A Walk to Remember

This video started making the rounds online this week:

The clip is a compilation of ten hours of walking the streets of New York City.  The woman in the video received over a hundred catcalls and even threats of rape online.  You can read an article about it here. Her clothing was not revealing. Her manner not engaging or provocative in any way. She was a woman walking down the street and getting harassed at an average of ten unwanted verbal comments an hour.

The entire clip is uncomfortable as the comments span from a simple “good morning,” to a more disturbing set of people following her and demanding a reaction.

So, for the ladies out there, here’s a catcall from me:

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that there are men in the world who are stupid enough to infringe on your public and private space with their lame attempts at validation.

I’m sorry that there are men who have no idea how to respect a woman.

I’m sorry that little boys watch these men and grow up with tarnished images of love, respect, conversation, and how to treat women in their families and lives.

As a father with two sons of my own, I’ll make you a promise.  I’ll do everything I can to be sure they are gentlemen, they hold doors and pull out chairs. They open car doors and meet parents and shake hands with fathers. They know that love is a partnership on even terms and, on no level, does being a man make you any better than your partner.

I’ll do my best.

And maybe, one day, you can walk down a sidewalk in peace.

 

Soundtrack inspiration:

 

 

 

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How Much Longer?

Ever have one of those days?

Today was it. From start to finish, one of those days. No stopping. No slowing down.  Busy.

Kid problems. Home problems.  Money problems.

One of those days where you look up to the sky and wonder what will happen next and when it will end. When will the storm clouds clear? When will we find peace?

I sit here at our kitchen table writing this post as our youngest son refuses to go to sleep, our neighbors fight, bills wait to be paid, work isn’t easy, and every second feels like another nail in the coffin.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

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Growing up, I loved the imagery in the book of Job.  Something about this guy who had things going fairly well.  God and Satan meet up in Heaven (take a second to get your mind around that one) and this conversation happens:

One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”

Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”

Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

You know the rest of the story. Job’s friends and his wife offer various explanations for the suffering.  Job questions God and God offers one of the grandest cosmic smack downs ever recorded.  Job repents and is restored.

Restoration will come.  Someday.

As for now, we’re going on two hours without Aiden going to sleep.  The night is young and showing no sign of stopping.

I’m ready for the dawn.

Soundtrack Inspiration:

Hitting the Reset Button

A coworker has gotten me into the world of online gaming.  Now, I had the systems most of us had growing up, the Nintendo, Super Nintendo, PlayStation, and PlayStation 2 chronologically.  Those gave way to cell phone games and eventually a Wii for Carter.  One day my friend told me about this game called The Secret World.

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You create a character and go into these worlds to fight the bad guys and gain points to advance your character.  The worlds are deep, immersive, and engaging. Every time you die you resurrect at different points in the game.

Every death is a new start.

I’m still working my way through The Artisan Soul by Erwin McManus. The chapter I was reading last night talked about the legacies we leave behind.  Everything we do creates a legacy. When we imagine our dreams and chase them with our actions.  We are called to better lives and operate on higher levels by a creator who knew us before we were born. Every day is an opportunity to live our dreams.

I struggle with this as a father and husband. I have this idealized image of our family, marriage, house, jobs, etc.  I have this self out there waiting for me to catch up. He’s more secure, in better shape, established and moving confidently into the future.  The battle is to keep moving. The fight is one step at the time.  The goal is the dream and the pathway is creation.

The journey includes death.  It includes denying the self, turning away from bad habits, toxic thoughts, and inherited issues. It takes breaking away from the past, learning from it, and looking forward.

The sun always comes up tomorrow.  This is a sentence I’ve repeated to myself many times over the years.  The sun comes up tomorrow.

Now what will you do with it?

 

Soundtrack Inspiration:

 

Feel Good Friday- 10/24/2014

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This week we watched the aftermath of the shooting in Ottawa, Canada. A young man shot and killed Cpt. Nathan Cirillo, a soldier guarding the War Memorial, before running to Parliament.  He was confronted by a guard at Parliament, shot the guard in the foot after a struggle, and almost made it to the rooms housing the politicians.  Kevin Vickers, Sergeant at Arms, retrieved a pistol from a lock box in his office and exchanged fire with the man, killing him in the end.

The comic above was drawn by Bruce MacKinnon and published in the Chronicle Herald.  It shows the soldiers from the memorial comforting Cirillo and pulling him up to join them. You can find an article about it here. Every time I see the image, it gives me chills.  You can also find the clip online of Vickers entering the House of Commons the day after the shooting and receiving a five-minute standing ovation.

In moments of horror, we can find heroes.  Many men like Cirillo died serving their country and many others like Vickers stepped up to fight the carnage.  Both are heroes and should be recognized for their actions. Images carry power and this comic is a fine example of one.

Soundtrack Inspiration:

Broke: Moving Past Money

The front of City Hall in Reading reflects the architecture of a city founded in the 1700’s.  It takes me two passes to find a close parking garage.  The interior of the building is all lacquered wood, high ceilings, and glass doors. I find an index hanging on the wall and make my way to the second floor.

The city council chambers are empty.  I pass a snack bar where a police officer eyes me as he picks out his candy. As much as I search, I can’t find Brian Kelly’s office.  Kelly is the only official employee of ReDesign Reading, an organization devoted to promoting social change and combating poverty. Finally I stop at the Mayor’s office.  A receptionist smiles at me as I enter.  I ask her where I could find this mystery individual.  She tells me to wait a second and walks around the corner next to her desk, returning to tell me he will be with me in a moment.

Minutes later, Kelly turns the same corner.  He is taller than I expected, with long hair and the start of a beard.  We shake hands and he tells me he hasn’t eaten yet, despite it being almost four in the afternoon. He asks if I’d join him for some food and I agree.

We walk out of City Hall and end up at an El Salvadorian restaurant where he orders in Spanish. Kelly is my age, a graduate of the Wharton Business School at Penn, and had spent a year working in Guatemala to facilitate social change.  He tells me his Spanish is a little rusty, so he likes to practice whenever possible.  In this small corner of the city, looking across a plate of pupusas with soccer playing on television and Spanish music flowing from the kitchen, we start to talk about poverty.

Kelly tells me the current system is broken, set up to keep the poor in poverty. Benefits are based on income so, in the end, where’s the motivation? Without jobs, why get married when claiming a second income eliminates housing, food, and cash benefits? Real change is based on social connection, on volunteer equity not done with currency rewards in mind.

Kelly envisions a system of bartering hours for needs, of housing co-ops where work equals room and board and fresh vegetables from sustainable gardens. He sees value in every person and knows they are filled with untapped energy.  His passion is matching untapped energy with needs.  He is a catalyst.

Our talk has floated in my head since then and it will be included in more detail in my book about the fight against poverty in the city of Reading, PA.

So could the church exist beyond currency?

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Digest that for a second.

No more budgets, no more offerings.  Volunteer hours are exchanged for food from pantries, gardens and farms grown by members. Outreach programs happen on a weekly basis. Staff members have needs met by a community of believers waiting to come beside them and lift them up.

We call for volunteers all the time, floating out versus where Jesus tells us to serve.  We say, do it, it will be good for you. What if we added a tangible result? What if a childcare volunteer could have his or her children in the church daycare for free during the week? What if a person mowing the church lawn can have their lawn tended in return?

What if we redefined economy for the church?  Why not us? Why not now? Jesus told us how hard it is for a rich man to enter Heaven.

We intellectualized his statement: he didn’t have a mortgage, taxes, kids to go to college and neighbors driving a new Lexus with a greener lawn and personal trainers. 

What if he meant what he said? What if we started taking him seriously? We can break and reset the system.  The church can be a radical change agent. It can start now.

The fuse is waiting to be lit.

~Matt

Soundtrack Inspiration: Take a few minutes and listen to the words.  A great song.

Picks of the Week- 10/20/2014

Scripture: The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all– Psalm 145: 8-9

An important verse to remember and keep close to your heart. How many of us are slow to anger, rich in love, gracious, and compassionate?

Reading Materials: The Waste Land

I didn’t discover T.S. Eliot until college and it was long overdue. Eliot had his faults with his personal viewpoints and political leanings. If you consider his poems for what they are, the impact is masterful.  He paints worlds with words, explores faith, and comments on society. Read his poems and take your time with them. You’ll be glad you did.

Family Activity: Halloween Parade

We just started the parade circuit in our area.  There’s something perfect about small towns and parades, standing on the curb smelling french fries in the air and listening to the high school band play as they walk past. Carter loves collecting as much candy as humanly possible.

Marriage Activity: Cooking

Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming.  These are the major holidays for big family meals.  Spend time cooking dinner, working on recipes, and creating something delicious. The act of creation will bring you together.

Val’s Style Pick of the Week:

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Prepping blow dry lotion provides heat protection up to 450 degrees and reduces friction and breakage. Also protects color from fading and controls frizz. Val loves this stuff for anyone’s hair.

Val’s Bag of the Week:

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One of two monthly specials for November only $7.00! You can find other specials for November and the entire new catalog for the month at Val’s personal Thirty-One site.

 

Soundtrack Inspiration: Skillet is one of the few Christian bands who manage to find crossover success.  Great music for working out and inspiration!

Broke: The Church and Money Matters

I grew up in a traditional Methodist church.  One thing we did every year was put on a Walk Through Holy Week with church members acting out parts of the life of Jesus.  They had segments taken from the Gospels, spanning birth to the crucifixion and resurrection. I had the chance to play Jesus more than once in, what I think, is one of the great scenes in the New Testament:

 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.  So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.  To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” John 2:13-17

It is the one time we read of a Jesus acting aggressively, clearing tables and physically driving the merchants from the temple. He entered the temple and the sights there drove him, the Prince of Peace, mad enough to make a whip and clear the room with it.

In my version, we had fake tables set up on saw horses and I went around the Sunday school room flipping the tables and sending the fake coins flying while yelling, “You’ve turned my Father’s house into a den of thieves.” It was a good time.

This morning, in church, we started a series about Generosity.  I don’t know about you, but I have an inherent physical aversion that creeps up whenever clergy members start talking about money. Val and I tithe what we can on a weekly basis and I still get this bad taste in my mouth.

We attended a start-up church once where the pastor’s wife stood in front of the congregation, probably forty people at the time, with her and her husband’s itemized monthly bills.  She read them off as inspiration for the goal of him being able to pastor full-time and not work a side job.  I had wondered what Jesus would have thought of that experience

In today’s world any church must have a solid budget to fall back on. They need the Holy Spirit to be successful and financial backing to keep moving forward. If it is not there, they must pray for some talented volunteers. Things like media, communication, worship and print materials are easier to produce and acquire than ever before and, sadly, even more expensive.

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The topic of money is a double-edged sword. Check out the contrasts:

Believe and you’ll be blessed –  Oh you will be blessed, just not in the way you imagined.  God doesn’t operate in a box. He made the box.  Faith does not equal riches, prosperity, or seeing your dream come true. Faith is seeing God’s dream come true and doing your part. Faith is dangerous. Faith operates to get you off the sidelines and into the game where you may get hit, hurt, bruised, and battered.  It is the knowledge that He will never leave your side and how this idea impacts your life on a daily basis.

God will provide – He will provide what you need when you need it. Too many churches turn this into justification. They make it the arm on the great slot machine in the sky.  The same God that tells us he will never leave or forsake us, also states to sell our possessions and give to the poor.  He calls us to faith action and he works on his time. The journey is a process. Know that you will never be alone.

Test me in this – The only time we are allowed to test God is with our giving, according to the Bible.  He dares us to give and see what happens. You want his blessing? Give and he will provide.

Condition, condition, condition.

We need less conditions and more grace.  We need less pastors taking in six-figure salaries and more homeless shelters with beds and hot meals. We need less castles that hold thousands of people on Sunday mornings and more feet on the sidewalks, meeting people where they are.

We need to tell the stories, shake hands, open hearts, and reflect the love we’ve found in Jesus.

It is here, when we drop the emotional connection to money, we find the ease in giving. When we remove expectations, we give God room to work. When we serve, we live and are led by his direction into the future.

Money can be redeemed and the church needs to get this message before it is too late.

~Matt

Soundtrack inspiration:

 

Feel Good Friday 10/17/2014

Melanie Bailey was in the middle of running a cross-country event in North Dakota when she came upon a competitor on the ground and sobbing in pain.  Others passed the girl and Bailey decided not to let that happen.  She helped to girl climb on her back and they finished the race together. You can find the story here.

As parents, we often get caught up in the competition of our children’s sports. We want them to win. We take them to practices and teach them the value of teamwork. Sports can have a vast upside and an ugly downside.  Bailey’s story is the true meaning of athletics.

In a similar vein, it was reported this afternoon that Chip Kelly visited New York Giants’ receiver Victor Cruz in Jefferson Hospital today before he was transferred up to a facility in New York.  With all the animosity surrounding the game, Kelly’s move is classy and almost unheard of in professional sports. He was quoted as saying “culture wins championships”. If his team follows his example, they’ll be well on their way.

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“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” 1 Corinthians 9: 24-26

Soundtrack Inspiration:

When We Reach the End

Turn on your computer or the television these past few weeks and it was not be long before you saw a headline about the Ebola virus.  The disease has crossed borders out of Africa and made its way to here and to various countries in Europe.  We see the microscopic slides of the virus itself and cannot help but think about death.

In Oregon, Brittany Maynard has chosen to end her life legally under the state’s Die with Dignity laws.  All you need to do is pass a psychological workup and you can get a doctor’s prescription for drugs that will stop your heart. Maynard is facing cancer in her brain that will lead to a horrific amount of suffering.  She has chosen to die on her own terms before her body is overcome with the disease.

Val and I both have had friends and loved ones deal with cancer. We have had friends die in car accidents and illnesses. We know people dealing with these things right now. Some will be victorious and some will not.

As believers, the shadow of our mortality is a constant in our lives.

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Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16: 24-25

We are called to live dead, to have one foot in this world and one eye on eternity.  With this in mind, how we interact with those in crisis is of vital importance. When someone you know is facing death, they will question everything.  Always be prepared:

With Understanding: This person is no different from the one you knew before the diagnosis or accident.  Illness does not make become someone’s identity.  I’ve seen plenty of badly injured people recover with the right mindset.  Understand where they are coming from. Validate their concerns, do more listening than talking, and be the shoulder they need to lean or cry on.

With Love: We are often left speechless when faced with a friend or family member in the midst of tragedy. It seems easier to give them space, put them in their own compartment that we can access when we’re ready. Avoidance is human nature and we must constantly fight this impulse.  Keep lines of communication open.  Be there. Show up. Your time is a treasure they will value more than you know.

With Hope: Don’t be fake or shallow.  Pray with them, if they’d like, and pray for them alone. God can break into our world and heal.  It may not be instant. The wave of life can start with one good day, one cell tipping the battle against infection, one effort to get out of bed and take a step towards the doorway.

If you are, or know someone, who is dealing with any of this please feel free to share this post.  Any light can help in the darkness.

~Matt

Soundtrack Inspiration:

 

What Will be Your Legacy?

I love movies.  Before the years when I had to get a summer job, I would walk to the local West Coast Video and rent movies multiple times a week.  I love getting lost in visual stories, arresting atmospheres, and conflict beyond anything I’ve experienced.  The best movies pull you out of reality and usher you into the suspension of disbelief. Take something like The Matrix for example.  That trilogy took society by storm and made people genuinely question the deeper levels of existence.  This love led me to take a semester of screenwriting in Fairfield’s MFA program and complete a full length screenplay.

I believe that movies can teach us about life.  One of the films that hits every qualification on my list is The Gladiator from the year 2000.  Russel Crowe plays Roman general Maximus, betrayed by the emperor and sold into slavery.  His family is killed and, as a gladiator fighting in the Coliseum, he works to win his freedom and get revenge. You can see the trailer below and, if you listen closely, guess at the topic of this post.

Crowe’s character says, in a classic movie speech:

“What we do in life echoes in eternity.”

As a man, this idea is important in three areas:

Father: Your children notice everything.  Sit with that for a second.  They notice every word, glance, action, and expression.  They absorb your very presence and use it to fuel their growth into adults.  They will use your example to make choices and parent their own children one day.  Your actions echo into their lives.

Husband: There’s a reason you stand in front of a pastor, priest, judge, religious official, etc. to get married.  It is a serious commitment.  As much as your children notice everything, your spouse notices even more.  I can try to hide things, but Val sees through my defenses.  We’ve loved, suffered, healed, and grown together. As men, we are told to operate on two fronts: leading and serving.  We are to guide our families and, in the same moment, show them selfless love. It is not an easy job.

Faith: Our walk with God is a marathon, not a sprint.  It is a path filled with mountains and valleys. If you don’t know God and are in the midst of your search, know this: There is an answer to your questions. There is filler to your empty spaces, as large as the universe and as intimate as the oxygen you inhale. Your choice is faith will echo for your own eternity.

As men, we are called to be servant leaders. We may suffer. We may lose everything but we can never lose hope. There is always something worth fighting for. Every day, every step, every word and deed will echo into eternity. When your time is over, what legacy will you leave?

 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Soundtrack Inspiration: