Life Change Happens Best…

Doing life together is the mantra. It’s one that you hear in most churches like the ones that we’ve attended over the past decade. I know what it means. I know that it works. But it’s incredibly tough to get everyone to buy into it.

When Jo and I moved to Wilmington in 2005 we knew that we wanted to get into a small group as soon as possible. It had been vital to both of our walks in college and we knew that it was quickest and most effective way to plug in and make friends. Most of our friends from college were gone by this point, so it was effectually as if we’d never lived there and were starting over.

We had both been in groups through Intervarsity and had both been leaders. The groups then were usually really social with some decent bible study, but generally never too intense. We didn’t really dig too deep with what was going on in the lives of everyone. Besides, we were all going through essentially the same things; studying a lot, going home on the weekends, and trying to stay out of trouble on the weekends when we didn’t go home.

Those were the single days.

We had gone to a Life Group through The Cove our first year of marriage and it was somewhat like what we’d experienced before, but it seemed more sectioned off, mainly by marriages, or by people who’d known one another previously. People had their own lives. They had things they were hiding and trying to get through without sharing. The conversations were surface and ran off on tangents about things that had nothing to with the study, but never really about life and marriage. It was fluffy.

Our first meeting in Wilmington was at a small house down 23rd Street. We knew no one. The first meeting was, and still is, nerve-wracking. When we first walked in a loud guy came up to me and said, “WHOA!! Goldberg!!” And since I never really get to know anyone on a first meeting because I’m too busy analyzing everything and everyone, I steered clear of this one. People were really friendly. The leader automatically wanted to know if I could get him onto the golf course where I was working. His wife was warm and inviting. They were in their forties and had four kids, 3 of which were in high school. He was a Christian counselor and it was obvious from the outset that this wasn’t their first go at leading a group. Some of the couples, on the other hand, were obviously new Christians and this was definitely their first group. There was no precedent for them on how this whole thing went.

I’ll skip some of the details, but Jo and I were slightly in shock after only a couple of meetings. This was different. It was raw. People shared freely. Of course, the more we knew one another and built trust, the more open it got. People were blunt. There were arguments, occasional tears and couples on the verge of splitting, all within the first year.

Some random topics that came up over two years: an admission of pretty fierce racism, fights over bathroom space, pornography addictions, financial problems galore, not feeling in love anymore, a pawned wedding ring to pay the bills, faltering business plans and Jesus. Almost every week brought some level of intensity. If there were no marriage issues, someone would bring up politics. People just weren’t afraid to lay it out.

Don’t think that it was all drama. There were couples that seemed like they really had their stuff together and seemed to never fight. Two of those couples were newly married, so we were dismissive and waiting on them to blow up, but from what I know of them now they still seem the same, even keel. In the midst of it all were Kim and Troy, our leaders, who constantly prayed for all of us and gave each of us more godly advice than we could have ever asked for. Troy gave me more than I asked for, but all of what I needed.

Looking back I feel like I was the most stubborn of everyone.

In the midst of the intensity were times that we hung out outside of bible study time, either for lunch after church, for paintball, dinner on Friday nights, coffee with a couple of guys on Wednesday mornings, and steaming oysters and beef once it got cold. Those times were good, and were the times when Jo was able to connect best with the girls.

I connected with the guys in varying degrees. I worked for a while with one of the guys, so my relationship with him was a little different. Per the usual with me, the more I know someone the more off color I am, which allowed us to connect more.

As an aside, I’ve gotten myself into trouble with that with some guys. It’s taken a little age and experience to understand that for some guys that’s off-putting. Not every man is quite as rough around the edges as the dudes I’m really tight with.

But that’s for another day…

We knew tons about one another, even if there were things I personally was holding back. We shared life with one another. I struggled in front of some guys. Some of the guys shared their struggles with me. Some of the women helped carry the burden with Jo as our marriage began to crumble.

Fast forward to right now. We struggle to find something that’s relatively comparable. We had a group kind of like that for a year or so. Jo and I were the catalysts for opening up, and eventually some of them started to make themselves vulnerable as well. But it dissolved after several sets of unfortunate circumstances.

So the search goes on.

We still love those people in Wilmington, even after the group slowly pulled apart and ended 5 years ago. I know there’s another group somewhere that’s capable of making itself available to the great things God can do. I know there are people needing community as badly as us.

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Hot Air

Maybe it’s age and experience that makes me more aware of people being jaded, or it’s possible that I have subconsciously chosen to see less good because of my own periods of callousness.  But something has shifted.

The easy answer is that everything changed after 9/11, but that almost seems dismissive.  I know things changed then, and I’m sure some of what we are experiencing now is indirectly related to that, but it runs deeper.

People are fuming at everything around them.  They lash at those who make more money, those who make the decisions, and obviously those who look to benefit; the shady investors, the banking system that seems to invite the most corrupt that America has to offer and give them bonuses, or even AT&T and Verizon.

The people I encounter seem to feel ripped off, like they’ve been sold a bill of goods; that snake oil that is the American Dream.  Meanwhile, those who have perpetrated the fraud are running out the back door with everything these people have worked hard for.

And there is no one to blame because those who should be held accountable are lounging in the South of France, and their money is an account in the Caymans.  They may as well not exist at all, and there is no one to take it out on.

Who do we turn to vent our frustrations?  Politicians.  The guy who took 20 items through a ’10 item or less’ line.  Facebook friends.  That stupid girl that cut you off in the parking lot.

I see more people arguing about politics and social issues on Facebook than I’ve ever seen in my life.  I probably haven’t seen the same amount of anger over my entire life compared to what I’ve seen in the few years that Facebook has existed.  It’s easy though, and I’m as guilty as the next person.  There is no filter between my immediate emotion and typing on my phone.  To boot, there are no real consequences.  If people were having the same conversations face to face, they would never speak with such venom to one another.

But it’s not just there.  In my little world there has been drama over the past couple of weeks between small sections of Liverpool and Man United supporters singing songs at one another about tragedies in the history of each club where people died.  It’s vile.  I know there is a long, ugly history between the two, but it’s inhumane to make fun of people losing loved ones.

In my church, our pastor preached a message where he called out the church in general for hating the homosexual community and Muslims.  The church hates gay people for trying to destroy America.  Gay people hate the church for not accepting them as they are.

Politicians pit us against one another.  Non-Democrats hate Obama more than Satan himself.  Democrats think that Republicans just want to make all the gay people straight and starve the poor people.

And round and round we go.

When I was going through hard times in my marriage, I asked my friend Morgan, who is a counselor, what his advice would be for us.  He said, “You both want to win and neither will in the end.  One of you has to step out and take a chance.  One of you has to love the other without worrying about whether you win or not.  The other person may hurt you, but eventually your love will cause them to love you back.  Then you can both work on your problems through different eyes.”

We need new eyes.  We have to accept that there are probably going to be more letdowns in the flawless future that we previously had planned out.  We have to start trying to understand the people around us instead of constantly looking for the angle that benefits us the most, and maybe work a little on not being so self-absorbed.

Maybe you stop being angry on Facebook and I’ll stop screaming at you every day for being such a bad driver.  It would be a nice start.

Paranoia

Fear of Vikings builds castles – Charles Manson

Charles Manson was maniacal and destined for a hole in the federal penitentiary. Instilling fear was his specialty. So, on this one occasion, his opinion was expert.

The threat of danger is extremely powerful, and often more powerful than the danger itself. Fear stifles. It can bring us to a grinding halt.

One of its more frequent manifestations in my life comes in the way of paranoia. I’ve always been prone to it. I project myself as a tough, burly guy, and yet I’m often peering around corners in life to make sure no one is out to get me. Checking up on people’s motives. What are their intentions in wanting me to do that? Why did they say that? Was that status update directed towards me? Was that tweet because of something I said or did a few weeks ago?

And I grind to a standstill. I stop trusting people. I recoil. I draw back. I need to understand what just happened before I can start moving forward again.

It’s a terrible thing to feel like you’ve been talked about, to be with two people and realize there may have been a previous conversation that you were not present for, but definitely a part of.

When those guys were making fun of people not playing guitar well, were they referring to me? When it was alluded to that people need to go back and listen to themselves online to check for vocal mistakes, was that aimed at me even though they were acting like they were talking about someone else? If so-and-so will talk to me about someone else when they’re not around, will they do the same to me when I’m not around?

And my thoughts begin to scramble like rats in a maze, looking for a way out, and often never finding it.

It’s a constant tension that we run into. We push through it silently. It’s weakness.

People talk about being real all of the time. They constantly talked about it at our old church. The reality is that people want to hear about your weakness after the fact, and how you came through it. Most don’t know what to do when you open up with them in the midst of your struggle.

Do people think we aren’t good parents cause our kid screams? What do people say about where we live? What do people think about what I do for a living? How many people think I need to lose more weight? When I say that I lost 40 lbs. do they pat me on the back like a 4 year-old that just learned to tie his shoes? You know that’s what you should’ve been doing all along, right?!

Some may ask themselves: Am I cool enough? If I don’t dress a certain way will I be excluded from a certain circle? If I don’t know much about a certain subject will I seem like someone who goes through life with their head in the sand? Am I technologically savvy enough? Do I have good taste? Do people look down on where I vacation? Do people resent me for driving a nice car, for having a nice house? Do my co-workers think I’m incompetent? Does my spouse think I’m selfish? Do my friends think I’m not spontaneous because I like structure?

It’s easy to see how this quickly bleeds into insecurity, on multiple levels. It begins to make us ask questions about every tiny thing we do. We start to use the opinions of our peers, and sometimes people that don’t matter at all, as the filter by which we make our decisions. It begins to rule the way we live our lives. It can strangle us. It can cause us to do nothing. It can cause us to attempt to do everything. It can cause us to push away the people that we love. It can cause us to seek the approval of people who hold no weight in our lives.

It can cause us to build castles.

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. – 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

Anyone who’s ever been to our old church, Port City Community, knows these verses, especially the phrase on taking every thought captive. We have to begin to grab hold of these thoughts that run amuck like rats in an abandoned house. They pollute. They make our mind an unliveable place. They take over. Christ calls us to make many things obedient; our tongues, attitudes, bodies and on this occasion, our thought-life. We can’t be ruled by things that may or may not be real. We can’t allow ourselves to limp through life because we’re carrying around our conjured perceptions of what people think.

We are a free people. We are to live in unity, which begins with freeing myself to trust that people are honest with in what they say, and let it go.

Purpose

 

“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” – C.S. Lewis

I’ve been told in the past that I should think about writing, and while that definitely appeals to me I just don’t know that I have what it takes to become a real writer. There are tons of bloggers out there with opinions on every aspect of life, people that see themselves as the next Hemingway or Fitzgerald. I do not. I see myself as someone who is anal about grammar and spelling and has a better voice on the page than in real life. My voice on the page is much more authoritative and doesn’t use all of the slang that destroys any credibility of me doing anything in life that requires more than a high school diploma. I know that people often see me as a bumbling idiot that has an extremely limited vocabulary and few well-constructed thoughts on anything that would be worth their time. That could be partially true, so I’ve just gone about life thus far acting like it’s not true, and if it is, I won’t let those needling thoughts get close enough to break the skin.

I run from, or make light of, conversations that either talk about my job or what I went to school for. I especially avoid conversations that move toward why I’m not doing anything with my degree. Some people still think I actually graduated. It’s all a big hoax, I know. I just avoid the truth, but it’s recently become a more pressing issue. I realized the other day……wait for it……that I’m no longer young. It hit me that I’ll be 40 in three years. I know! It’s hard for me to believe too! I have accomplished very little and have seen most of my best friends either completing or nearing the completion of the learning that’s required in their fields. I have done nothing. I have day dreamed.

So, I decided it’s time to start moving forward again. I mean I can’t go forever driving a truck and allowing my mind to turn to complete mush. It takes virtually no brainpower for me to drive. I’ve been driving since I was 19 and it’s all become rote and muscle memory. The hardest part is the exhaustion of avoiding accidents all day, forcing myself to not scream at the steady stream of stupidity I see, and pushing through long hours of mind-numbing monotony.

But what to do?! I need to move forward, and I’ve known for a few years that this tension would eventually reach a breaking point. But what direction do I head? That’s always been the problem.

I started in Biology, way back in the days when I first went to UNC-Wilmington, to be a field researcher. But, during my time in school God started drawing and prodding me to do something more. Ministry was always in the back of my mind, so a career spent in the woods where I was virtually never around people felt like a massive waste of my life, kind of like driving. So, I started taking Education classes since I’d worked with kids in afterschool programs and was really good at it. It felt like something worthwhile. It felt like the high road, like philanthropy, at the very least. That didn’t last long since I was nearing the center of the vortex in my quickly imploding life.

Then I spent a couple of years driving. We know what that does, so to stimulate myself I read constantly, mostly History. History! I could do that! Of course, there’s not really a field for that, but I’d justified that I wasn’t in school for a trade. “Learning is it’s own reward!”, I’d say. And ultimately I just needed to get that little piece of paper. This was about completing something. It was about being on level terms with my friends, not just the tagalong that gets to hang out with smart people.

That lasted a summer session and a fall semester. We were broke and no money means no classes.

“In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the Lord establishes their steps.” – Proverbs 16:9

And He did. I would’ve been completely dissatisfied with everything I’ve described. Not to mention how much school costs. Why would I spend ungodly money on something that won’t at least head in the direction of a career? I’m a late bloomer, man.

So, I’ve had a couple of ideas begin to take shape. I talked to my friend, Morgan, about one and talked to my sister about the other. I’ve gotten confirmation on both. One idea is definitive. The other is a scarier proposition. And yet….

My friend, T, once said, ‘fund your dreams and hobbies with a real job’, and I think there’s wisdom in that. It’s not what most dreamers want to hear, but it’s pragmatic. And, ultimately, I think it’s probably right. Most dreamers live off the money of others, whether it’s Mom & Dad or a grant from wherever. In scripture Paul said that he worked to make money so that he wouldn’t cause others to see him as a mooch and cause them to sin. So, I need something that I enjoy but also pays the bills. But this is a tangent.

Going back to the ministry thing, most people see me leading worship or something along those lines. I really enjoy that and it’s a release for me, but I’ve always known there was something else that called me just as strongly. Working with married couples and guys that are just done with everything around them. I’ve been through some pretty rough situations in my marriage and experienced some pretty major letdowns in life. Little surprises me anymore.

I have a lot to offer from an experience standpoint, but I think I want to be more than someone who’s taken a couple of courses and works as a lay-counselor, if there’s even such a thing. I want to help hurting people. I want people to feel like they have somewhere to turn when it’s all crumbling around them. I want to be a light that draws them to a port. I want to pull choking and sputtering people back into the air. I want to see people realize there’s hope, there’s healing, and there’s restoration. I want them to see that God makes things new. I feel like I’ve been given purpose and it takes courage to say out loud.

I want to be a counselor. I want to write.

Cliques, Community and Confusion

I’ve been involved in small groups for a little over 16 years. When I first started attending my first guys group, in The Glen across from campus, it didn’t take me long to recognize that there was a group of guys that all knew one another and then there were the rest of us. They knew each other well! I really knew no one so I knew I’d have to find someone soon to even attempt to stick it out. I gravitated towards a couple of guys at first. But the longer I attended I felt like there were a couple of guys in the group with which I might have some things in common. It was all but impossible!

These guys already had their circle that had been formed over a couple of years. They had all been in Intervarsity since freshman year, had attended multiple small groups, been on various retreats and had grown to understand each other at a deeper level. I knew that these types of relationships had to form over time and never happened automatically, but it seemed that I wasn’t even getting a shot. I could tell when they talked to me it was totally surface and like they were doing ministry by us having any conversation.

I eventually broke through with those guys mainly by one of them graduating, moving back home and the rest of them asking me to move in to the house they were going to rent out. I learned much about them and they learned much about me. But I never really figured out why it had to take me moving in for us to become friends.

Jump forward a little over a decade and I found myself running into something very similar. There was a crew of people that Jo and I went to church in Wilmington with that I could definitely see us hanging out with. And try as we might, it just never happened. As I’ve intimated before, I was in a spiritual desert at this point in my life, so no one was ever going to really want to be around that. I completely understand. There are few who are going to man up to me and let me know that it’s time to have some integrity. So, why would you want to subject yourself to something you’re never going to have the strength to help change? I get it.

But I wanted it. I wanted to be a part. I saw so many things we all had in common. I knew if they could only hang out with us a handful of times they’d see how sweet and fun Jo was and how dry and witty I could be, if not extremely observant.

It was not to be. So per my normal reaction, I detested them. I lashed out whenever an opportunity presented itself. I was even friends with one of the girls in college, but found myself completely pushing her away and making myself socially distant and unavailable when we were around one another. I really was the worst! A complete tool.

I hated that they were all in community with one another. It was a clique and I hate cliques.

But do I? Do I really hate groups of people that have much in common and are extremely tight with one another? Groups that do life with one another and know one another’s struggles? Groups that share in one another’s joys and triumphs?

No. I only hate when it excludes me. And that’s the crux of it. I hate to be left out. I hate feeling like I didn’t do enough, wasn’t cool enough, witty enough, talented enough or whatever it is I try to do or be. It’s completely narcissistic. It’s totally self-serving.

Since then I’ve really struggled with the line between being in community, a real authentic community, and offering yourself in a group of people you don’t know at all, where all of your relationships involve surface level conversations and feel like ministry. I think both are good and possibly necessary. But we only have so much time in a week! What do we do then? I’m not sure.

Community is good though. Even if it doesn’t involve me.

To be stewed over a little longer…

The Wisdom of Job

I don’t like Rob Bell. But someone suggested I read Whirlwind from Nooma. And though the guy is incredibly divisive, I really like this statement of his on the wisdom of Job.

Sometimes the only honest, healthy, human thing to possibly do is to shout your question and shake your fist and rage against the heavens and demand an explanation. But the wisdom, the kind we find here with Job – the kind that endures, the kind that sustains a person through suffering – that kind of wisdom knows when to speak and when to be silent. Because your story is NOT over. The last word has NOT been spoken. And there may be way more going on here than any of us realize. So may you be released from always having to know why everything happens the way that it does. May this freedom open you up to all sorts of new perspectives. And may you have the wisdom to know when to say, “I spoke once, but now I will say no more.

We Bought a Zoo

We just saw ‘We Bought a Zoo’. A great little feel-good movie. Jo cried through most of it. I teared up a couple of times as well. While the movie was great, the soundtrack was actually better! There is an official soundtrack done by Jonsí, but this is the complete soundtrack in the movie.

“Don’t Come Around Here No More” – Tom Petty
“Do It Clean” – Echo & The Bunnymen
“Airline To Heaven” – Wilco
“Don’t Be Shy” – Cat Stevens
“Go Do” – jónsi
“Living With The Law” – Chris Whitley
“Last Medicine Dance” – Mike McCready
“Buckets of Rain” – Bob Dylan
“No Soy Del Valle” – Quantic Presenta Flowering Inferno
“Sinking Friendships” – jónsi
“Like I Told You” – Acetone
“Ashley Collective” – Mike McCready
“For A Few Dollars More” – The Upsetters
“Hunger Strike” – Temple Of The Dog
“Ævin Endar” – jónsi
“Mariachi El Bronx” – Mariachi El Bronx
“Haleakala Sunset” – CKsquared
“Boy Lilikoi” – jónsi
“Cinnamon Girl” (Live) – Neil Young
“Holocene” – Bon Iver
“Throwing Arrows” – Mike McCready
“Work To Do” – The Isley Brothers
“All Your Love (I Miss Loving)” – Otis Rush
“I Think It’s Going To Rain Today” – Randy Newman
“Hoppípolla” – Sigur Rós
“Gathering Stories” – jónsi