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Eden’s Poison: Godly Fruit on a Political Tree

If your Politics danced with the Fruit of God’s Spirit, what would it look like? Here’s a 10 minute ticket onto my “dance floor.” Not pretty…but it’s honest.

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My Birthday was last week. Getting older. Fun. Certainly seeing more gray in the ol’ cap than I did last year. But Wisdom? That’s a daily gut check.

As a Christian, my physical Birthday is best seen in light of my spiritual “Birthday.” In retrospect, my physical life didn’t mean much until I was introduced to a Bible and believed it.

You don’t get far in God’s Word before one thing becomes clear. As a Christian, one must be filled with and led by the Holy Spirit…essentially, the Spirit of God Himself. This is the only way a Christian can live a life pleasing to God. After all, we’re named after His only Son…Who was filled with the same Spirit…so it’s sort of expected that our lives look similar to His.

The result of being filled with the Holy Spirit is a life that produces (and is produced by) the “Fruit of the Spirit” –

LOVE, JOY, PEACE, PATIENCE, KINDNESS, GOODNESS, FAITH(FULNESS), SELF-CONTROL, and GENTLENESS.

As Steven Curtis Chapman says in one of his songs, “…the heart of Heaven beats this way.”

As I get older, I can “profess” that my life is producing more “Fruit of the Spirit” than it was 5 or 10 years ago…and certainly more than it was back in High School……and College………and Grad School…and…

Let’s just say I’ve grown.

I’ve grown in Wisdom…which is sort of the ‘suit and tie’ version of saying “I’ve grown more in love with Jesus.” Bottom line, after 4 (and some change) decades on this earth, I am more grounded in my faith than ever. More in love with Jesus.

However, today I must “confess” that “being in the world, but not of it” (John 15:19, John 17:16) doesn’t always feel easier as the days and years go by. It’s a daily grind that challenges pretty much every “Fruit” listed above. Watching the world “call good, evil and evil, good” (Isaiah 5:20) does not ‘naturally’ stimulate in me a conviction to be KIND or GENTLE…much less, LOVING or JOYFUL.

Consequently, I’m often reminded of the most important truth in all this – being led by God’s Spirit, producing His Fruit, is the result of HIS work in me, not my own. It’s the supernatural gift of a loving, gracious, Heavenly Father…the only One who knows how to ‘supernaturally’ keep my occasional anger, truly “righteous.”

He won’t force this on any of us, though. It’s our choice to let Him have His way. And many times my “natural” man doesn’t wholly appreciate the “supernatural” man God is trying to create in me.

When I receive a simple “slap on the cheek,” turning the other side to my nemesis can certainly prove hard, because my pride has been bruised. But ‘turning the other cheek” in these simple day-to-day offenses doesn’t necessarily require the Holy Spirit…just a choice.

But what if this “slap” is taken to another level? When we’re faced with more grave “slaps” such as lies, slander, manipulation, injustice, etc? It’s a bit harder. I, personally (that is, my flesh), want to fight…to come out swinging…especially when I’m on “the butt end.” Where’s the JOY? PEACE? SELF-CONTROL?

How about on a life-death level?  Where’s the Fruit, then?

Most will agree that KINDNESS has never staved the blade of a true executioner…I’m thinking, ISIS…and, sadly, many Christ-followers…from ancient Rome to present-day Syria…have been led PEACEFULLY, as Jesus, “like a lamb to the slaughter.”

But what if the “hands” that slap and “swords” that cut…were words? Actually, according to Jesus, we’d all be in serious trouble.

Matthew 5:21-24:  His words, not mine…

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

Woah. What?

Considering the current Socio-/Political-climate of our “civilized” American society, some of us are pretty much stirring the pot of hell’s lava with our big toe every time we log into Facebook or turn on the news.

Forgive me for turning political, but…gotta be real and hope to be relevant.

To start, “I’m guilty as charged” as an occasional perpetrator of verbal “murder.” And it’s only by daily confession, repentance and believing on Jesus’ saving grace that keeps my sins “…as far as the East is from the West” (Psalm 103:12). Jesus never fails in this regard.

But how’s my response when I’m the recipient of the offense in question? How does my “Fruit” stack up to the command of Luke 6:32-35 to “Love your enemies, and do good to them”?

To answer that question, I have to confess (describe) what is challenging me most…especially considering how hard I strive to live like Jesus…to “act justly, love mercy and walk humbly” with my God (Micah 6:8).

From my experience within both Apologetic (Scriptural) and Political discussion, my stance for both Christian and Conservative values tends to get shouted down the loudest when I seek to employ the “fruits” of PATIENCE and SELF-CONTROL…especially when the one I’m trying to dialogue with, in lieu of argument, insists on a cheap slandering of me as a ‘racist,’ ‘bigot,’ ‘woman-hater,’ ‘war-monger,’ and an ‘*everything*-ophobe.”

Seriously…where do we go from there? What conversation can be had after this M.O. is established –

Those who challenge Obama’s policies…and/or the legitimacy of “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” and/or Black Lives Matter MUST be racist. Those who are Pro-Life MUST hate women. Those who distrust Hillary to lead us as Commander-in-Chief MUST be sexist. Those in favor of Traditional Marriage MUST be a bigot. Those who support Law Enforcement and the 2nd Amendment MUST be murdering cowards. Those who challenge Climate Change assertions MUST hate the earth, as well as science. Those who support a strong military and expect them to use force to uphold freedom when necessary MUST be fearmongers and warmongers. Those who want to appropriately name our enemy in this war on terror MUST be an Islamophobe. Those who see huge problems stemming from a $15 minimum wage MUST be capitalist pigs and hate our nation’s poor. Those who want the U.S. to protect our border MUST hate immigrants. And most recently, those who are against granting immediate, unvetted asylum for Syrian refugees MUST despise, not only widows and orphans, but the very Gospel itself.

To many, I’m a hate-filled bigot and racist…a sexist pig…a capitalist pig…a woman-hater…an earth-hater…a science-hater…a fearmonger…a warmonger…a xenophobe…Islamophobe …and don’t forget, now a terrorist (Hillary’s insinuation of Republicans).

No wonder my brother wakes up each morning angry, surrounded by such filth. No wonder I wake up angry, feeling the constant barrage of unsubstantiated slander.

At this point in history, it seems me and my comrades have no “legitimate” debate on any issue in the eyes of the today’s Pop-Politico…being categorically reduced to a name, undeserving of “perspective”…or even a “living”…unless we commit to a buffet of ideological…and even racial and ethnic…self-flagellation.

But this has nothing to do with me being a victim. It’s about how I must respond to all this if I’m to be led by the Fruit of God’s Spirit.

Where’s PEACE? Where’s SELF-CONTROL? Anywhere?

Got to admit…my spirit-man, desiring to please God, is challenged (to put it lightly) in these moments.

Like Peter in the Garden on the night Jesus was betrayed, I want to fight. My ‘natural’ man is ready to punch someone in the throat. Putting my sword/fists down and “taking up my cross” (Matthew 16:24) never seems to present itself as the JOYFUL option.

That’s why I sometimes lose that challenge. I’m human…and don’t always choose to deny my “natural” proclivity to fight, cuss, spit, and fume. You should’ve seen me while watching the last couple of Democratic Debates.

But when I consider what Christ did for us, “Even while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8), I envision Him making His walk…His agonizing trudge…toward “Golgotha.” I think about how it was as much for that “thief” on the cross (who would eventually believe) as it was for me.

I hear Jesus say, “Take up your cross, Kendal”…along with the words of His most famous Sermon…Blessed! Blessed! Blessed!…echoing from brain, to stomach, to throat, to chest.

It’s in that moment I realize…yet again…how impossible it is to live by the Fruits of the Spirit…on the road toward “Golgotha”…UNLESS the Holy Spirit lives within. Many try to counterfeit these Fruits, but it just turns to ash.

It turns to ash, because the tongue is a fire (James 3:6).

Speaking of…

Fighting fire with fire, in the “literal” sense, works MOST of the time, though never 100% effective. Firefighters understand this, even as they ‘strike the match.’ Sometimes it backfires and our heroes lose their life.

However, in the “figurative” sense…fighting fire with fire NEVER works. Using ideological fire to fight ideological fire is meant for one thing – to demean the “other” until that “other” is annihilated…gone…out of the picture. But we’re all too sophisticated…too resilient…too stubborn. All my fire does is fan my adversary’s flame, which grows bigger…and hotter…until it gives birth to the ugliest of offspring – anger, strife, dissension, hatred, and all kinds of evil…including murder.

Isn’t that what we’re seeing these days within our country? Dissension, spreading like a diseased weed across our great land? Sadly, we’ve lost our ability to communicate and problem-solve when there are contrasting opinions on the table. We’ve lost the ability, because we no longer value the “other” as a human being. It’s much easier to see them as an idiot or moron.

Where is LOVE for each other, even when we disagree? Where is GOODNESS?

Where is legitimate Democracy?…an equitable Republic which still values co-habitation of differing opinions and a perpetual burden of cooperation leading toward solution and life? If recent years attest to anything, it is our insistence on political conquest…not cooperation…valuing party over truth and decency. Much like a religious conquest, the only result has been a wake of “blood”…”severed heads” and “severed hearts.”

And we’re worried about ISIS.

So why bring politics into a discussion on the Fruits of the Spirit?

Because, if I’m totally honest…….until a couple of years ago, the only time I “yelled” at a TV was when a bad call was made by a referee against my team. I allowed my PEACE to be stolen…and that was just sports…a game…an escape. When I was younger (a spiritual babe), I could act like a brat for 3-4 hours, then escape my escape…pull out and go back to being a spiritual mentor who loves to quote C.S. Lewis.

Really mature.

If you’re being honest, you’re either like me…or you’ve been like me. You watch what is going on in our society and world, and it’s not long before your fists come up and you’re screaming at CNN or Fox News or SNL or your version of Seth Rogan. “The mood” comes knocking…and you can’t help but open that stupid door. Most of the time, it’s just our old friend FEAR…coming in to lay those stinky eggs of ANGER on our brand new hardwoods…with DISDAIN, DEFENSE and SELF-PRESERVATION roaming all over your house. Before you know it, you find yourself going all “Peter” on someone…drawing your sword…cutting off an “ear”…or a “tongue”…. sometimes a “pinky toe.”

ANGER…RESENTMENT…DISDAIN…MURDER…all grounded in FEAR. Let’s call it what it is.

But then, “the mood” turns schizoid (b/c it is), extending an opportunity to gloat. Your fight to self-preserve has put you on top of the table…doing a happy-dance at someone’s expense… actually reveling in someone’s downfall. What was once deflating…beating you to a pulp only moments before…is now mink-coating your ego.

HAPPY…HAPPY…HAPPY.

You feel justified.

Until Jesus taps you on the shoulder and whispers Proverbs 24:17-18 in your ear:  “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice, or the Lord will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from them.”

For good measure, He also offers Luke 6:28: “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

I’m not saying we shouldn’t desire justice. We just have a tendency to preach justice out of an ENVIOUS heart…usually at the expense of Truth. When that happens…and we find ourselves giddy at watching someone being strapped to an “electric chair,” something is off.

Way off…as far as Jesus is concerned.

And from what I’m seeing…this country is WAY off. We’ve lost sight of what Jesus meant by LOVE and PEACE and KINDNESS. We make up our own definitions, especially of JOY and FAITH(FULNESS). We call evil, good…and GOODNESS, evil. We totally disregard PATIENCE and SELF-CONTROL…and equate GENTLENESS to weakness.

We misrepresent. We spin. We justify our wicked means, not for truth…but just to be right. To take revenge. To gloat. Without Jesus, we’re like the Witch in Snow White…fabricating the perfect-looking ‘fruit’ to make our adversary silent.

The result – the cry of our Father’s heart.

When it comes to addressing our plight upon this earth, God alone has the answer…the only answer…found in His son, Jesus. And only His Spirit can cast off the FEAR leading to all the ANGER in the world…and in our hearts.

The Fruits of this transformation…

LOVE, JOY, PEACE, PATIENCE, KINDNESS, GOODNESS, FAITH(FULNESS), SELF-CONTROL, GENTLENESS…

These Fruits come by His Spirit alone. And no matter how hard we try, how squeaky clean we try to make our versions of LOVE and PEACE…we cannot fabricate or counterfeit them. His Fruit…pure, innocent, without fault or blemish, without rot, unadulterated in every way…has no wax to make them shiny…no pesticides to make them safe. In fact, they are quite dangerous…and very potent.

Enough to set a captive free.

Enough to change the world.

*************

As another Birthday rolls around this time next year…I’d personally love to see more of God’s Fruit at work in my community and world…but I understand that it must start with the man in the mirror.

Is actual growth possible? Maturity?

For me, it’s a good thing God’s “mercies are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23). If that weren’t the case and I didn’t take advantage of that promise, I’d be the recipient of a “label” that would be wholly justified…coming from my very Creator –

MURDERER.

But every morning, I find Him singing His song in my ear.

LOVE, JOY, PEACE, PATIENCE, KINDNESS, GOODNESS, FAITH(FULNESS), SELF-CONTROL, GENTLENESS.

I get up, knowing it will be a fight.

I’m sure to have to turn the other cheek…A LOT. But…

LOVE, JOY, PEACE, PATIENCE, KINDNESS, GOODNESS, FAITH(FULNESS), SELF-CONTROL, GENTLENESS.

The “cross” I’m asked to carry might get larger and bit heavier…

I may have to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17).

Doesn’t matter…

LOVE, JOY, PEACE, PATIENCE, KINDNESS, GOODNESS, FAITH(FULNESS), SELF-CONTROL, GENTLENESS.

I’m sure to be slandered, lied about, or even given the “scarlet letter”…

I may lose my job, because I chose His Word over man’s law…

LOVE, JOY, PEACE, PATIENCE, KINDNESS, GOODNESS, FAITH(FULNESS), SELF-CONTROL, GENTLENESS.

The candidate or party I support might lose…GASP…

My favorite sports team might never win a another Championship…

LOVE, JOY, PEACE, PATIENCE, KINDNESS, GOODNESS, FAITH(FULNESS), SELF-CONTROL, GENTLENESS.

I may come face-to-face with 300 unruly refugees (Mission Field!!!!)…

And ISIS might move in next door…

LOVE, JOY, PEACE, PATIENCE, KINDNESS, GOODNESS, FAITH(FULNESS), SELF-CONTROL, GENTLENESS.

…after, of course, Bree and I load our Glock 43s.😉

In order for ME to grow, I must fight for these things. I must fight for God’s Fruit to be alive in me…not growing on a tree of my political leanings, but on the Tree of His Spirit.

And in order for US to grow…as friends, family, neighbors, citizens, humans, sojourners…and thrive as a nation…we must join the same fight…

“Not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12).

A fight to be more…

LOVING, JOYFUL, PEACEFUL, PATIENT…KIND and GOOD and full of FAITH…SELF-CONTROLLED and GENTLE…

…for the HEART OF HEAVEN beats this way.

***adapted from the lyrics by Steven Curtis Chapman***

By this time next year, we might just find a little more gray in the ol’ cap…and wisdom in the ol’ gut.

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth PEACE to those on whom His favor rests” (Luke 2:14).

 

 

 

 

 

It’s always best to speak from our own experience. Holds more…authority. This is mine.

March, 2008. It was mid-afternoon…and with a poor excuse for an A/C window unit, it had grown hotter in my apartment than the gentle breeze outside, so the windows were up.

I was alone – as ‘alone’ as anyone living in an apartment can be – memorizing a new script I had received for an audition the following day, ‘making it happen.’

My concentration was derailed by a distant rumble I immediately mistook for thunder. That assertion was eliminated in half a second, as I was living in Southern California at the time. March in L.A. might be the ‘rainy season’…but thunderstorms in the Hollywood Hills are rare, verging non-existent.

A few seconds passed before the sound revealed itself as a mobile sub-woofer, en route to a destination just outside my window, disrupting not only a peaceful Burbank afternoon, but every picture upon my wall.

It was TOO LOUD. I took a deep breath.

Skip forward, 2012…about a year ago. Late afternoon, post-work, and gorgeous outside following what seemed to be days-on-end of not just rain across the greater-Atlanta area, but also thunder…which meant lightning…which meant forget any sort of outside plans, including my weekly run along the 2½ mile running trail within my apartment complex. This day, despite 186% relative humidity, the sun was poking through the clouds as adeptly as sweat through my T-shirt…so the running shoes came out.

My ‘runs’ usually start at my doorstep, and this day was no different. I didn’t get around the first turn in the parking lot, though, before my ‘game-day’ focus was blindsided by a distant rumble. Thunder? No, couldn’t be. God wouldn’t be so cruel. A growl? One of those gnarly-looking pit-bull mutts that got away from its owner? Looking around – one way, then another – two things for sure: no dog…and the rumble had gotten louder.

I looked forward just in time to see a souped-up sedan, rims on wheels way too big, screaming around the bend like ‘Greased Lightning’s’ evil twin.

The apartment ‘unit’ it would eventually stop in front of was beyond me (at least a football field’s length), and so advantageous was this driver of a seemingly-empty 100-yard stretch, that he floored his pedal like an NHRA dragster (without the parachute), screeching ‘fast and furious’ into, not one, but two parking spaces. In a matter of 10 seconds, this joker violated my every sense of ‘common human decency.’

It was TOO FAST. I took a deep breath.

Back to March, 2008. “L.A.”

I had had enough.

I walked outside, through the corridor overlooking the outdated courtyard, past the community washing-machines, down the steps and through the door leading to the parking lot where the ‘peace-gobbler’ had set up shop just under my bedroom window.

“Excuse me!” I yelled, trying to place those two words within the 1-second reprieve separating one ‘boom’ and the next. That didn’t get this ‘hoodied’ gentleman’s attention, though…so I offered another simple salutation.

“HEY! YO!!!,” much louder and way more vicious than even I expected, rang out from a region of my diaphragm that had not been exercised since my “stage days.”

The look on my subject’s face was not what I expected – a huge grin, boasting the whitest of pearls against the clearest, richest espresso skin. Reaching in and turning down his music, he apologized before I could even explain why I was addressing him.

Yes, he was Black. Living in L.A., he could have easily been Hispanic, or White for that matter. But I’ve had many Black friends in my lifetime, contributed I’m sure by all the sports I played growing up…so I had come to recognize the ‘style’…a style no other race can truly match, no matter how hard they try. From the music to the way they drive and park their car. And everyone knows that all Black people have the same ‘style.’ Right?….Right??

Clothing is a bit more difficult…a bit deceitful. That is, until the body within begins to move. That’s when true ‘style’ surfaces. Though I’ve never tried to dress like my Black friends, I did at times try to move like them. To groove like them. Couldn’t do it. I’d just be another ridiculous ‘poser.’ And I could tell, even before seeing his face, that this guy was not a ‘poser.’ As for clothes on this particular day, his jeans covered more of his shoes than his ‘privates’…but I could tell that there was much thought that went into his ‘fit.’ The hoodie he wore, though a bit torn and seasonably inappropriate, was actually really cool. He was just…really cool.

His name was James.

James and I chatted a few minutes about the ‘Noise Policy’ in the complex, but we ended up chatting about 30 minutes…mostly about life and our common ground. He was a new import from the South. South Carolina. A 22 year old aspiring actor…model, too…only child of a single mom…and a lover of ‘music that meant something.’

James was a good kid.

Forward again to 2012. Atlanta. Parking lot. You know the scene.

I had had enough.

Though this was the first time I’d seen this car, it wasn’t the first driver I’d ‘met’ who seemingly couldn’t care less about anyone else’s safety. This tight, winding apartment complex – boasting a liberal amount of beautiful, blinding foliage – is replete with pint-sized ‘peds’ eager to get to the pool, not to mention walkers-of-dogs and runners like myself.

Never one to avoid reasonable contention, I put my ‘run’ on hold, crossed up to the other side of the building where my suspect had ‘parked,’ and promptly located the driver now standing on the second floor landing in front of what at first I thought was his door…until he knocked.

As there was now no other noise but the clear, beautiful breeze ruffling through the trees, I took advantage of this brief window of opportunity and said…

“Excuse me.”

He was Black, dressed in slacks and a button-down shirt. He looked very sharp. But it wasn’t his attire that surprised me. Black people don’t drive like that, do they? Maybe on interstates, but not in ‘lots’ or ‘complexes.’ They usually have rims to show off…the kind that look like they’re spinning backward. The kind that suck you in like the Ring of Mordor if you look too hard. Right?…Right??

My superior head-knowledge of the Black man’s driving style was getting completely ‘defragulated.’ I was expecting some pale-skinned, pimple-faced, long- (or buzzed-) haired White boy.

DE…FRAG…U…LATED. Not a word, but hopefully you get my point – my vulnerability…my confession.

My confessions.

“Excuse me,” I said again. He looked at me.

“Is this your vehicle?,” pointing to the mutated, but shiny…thing…with really big wheels.

He appeared taken-aback by my question, but he did manage one of those upward nods in the affirmative.

So I said, in as friendly a tone as I could muster – “Man, you can’t drive like that through here. Way too fast.”

He ignored me, knocking on the door again.

“Sir?”…I wanted to be respectful.

“Sir?”

The apartment door opens, and a beautiful lady steps out.

“Sir?”

“Go away, man,” he says…with a slight whine, though obviously agitated by now. Perhaps, embarrassed.

It was a bit awkward with his girl now standing in full attention of our exchange. So I thought to give one parting exhortation, then leave it alone.

“Just asking you to slow it down, bro. There’s a lot of small children around here. You’re gonna run someone over.”

“F— you!” was his exact response. “F—-!” “YOU!” I’ll run YOU over, mother-f—–!” came bellowing down toward me.

“Call me, bro??!….I’ll pop a bro in your A–, mother-f—–!!!”

I threw my hands up and started to walk away. It was obvious there was zero chance of establishing common ground with this ‘gentleman.’

Then I heard…

“Baby, no…no! Just leave him alone”…followed by unintelligible profanity-laden threats aimed at her, then me.

So…I picked up my walking pace, trying not to reveal how threatened I had become. I wanted to walk away, but he kept pursuing. So…my ‘wanting to walk away’ became ‘wanting to get away.’

I reached for my cell phone. It was not in my pocket, because I had no pockets. I had come out for a ‘run.’ An exercise ‘run’…and I don’t usually carry my phone. So I picked up the pace of my walk even more…as did he.

Fortunately for me, this man had two flights of steps to descend, as well as a girlfriend in tow, pleading with him to stop.

I was utterly confused now. Thoroughly disillusioned. All I could think was, “How did we get here?” After all, what I had asked of him was reasonable, right? I didn’t yell. I didn’t use a rude tone. And now, I find myself hiding behind the mailboxes. Without my phone…without protection whatsoever.

I actually thought of going back to him. Try and offer peace. You know, “A gentle word turns away wrath” and all. Share Jesus with him. Laugh it off. A minute later we’d be chuckling, finding common ground. He’d promise to slow it down, while I’d promise to never embarrass him in front of his girlfriend again. He’d invite me to check his car out…and I’d invite him to church and he’d say yes.

Honestly, though…it took 5 seconds for all these thoughts to succumb to the sensibility of one other – ‘This guy has turned completely insane and really wants to hurt me…bad.’

He was not a “James.”

Thanks for reading this far. I do have a point…which has nothing to do with policy.

I’m not here to defend either side of the Martin / Zimmerman verdict. I’m not here to defend the “Stand Your Ground” or “Castle Doctrine,” or to discuss the atrocities of racial ‘profiling,’ leading to unjustified ‘following,’ leading to unconscionable acts…no matter how ‘unintended.’ Where I personally stand on these issues may certainly surface in our ‘discussion’ if we’re both equally unfortunate. Should we find ourselves in that predicament, may we promise now to ‘consider’ one another, even while ‘disagreeing.’ And by all means, let us avoid the circuitous speculation over what happened that night, because none of us really know. When we quiet ourselves, we all have to admit that.

But ‘quiet’ is hard to find now.

I fear the ‘outrage’ in our cities’ streets and TVs will swarm our country like the locusts of Egypt if we don’t turn the tide of this destructive cry for ‘justice.’

So I’m personally looking for mercy. I’m looking for smiles. I’m looking for James.

Today, 2013. It’s been about a week after George Zimmerman received an acquittal from what many believe to be an incarcerable offense, and all I can wonder is where James is and what he is doing right now. I wonder what good friends we might have become had I stayed in L.A. a little longer. I wonder if that would even still be possible.

Would James even hope for that after the events of this past week? Does he even remember me? Would he join me at Java Junction for a cheap cup-o-joe, talk life and this crazy business we got ourselves into? Would he laugh with me, bearing freely that infectious grin I’m sure has made him famous by now? Or would he now look at me with suspicion in his eyes? Has the ‘music which means something’ to him gotten louder, more angry, more ‘fed up’ with the injustice his race always seems to get dealt? Has his bright, hope-filled face turned to a scowl and become buried behind the rims of his hood? Has respect for his fellow man, despite their race, succumbed to the masses…turning to riot?

The only sadness that came from my encounter with James is that I never really saw him after that day. Three months later I’d being moving…for good. But I’ve always remembered James. I remembered he chose to think the best of me…to respond to me with a handshake, not suspicion…with a smile, not the expletive our society wrongfully says he’s entitled.

Is James retaliating, breaking out windows tonight?

Nah.

My guess is that James’ style continues to break profiles all over L.A….the country…the world.

Like I said, James is a good kid. And good kids make great men. And great men make eternal friends.

Peace to all. And I do mean all.

This past week, Egypt’s military told Morsi he was no longer president. Prior to this, Morsi defied the public outrage toward him, saying that he was “willing to die” if it came to it.

That got me thinking.

Who in the U.S. is willing to die for their beliefs nowadays?

The ‘commoner’ here in our great country doesn’t often think about ‘dying’ for their beliefs, only ‘fighting’…and that, with mere words, rhetoric, policy.

Certainly…our sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, moms, dads, aunts, uncles, etc – those heroes among us who follow their high calling into the armed forces – sign on the dotted line their willingness to die. Despite the “commoner’s” collective unwillingness to let them, they take oaths solidifying their willingness to lose their life so we can gain ours.

But why? For what?

Duty? Freedom of all Americans (despite party affiliation)? Love for themselves? Hatred for themselves? The generic “God and Country”?

Whatever it is, our military heroes are certainly willing to die in order to preserve the “commoner’s” rights. You know…those “unalienable rights” we have to live…to sleep safely at night…then, to get up in the morning and set off on a new day’s quest to verbally attack the other ‘party’ with various and sundry whips, snaps and vulgarisms.

But who among us “commoners” are willing to…without question…die for that in which we truly believe?

Who is willing to die, and for what?

Policy? Religion? Is that what it would take?

How about Healthcare? Border Security? Amnesty for all illegals?

Who is willing to die, and for what?

Traditional marriage? Marriage Equality? Monogamy? Polygamy? Beastiality? Pedaphilia? Would those make your list?

Who is willing to die, and for what?

Keeping God out of schools? Putting God back into schools? Creationism? Evolution? Science? 2nd Amendment rights? Upholding the Constitution? Destroying the Constitution?

Who is willing to die, and for what?

Pro-Life? Pro-choice? Your compromise between the two?

Who is willing to die, and for what?

That is the question…for now.

Morsi said he was willing to die for the Muslim Brotherhood. Do you have a ‘Brotherhood’? What does it look like? The Muslim Brotherhood espouses ideology aimed at eliminating western ‘scum’ from the face of the earth. Does your ‘Brotherhood’ look like this? Would you die for your ‘Brotherhood’? Would you be willing to die in order for your ‘Brotherhood’ to continue their quest to eliminate the ‘parasite,’ the ‘infidel’ from this world?

Before you let loose the ‘kraken’ that just exploded up your esophagus and onto your lips…consider.

Here in the U.S., we use much the same hate-speech as the Muslim Brotherhood does toward, well, all who are not them. ‘Idiot’…’moron’…even ‘scum’ and ‘infidel’ language is tossed into the faces of our fellow Americans daily. We launch our own assault with different ‘weaponry’ than the Muslim Brotherhood.  Us “commoners” in the U.S. use words. Furthermore, we use them mostly from a distance…over the internet in the safety of home and office. Besides ‘idiot’ and ‘moron,’ we add a host of other ‘cut-down’ phrases toward our ‘neighbors’…viciously defending our political party the same way we do our favorite sports team.

But…are we willing to die for our favorite sports team?

Nah.

Kill, maybe. But not ‘die.’

Yes…I said ‘kill.’ History is replete with examples of sports fanaticism leading to many losing their life.

But let’s not get off the point. The question.

Who is willing to die, and for what?

You may be surprised to hear someone say this, but…true Christians.

Notice I said…true.

True Christians are, indeed, willing to die. Those who know fully what it means to be “crucified w/ Christ” (Galatians 2:20) and that a true Christian’s “citizenship is in heaven,’ not here on earth (Philippians 3:20).

True Christians are willing to die for their faith, which is proven by the continuing escalation of Christian martyrdom all around the world. I’ve heard it said that there has been more Christians killed for their faith over the past century than in all of history combined. And unless something is done soon, I suspect Pastor (and U.S. citizen) Saeed Abedini will be added to that list, possibly within the year. But Abedini has proven – along with millions of other true Christians before him – that he is willing. He is willing to die.

Is this extreme? You bet.

But it’s not “Muslim extreme.” Muslim extremism is willing to die in order to kill the ‘infidel’ and secure the 72 virgins in ‘paradise.’ A Muslim’s ticket into ‘paradise’ must have blood on it. Someone else’s blood. An infidel’s blood.

But that kind of extremism is not only found at the root of Islam. How about the ‘extremism’ exhibited by Mormon founder Joseph Smith, who shot and killed several men while trying to save himself from the mob storming the prison where he was being held? That’s how Joseph Smith died. And I’m sure many Mormons will continue hailing him as a martyr for his faith.

Contrast this with Jesus.

Jesus died willingly (and gruesomely)…in order to ‘save’ humanity…not to ‘kill’ as other religious extremists demonstrate.

That’s true Christianity. That’s why true Christians are willing to die for their faith. And that’s why I’m willing to die for my faith…for Christ…for His Word. To die…not while ‘taking’ life…but in order to ‘save’ life.

I guess that’s why I’m willing to die for my ‘Pro-Life’ stance. I’m willing to do so while continuing to be called a host of very horrible names.

Do I retaliate? Well…if presenting my ‘argument’ in love means ‘retaliation,’ then sure…I ‘retaliate.’

But lest you think I’m speaking merely to non-Christians, know that I’m not. I’ve seen some of the absolute worst things coming out of the ‘mouths’ of my fellow (professed-) Christians. And this is wrong. Dead wrong…and un-Christlike.

As a Christian – a true Christian – my ‘retaliation’ must adhere to the words, the commands, of Christ…

“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you…” (Matthew 5:44)

Here’s the one you have to watch out for, though…because it BITES!

“You have heard it said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:21-22).

Jesus equates our angry speech toward one another with ‘murder.’ He says that our ‘tongues’ have the power to ‘kill.’ Furthermore, He says that all humanity will be judged for “every careless word they speak” (Matthew 12:36).

I said I was willing to die for my faith…not kill. So…might I prove a hypocrite to true Christianity if I choose to murder with my ‘words’? Absolutely.

The original point of this post was to simply ask the ‘commoner’ within the U.S. (like myself) – free of military duty, but filled with all manner of convictions – ‘Who is willing to die, and for what?’

Some of you emboldened with nationalistic pride rose to your feet and proclaimed, “Yes…I am willing to die for my beliefs…for my causes…for my family…for my neighbor…for my nation.”

But now…my question changes.

Who among you are willing to die for their beliefs, convictions, causes, nation…without shedding someone else’s ‘blood’? That is, without ‘killing’ (through word or deed) in the process.

Who is still willing?

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“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).

As Oscar was doing his thing last month, I must confess that I became slightly disgruntled at a few Facebook comments indicating a certain disdain for the “tinsel” which is, indeed, Hollywood.  References made toward the actors and actresses included words such as “self-absorbed,” “narcissistic,” “pompous,” and “hedonistic.”  One even gave an ellipsis (…) leaving their choice name-calling to all our imaginations. And most indicated they couldn’t even watch the primetime celebration, citing it as “trash” in one phrase or another.

I was, perhaps, so disgruntled because I’ve known my own tendency to think and even say the same.  Seeing it written out by my “brothers and sisters,” though, really got me thinking. How would God describe these creations of His; those He “stitched together” with perfect love…and those whom Joe Public (ahem, us) so adeptly turns into idols and stars?  What’s His vocabulary toward them? And would God actually come to my Oscar party if I invited Him?

Last year, I finally picked up The Shack by William P. Young, and it took me about 4 months to finish.  One, because I have a hard time with subjects like child abduction and rape.  But mostly, because the book challenged my own cosmic view of God’s nature, His identity, and His heart.  Despite an obvious theology texture I was not used to, I found myself chewing on Young’s description of God as an audacious, pancake-making black woman who joyfully listens to a certain funk/blues band whom She (God) refers to with an obvious endearment. Here’s a brief excerpt:

He (Mack) inquired, “May I ask what you’re listening to?”

“You really wanna know?”

“Sure.” Now Mack was curious.

“West Coast Juice. Group called Diatribe and an album that isn’t even out yet called Heart Trips. Actually,” she winked at Mack, “these kids haven’t even been born yet.”

“Right,” Mack responded, more than a little incredulous. “West Coast Juice, huh? It doesn’t sound very religious.”

“Oh, trust me, it’s not. More like Eurasian funk and blues with a message and a great beat. She sidestepped toward Mack as if she was doing a dance move and clapped.  Mack stepped back.

“So God listens to funk?” Mack had never heard ‘funk’ talked about in any properly righteous terms. “I thought you would be listening to George Beverly Shea or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir – you know, something ‘churchier.’”

“Now see here, Mackenzie. You don’t have to be lookin’ out for me.  I listen to everything – and not just to the music itself, but the hearts behind it.  Don’t you remember your seminary classes? These kids ain’t saying anything I haven’t heard before; they’re just full of vinegar and fizz.  Lots of anger and, I must say, with some good reason too.  They’re just some of my kids, showin and spoutin off.  I am especially fond of those boys, you know. Yup, I’ll be keeping my eye on ‘em.”

Admittedly, Young’s portrayal of God in this book requires some patience, artistically and theologically.  However, I found the contrast in “vocabulary” between God and Mack both obvious and truthful, indicting even the assumptions I’ve always had, perhaps since Vacation Bible School – “God might love unbelievers, but He sure don’t like them. Therefore, they are ‘free game’ of my criticism until they repent and come to my side.”

God’s disagreement with such thinking is reflected in the vocabulary Young gives God in his book, reflecting freedom, graciousness, joy, inclusivity, eternity, omniscience, and a bit of FUN-k.  In contrast, Mack’s vocabulary reflects incredulity, presumption, legalism, religiosity, defensiveness and a bit of judgmental insinuation (and that, toward God).  Sound familiar?

Could the aforementioned vocabulary used toward our Oscar nominees (including pompous, self-absorbed, hedonistic) adequately describe some of those walking the red carpet last night?  I’m sure to some degree, yes.  Not because they are celebrities, though, but because they are part of the human race. 

I’m not dismissing the fact that God HATES sin. I’m not promoting a Universalist gospel.  I adhere to the scripture that says we are to be “in the world, but not of it” and the tons of scriptures that describe the life that God rewards. But it seems so easy for us, the Church, to buy into a gospel so limited and exclusive that we forget He knows everyone (not just us) by name.  That He gave Himself for us “even while we were still sinners.” 

Yes, we should celebrate our salvation; that our names are written in His book of life; that He gives “life more abundant” to those who walk uprightly and follow His word.  But He is still intimately acquainted with every man and woman that walks this earth. Their hairs are numbered, too.  John 3:16 INCLUDES “whosoever.”  And He will go anywhere, becoming “all things to all people” (1 Cor 9), for the sake of those who don’t know Him.

I also just finished reading Francis Chan’s book, Crazy Love.  Beautiful, and necessary, book for the Church. If you saw the margins of my copy you would know how much I LOVE this book.

With that said, I must admit a certain reservation I had when reading about Chan’s wife’s late Grandma Clara who expressed her grief for going with her family to see a play, all because it was the last place she wanted to be should Jesus decide to use that moment for his glorious “second-coming.”  She wanted to leave the theatre at Intermission and go help someone or get to her “prayer closet” where she feels closest to her Savior.  Chan mentions that it was, indeed, a fun night of theatre, a clean play with no “bad words” (i.e. it wasn’t a Mamet).  Nevertheless, Grandma Clara was exalted admirably by Chan as an example of what true sainthood looks like.  

My question is this: even though Granma Clara was in the midst of family fellowship, viewing a work of “clean” art (with, I’m sure, much truth), should Chan have justified his granma’s grief of being there because it wasn’t a “holy” enough place or activity, worthy of God’s rapture? Had it crossed anyone’s mind or heart that God Himself may have orchestrated that very circumstance in order for Granma Clara to be a light to someone’s darkness, in either the audience or the cast?

Please hear me. I’m not judging Chan or his sweet granma. But as much as she loved Jesus, I would hope that she eventually confessed that being at that play at the point of Jesus’ return would never soil her “rapture” experience or deserve eternal demerit.  Granma Clara, as Godly as any woman who walked the earth I’m sure, must have understood that He is much bigger than any of our prayer closets.  That even though Christ Himself withdrew from the crowds in order to pray, His ministry was most effective in the very circumstance God placed Him, moment-to-moment. 

Consider the wedding celebration in Cana where He performed His first miracle. Christ never judged a context as ministry-worthy or not ministry-worthy. He simply went where His Father told him. Who knows? Perhaps God needed Granma Clara to stay exactly where she was in order to share His love with one of the actors.  Makes me wonder how many of those Oscar-nominated “hedonists” desperately needed someone’s Granma Clara to share Christ with him or her years earlier.

We fear what we least understand, but Christ doesn’t. He understands Hollywood as much as He understands all the deacons who ever lived or “funk” bands yet to be born, and I can confidently say that the Jesus I believe in would CERTAINLY come to my Oscar party.  Furthermore, He would use His tongue to speak life, beauty and hope over every soul that walked that famous stretch of red.

As one who is called professionally to Hollywood, I have to believe that.  I also have to believe that no red carpet is completely devoid of the Holy Spirit whispering and tugging on the hearts of our stars. That sequined-up ingénue?  God saw her when she was bouncing on her daddy’s knee. That tuxed-up leading man? He knows every hair upon his head and runs after him as much as He ever ran after Billy Graham.

Self-absorbed? Pompous? Perhaps. Only God knows.  But we sometimes act like we DO know, ignoring the fact that those same adjectives could be justified for many “saints” walking down our own red-carpeted aisles every Sunday. 

Do we have Christ’s heart toward the “world” and the “whosoever” mentioned in John 3:16? Or are we just content with calling them names?

I adore the Christmas season.  Every year, though, I end up feeling as if it has come and gone way too quickly. I never get enough of my Christmas tree, the lights, the smells, gift-giving or the music. Consequently, come December 26th, the post-Christmas blues usually hit me pretty hard. And from what I can tell, I’m not alone.

Now don’t mistake me for one of those who tolerate Christmas in July…or even before Thanksgiving, because I want that day to remain THANKSGIVING. But if you’re like me, Thanksgiving is the opportunity to express sincere heart-felt thanks (praise!) to my God, my family, and my friends, while not forgetting Santa’s little elves who finally give the “green light” to go cut a tree down!

The Christmas season is finally here!

If we’re honest, though, 4 weeks later we’re all asking “What just happened?”  Who will argue that the days following Christmas are usually wrought with exhaustion (physically and emotionally) and feelings of relief…but not in a good way. Fear, depression, second-guessing…they all seem to creep up on the best of us. And even though New Years is just around the corner, who honestly wants to give up “Jingle Bells” for “Auld Lang Syne”? That song, mixed with the standard holiday dosage of tryptophan, would put a T-Rex in a coma.

Fortunately, I’ve always had College Football to distract from such. It’s a nice ‘testosterony’ escape…and considering my Dawgs are usually slated for one of the better Bowl games, I typically have something exciting and less eternally significant to which I can look forward. And this year was set up to be pretty special.

Until last night.

Last night, my DAWGS lost to Bama in the SEC Championship game. To make the sting of this loss worse, the winner was slated to play Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship in early January. So, despite the fact my Dawgs will still go “Bowling” this year, losing last night was…to say the least…heart-breaking, if not devastating.

But this post is not about that game…or even football…directly. It’s about what I saw from both teams, despite my team’s defeat. Both Georgia and Alabama, having a chance to win in the final seconds, played their hearts out…fulfilling that famous adage to “leave everything on the field.” And it’s their performance, despite who came out on top, which got me thinking.

How can we do the same with our Christmas season?

Athletes who “leave nothing on the field” tend to sleep better, proud of their exhaustion, and relieved…not because the misery is over, but because their conscience, their heart, can rest – even in defeat. Their sacrifice meant more, because they gave all they had to give.

Is that possible for us to do with the Christmas season? To expend every ounce of energy…leaving “nothing on the field”…as we spread the joy of God’s gift to mankind. My Dawgs played their heart out for a full 60 minutes. Could we “play” our hearts out for a full 4 weeks, conferring a greater amount of contagious joy to the personal, immediate “world” we’re surrounded by…and in a way that is completely unique from any other time of year?

If so, how do we do this? How do our lives get more ‘distance’ out of our Christmas season?  Well, if we ever hope to find a more satisfied and fulfilled post-season this Christmas, we must have a plan.

So…here’s an initial brainstorm of 20 ways our lives might bring more meaning, more potency to the “most wonderful time of the year.” Think of this as starting December 1st and covering a 25 day period…ending, of course, on Christmas Day. It’s sure to bring a little discomfort, or even sacrifice.  But I’d bet my mistletoe that it will bring a LOT more joy, fun and fulfillment should we find on December 26th that we have left everything on the “field” of this Christmas season.

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1.  Play Christmas music every day…get your fill and SING ALONG, even in public. Join a group and go caroling.

2.  Choose 5 friends, from the most recent to the age-old, and either call or write a letter (a REAL one) to tell them what a GIFT they are to your life. “Form” Christmas letters/bulletins are nice to give and receive. But who hasn’t gotten one of these and wondered if it was more for THEM than it was for YOU?  

3.  Establish TRADITIONS, things you do only for the Christmas season. My family has a few traditions, one involving food which only comes around after Thanksgiving. It’s SEAFOOD GUMBO. My “Mama C” (Bree’s mom) makes the best!  My family, the Tuttles, grew up enjoying a local “Tour of Lights” each year. Whatever it is, find something you can collectively look forward to.

4.  It’s more common now to own fake Christmas trees…even some with lights already fashioned for you.  But go buy a REAL Christmas Tree this year. You may have to deal with a tree not perfectly proportionate, a little sap, and an extra vacuum each week. But these fake ones fall short, in my opinion, of true Christmas spirit. To have even more fun…go cut down the ugliest one you can find…a true Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Consider it an adoption…and take plenty of pictures. You will have some good laughs for years.

5.  Bake something “Christmasy” every year. Whatever it is, make sure it’s colorful, festive, true to the Christmas season. Make enough for you…but most importantly, make a separate batch for a different neighbor every year.

6.  Give from your wallet. Taking a trash bag of unwanted clothes to the Salvation Army in hopes of a tax write-off does not count. Instead, place $15 of quarters in your car, choosing a little at a time to carry around with you. Don’t pass by one Salvation Army bell-ringer without slipping a little change into the little red pot. Apply this attitude also to the homeless with which you come face-to-face. Be ready and willing to give, not caring 1 iota what they will do with the money. After all, it’s Christmas.

7.  Read an uplifting book. Choose one that reminds you what a wonderful world we live in. One whose characters demonstrate goodness, self-sacrifice and an overcoming spirit. You might need to poll your Facebook and Twitter friends for suggestions.

8.  Hang mistletoe, and make yourself and EVERYONE kiss under it. Roast chestnuts on an open fire. In fact, scan the carols for things like this, then DO THEM. Go on a sleigh ride. Make Christmas the fun season it’s meant to be.

9.  Take a break from negativity. I know life gets to us sometimes and we want to spit fire, but that doesn’t mean it has to be broadcast all over Facebook and Twitter. So keep it positive…starting with social media. Understand, posting things more solemn or of a less-than-positive nature is not the same as “negativity.” Just ask yourself if what you’re about to say can in any way edify someone else. If not, leave it alone.

10.  In the same vein, use this season to ENCOURAGE at least 1 stranger every day. I say strangers, because they will least expect it. How they look. What they just did. Anything you can find to genuinely encourage. Do something to make them SMILE.  This will, perhaps, require us to smile first?

11.  Have a Christmas movie marathon every year. Take a Sunday and watch 3-4 Christmas movies back-to-back with some people you love. Old Christmas movies are the BEST…especially those old claymations. Personally, these old movies help me reflect on childhood innocence…as well as how far we’ve all come.

12.  Support local, live “Art.” Instead of going to another movie or, worst, always “staying in” (because you simply can’t bear holiday crowds)…go to a Christmas concert, a festival, a holiday art show, play or theatre production…something that has been produced by local artisans who don’t have multi-million dollar budgets and need your support. Whatever it is, take pictures and make it memorable.

13.  Choose 1 day per week during this time to fast and pray for those in serious need. The homeless, yes…but also for those whose lives might have been recently torn apart by personal tragedy or disaster. Who might you want to pray for? Make a list…then pray.

14.  Learn from bears. Hibernate. Get more sleep. Rest more. Our entire “outlook” on life and other people is directly affected by the amount of sleep we get. Perhaps the “blues” might not be as “blue” on December 26th if we weren’t more sleep deprived than absolutely necessary.

15.  EXERCISE throughout the season. I’d suspect we’d all be better off by finding ways (DURING the season) to counteract the calorie explosion between Thanksgiving and New Years. Enjoying the season’s scrumptious fare is one thing, but adding ‘needless’ pounds and keeping ourselves in a perpetual ‘sugar coma’ does not make my personal list here.

16.  Reconcile a hurt relationship. Go to them and seek forgiveness. The reward won’t necessarily be in their reciprocation of forgiveness, so prepare yourself for that possibility. The ultimate reward will be that you have settled it in your own heart.

17.  Invite to lunch or coffee an unlikely candidate for friendship. Someone who has never been more than a mere acquaintance…someone who will least expect it. When you meet, ask them questions and really listen. You never know who might become a “best friend” out of this.

18.  Refuse to take things too seriously. You. Others. This world. Everything. Tie a string around your finger or go buy a pet rock to keep in your pocket…anything that will help remind you to do this. With that said, if it snows…you have zero excuse for not going out to make ‘snow angels.’

19.  Pursue a conversation with a child. Talk about his or her interests, and entertain them until they giggle. You will find your soul glad before you know it.

20.  Read…really read…1 Gospel each year from The Bible. Don’t merely read it…dwell on what is being communicated to humanity. Start with Matthew. The next year, Mark…and so on with Luke and John. After all, Christmas is meant to celebrate the birth of Christ, and we all tend to get distracted by all the commercialization, as well as the stress of making sure we’ve bought enough. Also…don’t just mechanically read what many call the ‘Christmas Story.’ Read the entire ‘Gospel’ (whichever it is that year). Take a solemn look at the birth, the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus. Be reminded of the bold promises God has made to those who trust His son, Jesus, with their life.

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OK…that’s my brainstorm list. Please feel free to add your own suggestions, sharing in the comments below.

Leaving “everything on the field” this Christmas may come with a ‘price’…after all, my Dawgs technically lost the game to Bama. But I surmise that, come December 26th, it’s better (by far) to know we were in the ‘game’ to begin with.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

One Down, 179 to Go!

Today is my 1 Year Anniversary with my wife and BFF, Bree Shannon Tuttle. One year ago, we said I DO on the most beautiful November day, one that was (according to the Farmer’s Almanac) supposed to be blustering, with temps in the 40s and wind gusts up to 50 mph. My girl and I believed with God that it would NOT be this way, and as you can see w/ the pic attached, it was NOT. About 75 of our closest friends and family, a golden beech and tiny white butterflies helped ring in this glorious day. But nothing was more glorious than MY BRIDE walking down that grass-laid “aisle” to me. This is me declaring from the rooftop my undying love for my mate, my wife – something I pray you all are…or will eventually…enjoy yourselves.

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Carousel Ponies Get Nowhere

This election year has kept my head spinning, which is not good considering I’m the sort who gets car sick just thinking about riding on the passenger side. The spinning chairs at theme parks and even carousels make me sick for days. I just don’t like going round and round. I get sick…and worse, I get nowhere.

Unfortunately, all that’s led up to last night’s re-election…from Fox to CNN to Facebook statuses and posts…have similarly made me very sick to my stomach. Complete polarization is what I’ve seen…and still see. So why are we dancing, again? I’m confused. Oh. Because we’re moving “Forward.”

Please hear me out. God is “my refuge and strength,” so Obama being re-elected does not grieve me. Many of his policies do, as well as how he has handled so many aspects of his job. But Obama alone does not have the power to ruin our America. That power also rests with us.

No matter your respective party, faith, self-imposed civic duty or sexual orientation…if you have in any way used gas to fan the fire of our dissension you are part of the problem w/ this country, not it’s solution. You value your political ticket (and whatever freedoms you think you possess therein) over the unity of our America. If you have used the words racist, sexist, bigot, homo, blind, sinner, going to hell, moron, idiot, murderer, and even liar and hypocrite in a mean-spirited and condemning way to describe your fellow American or these candidates…you are part of the problem with this country, not it’s solution. If you voted for Obama and are gloating right now…proud of “your” party and disgusted with the other…you are part of the problem w/ this country, not its solution.

You may be happy about last night. You may be sad. But one’s joy or grief today does not itself touch the bleak reality that our country is a “house divided against itself,” and if our commander-in-chief does as little in his 2nd term to unite this country as he did in his 1st…we will fall.

But Obama (or any President for that matter) can never be our savior. We must bear our burden, no matter what faith we profess. And that burden is called humility. How we act toward one another throughout Obama’s 2nd Term will be determined by whether the sand line of our respective parties is above or below our eyes. If we keep our heads buried, we will fail once again at holding our President, our Congress AND ourselves accountable to deliver more than just hot air and excuses.

“Change”? “Forward”? Ok…I’m for that, Mr. President. You said you needed more time. Well, you got it…we’ve given you 4 more years. So between now and then, how can I help?  Mitch McConnell and Rush Limbaugh were wrong to say and do what they did.  Many, myself included, are sincerely asking for you to let us know how we can help UNITE our “United” States?  Tell us how we can be part of the solution to this utter mess we have ALL created.

But you need to tell us now. No more waiting. No more excuses. No more blaming your predecessor. Because in about 3 years (actually, less), we’ll know if the dancing in the streets last night will prove a nostalgic relief or an utter farce; and whether your cry “Forward” puts us on stallions…or carousel ponies.

Moving “Forward” in a circle gets us nowhere but in the ground, Mr. President. And you better believe we ALL (regardless of party affiliation) are smart enough to see that.

ARTISTRY, then INDUSTRY

As a film actor, I am often faced with unemployment. There, I said it.  I’m proud to say I’ve never been brought to the point of actually “filing” with Uncle Sam…but going a month or two (or even 4-5!) between “life”-sustaining gigs can cause one (me!) to begin contemplating a vocation in plumbing. It makes one (me!) look at the 16 year old bag boy w/ envy…not to mention all my fellow artists who “appear” to be enjoying a different Film or TV set every week. At the very least, it leads one (me!) to begin re-considering exactly who I am. And by that, I mean…my purpose on this earth.

Granted, I do that pretty regularly anyway (ok, every day), as I begin my days giving God the glory for the breath in my lungs and contemplating the obvious signs that He’s not done with me yet.  But nothing does it like finding out your 30th audition in a row will not receive any love…at all…ushering me once again into a season where I’m asking myself…”Who am I?

I know…cliche. But, really…

Who AM I?  An actor. No, be more specific.  A film actor.  Hmm.  Gosh, it sounds so pathetic when you’re not working.  Wonder if the local Starbucks is hiring.  Come on, Kendal…you have a Masters in Communication and a MFA in Acting and Directing…surely you know who you are by now.  I am… …I am a… …a… …I am… …a…

Rock.

No, not in the sense that some will say “He’s a ROCK” and definitely not in the sense of “He’s ROCKin!” I mean, in the sense of “Dumb as a…” or “Stubborn as a…” In fact, the word “rock” might incite too strong a connotation.  Pebble. That’s better.  Dumb…as…a…pebble.

Why, Kendal? Why are you dumb as a pebble?

Because no matter how many times I resolve to not let this Industry define my identity (a resolve usually discovered while on a set!), I always ‘return to my vomit’ and struggle once again with thoughts of never “working” again in this Industry. I always seem to lose sight of one very important fact – my Heavenly Father…my Creator…the One who stitched me together in my mother’s womb (thanks, mom)…Who has orchestrated purposes for my life far greater than I can ever imagine…Who has never failed me… …has NOT called me first and foremost, vocationally-speaking, to be an actor. My Creator has called me to be an ARTIST.

Now my self-deprecation tune has come to an end…lol…I’ll get to the point.🙂

I am more than just an actor. That’s primarily what I’m doing for my “living” right now, but I’ve also been placed on this earth to be a director…a teacher…a coach. I’m a writer, a photographer.  I love to draw and paint and cook.  I adore creating – from my computer screen…to a canvas…to a strip of celluloid…to a stage…to my amazing new wok that’s way too big for my stove. I am an ARTIST…called to be a lover of mankind through art.

And that’s quite awesome, b/c God himself is the very same. He is the divine Artist who daily reaches out to all of us through His creation.  Ask my wife Bree, and she’ll tell you how personally infatuated I am with His cloud formations during the day and the amazingly brilliant sunsets they assist Him with as the sun kisses the horizon.

But guess what?  Enjoying the great Artist’s work requires one by nature to look UP, and it’s sad how many of us, myself included, spend so much time with our heads “in” somewhere or “up” something else.

Interestingly, my love affair with clouds and the sky didn’t fully begin until the last few months of my time in L.A. (2006-2008). I became utterly depressed before finally discovering the amazing hiking trails just 5 minutes behind my little apartment in Burbank.  The constant pounding of Hollywood’s pavement got my head shoved way up there, ya know?

But one day, I just started walking…contemplating homicide…and before I knew it I was at the crest of a very HIGH Hollywood hill, overlooking the entire San Fernando Valley.  Suddenly, my perspective completely changed…seeing my “world” so much smaller…so less intimidating against the backdrop of the most amazingly brilliant sunsetted horizon.  To me, it was much akin to the 5 second shot in James Cameron’s “Titanic” when he cuts from screaming faces, flooded corridors, and falling bodies (overall, nightmarish chaos) to a shot of this grand ship so tiny against the backdrop of the Atlantic, the moon casting a gorgeous glimmer across the water with a now eerie silence broken only by those same screams, now only faintly audible.  Standing atop Burbank’s apex overlooking the world’s entertainment Mecca became a weekly ritual from that day forward…and serves as my answer to the only thing I truly miss from my West Coast sojourn.

Strangely, climbing that mountain was the only thing that allowed me to gain perspective by looking DOWN.  It’s also what reminds me that looking DOWN while in the VALLEY only gets you self-infatuated or self-pitying…far away from who you were really created to be on this earth. But if you’ve climbed the “mountain”…allowing yourself to struggle over something other (or bigger) than yourself (i.e. RISING ABOVE)…then looking down becomes a higher, less inward and thus more noble outlook altogether.

So, amidst all the craziness in Libya today (a later blog, I’m sure), I’ve come to my favorite coffee shop (“Rev” in Smyrna) for a much needed cranial extraction. It’s not a mountain, but it’s just as good. The result is this blog, dedicated to those like myself who need an occasional catch-phrase to help us keep our perspective upward and much more broad, no matter what profession we find ourselves “enjoying.”

I’ll offer one.

“ARTISTRY, then INDUSTRY.”

For me, as an actor and filmmaker trying to make it in this crazy business, it should always be “ARTISTRY, then INDUSTRY.” Switching those two words is quite enticing…but assuredly, not as beautiful, productive, or eternal. And the little I’ve discovered thus far has taught me that the smallest act of human kindness to the people in our “world” comes from the most divine of palettes containing the brightest of colors. That piece of artistry never has a “dry” season.

I’m an ARTIST first and foremost. So please, dear friends, shake me if my eyes start peering toward dark, stinky places. If my perspective gets as tiny as a pebble. Just say, “Kendal, if you’re gonna look south…go climb your mountain.”  I’ll do it. And when I come back down, I’m sure to be looking north once again.

It’s now been a week since the long-anticipated release of The Lucky One.  As expected, I came off this past weekend with a post mortem as equally anticipated as the movie itself.  Wrapping principal on December 22nd 2010…cast and crew waited 1 year, 4 months and 28 days for that movie to be released. So I knew upon the release of this movie to expect the same kind of feeling we all get around December 26th.

Many of my Facebook friends already know my wife dragged me (not so much ‘by the collar’) to the theater for the April 20th 12:01 AM showing.  Surprisingly, about 40 others had shown up, me being 1 of only 3 guys.  I sat there watching the movie and listening to the responses around me. Laughter, and yes, a few sniffles…and not all them from my wife’s “proud-of-her-husband-o-meter.”

Of course, I didn’t cry…or even tear up. As a whole, I sat rather humbled and RELIEVED that my worst fears had not come true.  First, I AM in the movie. Second, the importance of my character was not diminished.  It was as I expected.  I had little screen time, and though my character (Aces/Drake Green) could have been established a little more in the beginning, he was not forgotten. His absence is felt tremendously throughout the rest of the film.

As an artist and avid movie-watcher, I must say…The Lucky One is not my type of movie.  Sure, I can enjoy a good “chick flick” as long as it is well-written and well-acted and I have my wife with me! But overall, good simple, human, believable stories – even with a little romance – can draw me in.

The Lucky One came close. It was an enjoyable film, and I say that not because I happened to be in it. Though a little over the top in places and contains a few plot holes, it is simple at its core and overall beautifully shot.  Is it on par with The Notebook?  No.  But then again, what Sparks movie (or any movie in that genre, for that matter) is?  The critics have not been nice to our little film. I didn’t expect them to be.  There’s way too many “critics / reviewers” out there (for reputable publications) that have either never acted or are washed up or failed actors and filmmakers with a vendetta.

With that said, I’m posting this to encourage everyone to go show our movie some love.  But just in case you need a little momentum, here’s a litmus test to decide if it’s worth your 10 bucks and 2 hours…and a sweet “receipt” from your female companion.😉

The Lucky One is for those who:

  • Enjoy a good ‘chick flick’.
  • Is a “romantic” at heart.
  • Will prevent themselves from comparing anything to The Notebook.
  • Has lost or knows someone who has lost a loved one to war.
  • Has the patience for simplicity in a movie.
  • Loves to be transported into beautiful and unfamiliar landscapes.
  • Can employ the appropriate “suspension of disbelief”.
  • Has ever done something absolutely preposterous.
  • Understands that our troops (especially those at war) are a pretty superstitious bunch.
  • Does not mind a bit of cliché, knowing cliché became cliché for a reason – it’s inherent truth.
  • Does not mind a bit of melodrama in the end.
  • Is either in love with Zac Efron…or simply appreciate how he’s growing as an actor.
  • Wants to see Taylor Schilling launch what I believe is going to be an amazing film career.
  • Has a soft-spot for adorable and very endearing child actors, like Riley Thomas Stewart (who plays Ben).
  • Finally…personally knows someone who plays a small but very pivotal role in the film.🙂

Happy viewing friends!

Much Romance,
k

The Lucky One, starring Zac Efron and Taylor Schilling, gets released tomorrow, April 20th. In the film, I play Drake Green (aka “Aces”)…brother to Beth Clayton (Schilling), with whom Logan Thibault (Efron) falls in love. It’s love and war. Something dying to spark new life. Sparks.

Admittedly, having a major motion picture being released by Warner Brothers – knowing I’m being credited with a name like “Aces” and not “Bar Patron #18” – is, well, a big deal…and very encouraging. However, quelling my tendency to undermine personal “success,” I find myself torn between following my family’s lead to fall “head over heels” in celebration this week…OR…finding a large crevice in the side of a mountain in which I can go hide (at least until the movie release is over). Why? Not sure. Maybe it has something to do with dreams I’ve had of being completely cut out of the film.

I have one scene, and it’s at the very beginning (so don’t be late to the theater…lol). Since the movie has yet to be released, I won’t say much about my scene (lest the fine print of that 30 page contract I signed proves indicting), except that I’m leading a platoon decked out in full marine gear, head to toe. Check out my photo album titled The Lucky One on Facebook if you wanna see what I will look like.

True to the novel, I am the “fallen” brother…the one who carried the “lucky charm” picture before it ends up in the rubble…and in Logan’s hand. I’m also the father-figure uncle to my sister’s son, so her “grief” over me is a huge deal and an overall detriment to her moving forward in the “love story.” But even though all of this is a prominent part of Sparks’ novel, we never know how the film adaptation will treat certain elements or characters do we? Which is why Eeyore (Kendal) will most likely have a pit in my stomach until sometime Friday evening when my wife (after having dragged me to the theater by my collar) says, “I told ya so!”

Kidding aside…and despite the bad dreams…I do not believe for one second that Aces will end up on the cutting room floor (every actor’s fear). For those who’ve asked, I’ve simply described my role as being “small, but pivotal, to the storyline”…one that will hit home to many families across our great nation. After all, what tragedy in our blessed America could trump that of losing a loved one in this war? It’s a prominent reality on just about every street corner now…and I’m really hoping that the brother’s story – or at least Beth’s story regarding the loss of her brother to war – does not get diminished.

I hope this for two reasons –

First, the families who have lost a loved one to this war deserve for Hollywood to maximize every opportunity to speak healing over their grief…and that, without forcing a political agenda. Second, it would personally SUCK if the role of the “fallen brother” gets swept under the rug. Would’ve been better to call my character “Agnes” not “Aces.” More memorable, less anti-climactic. Because if I was called “Agnes” I would never have succumbed to that little marketing imp that says “post…tweet…go on, market yourself…get your name out there…that’s it…that’s what a good actor does.” But I was given the name “Aces”…and despite the temptation to “hold my cards close to my chest,” I laid them out…albeit 1 at a time…but still, I laid them out.

So understandably, my family and closest friends are making the release of this movie a huge deal on my behalf. It has excited many and inspired others to know I’m in a movie they can go see in theaters. For that, I’m very grateful and humbled…especially when asked for an autograph. Ha! New experience for me! But then, I had someone call me their “hero.” Hero? Gives me a whole new perspective on why the words “I’m no hero” sound so cliché. It’s the first thing I wanted to say.

Do I deserve to celebrate this role in a major motion picture? Heck yeah. My initial video audition for this movie was among a few thousand…which got short-listed to a few hundred…and got further short-listed to the Top 50 or so for a call-back in front of the director. Much thanks to my amazing Virginia agent team, Sylvia Hutson (with Michael Hutson) who helped me get there, I went to New Orleans in the fall of 2010 and in front of Scott Hicks (director) won that role from a lot of really talented actors.

But hero? Reluctant. Because I can’t seem to shake this sense of trepidation as The Lucky One approaches its release tomorrow. Dunno. Maybe it’s because it’s such a long time coming. That has nothing to do, however, with my most nagging questions……Will you like the movie? Will you think I did a good job in the role? Will you be walking out of the theater saying, “I didn’t see Kendal…did you see Kendal? I thought Kendal said he was in this film,” and finally…Will you still love me in the morning?

So in an effort to silence that inner-Eeyore, I’ve confessed my heart’s trepidation and am now going to make a prediction –

Friday evening, I will hear my wife say “I told ya so!” I will find myself the most blessed “lucky one” on the planet, despite how the public answers the above questions. I have a gracious, kind, loving Heavenly Father who will continue to be in charge of my career, a family and a host of friends who love me and support my dreams regardless… and a beautiful, best-friend wife who has already committed to answering YES to that last question for at least the next 180 years. Furthermore, The Lucky One will not be the last major motion picture I act in. The release of this movie will be “something dying to spark new life” for me. And though many of you are thinking that you’ll just wait to see the movie in Netflix or PPV, you’ll find yourself THIS WEEKEND heading to the theater to get your “Sparks” on…or your “Zac” on…or…should I say it?…..get your “Kendal” on. LOL. ;)  I know my wife, immediate and entire extended family will be. And yes, I suppose I will be, too…dragged by the collar.

As for being someone’s “hero,” I will graciously accept……simply because I hate cliché.

Love to all!
k