We're twenty days into Lent, but for surfers, we’ve been fasting for months. It has seriously been one of the worst winters for California surfers that I can remember. Not only are there no waves, but the anticipated forecast is dismal. It has been flat, and the outlook going forward isn’t getting any better. At least for the next few weeks to come.Read More
I’ve always been terrified of sharks. Ever since that fateful night when I was 10 and my friend and I stayed up late, after his parents went to bed, and watched Jaws on HBO. All of us have regrets in life. That night is one of mine. I’ve never totally recovered.Read More
Last week, I surfed the biggest waves of my life. Huge, double overhead Rio Nexpa. The surf was perfect. An A+ day. Our surf guide, Juan, couldn’t believe how lucky we were. We had the trip planned for months and had traveled all the way to Southern Mexico just in time for a huge swell.Read More
“You never enjoy the world aright till the sea itself flows in your veins…” Thomas Traherne
On Monday I spent a couple hours at one of my favorite beaches in town. For me, it has become a sacred space. It is beautiful and quiet, at least on weekdays. There is a fun little wave that can break there. But honestly, it is a place where I surf even when the waves are flat. I paddle out even when it’s better everywhere else. Because I’ve grown attached to it. It is familiar. It is a place where I belong. And it is a place where I feel God’s closeness.
For me, it has become a thin place. It is a place where heaven and earth almost intersect, but not quite. The boundary between worlds feels paper thin. I often hear God’s still, small voice.
As I walked down the steps, I could see a cluster of people out there surfing. It was a steady wind swell…playful and fun. As I changed into my wetsuit and threw a quick coat of new wax over the building layers on my board, I watched as one surfer after another rode their last wave in. By the time I started paddling, the lineup was empty. Lucky me!
My first wave was a marvelous little gem that popped up out of nowhere. Wind swell is so fun! The waves are stacked close together. They are peaky. You gotta be quick to your feet. After 25 minutes I’d lost count of how many waves I’d ridden.
I thought, I can’t believe I have it to myself! And that’s when I felt a little poke in the ribs. As if God was saying, “you’re not alone.” Oh yeah. How quickly I forget. God is here with me. Remembering this causes the whole context to expand. Suddenly I feel His joy as well as mine.
As a spiritual director, I often ask the person I’m directing where God is in the situation they’re describing to me. Because, we all know, God has a way of disappearing into our peripheral vision, especially when we become overly focused. Whether it is worry, or anxiety, or even pleasure or joy, if we aren’t careful, we become myopic, nearsighted. We see the details separated from their designer. We enjoy the gift and forget the giver.
And, as a result, we lose the depth of meaning, the deep renewal that joy brings, the lightness of perspective that comes from finding God amid our circumstances. This connection is where the real power lies. Without it, experiences lose not only their taste but their ability to nourish our souls.
Thomas Traherne writes, “Your enjoyment of the world is never right till every morning you awake in heaven, see yourself in your Father’s palace, and look upon the skies, the earth, and the air as celestial joys, having such a reverend esteem of all, as if you were among the angels.”
How I long to see the world in such a way!
It can take so much work to keep God in our perspective. My mind is always wandering down rabbit trails that lead to some worry or complexity or problem to solve. While there might be a semblance of value to this, often the energy expended could be better spent simply remaining present. Savoring the joy that is before me. Enjoying God’s immediate presence.
As I take my last wave in, I feel renewed. The emptiness has been satiated. I feel God’s pleasure. I’m full.
I love just after it rains. The hills in Laguna rebound immediately to a vivid green. The sun is so bright you can’t help but squint. The dust of the drought feels rinsed away and everything smells clean.
Except the ocean. In stark contrast to the gleaming landscape, the water is murky and brown. As inviting as today is to being outdoors, the sea holds up its hands and says stay out.
It isn’t just that it’s dirty. Its contaminated. The bacteria levels skyrocket after a rain. Surfers are warned to stay out of the water for 72 hours, especially when near drain pipes and river mouths.
As I stand at the outlook staring into the opaque water I can’t help but see it as a metaphor. 2016 was such a murky year. It felt impossible to make a good decision. Everything felt like damage control. News felt untrustworthy. Subjective interpretations felt unrestrained. Civil conversations would quickly degenerate into entrenched, unresolvable disputes.
It wasn’t just that the issues felt cloudy. The whole environment felt toxic and polluted. It was affecting my heart. I felt myself disengaging from those that disagreed with me. I couldn’t last in a political conversation for more than five minutes without accusing the other side of being obtuse at best, and moronic when I’d finally had enough.
Everything felt so polarized. It still does. Days later, you start to wonder if the water will ever clear.
And not just politically. The either/or dichotomy seems to find its way into every aspect of our lives. It isn’t just republican or democrat anymore. There is a conservative and progressive side to just about every discussion, be it spirituality and religion, vaccinations, eating habits, child rearing, healthcare, gender, education, you name it. Are you this or are you that? Pick a side. No one is known for what they’re for, but instead for the worst elements of what the other side is against. No one wins.
We are beginning a new year. This is the time for resolutions. For new goals, dreams, and ambitions to once again return with a freshness. We are given a blank slate or canvas. But this year I can’t do it. I can’t keep paddling through all this sewage. We need to clean this up.
But what do you do when you find all your options dissatisfying? What do you do when you find both sides equally cloudy and toxic? How do you take a step forward when it feels like there are no realistic options?
As a pastor, I’m particularly burdened by how complicit and intertwined my own evangelical faith has become with the systemic problems we face in America and the world. We have embraced power that stands in sharp contrast with our very essence of humility, gentleness and love. We have drunk deep from the power and ambition of the world and become intoxicated with it. We’ve lost our way. Both sides. Right and left. We’ve all lost our way.
James writes at the end of chapter 3 of his cautionary letter that “where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.”
How I long for this clean water! Wisdom from above is known by its texture and clarity. Integrity is not clinging to one isolated principle above all others. It is open to reason. It is known by its gentleness and mercy, by the taste of its fruit.
But if I’m honest, a quick look inward reveals the cloudiness of my own heart. So much of what I do merits praise and approval from others. How pure are my own motives? What would I do if they didn’t bring with them the privileges I enjoy? How willing am I to pray David’s prayer that God would search my heart and cleanse it? To go after the wickedness that lies deep in my own motives, that lurks in the shadows?
James says that pure religion begins by bridling the tongue. He follows it up by saying that it is followed by visiting widows and orphans and keeping oneself unstained by the world.
It makes me think of that statement attributed to St. Francis that we would “preach the gospel at all times and if necessary use words.” Today I believe that our words are doing more harm than good. The church needs instead to practice goodness in secret. We need to stop waving the triumphal banner of some exclusive right to eternal hope and start actually living in such a way that hope is the natural and contagious effect.
This year is the 500th birthday of the reformation. It feels like we’re due for another one.
We desperately need to get back to the center. To rediscover the heart of our faith. To rekindle that first love. At least I know that I do.
So here are my resolutions for this year.
I’m resolving to talk less and do more.
To remember that without love, the most eloquent words are noise.
To invest the gifts I’ve received in the lives of those in need.
To not waste emotional and spiritual energy entangling myself in disputes without end.
To instead allow my own soul to be open and laid bare before God that He would do his work of creating in me a clean and new heart.
And to place my hope in the reality that this isn’t the first time this has happened. That things can die and be reborn. That Jesus is still making all things new. For His way is the way of true hope.
May we, in 2017, have the confidence to “walk in love, as Christ loved us.” Amen.