I’ve moved. Well…I haven’t moved. I still live in the same place, but my blog has moved. I’ve decided to focus more on actually writing and have gotten a legitimate website with a .com and everything. So if you’ve liked anything you’ve seen here, feel free to check it out, interact, etc. Have a great day!
At first glance, there is nothing special about Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s a superhero movie. In the last five years, there have been approximately 2,384 superhero movies released into theaters. I love comic books and even I think we should cool it with super powered derring do.
But there is something slightly…different about Guardians. Comic book movies typically center around three archetypes: nearly perfect men who wield super strength (Superman, Captain America, Thor), billionaires with nearly unlimited resources (Batman, Iron Man), or super-powered teenagers/young adults who feel alienated (Spider-Man, X-Men).
The Guardians consist of an orphaned outlaw intergalactic junk collector, the green-skinned assassin who is the daughter of an almost god-like space despot, an escaped prisoner seeking vengeance for the death of his wife and son, a violent talking raccoon, and a sentient tree. The Avengers or the Justice League, they ain’t. They are outcasts and cast-offs. Some would even call them freaks.
"We’re all losers," Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill/Star-Lord says to the team at one point before recognizing the offense in everyone’s eyes. "No, I mean we’ve all lost something," Quill clarifies. But the filmmakers are also quite clear: these guys are losers.
"I liked the fact that they were broken." EA said that after we viewed Guardians last week and I think it’s why many people like it. Don’t get me wrong, the movie is a blast. Where many superhero movies of late have piled gravitas on top of somberness, GotG is often hilarious and pure popcorn-flick fun.
Yet beating beneath the surface is a wounded heart and despite each character’s best efforts to cover it up (well except for Groot; the talking tree might be the most emotionally well-adjusted character in cinema), the hurt eventually finds its way to the surface. Flawed characters who are striving for something more resonate with people.
Read more …
Starting today, I will be posting a weekly reflection on one of the lectionary passages for the forthcoming Sunday. The plan right now is to post them on Thursday. I have stolen this idea from many, many people. Today’s passage is Matthew 14:22-33.
I can’t tell you how many times that I have stood at the edge of a pool and slowly lowered my foot down on the blue surface of the water. Maybe, just maybe this will be the time it becomes something on which I can walk. Maybe if I believe just a little bit more. Instead: kersploosh.
It hasn’t happened yet. I just can’t get over what happens in this scene. How can anyone walk on the water? It boggles the mind. It just is not in the realm of human experience. Jesus and Peter might as well have been flying or being pulled in chariots by fire-breathing dragons.
And what was Peter thinking? He was a fisherman. He knew how water worked. Is this just an instance—one of seemingly many—in which he did not think? Or was he just so overtaken with what Jesus was doing that everything he knew about how the world is supposed to work vanished? Maybe Peter was so dumbstruck by Jesus strolling on the sea that he forgot water is a terrible walking surface.
It’s funny how being so consumed with one thing causes us to do things that should’t be possible. We’ve all heard the stories of mothers lifting cars as if they were from Krypton in an effort to rescue children.
That is undoubtedly one of the takeaways from this story. When we focus intently on Jesus then perhaps we will forget about how the world is “supposed” to work. Instead of skeptically remarking “What the heck?” we might have the courage to spring upon the sea: to love God fully, to love our neighbors truly, to embrace the outcast, to help the needy, to risk looking like a fool.
It is not easy. The passage demonstrates that. Peter remembers how the world is “supposed” to work and water does what water normally does. Yet Jesus rescues his friend and asks him why he doubted? I have always wondered what Jesus’ tone was when he said that. Disappointed? Exasperated? A tone that I can only describe as “Dude, you almost had it. What happened?” (“dude” appears in the original Greek far more than you would think…not really).
Regardless, that ending steels us from making those naive proclamations that we’re going to follow Jesus and change the world and everything is going to be awesome. Yet it should not stop us from taking the risk, of getting out of the boat, of imaging that perhaps the world can work in ways of which we never dreamed, of fixing our eyes on the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.
EA Ferree and I were born three days apart in 1983. When guys from my freshman hall came into BCM to throw me into the lake for my birthday, someone (probably Justin Nelson) remarked that EA’s birthday was coming up too. As a result, we both got tossed into the beautiful looking, but goose-toilet-in-reality Furman Lake that night. Somewhere there is a picture of the two of us; soaking wet but smiling despite the fact that we were still spitting out that putrid water.
Technically, that is not where the story of us began. For the next year, we were casual acquaintances at best. It wasn’t until the drama team of which I was in charge was asked to lead a youth group meeting at EA’s church that we spent any significant time together. And then we ended up falling for each other over the next few months.
But I like the lake story because it has all the makings of a meet-cute in a formulaic romantic comedy; except it didn’t take. If it had been anyone else, it would have just been a footnote in the story about that time I was ambushed and thrown into a lake on my 19th birthday. Instead that random girl with a birthday three days after me ended up becoming my best friend and my wife.
Nine years ago, EA and I exchanged vows on a theater stage. It simultaneously seems like yesterday and—especially when we are trying to contain the beautiful chaos that is our two boys—a million years ago. No matter how near or far the day seems, I am so profoundly grateful for that day because EA Cox is awesome.
There is no one else that I would rather live alongside than EA. Nine years in, she is still the fiercely intelligent, funny, passionate, and beautiful woman that walked down the aisle on our wedding day. In fact, she is those things all the more today. I would not be the man that I am today if not for her encouragement and challenging me in the best of all possible ways. I have gotten to see her become an invaluable educator and an incredible mother. Going through seminary, she has kept me on my toes with her insatiable curiosity about faith. I could go on and on. Like I said, she’s awesome.
So I am thankful today and everyday. I am thankful for our love, for the way that we help each other through the labyrinth is adulthood by leading according to our strengths, for the way in which together we have gotten through whatever difficulty that has come our way. I am filled with gratitude for so very much.
Happy Anniversary Beautiful. I am so fortunate that I get to share life with you and I would do the whole thing over again (actually, I would have liked it if someone had brought us food when we were taking wedding pictures, but you already knew that and would want that too). I’m excited about what’s next for our family. I love you more than you’ll know.
This is a post that I need to write, but I’m not sure that I can. I need to write it to put a period, a question mark, or some kind of punctuation to close this chapter of my life. But I’m still processing the whole thing. I probably won’t stop processing it. In one incarnation or another, Seesalt has been a part of my life since I was three. It has been my profession and vocation for the entirety of my adult life thus far. Two weeks after the fact seems a bit soon to try to say something about it, but two decades might feel that way too. In other words, this is probably going to be a mess.
This last summer has been a good one. It was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it was good. At the end of the day, that is all one can ask for.
On my last Wednesday night—the night of our longest drama and the final night that I extended invitation—I realized that it was the last evening worship service in which I would play bass in the band. This was during the song “Oceans.” You need to understand that “Oceans” is a wonderful song about trusting God in the unknown but it is also weaponized emotion in musical form. I spent the rest of that night barely holding things together until I saw EA at the end of the service and collapsed into a sobbing heap.
If that was my next to last night then you would figure my final night would be even more Crazy Adventures in Basketcaseville. Instead there was peace. Peace that this is the right time. Peace that we are making the right decision. Peace that God would still be there as we venture out into the wilderness. That peace was a gift.
Towards the end of the summer, I started making a mental list of all that I would miss about Seesalt. It is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is that with which I want to finish this post.
I will miss the sound of an entire room talking to God during guided prayer time.
I will miss “Amazing Grace” after communion.
I will miss standing in the surf with my friends on late Thursday night as we are overcome with relief and gratitude.
I will miss playing in a band.
I will miss getting to watch my parents use their gifts and abilities each summer.
I will miss the giddy anticipation that comes before that first week of camp.
I will miss watching the joy emanating from staff, students, and adults.
I will miss the energy.
I will miss how much I learned each summer.
I will miss being a part of the dramas in each worship service and will be forever grateful for my dad’s conviction that there are many, many ways to communicate the gospel.
I will miss “Arky Arky” even though the story of Noah and the Ark gives me all kinds of problems and I was probably about two years away from dying while giving God the glory, glory.
I will miss rec demonstrations with the staff on Thursday morning.
I will miss the ridiculously surprising ways in which I have seen God work over the years.
I will miss being in a place where I could get away with writing into a worship service drama a dream sequence scene in which Abraham Lincoln searches for a polar bear while another character chases someone else around with an ax.
I will miss getting to use a bullhorn every Thursday.
I will miss seeing the students that “get it” and watching how it changes them down the road.
I will miss the community. The Seesalt staff has gone from being the men and women to whom I looked up to my peers to these awesome people a decade younger than me. I will miss the late nights, inside jokes, the hunger for the something good that can only come from God. The conversations, the laughter, the prayers, and everything else that I have been privileged to experience with this community has left an indelible mark on my life for the better.
I will miss all of this and more than I could say. I will miss Seesalt greatly. But I am also excited about whatever happens next.
Godspeed, Seesalt. Thank you and thank God for all that I have gotten to experience this summer and all the summers before.
Chris and the Dragon turned 3 today!
The blogging has been scarce of late while I’ve been at Seesalt, but that is hopefully changing soon in a big way. Stay tuned.
The last week or so before we head off to Seesalt for the summer has this clockwork-like routine to it. Work like mad to get ready. Realize how much you still have to do in spite of months of preparation. Stay up late. Get ready to pack your life up for two months. This year has felt exactly the same with one exception: this is the last one for me.
Last fall after a lot of prayer and conversations, I realized that God was leading me elsewhere. It was the hardest decision that I have ever had to make. My parents started Seesalt and run the camp. It and its previous incarnations have been a part of every summer that I can remember. I have served on the program staff for 14 years; the last eight as Assistant Director. It is a ministry that I love deeply. I am proud of our small mom-and-pop indie camp that exists alongside denominational heavyweights with a great deal more funding. Seesalt and the relationships I have formed there over the years have shaped me in so many wonderful ways.
But after this summer, it is time to move on.
The one thing that I want to do is finish well. The trouble is endings are always tricky. Watch the end of an SNL skit fall apart. Witness the difficulty of concluding a long running TV series like How I Met Your Mother or Lost. Think about how many third parts of trilogies fail to meet expectations. It is a difficult thing to finish well. I am feeling that pressure. I’ve wanted the Bible studies and dramas that I have written for this summer to be the best that I have ever written; to be love letters to this place that has meant so much to me.
I don’t know if either the Bible studies or the dramas will be the best I’ve ever written (Come to Seesalt! This summer’s Bible study and dramas may not be the best ever written!). Yet I am trying to be at peace with the fact that the best I can do is to be present and give what I have. I don’t want to finish with fireworks and grandeur. A lot of students probably won’t even realize that I’m gone next summer. That’s okay. I just want to finish well.
For all of that, I would appreciate your prayers. For myself, EA (who has been doing this for nine years now), our boys, our staff, plus the students and adults whom we’ll be serving. For me, It’s going to be both a great and difficult summer. And it all starts tomorrow.
What about the wilderness has resonated with you?
That was the gist of a question that Dean asked me. I couldn’t tell you the actual question because it was towards the beginning of one of those conversations that end up being an excavation of the soul. It also caught me off guard for some reason.
We were walking down the Rail Trail near downtown: myself and my pastors Dean and Lisa. I was telling them about the summer and what I was writing for camp. I told them about the characters that are in the dramas and I laid out the theme of the wilderness.
I admitted that I did not realize how appropriate that theme would be when I suggested it back in the fall. Over the last year, I have come to identify greatly with the narratives of these characters, both scriptural and of my own invention, that are searching, wandering, and oftentimes feeling lost.
That’s when Dean asked me that question. What had I learned from those many narratives in scripture where people were wandering in the wilderness? I said something about trusting God in spite of not knowing what lies ahead and then we continued on to a much-needed conversation. My answer was all well, good, and true, but it felt like a placeholder for what truly resonated with me.
In the Hebrew Bible, which is many times one wilderness tale after another, men and women would often literally mark their encounters with God. They would build monuments and reminders at the places where YHWH had spoken to them and saved them. Think of Jacob awaking from his dream, building a pillar, and naming it House of God. Or the twelve stones in Joshua that were to remind the people of Israel of how the twelve tribes passed through Jordan into the Promised Land.
The marker in the wilderness that sticks out to me the most is one found in 1 Samuel 7. After the Israelites routed the Philistines, the prophet set up a stone as a reminder. Samuel named the stone Ebenezer and said, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” (1 Sam. 7:12) This particular stone in a relatively obscure passage is referenced in one of my favorite hymns “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”
Here I raise mine Ebenezer
Hither by Thy help I’ve come
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home
There are these markers in my life to which I can point that help me make sense of the wilderness.
They are the times that God has spoken to me in scripture, in songs, in sermons, in prayer, in communion, in aspects of the church calendar, in conversations with family and friends, and in completely unexpected places.
They are the events in my life that have molded me, scarred me, shaped me, and pointed me towards some sense of a calling.
They are times where I have felt intimately close with God and other times where I was ready to chunk the whole thing but somehow did not.
I turned thirty-one today. Like most people, birthdays typically cause me to look back. So I’ve been envisioning the trail from which I came. And I see Ebenezers scattered all over the whole thing: from the way the story of Jesus ignited my childhood imagination to Rail Trail conversations that provide clarity as I seek to take my next steps through the wilderness.
I think that is what has actually resonated with me. I am grateful to be able to remember all of these Ebenezers and to know, as I search and wander, God has helped me thus far. And I hope by God’s good pleasure to arrive at home.
Holy cow. You’re four. It never fails that whenever I am with you or your brother some nice older person will come by and admire you. As well they should. You guys are pretty adorable. This woman or man will then smile and sigh and tell me to enjoy it because children grow up so fast. And I give a knowing nod and say that I know all too well.
But it really does go by quickly because you are four today. We’re a year from five which is halfway to ten and then you might as well be shaving.
I am not in a hurry to age you so let’s focus on the now. This past year has been a humility check on how awesome a parent I think I am. I would not have necessarily gone around saying that I was awesome, but I felt like I had gotten into a pretty good groove of being a dad. After all, we had sailed through the so-called terrible twos with minimal drama.
Yet here’s the thing—and I’m telling you this to prepare you for the children you might have one day—two has nothing on three. You are faster. You are stronger. You are developing a sense of independence. You are possessive of your stuff when your little brother tries to take things. You can be defiant sometimes and very stubborn. Of course, you got the stubbornness honestly from both of your folks. Throw in a little brother into the mix and this past year has not exactly been a cakewalk.
This year has also been wonderful. Though three was difficult, I would never label it terrible. Because here’s the thing, Jim: You are the absolute most loving child imaginable. Countless times throughout the day, you tell your Mom and I that you love us. You give incredible hugs. You love to crawl into our laps and be held. You are sensitive and caring. Jim, you have a beautiful heart. There are some people in this world that would say that is not a quality a man should celebrate. Those people are full of it. I hope that your heart is always this beautiful.
The other thing that I want you to know about this last year is how smart you are. Now, there are times that intelligence keeps your Mom and I on our toes. Yet on the whole we are blown away by your insight and your inquisitive nature. You are always asking questions about the world around you. As you have learned more and more about faith in this past year, you have asked good questions about Jesus, God, and heaven. These are questions that have made you mom and I—a semester away from graduating seminary—have to think thoroughly about how to answer. It’s challenging, but in a good way. Never stop asking those good questions. It’s going to keep people on their toes, but you and they will be the better for it.
Your Mom and I love so much about you. The way that you and your brother make each other giggle. The way that you always declare it a beautiful day. The ways in which your logic is hilarious yet airtight. The way you smile. The times that you want me to pick you up for an “up hug.” How you want to look at the colors, fish, and Baby Jesus in our church sanctuary each Sunday before we go to lunch. The way you sing the songs from your favorite TV shows. The list could go on and on.
Jim, we love you more than you could possibly know. We feel incredibly blessed that we get to be your parents. It is an incredible experience, a sometimes harrowing experience, a learning experience, and a beautiful experience. It is something that neither of us would trade for the world.
Thanks for being you, Jim. Happy Birthday buddy. I love you with all of my heart and I always will.
Luke 15 is one of those scripture passages that is intertwined with my imagination. The grace found in the parable of the forgiving father is so integral to how I understand faith that I keep taking it apart and looking at the pieces. It is amazing how many ways you can look at a story that only has three main characters.
I read the parable recently and I imagined that it was this cyclical story in which the son that stayed was the son that left. The older son was the prodigal. He ran. He squandered. He returned penniless. And his father lavished love on him.
But as time went on, he forgot. He returned home, obeyed all the rules, and he forgot who he was. He forgot his father’s love. He bought into the lie that he was always the son that stayed. So when the story repeats itself, he if full of bitterness. Not remembering his own folly. Not remembering the grace that saved him.
And I wonder sometimes how often we are the younger-turned-older sons and daughters who simply forget. We think that we have always been the ones that kept the rules, when we need grace just like the one that shatters every rule ever conceived. I think that is what happens when Christians belittle those outside the church or look down at those crawling and struggling to find God. It’s an amnesia of the soul.
God help us to remember.