The Story of Hairy Mary


brave

As my family will attest, I am a story teller.   I love the fine art of embellishment, coupled with a silly voice and lots of uncontrolled facial and body gestures.   If done well it is an art.  If it isn’t, they just shake their head at my weird-ness. 

I love to tell stories, and I have a giant file at work that has bits of pieces of old legends and children’s stories.   Some of those bits and pieces will never see the light of day.  There might be a good piece to them, but nothing that I can make into a whole.  Others are bound to be part of a posting, sermon, or just random conversation.

In the end, the stories I enjoy most come from a world away.   The stories that come from Japan, China, and other parts of Asia are the most fascinating to me.  They remind me that although our culture is so different, we share some common traits.   Among those common traits is the simple truth that can be found in our stories.

One of my favorites is a Taoist story that is often called the Sack…

(more…)

Forgiving Michael Vick


I want to take a quick moment, and show you all one of the gifts that I got for Christmas.  This is a fantastic gift that will take my neurosis to a  whole new level.    It’s called the NIKE PLUS Sports Band.     I want to take a moment and show you all just how cool this gift is.

It is all built around a tiny little device, called the Nike Plus.   

 

 

Along with this little gadget you need an incredibly flashy pair of running shoes, like these:

 

(Note:   Besides being almost obnoxious in color, don’t they look fast to boot?)

Now, here is the genius of the plus;   you pull out the insole of your shoe and insert the device and you can get all kinds of data, wirelessly beamed up to your wrist.  

Then you pull a USB adapter out; plug it into your computer, and instantly all your runs, calories burned, effort, mileage and pace are wired up to cyberspace for safe keeping and bragging rights.

At first it seems too easy to be true, but it works.    All you have to do is enter your height, weight, and age, take a few steps, and boom! It tells you, that you are ready to run.   Somehow it counts the number of steps you take, calculates everything you need to know.  

You should see me with this thing going.   I try to fool it at the gym, by taking extremely small steps to convince it, that I have run a marathon, but somehow it knows. Like I said, it brings my neurosis to a brand new level.   

The NIKE Plus Sport Band and Snazzy Shoes are like the ALMOST perfect gift for runners.   I say ALMOST because in the end it is a NIKE product, and I have an enormous love hate relationship with this company.  If you have ever talked to me about Nike in the past, you would know how angry I was with something Nike did a little over two years ago.  

I very deliberately made the decision almost a year ago to shed all my NIKE products due to their endorsement of Michael Vick.    It wasn’t so much that I did not believe in the ability for a man to make good on past crimes, but rather spoke to my disappointment with NIKE.

It started long before Vick came crashing front and center. Well over two decades ago, NIKE found themselves as part of the sweat shop scandals of the mid 1980 and 90s.    It turns out they had deliberately chosen to manufacture their shoes in some of the poorest places of the world, and do so for pennies a shoe.    Instantly my stomach churned at the thought.     Shame on them, I thought.  I started to see them as the proverbial face of evil, corporate America.

Yet, amidst the pressures of an angry shoe buying public, NIKE started to change.   They were one of the first companies to create large departments with large budgets focused on Social and Corporate Responsibility.   The changes were quick and impactful.    Millions upon millions of dollars has left the coiffeurs at Nike and made its way to underdeveloped countries, non profits, inner city missions, and schools across the globe.

They soon became the example of what a company could be.    Although far from perfect, they were trying.   In the end, I found that refreshing.    In the end, all we could do is ask that others try;  try to be different and to make a difference.

Then, enter Michael Vick.

Vick was the new face of the National Football League and a role model for millions.    His was a story of a young boy growing up in the Ridley Public Housing Project in Newport News Virginia.   His parents were on welfare, and on his front stoop drive by shootings, drug dealing and violence were common place.    As a kid he dreamed of being a professional fisherman, as fishing was his escape from the violent neighborhood he grew up in.    He used to put his hook into the dirtiest of water, just to be away from his neighborhood.    Eventually, he chose football over fishing.   

At football he was a star.   He was drafted by Virginia Tech, broke all kinds of record and started to grow in popularity.    He was third in the Heisman Trophy balloting while in college, and he was drafted first overall in 2001 by the Falcons.  Atlanta quickly started building a team around him. 

Sadly, a great deal of it, if not all of it went to his head.   Soon the size of his ego exceeded his talent.  That is a dangerous situation.

Due to that enormous ego, the world was not entirely surprised when they learned that he was an investor in an illegal dog fighting operation with his cousin.   The world was shocked, however, by the barbaric way he treated those dogs though.    The cruelty of this man towards his dogs was immense, and he was eventually sentenced to 21 months in prison, and two months of house arrest for his crime.   Along the way, he went bankrupt.   He lost his career, his home, and the respect of a nation, if not a world.   To be honest, there was little sympathy or compassion from me on this.

When he finished his prison sentence, he chose to start over.   In 2010 he became the starting quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles and was named the 2010 comeback player of the year, and was named to the Pro Bowl.   As his reputation started to return so did the endorsements.  

When NIKE signed him again, I was angry.    I was mad that NIKE had made it back from the sweat shop scandals only to once again throw it all away with the likes of Michael Vick.  It made me sick to my stomach.

I remember calling NIKE, telling them that all my NIKE gear would now be trashed…and that’s what I did.   I was angry and there would be no way my hard earned income would find its way into NIKE or Vick’s pockets. 

Today, now that it is two years later, and in my gym bag, I find two new NIKE products, I can’t help but ask had anything changed or did I just forget?   Are my principles less intense than my desire to own the new fancy gadget?   What happened?

Over the last few weeks, I have struggled with this.

 It wasn’t until just recently that I started to remember that I am a follower of Jesus, who is a God of Second chances.   I am a person who believes in the power of forgiveness and fresh starts.     If I truly believe that, how can I reconcile what I believe with my anger and resentment towards both Vick and NIKE?   

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to me.  A few months ago, I remember a turning point.  Like the rubber-necker at the accident scene, I decided to download the 10 episode documentary entitled “The Michael Vick Project” which televised his attempts to revive his career.     In that series, I saw a genuine regret, shame, and desire to make things right and doubt started to creep in.   I was still angry, but perhaps in watching that series, the ground work for my eventual return to the world of Nike was laid.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a foul taste that Vick still illicit in me.

Today, I see Michael Vick and I still see what he did to those dogs.    I see in Vick, what is wrong with our country, our sons, and the sport that I love.    I still get angry when I see the pictures of the saved dogs in a newspaper or magazine.    Part of me is convinced that he got off easy in light of the fate of those dogs.

But… and there is always a but…

I also recognize something that NIKE seemed to have embraced that I, as a pastor and follower of Jesus failed to see.  

When asked about the decision, NIKE officials issued a very clear cut response to the controversy, which I never discovered until much, much later; 

“We, under no circumstance support or condone the past decisions of Michael Vick,” NIKE commented, “but sometimes forgiveness is only possible when another is willing to take a second chance.”   They continued:  “sure, we might hurt because of it, or we might gain immensely, but we believe we are called to be about second chances to people trying to make a change.    Should we all be willing, now that we told Vick he was wrong, to listen to see if Vick has said he has heard?  Truth be told the power of redemption is seen in proportional levels to how far the redeemed have fallen, and few have fallen further.”

So there we have it.   

I read the statement and wondered.  

I wondered why when I was calling for the life time imprisonment of Michael Vick, NIKE was able to act more like a Christian than I.

Sitting back and thinking about it, maybe there is finally SOME forgiveness on my part available to Michael Vick.  At the same time, I think that point when I can freely give it is miles away.  While I still look at him and see the face of a dog beater, I feel compelled, by the nature of my faith, to be willing to let him prove me wrong again.  I feel compelled, while part of me, still wants the jury to be out a little while longer.

I want to be ready to offer Michael Vick forgiveness because I want to be more Christ like in my walk…but I still see the faces of those dogs.

I want to be ready to offer forgiveness for the vile acts of this man because if I can forgive a man that did this horrible things…but nothing directly to me….maybe,…just maybe…  I can forgive those who did bad things to me….   

Or maybe, better yet,  I can forgive myself for the stupid things I’ve done.

I want to be ready to offer Michael Vick forgiveness because I want to experience what a life fully lived in Christ is like, and I can’t do that until I am willing to let go of the reality of all the past hurts, past mistakes, and past shames of my own life. 

If I am ready to admit that freedom from the crap of the past is available to Vick, than its available to me too.  When I close my eyes and see the images of the mistakes I’ve made I know that I want them gone.   I won’t be able to fully recognize that ours is a God that erases the past guilt, embarrassment, and shame of all of our lives until I can offer it to myself.

Although I am ready, I am not there.   Maybe part of me doesn’t want to forgive.  I certainly cannot envision forgetting.    Maybe it’s because there is something bigger than football, and fame.  Maybe when I give my forgiveness to Vick, I can’t see past my own dogs…   or maybe I can’t see past my own mistakes.

Maybe I am wrapping up forgiveness in the separate concept of fairness.  Maybe I want more punishment and less love.

 Then again, maybe its more about me not being ready to fully being ready to admit that I am a new creature in Christ, and as such there are implications and responsibilities due to that fact.   Maybe I am not ready to let go of the same old same old.  

Maybe I am hesitant to admit that I was made new, but that’s for me, and not Michael Vick.  

I believe, with every ounce of my being, that forgiveness is more something we do for ourselves than for others.  In the end, there is nothing easy about it.   It’s hard and its unnatural.   Maybe that’s precisely why we need to be about it.    If it was easy and without effort, would it be worth doing?  If I don’t accept the possibility of another being a new person, can I ever expect to view myself that way?    When I see myself in the mirror do I see the man before my own Damascus road experience or the man after?    

I wish that when I lace up my shoes on the sidewalk or in the gym and I see that swoosh, I didn’t think of Vick with each step.   I wish I wasn’t thinking about the mistakes of years or decades past.  I wish I wasnt thinking of those dogs.

God, I wish this entire faith thing was easier, amen.

What Janis Joplin Forgot


I imagine a great experiment when we replace all the hymns and music on a particular Sunday with the music of Janis Joplin.   We don’t say anything, we just sit back and watch.   I imagine that the level of discomfort that would fill that church would be staggering in mere moments.    We would have countless folks sprinting out of our buildings.  It would be the pinnacle of making service uncomfortable.

To be honest, I was never a fan of Janis Joplin before just recently.  Sadly, that had less to do with her music, then it had to never really sitting down and listening to it and learning who she was.    Regardless of my impression of Joplin, the music of her generation, that hippie love fest type of music, is still popular among a younger generation today.

In the end, I knew little of Janis Joplin.   That was until I went about searching out who she was.   That search began in response to something I read in a book .   It was a passage on Janis that moved me incredibly.  In her book; “Please Stop Laughing at Me” by Jodee Blanco details the incredibly heartwrenching journey the author took through school as she was a victim of bullying.    

Jodee was different.

She was smart, pretty, and funny…but she also had that fiercely intense sense of right and wrong that so many kids have.  Yet Jodee was in a constant battle with how to manage that character trait in the social circles of her school.   At first she tried to be a voice among her peers, but eventually became seen as weak.    When in her teen years that weakness was also joined with the  physical issues of adolescence, and soon the girl was labeled a misfit.

The book details an incredibly painful battle with bullying and its lifelong psychological effects.    If you ever have the opportunity to pick up this book, I urge you to do so.    If you work with kids, or would just like a good read, I highly suggest it.

Anyways, in the book there is a moment, in high school when Jodee is asked to give an impromptu speech in a public speaking class.    She decides to give on one of her hero’s which tells the story of her life.    After reading it in the book, I decided I needed to find out for myself about Janis Joplin.

Janis was born in 1943 in a small oil town in Texas.   Her parents were super artistic, and pushed young Janis to be as creative and expressive as she could.   Unfortunately, both of these aspects were not especially encouraged in her small and conservative hometown.

Janis was never like the other kids.    She preferred to be a loner,…she was happiest when she was off on one corner of the playground writing in her journal.     When she was little she said that she had songs in her head, that had to come out.    It took the form of poetry, and all her time was spent writing those poems, in that little black book she carried everywhere.

She didn’t have friends, and she wasn’t concerned with those things that her classmates thought important.     It wasn’t long before she was labeled as a misfit, a freak, and a loser.

As so often is the case, her problems in school and around town, manifested itself in that little 11 year girl in the form of a weight issue.   Not only was she a misfit in the eyes of her classmates, she was overweight.   With adolescence came awkwardness and an acne problem that was so severe that she needed derma abrasion as an adult to correct the scarring.

The kids were merciless to her.  They tormented her.   She was picked on.  She was insulted.  They spit on her.   They threw stones at her.   The beat her on the bus, on the playground, and on walks home.

To protect herself from the bullying she descended further into herself and her music.    By chance, late in her teens she discovered the guitar.    Eventually she graduated high school and moved to San Francisco.   Once there she joined a band called “Big Brother and the Holding Company”.   The band performed at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and became an overnight success.

But despite the fame and the money that came from it, Janis was still that bullied 11 year old girl.   She had scars from years of torment, and was, as best as I can put it, broken.   To ease that pain, she turned to heroin.  

In the height of her fame, she appeared on the Dick Cavett show.   Anyone who watched it saw a fiercely confident woman, who had this fairy like persona, that brought with it a charisma that once experienced one would be hard pressed not to smile at, and to feel good in its company.

But there was a moment in that show, when she said something revealing.    She made mention of a high school reunion that she had just attended, as this huge mega star.    When she was asked how it went…   She replied that it was a nightmare.      She said… When she saw them,…and saw who they were… She wasn’t ready to forgive them….  She wasn’t ready to give up on her anger and her hurt.  She wasn’t ready to offer her forgiveness to them.

In a few days she was dead, due to her addiction.  At 27, Janis was found dead in a Los Angeles hotel room.

In her speech to her class,…she warned, and to use her words, “that the next time you poke fun or insult or hurt….you could be killing the next Joplin, the next Bette Midler,…or the next great voice”.

When I heard, and subsequently learned more about who Janis Joplin was, I was most taken by her comments that on the Dick Cavett Show.

“She wasn’t ready to offer her forgiveness”

There are a great many things we get wrong in our faith;  we are all guilty of it at times.   Maybe it’s how we sometimes view faith as a Sunday only type of thing, or maybe it’s how we start viewing church as what we do to get our afterlife ticket punched;    If we do things right, hopefully we can take the ride up rather than down.   Whatever these things may be it seems like one that will forever make the listing is the many diverse and often times wrong ways we define and view forgivene4ss.     Forgiveness seems to be, for so many of us, something we offer up or do for another.   That is not what forgiveness is.  

Building on the foundation that God is Love, I have overtime come to the conclusion that all we do from the moment of our births to the moment we die is built upon the desire to love or to be more loveable.    Along the way we horrifically screw up our definitions of love and as a result we screw up those pursuits.

We think our jobs, our income, or our possessions make us more loveable.   We think how we look or how we dress will do it.   We think changing the ‘who-we-are’ down at our core, might be our answer.    None of these things are.    It is only as we grow older we be begin to catch a glimpse of the truth.

That truth is the most profound and life changing imaginable.   In the end, the love we spend our whole life chasing is not 100 yards ahead… its right here… its right in front of us.   Our faith tells us, in the most simple of ways, that we are loved.   We have found love, and we are infinitely loveable.   Jesus tells us, once and for all, the pursuit is over.

Because of that gift of God’s love, we need to love others.   Yet, and here is the crux of this message, to offer that love to the world we have to embrace a side of us that we have been told since we were little children to hide.   To be loved, or to pursue love, or to love others, exposes our vulnerability.    To be the people that we are supposed to be, we need to be vulnerable.

That’s scary.   Offering up your soft or weak spots is risky.   Overtime, we lockup or hide our vulnerable parts.    We hide them from the school yard bullies, or the stranger.    If we let them out,…they are the very point of attack.

Consider this;  After heart surgery, scar tissues form around the patient’s incision.    This scar tissue is tougher, and causes issues for subsequent heart operations in some cases.     When our vulnerable parts are hurt by the bullies around us, scar tissue forms over.   The more scar tissue the harder the heart is to penetrate.    We cover our vulnerability with the scars of old hurts, betrayals, and disappointments.

What Janis didn’t remember, was that forgiveness is something we don’t do for others, but we do for ourselves.    Forgiveness is about becoming whole again.   Forgiveness allows us to be vulnerable again.   Its about peeling back the scar tissue.

We I was just barely a man, I made a decision.   It was the stupid, crass decision to be a tough guy.   There was an argument brewing and for a moment, I was an innocent bystander.   Yet, I was empowered by beer and the fraternity brothers that were forming a circle around the pair arguing.   With the swing of a fist, I professed my disdain over the chatter between the parties, and I committed to my course of action.  I don’t know the person I hit, or even the nature of their debate, but I do know this,…there was nothing that he did to deserve what followed.

In a moment’s notice, the impact of what I had started was upon me.   In an instant, the swarm of blood thirsty fraternity brothers who stood behind me, swarmed the guy I had just hit,  and who was now backing away from the crowd.

In a minute or two, the beat and bloodied him up.    At the first indication of that swarm, I stepped back,… my head reeling.   I keep saying to myself…   I can still hear the voice in my head…  It said “wait”.   It said “this isn’t right”.  

But the words never made it to my lips.   I didn’t land the punches that hurt him, but I didn’t stop it either.   I didn’t punch him again, but my failure to act like a man, led to what followed.  It wasn’t my argument.   It wasn’t my business.   It was of no concern to me.   Yet, I made it mine with a simple, and probably pathetic, swing of the fist.

Today, I thank God that the stranger wasn’t hurt worse.    I thank God….And I still cannot forget that moment.   I have recalled it every day since.    I had caused the hurt of another, which in the end, they did not deserve.  I was mad, and I am still mad, that twenty years ago, I didn’t make a better or a wiser choice.  In that moment, a decision was made about the role of alcohol in my life, the person I wanted to be, and how I chose to express strength. 

I still think of that random person, despite never knowing his name, or recalling any other aspect of the evening.  It’s a piece of me I hate.

Somehow, I need to figure out a way to put that moment away.              

Here is a simple fact that each of us must remember:   If there is a piece of you that you hate, how can you ever fully love yourself?   Its simple, you can’t.   How can I be whole, if I refuse to embrace everything?

Forgiveness is about letting go of the decisions made against us…   People have and will hurt us.   We will be victims from time to time.   We will have people in our lives who seem to find joy and satisfaction in the misery of others.    There will be people who will pursue the vulnerable spots.   It is forgiveness that tells us, that reminds us, that we are better and more than the hurt.   We deserve to be loved, and to love fully.   Forgiveness is the act of revealing the vulnerable spots again.  

Forgiveness is also about laying down our burdens.   Forgiveness is something we do for ourselves.   Forgiveness is about me.    Forgiveness is about putting aside the stupid, crass, or selfish decisions of the past, and saying to yourself that you are more than that.    Forgiveness is the act of saying that I am more that the sum of that moment.   Forgiveness is about me too.

Somewhere along the way, you and I need to figure this out.    Our pasts will consume us if we let it.    The past will consume our lives and our hearts, whether they take shape in the actions of another, or our own.     What Jodee learned, and Janis did not,…was that someday we will need to make a choice.

We will need to make a choice to let the pain consume us,….or chose to let go.

You and I, we have a gift.   We all have a gift, if we are willing to take it.  It’s a gift that says, that despite what we do, or don’t do….Despite what the world says we are….  Despite what we think we are….   We are worthy, We are loved, and we are forgiven.  Christ Died for us, while we were still broken,…and that is his love for us.   Thanks be to God Amen.

 ****

Note:  I certainly recommend reading Jodee’s book “Please Stop Laughing at Me!”.   It is  a quick read, but one that will open your eyes.   Its published by Adams Media, and can be purchased at Amazon (via this link), for under $10.00 new.  (BTW…This isnt a paid endorsement!  🙂  )

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