Posts Tagged ‘Apostle Paul’

How important is  seating on a commercial airline flight?  Business types shoot hard and fast for first class, having grown accustomed to a life granted them by their acumen, success, or both.  Sometimes though, I wonder about some of first class’s denizens – how did you get here?  Look the type to be lounging and sipping a Martini or Mai-Thai you do not!  Personally, I fly coach and shoot for the rear since it is safer to wait for all the impatient people to exit the aircraft.  By the time they’re done jostling baggage and off to their next-oh-so-important destination, my walker is off the plane and I can continue on.  In coach though it’s always the “window vs. aisle” debate and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I was an aisle guy. What if you get stuck in the dreaded middle seat, sitting motionless amidst the neutral zone?

Welcome to the life of a guy named Matt Gesser, who – as hard as he tried to get a window seat – got stuck in the neutral zone on a Delta flight from Baltimore to Detroit, en-route to Tulsa, Oklahoma last week.  Like a good Dad, Matt was trying to get home for the football scrimmage of one of his sons.  A lover of both Jesus and Star Wars, it’s no surprise that he once helped with a church plant and that he works with Star Wars merchandise in his day job; the Imperial Crest tattoo on his arm is also a dead giveaway.  A husband and father of three boys, he’s always looking for inspiring stories and real life examples to share with his sons, as the eldest of the triad wants to one day play in the National Football League and the middle son, Stone, loves drawing things from Star Wars and watching Star Wars:  The Clone Wars with his dad.  It’s while sitting in that aisle seat that I met Matt.

Don’t ask me how the conversation started, I can’t remember.  I can tell you it covered everything from Jesus, Star Wars, and the connection between the Apostle Paul and The Terminator, to my story, the FENX Project, his work with Hasbro, how he moved across the country to help with a church plant, and what I hope to do once my job in Congress ends.   We talked the whole flight, one thing to another, much like Lando and Wedge racing to escape the reaction which precipitated the destruction of the Death Star II.  Towards the end of the conversation he assured me that one way or another this idea I have of traveling and speaking to share my journey with others would come to pass, and that he wanted to share my story with his sons to show them that “the impossible can become possible…”  It felt a little bit like living an episode of Touch…again.

Probably the best airline conversation I’ve ever had; who knew the neutral zone would ever be so important, that even an airline seat had a destiny?

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Last weekend I attended the Leadership Summit at National Community Church.  It’s a once a quarter event wherein all the Small Group Leaders and Ministry leaders at that church get together to listen to and learn from the staff.  The theme for this year has been “If Leaders (fill in the blank with something leaders should be doing)” Building off the successful format of past incarnations of Leadership Summit, this instance continued the trend of doing short TED style talks on various topics.  One in particular was Dave Schmidgall’s “If Leaders Embrace the Tension”, wherein he talked about living in that uneasy place of pressure where strings are being pulled, hard and uncomfortable questions are being asked and ease is nowhere to be found.  Yet, leaders are called to live in that space; just like leaders are sometimes asked to walk through the dark Valleys of Shadow with those who are living in them and struggling to press forward out of them (though like pronouncing the language of Mordor “there are few who can”).

After the summit last weekend I was ruminating on this idea of tension, and it became much harder and much more personal:  How do I live in the tension between reliance on the Creator and Master of the Universe (a good thing) and the continued pain, discomfort, and difficulty in life that I loathe but live in regularly because of my biology and medical history?  The answer is a simple one, but it isn’t easy: I just do.  I persevere because there is no other option. I get up every morning and ask the Master of the Universe to handle the things I can’t (and working in Congress is a lot of that).

The FENX was born of that tension, it’s helped answer some of the question of “how do we live  in this difficult space?”  If I didn’t have to live here, the need for the FENX wouldn’t exist; the future possibility of the “needs of the one meeting the needs of the many” might never even have been, and many of my crazy stories wouldn’t either.  As my friend Heather Zempel wrote recently, there is “Beauty in the Tension

My friend Andy Piscotti asked me this week what I might have to say if ever put in a “TED Talk” style situation as he was asking me my thoughts on this last Leadership  Summit.  more than anything thoughts on perseverance began to coalesce and he inspired me to get that on paper (or screen as it happens):

Perseverance is: “Steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success” or “Continuance in a state of grace leading finally to a state of glory”

Having been born ten weeks premature, expected not to live though the first night, raised by parents who were told my quality of life would be nil, had more procedures done on me than I can remember and bearing the scars to prove it, lived with Cerebral Palsy my whole life and all that’s brought with it, I know a little about perseverance; friends have said I actually have a PhD in it.

Our culture hates the idea of perseverance (or long-suffering) because it implies hardship, work, suffering, and maybe even loss; it is the antithesis of our “Society of instant gratification and ease”. You see it everywhere…even in A Galaxy Far Far Away…

Episode I clip of Anakin Skywalker before Jedi Council

I’m an unabashed Star Wars fanboy, and Yoda is my favorite character, but even Yoda doesn’t really like the idea of perseverance, because he says “Fear leads to anger; Anger leads to hate; Hate leads to suffering…” and he stops; he doesn’t know what’s beyond. I can hear Ian McKellen’s wizard voice whispering in Yoda’s head “You shall not pass…

If we need to find an answer to “What’s AFTER suffering, what’s on the other side?” (and we crave that answer when in the midst of it) Yoda doesn’t help, but Paul’s letter to the church in Rome does. In Romans 5:3-5 Paul writes: “but we rejoice in our sufferings, because suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character hope and this hope does not disappoint us because it comes to us through the Holy Spirit whom Christ has given us.”

So perseverance comes out of suffering, out of testing as James confirms in James 1:2-4 “for the testing of your faith develops perseverance”, but leads to character and an unwavering hope that is eternal –if you know Christ – and that hope is something our instant gratification culture yearns for even if they don’t know it, something they need leaders in culture to embody – and, as leaders, that means us.  As Captain Tal cautioned a trigger-happy Giulo in Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness:  “Forbear, Forbear, he must go through it”

As we attempt to embody this, reliant on the Holy Spirit to do it, may we continue in a state of grace until we reach that state of glory, and just tell Yoda the truth: Much to Learn, you still have.

 

 

I really like books; I like owning them, having shelves full of them, and reading them.  I’m currently in the midst of four separate books between various small groups and my own personal reading.  I started reading Frank Peretti at 11 years old and started collecting the Star Wars expanded Universe at 12; 17 years later my Star Wars  novels count is well over 80 and takes up three shelves of one of my bookcases.  I was obsessed with Christian apocalyptic fiction for most of Jr. High and High School thanks to the Left Behind books (but I won’t say anything more about that – except that I never finished the whole series).  When looking at my bookshelves, I never expected for it to hold a book by Donald Miller, the author of Blue Like Jazz (which is going to be released as a theatrical film soon)JRR Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Susan Cooper, G.P. Taylor, Chuck Colson, and two series on Philosophy and Popular Culture (Star Wars, Star Trek, Transformers, Terminator, Green Lantern, Batman, X-MEN, Battlestar Galactica, 24, LOST) sure, you’d find those, but Donald Miller?  Wasn’t he the guy that the “cool kids” read, those on the 21st Century cutting edge of Christianity?  Yeah, that was way too “Christian Hipster” for me when I actually thought about it, and I honestly would have rather read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books if given the choice (which I own but  haven’t finished).

All that changed one night a few weeks ago.  It was a cold Tuesday night and I’d just finished leading a C.S. Lewis reading group called “The Inklings” (what else would you call it?) when I ran into my friend Andy.  We hadn’t seen one another since the Leadership retreat for National Community Church a few weeks prior, so we got to talking.  Before we knew it we got talking about dreams, destiny, and how it takes intense conflict and perseverance to make a good story (all in “epic superhero/comic book movie” context as well as some of my own life story).  All of the sudden a light goes on inside Andy’s mind and he asks me “Have you ever read Donald Miller?”  I said “no”, and I wasn’t so eager to begin.    Andy began to explain that he understood my hesitation, as he didn’t like Donald Miller either, at first.  It wasn’t until he read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years that his perspective began to change (and he has now lead multiple smallgroups though this book).  In fact, my friend believed so much that I should read this book that he bought me a copy and had it sent to my house.  When that happens, you’ve got to give the book a shot because someone you respect sees it as a powerful vessel for wisdom, transformation, and change.  So I began reading.

This being my first experience with this author I didn’t know what to expect.  I had recently seen a trailer for the theatrical release of Blue Like Jazz and it looked very “indie and weird” (redundancy?).  I don’t really like “indie and weird”, except when it crosses over into “epic, super-ish, and full of awesome” like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World does (and SO WELL), because I live in the land of epic and I don’t’ like to stray outside those borders.  As I read I began to realize that one of the threads going through this book was the story of how Blue Like Jazz was going to become a movie: a ground floor account of the author’s life though that process and how it all went down (from characters, to conflict, inciting incidents, plot turns and the like).  I began to wonder “Has George Lucas done this?” and I found myself wishing the answer was yes.

Miller uses this book to look at his life as a story, and to ask the overall question of “what makes a good story and am I living one, a story worth living and inviting others to be a part of?”  As I read I realized that these were questions that I was (and am) consistently wrestling with in light of some of my experiences.  It brought to mind the ending of the two part episode of Facing Life Head On that I was featured in last year, when the host of the show, Brad Mates, says that I and my fellow interviewees had made our lives “stories worth telling”.  Does that mean that at the end of every day you have to be able to say that the day that just ended was worth it?  No, it does not, but worthwhile things have sure happened.  Often in our own stories it’s others that see the worth that we can’t as we’re in the midst of it, as I wrote about Kirk and Spock yesterday.

The book talks about how in Star Wars, the viewer can pause the movie at any point and ask the question “what does a certain character want and what do they have to overcome to get it?” and you know the answer.  Luke wants to become a Jedi and join the Rebellion; Leia wants to defeat the Empire; Han Solo want money so he can pay off Jabba the Hutt.  Ben Kenobi wants to teach Luke the ways of the Force.  Reader finds themselves asking, “what do I want and what do I have to overcome to get it?”  (Along that line of thinking I started to read Quitter by Jon Acuff and will blog about it when I finish the book).  I started asking myself, “is mine a story that is one others should be invited to participate in?” once the book raised this question.

In addressing this question, thoughts drift to The FENX (how can it not?)  I think of how that part of the my story touches and relates to so many other parts and is the fulfilment of some aspects (like wishing I were a superhero).  It’s also something that so many have been invited to be part of.  From Carl Sears and his wife Sheila at NBC to Brad Mates at Facing Life Head On; from radio show hosts Aleksander Danilov, Rick Amato, Anthony DiMiggaio, and Armstrong Williams to writers like Kate Tumerello and Roll Call newspaper.  Even two wonderful ladies who work at NASA and have become good friends of mine (one I actually went to high school with).  Not to mention friends in DC that find themselves part of the crazy incidents that happen on a regular basis and become wondrous tales.  It isn’t just my story anymore; they’ve all been invited to be part of it, and in accepting it’s become part of their story too.  One of the pastors at National Community Church once said that “everyone had that friend on college that was the crazy one that stuff happened to all the time; you either wanted to be around them or run from them because of that.”  I am fortunate to have friends that haven’t run away yet.

There’s still much ground to cover any always improvements to be made, and some of them monumental ones, but yes, I think my life to be a story worth living on the whole of it.  Remember that a good story requires intense conflict and perseverance – the road of The Greater Miracle is unpaved and sparsely trod – the Apostle Paul speaks to this in Romans 5:3-5 for a reason, venturing into the realm of suffering where Yoda dared not go.

What sort of story is your life, is it one that people want to be a part of?  Are you inviting people to be part of it?