Louder

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

“What you do speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you are saying” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

A few weeks ago I was in Toronto with a group of students and adults from my church. We were spread out all over the city hanging cards on bikes to promote the free bike repair clinic we were doing in the middle of the city the following day. As we walked the busy streets, we heard car horns blaring. Long, extended car horns, from multiple cars. At first, we didn’t know what was going on. But after a while it became clear there was something coordinated happening. All of the cars laying on their horns were cabs. Some had signs in their windows slamming Uber, the app-based transportation network that is gaining popularity in cities across the world.

This was a protest.

The same cabs were making a loop around the city of Toronto, blowing their horns the entire time, making it known to everyone on the streets their belief that Uber is unlawful and unfair. No matter where you walked, all you could hear was the loud and consistent sound of car horns.

It was extremely annoying.

At some point along our walk, almost every person in our group remarked about how they were now ardent supporters of Uber, even if they didn’t know anything about it before, just based on the frustratingly loud and irritating protests of the cab drivers in Toronto.

It fascinated me that the very thing these cab drivers were protesting against became the more desirable option, by far, simply based on the way they went about expressing their opposition.

This happens to us in our relationships sometimes when we see someone we love drifting away or getting off track. When repeated attempts to get their attention don’t work, we may become frustrated and make our concerns or warnings louder and more frequent. We nag our spouse, harp on our teen’s behavior, express concern at our friend’s emotional distance. When nothing changes, we may be tempted to increase our volume and/or consistency. But it doesn’t work. And if we do it long enough and loud enough it may make them want to choose the undesirable behavior even more, if nothing else but to spite us.

It reminds me of the church in America.

There are new ideas in our culture we may disagree with. We might even consider them unlawful or unfair. And often it seems we believe that in order to get our point across we must only get louder. If we could just say what we believe loudly enough, consistently enough, for long enough, those whose beliefs or lifestyles we oppose will hear us and change their behavior. We’ve based our whole strategy on the idea that “loud is louder.” And so we take to social media, we defend, we attack, we play the martyr, we become alarmist. We sound the horn.

And it appears we’ve failed as miserably as the Toronto cab drivers in successfully communicating our point of view.

The church is the hands and feet of Jesus. We’re supposed to act in the world, to do what He did, to go, to help, to feed, to touch, to serve, to meet the needs of every person, not just the ones we agree with. Sometimes it seems we only use our hands to point a finger at those we believe are wrong and our feet to stomp when we don’t get our way.

The church is the Bride of Christ. We’re supposed to be radiant and beautiful, reflecting the goodness of the groom, secure in His love for us, ushering people into the wedding feast. Over time, we’ve become more like an insecure spouse, nagging the culture in a desperate attempt to get it to change its ways.

It’s not working.

Because loud isn’t louder.

Love is louder.

It’s the only way forward. Love in the form of compassion and understanding is needed more than anything else. And patience. Lots of patience.

It’s interesting that in the gospels, the louder Jesus’ opponents got, the less He spoke and the more He let his actions do the talking. As their accusations rose, His love grew even louder. More forgiving, more audacious, more obvious, more inclusive, more giving. About those who crucified Him, Jesus said, “Forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”  There’s a love – a deep compassion and understanding – in this statement that defies reason and sensibility. You’ll also notice an otherwordly patience. He forgave them. He didn’t exclude them. He didn’t vilify them. He didn’t choose sides. Even though they spat on him, beat him, and took his life. His love grew even stronger. Because that’s what real love does.

Real love goes over and above. Real love goes to excess.

There’s a german word that means “over” and “above” or “to excess.”

Uber.

Jesus was over and above with His love. He loved to excess and it changed the world. His love was louder than a culture bent on destroying Him and His movement. And His love continues to ring out in every city in every country on every continent in this world.

As followers of Jesus, we must resist the urge to lay on the horn of disagreement and instead choose to be uber in our love. What we’ve been doing isn’t working. We have nothing to lose by trying a different approach.

So be over and above in your love. Love to excess. Love every person, not just the ones you agree with. Allow compassion and understanding that defies reason and sensibility to be your guide. Show patience. Lots of patience.

Because loud isn’t louder.

Love is louder.

Sunset

“I’m writing this in part to tell you that if you ever wonder what you’ve done in your life, and everyone does wonder sooner or later, you have been God’s grace to me…” – Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

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Sunset over Camp Grace

What is it about sunsets?

What is it about them that stirs our hearts so deeply?

Is it because they’re beautiful? I’m sure that’s part of it, but it can’t be the whole story. There’s beauty to be found in every nook and cranny of this grand old world God made.

No, there’s more to it.

I think it’s because they don’t last.

Sunsets are fleeting. In our hearts we know such beauty should stay around longer. But it doesn’t. We can’t push pause or hurry to another part of the world to see it again. It’s here and then it fades. We’re certain to see one again soon, but not the same sunset, not in the same place, not in the same way.

Last evening as I was driving home from my son’s basketball game, I saw the sun setting over a neighborhood near my house. It was beautiful. And I’m certain it was gone by the time I arrived home minutes later. But somewhere in that neighborhood beneath the glory of another setting sun, a man was at home, maybe putting the finishing touches on his Sunday morning sermon. Just as he has done thousands of other times. Probably sitting near his wife, who’s the closest thing to an angel on earth as you will ever meet. I imagine his eyes, wrinkled with age and wisdom, moving back and forth between his sermon notes and the face of the woman he’s loved all of his life.

His heart heavy and yet full to overflowing.

Not just any preacher. Not just any pastor. Not just any man.

A man who stirred my heart for local church ministry once again. A man who cared for me, understood me, mentored me, and gave me freedom to do what I’ve been called to do. A pastor who never cared who got the credit (preferring that everyone else receive it instead). A pastor who loves and lives as if Jesus really meant the things He said. A pastor who chose to lead with equal parts compassion, kindness, and wisdom. A preacher who encourages all who know him to simply do the “next right thing.” A preacher whose greatest sermon has lasted more than 2 years and continues even now by the way he lives out his faith with his body in the grip of the hideous talons of cancer.

A man who impacted not only a church but an entire community in such a profound way that an entire city would give him a day all his own.

Today is Mack Hannah Day in Dunwoody, Georgia. It’s a real thing, decreed by the Mayor and everything.

Mack Hannah is a man. Mack Hannah a preacher. Mack Hannah is a pastor.

He’s my pastor.

Today, he will retire after eleven plus years serving the people of Dunwoody Baptist Church, the city of Dunwoody, the state of Georgia, and various places all over the world. He’ll preach his last sermon, his “final thoughts.” He’ll do this in the same way he always has – delivering the gospel casually and confidently, putting you at ease. Like you’re two old friends discussing deep and profound truth over a cup of coffee.

That’s why, when I drove past Mack’s neighborhood last night and the sun was taking its final breathtaking bow, even more than usual, my heart swelled at the beauty of it all, at the same time it ached for all the things that we wish could last forever

but

just

can’t…

Beauty is fleeting on this side of things.

Breath is ephemeral.

Being is temporary.

The sun always sets on our days, on our times, on our physical lives.

But there are things that last. Ancient things. Eternal things. Things not easily recognized or quantified. Things between the edges of our existence, weaving in and out and through the hidden places of our souls. Things that make the setting sun’s glory pale in comparison.

What is it about Mack Hannah’s life that is so beautiful?

What is it about him that stirs our hearts so deeply?

In a world where almost everything is temporary, he has given us something that lasts.

His life.

His love.

His legacy.

A legacy of selflessness, kindness, openness, and hope. And legacy of integrity, laughter, stories, and joy. A legacy of authenticity, passion, leadership, and faith.

Faith that doesn’t waver, even after the sun has set and the darkness of night has crept in.

Faith in the new sun that rises each morning, bringing with it beauty once again.

And God’s mercies made new.

The age-old question

*image courtesy of freeimages.com

*image courtesy of freeimages.com

“Do you feel old?”

I get this question a lot now. Now that my son is a freshman in high school. Now that he is a half-inch taller than me. Now that he’s making game-winning baskets and wearing grown-up clothes to school dances.

“Do you feel old?”

The truth is, I don’t feel old. Not really. I mean, yes, my body feels old sometimes (okay, often) with all of the creaks and aches and pains that come from being in your early (mid?) forties. But in my heart, my soul, in my life, I feel like I’m in my twenties. Just getting started. My whole life ahead of me.

Young.

The truth is I’m not just getting started. And I’ve got a little less than half my life ahead of me.

Which is crazy.

Watching your kids grow up is a bizarre experience. You know your kids are getting older. You know they need to grow, have to grow. But as they do grow it doesn’t feel like you’re any getting older. It becomes almost like watching a movie of someone else’s life. You know these are your children, and you know what their ages are, but there’s no way you can be old enough to have kids of that age. No way. It hasn’t been that long, couldn’t have happened that fast. I used to scoff at the children in the Soap Operas my mom watched (ok, my mom and I watched) when I was a kid because they were babies one day and teenagers the next. Little did I know at the time that was the one realistic thing about those stories.

“Do you feel old?”

I got this question again on Saturday night. It was the occasion of my son’s first homecoming dance. My wife and daughter and I were there to take pictures beforehand. He looked so handsome in his navy sport coat and my Carolina blue tie. I was as proud of him as ever. But I was subdued as I watched him interact with his peers, as I snapped the occasional picture with my iPhone, as the combination of excitement and a bit of awkwardness buzzed in the air. One of my son’s friends observed that I seemed quiet. And I guess I was. I think it was because it felt like I was watching this whole experience happen to someone else. An older version of me with an older version of my son that I almost didn’t recognize because I was seeing him in this setting for the very first time.

“Do you feel old?”

Not really.

But I do feel odd.

I feel odd looking up (even ever-so-slightly) at my son. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled he’s taller than me. I hope he grows a few more inches and I won’t have to pay for college (basketball scholarship). But this is the same human I held in the crook of my arm, the same one who fell asleep on my chest.

I remember when my son was born, he wouldn’t eat for the first few days – a hangover from some of the medicine my wife was given during delivery, we supposed.  So we had to leave him at the hospital even after the insurance company kicked us out. Late that first night back home, not able to sleep worrying about him, I sat straight up in the bed. My wife, exhausted from the whole birthing ordeal, was asleep next to me. I got up, got dressed, and drove back up to the hospital. I went to the nurses station and told them I wanted to try once again to get my son to eat. They brought him out to me and gave me a four-ounce bottle of formula. Trying to wake him from his lethargy, hoping it would make him want to take the bottle, I began trying to tickle him, gently rubbing the tip of my finger along his ribs.

So tiny he was, my index finger as long as his rib cage.

That night he ate, for the first time on his own.

Now he’s doing most everything on his own. And he’ll never be called “tiny” again.

It feels odd. Almost like it’s happening to someone else and I’m just looking on.

“Do you feel old?”

I’m not sure.

The other night, my son and I played basketball together in a church league game. The two of us combined for 51 of our team’s 69 points in an 8-point victory. I scored (humble brag alert) 23 points. He scored 28. It was the most fun I’ve ever had playing basketball.

Now that was no movie. That was the real me.

No, that was us. Father and son, together as always. Now making things happen side by side.

“Do you feel old?”

I feel good. And, yes, maybe I do feel a little old.

I guess that makes this the good/old days.