard Darren mention at Willow that memorable day back in November.

I got off the train and walked toward my office, knowing I would pass the Marine. I was excited to get a peak at him and plan what I'd say when I proposed lunch. I had time, of course . . . it was 8 in the morning, I wasn't going to take him to lunch right then. He had his green military-issued bag, straddled by cardboard box pieces that read: “Please help. Former Marine. God Bless You.” As I passed that morning, I looked at him differently. I looked at him like he was someone I knew. He was familiar. I looked at him with Jesus’ words in mind: “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Mat. 25:40)

I had several tasks to do that morning, but I was distracted knowing that at noon, I would be dining with the Marine. What would I say? How would I broach the subject? Would I tell him the reason I was asking him to lunch? My office window faced the spot on the bridge where the Marine sat, so throughout the next several hours, I glanced down, trying to get a better feel of how the conversation might go. A couple minutes before noon, I looked out the window one last time before heading out on my mission. He was gone. As in, not there, nowhere in sight, not available for lunch.

I was crushed. I asked God what this meant. Had I failed in obeying him? Was “take the Marine to lunch” just something I made up in my own head, wanting to believe God spoke to me? Or was this a test, a test from God to see whether I would obey? I was so disappointed, but prayed: “I’m here. I will do what you ask.”

For the next four months, I passed by the Marine’s spot on the bridge. He had not returned, not even once. I began to believe that I had made him up, that he was a figment of my imagination. I doubted God had asked me to take him to lunch. I doubted that God whispered anymore at all.

Then, on May 7, 2009, I walked from the train station to my office and the Marine was back – his cardboard sign attached to his bag, his yellow and black cup for money out in front of him. I felt nervous and unsure about what to do. After saying a prayer, I approached him and said hi. He looked up at me with crystal blue eyes, a scraggly beard and a baseball cap. I asked if I could get him something to eat. If he was hungry, I was going to feed him. But he said a man had just come by with a ham sandwich. "Here we go again, watch, he won't need anything," I thought. "What is it that God wants me to do?" I asked if there was anything he needed and braced for a big ask. He asked for a mere $5.00 to cover his shortfall for a room that night at a men's hotel down the street. He was younger than I’d thought, just a couple years older than me and the way he talked reminded me of friends I had. Clear, confident . . . normal. He wore black jeans and black boots and sat with his legs crossed. I gave him a five-dollar bill. We exchanged names -- his is Steven -- and I went on to work.

Our interaction was short, but I felt it was arranged by God and I felt content and joyful knowing that. I said hi to him the next day too. We talked briefly. Then, the following Monday, May 11, 2009, I stopped to say hi again. This time, he was hungry, so I got him a muffin and some coffee. He asked why I was being so nice to him when I didn't even know him. I said: "God told me to." This started a longer conversation. I'd noticed that he had a Bible on his lap.  I asked if he was a Christ-follower. He said yes and began to tell me his story.

"I started going to a church on the South side in November. I really liked it. It was different than other churches I'd gone to in the past." My mind started running, thinking of my own experience -- my first time to Willow in November, how different it was from my prior experience at church. "I kept going, each week. And then, one weekend, in December . . ." He kept going, talking about an altar call the pastor at the church made. I stopped listening and started praying: "God, please let him say he came to know you on December 20th. Please, God, just let him say December 20th." My insides starting jumping. My heart was pumping.

" . . . I'll never forget the day it happened. It was December 20th. The pastor asked if I wanted to accept Jesus Christ as my savior. And I did. . ."

December 20th.  December 20, 2008.  I wanted to shout, to scream, to say "WHAT? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? GOD, ARE YOU KIDDING ME?" I wanted to laugh, to cry. Of all the people in the world, of all the days, of all the months, of all the years.  This man, homeless, jobless, hungry, and me, on my way to work as a lawyer, with a home, full from breakfast.  Two strangers on a bridge.  God found us, picked us out, on the very same day.  And not only that, but then brought us together in a most unlikely, unable-to-be-made-up way.

God came to me in a gentle whisper (not in violent wind, or in an earthquake, or in fire), saying "take the Marine to lunch."  And that day on the bridge began a whole new story for Steven and for me.  A story God had planned all along.  You'd have to ask Steven what our friendship and God's intervention has meant to him.  For me, it has been an incredible richness of blessing, of obedience, and of understanding what it means to love like Jesus did.  Steven has blessed me in ways he may never know.  We have been through a lot:  birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, cancer, job offers, spiritual hunger and mentoring, difficult conversations, celebrations, miracles, anniversaries, stories of war, grace, forgiveness, pain, love.  Steven is so important to me, everything about him -- who he is, what he says, his incomparable faith, his strength, his doubt.  I have never met anyone like him.

God has also used that day in May and my friendship with Steven to teach me about who He is.  That He uses whispers not only to seek our obedience, but also to show who He is, to demonstrate His glory.  If I ever doubt God is with me, that God is real, that God loves me, I need only look back on that day in May 2009 when God showed me in an unmistakable way:  I am here.  I am real.  I love you.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Still Becoming

I used to believe, and sometimes still do, despite all evidence to the contrary, that when I declared my commitment to Christ, I would immediately be godly, holy, good, righteous.  I would be Christ-like, as soon as my words of confession, of profession, left my mouth.  And, unfairly, I expected (and sometimes expect) others who say they are followers of Christ to be Christ-like in all that they do, now.  This is not how it works, as it turns out.  

In Christ, we "are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit."  (Eph.2:22) "To become," according to the trustworthy, means "to grow to be."  Becoming Christ-like is a life-long construction project.  As Peter said: "rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.  Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good."  (1 Peter 2:1-3)  Don't you ever just pray, though, or wish, that you could just be, now, not become?  Patience is not my best attribute, so I do.  I pray that I could be like Christ today.  At times, I act in ways that are Christ-like, and I think, I've made it!  I'm there.  I have become, no more building, I am built.  Then, I do or say something, and I think I've never been further from being like Christ.  I am a broken building, my pieces in a pile on the ground.

Peter describes sinful desires as being at war against our souls.  (1 Peter 2:11)  I know what he means.  My soul, at times, feels like it exists in two seemingly equal, opposing parts:

Wearing God’s armor;
Dressing in lust and lies;
Abstaining from sinful desire;
Yielding effortlessly to this world;

Standing firm;
Repaying insult with insult;

Rejoicing in suffering;
Drowning in self;

Abiding in grace;
Wallowing in recrimination;

Living in peace beyond understanding;
Fearing tomorrow’s trouble;

Believing in the impossible;
Knowing I am incapable of anything. 

Thankfully, "we are being built."  We have a builder.  I am so grateful for and astonished by my builder, He has a tough job.  Please give me grace as I am being built, as I am becoming.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Finally, my takeaways.

I've gone through a long thought process since I've been back from Africa and have had time to think through all that I saw and heard and felt. I've looked at my photographs a dozen times to help me understand what my takeaways are, you know, how I can best describe the trip in a few sentences (close to impossible). Here are some I'm thinking about and the pictures that go with them.  What do you think?

1) The local church is the hope of the world.

Clean water.  The church being the church.

See last line on sign: Minister: All Believers. 

The church caring for orphans.
2)  Every one of us is important to God.  Shoes or no shoes, white skin or black skin, here or there.

3)  The Big Bang Theory simply doesn't make any sense once you look around.

4)  Pay attention to the journey, not just the destination.

5)  A great team makes all the difference.

6)  Don't eat just any piece of fruit you find on the ground.

7)  Warthog tastes like chicken.  Not really.  More like pig.


Marinated Warthog Fillet.  No one would order that!
8)  Don't ever take Tamiflu.  Long story.  No pictures.  

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Deep, Dark Cause Of Our Embarrassment

Something happened last week, and all weekend I've been pretending that it didn't. But it did. I had lunch with some friends. They know me in my work life mostly. Somehow my blog came up. They didn't know I wrote a blog. I told them the name of it; their eyebrows raised. When I got back to my office, I forwarded the link to them. And that's when it happened.

I felt embarrassed. I wished I could recall the email with the link. I actually even looked up under "Help" how to do it. I needed help. I'd done something totally embarrassing and I wanted to take it back. What was I embarrassed by? The last entry on my blog, which set forth my vision, purpose, and core values. And, perhaps you didn't read the last entry, but those are as follows:

Vision: to be more like Christ.
Purpose: to bring glory to God.
Core values: to love God and to love others.

I couldn't stand the idea that these friends would read that what defines me is my relationship with God. My guiding principles, my reason for being, where I wanted to go, all centered on my Savior. My legs bounced under my desk. I started to sweat. I cringed with what they would think, how they would laugh. Oh, what must God have thought as my body and soul betrayed him in my embarrassment? How must I have broken his heart as this feeling rose up from somewhere deep inside me and in one fell swoop, I wanted to recall my devotion, all I have said, all I have declared?

Why was I embarrassed anyway? Thinking about it now, I want to curl up in a ball; or fall on my knees and cry out to God: "Forgive me! Forgive me!"; or tell everyone I've previously told I'm a believer/follower/lover of Christ that I'm a fraud. How can I possibly call myself a follower of Christ and be embarrassed to tell anyone that my vision in life is to be more like he was? I needed forgiveness and I needed to know that someone somewhere in the world had felt this before, just so I could know that I'm not the only fraud on the planet.

Then I remembered reading a Frederick Buechner sermon called The Sign by the Highway. I bought a book called Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons, which includes 37 of Buechner's sermons. I've read just a few and today I wonder whether I bought this book just for The Sign by the Highway. God knew I'd need it. In this particular sermon, Buechner tells the story of a man, who, while driving on the highway, sees a hand-painted sign that says: "Jesus Saves." And the man, upon seeing this, winces with embarrassment. I wonder if you would too? Buechner explains his view about why when we see a sign that says "Jesus Saves," we wince with embarrassment. But, he might as well have been teaching about why we wince with embarrassment after (mistakenly) telling those we call friends that "Jesus saved me", or, "hey, I write a blog about God's grace."

The reason, I have now concluded, is the same. As Buechner explains: to admit that Jesus saves (or that you have been saved by Jesus) is to admit that you needed to be saved. Go back and read that sentence again. Or, here, I'll just write it again: To admit that Jesus saves (or that you have been saved by Jesus) is to admit that you needed to be saved.

Now, I would stand up at church and say I needed to be saved to 5,000 people, or 7,000, or however many you put before me. But to have me say this at work, to say it to those before whom I am to be strong, makes me wince with embarrassment. What is valued in my profession (and perhaps in life) is strength, aggression, independence. You DO NOT show weakness. If you need to be saved, you have failed. So, this was part of it, but only part of my embarrassment.

You know what the rest of it was? Wow, does this make me sick to my stomach (and Buechner gets this spot on): I wonder if it might have been the first time I really felt myself, that I needed to be saved. I mean, when you make the declaration at church or around others who are followers of Christ (who have made the same declaration), or even in your bedroom alone after church (which is what I did), it is easy to skip over the deep recognition I think; that thing where you actually feel what you know in your head. I have known in my head for the last just under two years that I needed to be saved, that I was living far from God and only by putting my life into Christ's hands could I be reconciled in my relationship to God. I knew this. There have been many many times for sure when it struck me how much I needed Christ in my life, how much better my life is since I decided to devote my life to him. But if I'm being totally honest, I don't know if, until this last week, I really FELT the need, you know, in the pit of my stomach, at the back of my eyes, in the part of my heart that only God has seen. I have FELT the joy of being saved. I have FELT the exhilaration of God's work in my life. Had I felt the need to be saved, though? This is a big deal. I'm telling you. It is humbling in a way that nothing else is. I needed to be saved. I am not strong enough, or smart enough, or good enough. I needed a savior.

So, to admit this out loud for all to see and feel embarrassed is not really to be embarrassed that Jesus Saves, but that Jesus saved me . . . because I needed to be saved.

Do you know what the best part about this whole experience has been? Knowing that I need a Savior and my Savior has come. Praise God.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Vision, Purpose, Core Values

This past weekend, my law firm held its all-partner retreat. This is a great opportunity to have some fun, bond, and talk through where we're headed as an organization. It was a very productive retreat from my perspective. The focus was our "core values," and the vision and purpose supported by those values. Learning and thinking about this in the context of my firm got me thinking about my own life. What is my purpose? What is my vision? What are my core values? The way these terms are defined are as follows:

Vision: what you desire to become.
Purpose: your reason for being.
Core Values: the ideals you respect and honor in carrying out your purpose and reaching your vision.

So, on the train home last night, I wrote out my vision, purpose and core values.

Vision (what I desire to become):

"Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." (Eph. 5:1-2) My vision is to become more like Christ everyday -- to love as he loved.

Purpose (my reason for being):

"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." (1 Corin. 10:31) Whatever I do, I will do for the glory of God. That is my very reason for being.

Core Values (the ideals I will honor in carrying out my purpose and reaching my vision) :

The Pharisees asked Jesus "which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus answered: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matt. 22:36-40) All that I do must be informed and driven by loving God and loving others.

I know that my personal vision can be reached. I know that my purpose can be carried out. I know that my core values can inform all that I do. But, not in my own power. As Paul said to the Colossians, "[t]his is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you the assurance of sharing his glory." (Col. 1:27b) And, "I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength." (Phil. 4:13) Amen.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Stand Firm

Ephesians 6:10-18 says:

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”

I have always liked this passage. It has made me feel safe and full of resolve against evil. But, you know, it doesn’t say: the full armor of God is on you. And it doesn’t say that one day I’ll be standing somewhere and the armor of God will fall upon me. No. This passage requires me to actually do some things: “put on the full armor of God;” “take up the shield of faith;” “take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit;” “pray in the Spirit on all occasions;” and “be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” Once I saw the passage as it reads instead of how I’d like it to read, I decided that I needed to figure out how to do these things. Some steps are easier than others.

In the last several weeks I’ve been conducting an accidental experiment, the import of which I didn’t understand until recently. Admittedly, this experiment is a bit silly. In some ways, though, it has been profound.

First, I need to give you some background: When I walk from the train station in the morning to my office, I have to cross two streets, across Wacker and across Jackson. These corners in Chicago are extremely busy both with cars and pedestrians. Indeed, at times, I feel like I am caught in a fast-moving river and if I stop, I will get washed away or trampled. The masses of people move across the street against the light. When this happens, some stragglers, who are just following along, frequently risk their lives because they do not see the cars coming through the light. These cars, I believe TRY to hit the unaware pedestrian. I am always amazed going anywhere in which cars actually slow down and stop when a pedestrian is crossing the street. Not so in Chicago. Here, we speed up and it’s target practice. I digress.

One morning, I was one of those unaware pedestrians – caught up in whatever I was pondering and just going along with the crowd. Then I heard a horn and saw the speeding car. Through God’s grace, I noticed in time, and stopped. It was in that moment that I asked myself why I was not paying attention, why I was always in a hurry, and why I would trust the judgment of some random people in a mass on the street corner with my physical safety? Would I do this under any other circumstances?

Now, the experiment: In an attempt to slow myself down, to be more careful, and really to just pay attention more to what is going on around me, I decided that I would no longer cross any street against the light. I would stand firm and wait for the light to change. Can you believe I’m saying this like it’s some kind of revelation? What must the officer friendly that used to come to my 5th grade class think of such things? Haven’t we learned from the time we could walk to look both ways and not to cross against the light? What has happened that I have to actually decide at age 35 (well, I was 34 at the time) to observe basic street-crossing safety rules? I imagine myself explaining this new way of being to my ten-year old daughter and the confused look that would undoubtedly grace her face as I reveal this life lesson – kind of like saying: “Honey, I decided today that we should not touch a hot stove. Okay? Now, I really want you to listen to this one. Got it?” She would think I’d totally lost it. Not crossing against the light, and standing firm until it is safe sounds like it’d be a piece of cake. I’ve got news for you: it’s harder than you think, especially if you’re one of these type-A personalities.

The first day I decided to try my new strategy, I almost forgot. The mass of people getting off the train moved me right along. I took one step off the curb and then suddenly caught myself. This, of course, started a cascade of collisions behind me, people started swearing, and cutting around me as if I was blocking manna in the desert. My toes teetered on the curb as I waited. I would wait. A couple times, I thought the light would change and it didn’t, so I nearly fell into the street. But, I made it! People moved around me as they needed, annoyed, and flashing me strange looks. I actually felt extreme pressure to cross. It was high school revisited. Everyone was doing it. Did I really need to prove this point, right now? And, what was the point, anyway?

Day after day, I’ve stood on the curb, waiting for the light to change. (Admittedly, I’ve violated my stand firm policy a number of times, usually without deciding to – which is worse in my view than deciding to). I’ve noticed some things. First, the sky is really beautiful. You see, the time standing there gives me a second to breathe in the air and look at the sky. Now, when it’s raining, this standing firm strategy is even harder to pull off, but I notice things then too. Like, I don’t melt when it rains. And, there are all kinds of umbrella colors and textures. And, there are tons of people who forget their umbrellas or choose not to use them. Second, there are people who will also wait if they see someone else brave enough to try. A kind of bond starts to form among those of us who are willing to wait and lift our eyes, to stand even when it seems safe to walk and even as the pressure rises.

There is a point to all of this and it is more than my telling you that you should really not cross streets against the light. The point is this: if it is this hard for me (us) to stand firm on a street corner until the light has changed and tells us to walk, what hope do we have of standing firm in the face of evil? We need to practice, to train, and to pray for God’s help. The momentum all around us teaches us to just keep walking and follow the crowd. Just get in the midst of the crowd and put one foot in front of the other. Don’t look up. Don’t look around. Don’t ask questions. Get where you’re going. I have a group of friends with whom I don’t hang around too often, but when I do, something I don’t like happens to me. I begin to abide by this follow principle. The group criticizes people we know who aren’t there. We gossip. We laugh at the expense of others. When I get home, I have to confess this to God and ask for his forgiveness. And, every single time I’m with this group, the same thing happens. The thing is, it will continue to happen until I decide to stand firm and then stand. When I do stand, perhaps others in this group will stand with me. We will feel solidarity in standing firm and we will be able to pull it off even as the pressure rises.

Putting on the full armor of God and then standing firm is not something that will just happen. So, I am training. Care to join me? There is some area of your life in which you follow along and get carried away by the masses around you. Try standing firm on the curb and lift your eyes. See what happens.