Aaron Rodgers and The Art of Meaning

For those of you who may not know the name, Aaron Rodgers is the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers. He’s also a media darling, appearing in commercials though not to the level of Peyton Manning. He has MVPs and a Super Bowl victory to his name.

Rodgers recently visited Danica Patrick’s podcast. Rodgers and Patrick are dating at the moment, so this isn’t a stretch for him.  The conversation turned to matters of faith and Rodgers stated he was unsure if he believed in hell anymore. He said, “I don’t know how you can believe in a God who wants to condemn most of the planet to a fiery hell.”

Relevant‘s article about this includes the information that Rodgers was involved in ministry earlier in his life, but had since drifted away and no longer considered himself a Christian.

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There are a few things to unpack here. I do not begrudge Rodgers for his faith journey as each person is entitled to their own. I find his perspective on hell interesting though. Rather than breaking things down to New and Old Testament semantics, we need to look at the idea of suffering.

There is a split in creation.

Humanity is imperfect.  This causes pain and fear.  We operate within psychological systems ingrained from generations of development. Our problems have grown, the risk of life has grown.  With every advance comes someone working to skew it to their own desires.

A belief in pain denotes a belief in God. Suffering does not exist outside the dichotomy of good and evil. Our souls, deep in their core, yearn to beauty and glory, hope and compassion.  We feel the longing of this when we hurt and the imperfection of humanity hits deeply.

Rodgers is reacting to the medieval image of hell as fire and brimstone. In this, he is incorrect.  Hell is losing a child.  It is the end of a relationship, a family member drifting away, declining health, losing a job, or going hungry.  Hell is living on the street.  It is crime and punishment and families torn apart by addiction. It is cancer and the diseases that will not go away.

As you read that paragraph, images of people likely flashed through your head, the weight of sorrow sitting on your heart.  That is eternal punishment.

God’s desire is completion, to see us live the stories we were given before creation, to see us hold hands and connect hearts.  God’s desire is for opportunity and dreams, to impact the world and make it a better place.  God’s desire is to fill the hole deep inside our being.

We do this by crossing the line of faith.

It is not easy.  It is not safe. It is something that will change your universe.  Yet, it is worth it.

You may not believe, and that is your right.  Yet, I’m willing to bet you feel.  You understand pain and suffering.  You long for better and your soul radar is pulling you towards something greater.

Faith is courage.

Hell is missed opportunity.

Life is the interplay between the two and what wins out in the end.

A Sum of Years

Can’t you just act ten years old?

i project as much as i can, a hurricane of noise.  He lowers his head.

i’m on my bike, a red Diamondback, riding across town with the sun on my face and all the time in the world. i take a dollar to Allen’s Variety Store and stock on up baseball cards and candy.

Go to my dad’s on the weekends and watch the Phillies on television while he mows the yard. 

Getting hooked on Are You Afraid of the Dark. 

The bullies. Eat lunch out of a brown paper bag and search for who looks at me and says something. 

Shoot pool on the weekends and smoke a cigar like i know what to do with it, smell of Cool Water cologne. 

Drive around for hours with Val in my first car, an 84 Oldsmobile with tan seats like couches. 

Walk King of Prussia Mall like it is a foreign country and window shop. 

Work in a factory during summers in college and come home covered in oil and dust. 

Graduate and wonder what the hell to do next. 

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Hired. Fired. Hired again. 

Move out. Marriage. 

Find out i’d be a father. 

Lay off. 

Struggle. Every. Day. 

i walked down the stairs as he stayed in his room. i sat on the couch.

Disappointment. Failure. Not living up to the ideal of what i could be and feeling never enough. 

The alarm sounds at 6:30.  Shower. Dress.  Put the coffee on. Make a thermos.  He comes down the stairs and lies on the couch.

Dad can you put on the PlayStation Vue for me?

Sure.  Why are you up so early?

I didn’t sleep well last night.

i tousled his blonde hair. He pulls the blanket over his shoulders.

i’m going to work, i say. Be good.

I will.

Back on my bike crossing town, winter jacket zipped tight.  Inhale and feel like i’m flying and still, deep down, know the pain is coming. 

One Day.

Lingering

First, I want to apologize for a delay in posting.  The last two weeks have been busy, more than usual. Inspired by a few points I’ve written about recently, I decided to go back to school and make some concrete moves to follow a dream and gain some stability in life.

My heart breaks for all involved in the shootings across the country this past week. This country is sitting on a crisis point, one that arrived on the waves of two hundred years of history.

Then I find out a few days ago that my cousin, my closest female relative in age who was always like a sister to me, is in ICU dealing with a cardiac issue. She’s too young to have these problems and we are all concerned, as a family, praying and pushing hard for her recovery.

She had done something we all do, wait for what seems like an innocent illness to pass and, when it doesn’t, finally go to the doctors. It was almost too late.

Lingering pain can destroy our lives.

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We get comfortable in our narratives.

This morning I took Carter to a pediatric sleep specialist at Penn State Health.  He hasn’t slept a full night in close to five years. We just keep sleeping with him to maintain some level of peace and get him back down as quick as possible.

It was time for a change and, thankfully, he will have a sleep study.

It was too easy to let it go and tell ourselves things will change at some point.

We get this way with our faith, our physical health, our families and our marriages.  Change takes effort on both sides, bringing whatever we have and meeting God in a divine collision.

For there is no such thing as stasis.  If we aren’t moving forward, we are falling back.

I’m in the midst of reading Phil Knight’s memoir, Shoe Dog about the founding of Nike. He mentioned something the other night that stuck with me.

He said that the essence of competition is forgetting, forgetting the past and ignoring the voice that tries to convince you to stop. It is facing each challenge with a fresh template.

As impossible as it seems, the power of the past can be broken.  From a macro level with policy reforms and new leaders to the micro level of taking a step of faith. It may sound cliché at this point, but I believe that God has a purpose for all of us.

We have a difference to make and, if you are reading this tonight, your difference is still waiting.  Your job isn’t over.

Your divine collision is on the horizon.

~Matt

 

I Will Rise

We took Carter to the doctor tonight.

I’m not a huge fan of doctors, even though I’ve spent some years working in the medical field with scheduling and health insurance stuff.  I’ve overheard too many conversations and seen too much to have blanket trust in the medical industry. We’ve been blessed to find a pediatrician that cares and takes time for us and him.

In a few weeks, he will be tested for a possible hearing issue and to see if we can figure out why he can’t sleep through the night.

My car, all 182,000 miles of it that I’ve had since college, goes in to get inspected at the end of the week.

The movement has started on my author’s website and I’m excited to see the result.  Change is coming in the Shaner household.

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I read an email this morning from one of the few entrepreneurs I follow online.  He asked the question, what is the unique way you connect with your audience?  I started thinking, if I could communicate one thing with you, what would it be? The answer is found in the small book of Micah 7:8.

Do not gloat over me my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light.

Two sentences sum up the point of every word, blog post, devotional, thought and sentence.

Though I have fallen, I will rise.

Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light.

We often fall and find ourselves sitting in the darkness.  The pessimists out there wonder why it matters, why not give up? Because the pain and frustration is real. We aren’t wired to give up. We are made to RISE. We are called to follow the light as the journey takes us out of the darkness.

My life doesn’t often feel light and I’ll find myself flat on the floor looking up to the sky and wondering what happened. There is hope. There is a reason to keep fighting.

Take the verse in Micah and read it out loud.  Scream it to the skies.  Speak it over your life and the lives of your children.  It is a call to action, a reason to move and get back in the game. I WILL RISE.

I WILL RISE.

No matter what happens, I will rise. The medical problems may come, the car could die, the bank account could hit zero, the house could get flooded again and I will rise. The emotions swirl and it seems like darkness is our home and we know the LORD is our light.

Tonight, wrapping up another Monday, think about tomorrow.  Look in the mirror and read the verse.  Keep it on your lips all day. Make it a chorus. Find the energy to fight.

Faith tells you it is there, deep inside, ready to ignite. It’s time to rise.

~Matt

What to do When They Hate You

I was a freshman in college at West Chester University, seated in my Humans and the Environment class in September, 2001. The professor made her way into the room holding a sheet of paper she had printed from “the Internet.”

She told us that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers, paused, then started class.  After it was over, I waited for the bus from North Campus to pick us up and return us to our dorms.  When it arrived, students exited and many were visibly upset.  I had no idea what happened.

Until I flipped on the television.

In the span of a morning, almost fifteen years ago now, everything had changed. We woke up on September 12th with a new view of the world.

We realized that someone out there saw America as an enemy. They hated us.

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Flash back years before to middle school.  We had just purchased our year books.  The tradition was to pass around our books so others could sign them.  I remember looking in the back of someone’s book and seeing a paragraph mentioning my name with a derogatory comment.  This person had signed every book in the same fashion.

He didn’t like me.

Now we are living in one of the most exclusionary times in recent memory. There is a race to victimization, to rebel, to grasp for power against imperfect systems.  There are people calling themselves believers holding tight to fear, prejudice, and discrimination.

Jesus told us we would be persecuted by those in the World as we followed his teachings, but to not worry as he had overcome the world.

There is a calendar hanging at work, one with the Bible verse “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” on the month of September.  I had one man tell me he would forgive me for hanging it up and that he was offended.

So how do we respond?

Two things to think about:

1-Does your faith drive or pull you? God doesn’t owe us anything. Yes, Jesus taught us how to pray and told us that God will answer prayers, but is that the point? God is not the ATM in the sky.  God is the force that calls us to make a difference.  Faith is not a transaction or condition.

As humans we believe, then shake our fists at our suffering.

Faith is an engine.  It is the power driving us forward to rejoice in all circumstances, to pray without ceasing, to love those who hate us, to live without the pull of guilt. To follow Jesus in a new and radical way of existence. Faith and grace are hand in hand, erasing the transactions and evening the balances.

2-Can you let go?

Stephen, in the Bible, was the first person killed for his faith.  We read that, as he was stoned, he prayed for the forgiveness of the men killing him. We also read that, as he was dying,  the heavens opened and Stephen saw Jesus standing at the throne of God. This is the only point in the Bible where Jesus is noted as standing by the throne.

In Kentucky, there is a clerk defying the Supreme Court and refusing to offer marriage licenses to same-sex couples based on her “faith.” There is a scene where Jesus is asked about paying taxes to Rome.  He replies with a question about the image on a Roman coin.  The crowd tells him that Caesar’s image is on the coin. He then says:

Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.

He tells the crowd to pay their taxes.  Be good citizens and still own their faith.

She needs to do her job because she claims to follow Jesus, the issuer of the commandment to Love our Neighbors, not close the door in their faces.

I remember the middle school yearbook because it hurt me.  We remember all our scars and moments of pain. Our faith allows us to keep moving, be shaped into a new creation, and watch the scars turn into beauty.  When our focus shifts to others, we find peace.

I don’t know about you but, right now, peace is exactly what I need.

~Matt

37 Hours

It started days before.  We had gone the length of Val’s pregnancy getting ready for Carter’s arrival. At the first sign of labor, I took her to the hospital.  They checked her out and sent us home.  It wasn’t time yet.

The pain wouldn’t stop.

We went back again and was turned away.  Finally, around midnight, Val was in serious discomfort and I drove her to the ER.  They admitted her into the maternity ward.  I remember standing by her side as the doc pulled up a chair and watched the heart monitor fixed to Carter’s readout.  For almost fifteen minutes he watched before telling us it would be a c section that needed to happen as soon as possible.

I was in scrubs and ready until a nurse came in and told me the drugs hadn’t hit Val quick enough and she felt the incision, so they put her to sleep. I wouldn’t be allowed in.

I sat on a gurney next to Tara, my sister-in-law, and waited again.

Just after ten that night, and almost forty hours of labor, they wheeled him out wrapped in his blanket.

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I held him until Val was recovered enough from the procedure to join us in the room. He didn’t cry, shifting his eyes to me and just watching.  My boy, dark hair and eyes, looking at me and asking now what?

The dark hair is now blonde and his eyes are now hazel like his mother’s. He has more energy than I’ve ever had. He’s pushed me to places I’ve never experienced before and taught me things about myself. He’s complicated, strong, emotional, intense and loving. He has a way with words that cuts to my heart.

Tomorrow is his birthday.

So thank you Carter, for everything. I pray I can live up to what you need and be the dad you deserve. One day, years from now, you’ll dig this up on whatever passes for a smartphone and read it and smile, I hope.

We love you.

~Matt

The Compass

I was sitting in an office at Hope Rescue Mission interviewing a resident.  He had lived years of his young life dealing with addiction and crime, illness and death. After listening to his story, he mentioned that he was enrolled in the local community college.

I asked what he was taking.

“Addiction counseling and social work” he said, “I just thought I could give back, you know?”

His life had shifted.

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In the midst of suffering, we feel thrown off the path. The way becomes blurry. Questions that were easy now present problems. Cooking dinner, at the end of the day, looks like a doctoral thesis.

Our pain points are our compass. They are construction signs better than any orange cones on the highway.

They are God’s arrows showing us the way to go.

The trick is to keep moving. How could you give back? What fires have you braved that you could help others put out? How can you turn the emotions into life for someone else who may be in the midst of the same?

We have a choice.  No matter how deep in the darkness, we always have a choice.

Your first step towards reclaiming faith and life in action is seeing a new target and new purpose. It can be the light you need for the next chapter of the journey.

~Matt