Sunday, January 29, 2012


Have you ever followed up a juicy spurt of blurting out wrongdoings (or even personal hurts) of the recent past with the phrase, “I just had to get that off my chest,” or some similar idiom?

Is there something therapeutic about confession?

The Catholic church has been doing it for centuries. People go and confess, and I think we’d be hard-pressed to call every visitor to confessionals a devoted spiritual being. So is every successful confession laced with divine intervention, or is there something simple and naturally cleansing about confession?

Do you often feel better after opening up to a trusted friend and revealing the whole ugly truth?

I’d argue that we do. That there is.

Look at movies and stories, especially relational stories. Often the struggle presents itself because of a lie, a cover-up, a falsehood that’s then compounded. A climax comes when the main character at the heart of the deception comes clean. Typically there’s a dramatic moment in which the whole truth comes out, and whether or not the situation is resolved, there’s nearly always a change in the confessing character.

There’s something healing in unburdening.

I know little about the fields of psychology and counseling, but I do have an understanding that a lot of therapy seems to come in the form of telling the full story, the whole truth.

Has christiandom today, specifically protestantism (but maybe to some degree modern catholicism too), lost the art of confession?

We have our accountability. It was a hot word a decade or two ago. Now ‘accountability’ seems to be a simple and accepted requirement to entry into the Christian faith (along with ‘quiet time’, ‘praise band’, and ‘fair-trade coffee’). But isn’t accountability kind of sort of based on guilt? Doing things or not doing things to avoid the guilt we’ll feel in having to admit weekly or whatever that we’ve failed.

I think a life lived in openness - practicing on-going confession - is an existence that at least allows the possibility of victory over sin without the fear of guilt as the driving factor. The times in my life when I’ve been the most open, generally surrounded by people who were deeply invested in the innermost aspects of my life, have been the times that I’ve felt the most free from sin. Integrity comes not from inner willpower, but from having nothing to hide and from hiding nothing.

And when we do mess up, confess. Make it a habit, and life actually may become easier to live.

That’s my opinion, and my experience. And it’s not actually all that spiritual. It’s just simple. Could it be that God made us that way?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Self-Worth in Song

Depression. Self-Worth. Self-Esteem.

All issues I’ve never faced. At least not personally. I have many struggles, but those are not among them. Anyone who knows me can probably attest to it. If anything, I tend toward an inflated view of self and I may be a little overly happy at times. But they are ongoing struggles for many of the wonderful women in my life. So I try to understand, but I usually don’t. I try to help, but am best stepping into the shadows and letting someone else do the empathizing and encouraging.

I’ve said here before that there are two primary ways I experience and understand emotion: through the psalms and through music. I often can’t express emotions that are deep down inside, and even more frequent I feel I have no basis for understanding the emotions of others. Songs help me, especially with the latter.

Today I had a bit of extra time after lunch so I went for an afternoon run in sunny Marseille. I don’t usually visit the park near our house on weekday afternoons, and discovered today that I didn’t quite fit in with the rest of the crowd. I was surrounded by walking pregnant women, homeless people (one of whom may have been Santa Claus), and young lovers. As I ran through the sparsely populated park, a song came on my headphones and I listened intently for the first time.

The voice belonging to Jenny - of Jenny and Tyler (a married music duo) - came cutting through in what sounded like raw emotion, and for the first time I felt something I’d never understood. I stood on top of a hill and looked over a city, wondering how many people were feeling the same awful, cutting feelings. As the song ended, I immediately wished my baby daughter were already a teenager, so I could share this piece of art as a way to open up and to show hope. A great song. Listen to the end.

Through Your Eyes: Jenny and Tyler

The backstory.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Language Gaffes

Learning a second language is hard. No way around it. Hard. There’s so much to think about: phonetics, spelling, grammar, tenses, familiar vs formal, the list goes on and on. Ahh!! And we must get it all perfect. Right? Well, no. Why? If one learns a language to perfection, that makes him an academic. If one learns to a point of utilization, that makes him a communicator. And I’d argue that the second is far more rewarding than the first.

But that’s enough about that. You know what’s fun? Mistakes. We all make them. And not just language learners, native speakers too!

Yesterday I read a newsletter written by a French friend of mine. She ended the editorial letter with a typical French salutation, je t'embrasse chacun (which essentially translates to my kisses to each one of you). Except a little typo changed everything. She left out one letter and the greeting became je t'embrase chacun (I set each of you ablaze). Quite a bit different!

Reading/hearing mistakes from native speakers does make me feel a bit better about my own frequent faults. But that does not erase them. Here’s a few of my favorite ones from the past:

-When leaving a friend’s house I made a simple conjugation error and tried to explain myself by saying “my brain is tired” but instead said “my goat is tired” (I still don’t know where I pulled ‘goat’ from, the two words aren’t even similar in French).

-In Swahili, a single vowel change morphs a greeting of “how are you?” (lit. ‘no problem’) to “are you farting?” Or the response can easily morph into “I’m farting”. I had a lot of fun with that one. Mostly on purpose.

-I once went to a music practice session with a local songwriter. On the phone he’d asked me to bring something. I didn’t understand perfectly, but thought I had the gist of what he asked. So I loaded up my 50’ extension cord and headed out. When I arrived, he thanked me for the extension cord and asked if I’d brought the amp adapter he’d asked for (a tiny 1” long piece of metal).

-One night we were playing games with some French friends, and one young man handed out paper to everyone in a circle. He then began his instructions in English by saying, “so you take this piece of sheet...” (say it out loud).

-Another mistake I made more than once when learning Swahili a few years back was leaving out a syllable of “see you tomorrow” and saying instead “we will get married tomorrow”.

Today I visited our local school and talked to the directrice. Before I left she complimented me on my French. She then said that hearing my accent made her want to travel more (after deliberation I decided to take that as a compliment). Either way I walked away feeling good about my language abilities. When I went home later, I began the conversation by telling my wife, “so the school directrice is really nice.” Then it hit me that my first impressions of people in France as nice or not are wholly based on whether or not they compliment my French! Even better if they laugh at my jokes...

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Take Action. Words are Empty.

A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, "Son, go work today in the vineyard."
And he answered, "I will not"; but afterward he regretted it and went.
The man came to the second and said the same thing.
And he answered, "I will, sir"; but he did not go.
Which of the two did the will of his father?

They said, “The first.”

Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you."

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Follow the Leader

Walking through a small French ski town I noticed a simple, perfect metaphor for something I’ve been struggling with: leadership in the family context.

There was a father carrying his skis on one shoulder, walking slowly and carefully down the sidewalk. He stopped at a crosswalk, awaited the walk signal, and crossed the road to arrive at the ski lift base. Behind him were two small children, both carrying skis in a similar fashion, following carefully in their fathers’ footsteps. This man could have saved himself a lot of time had he left the congested sidewalk, hopped some snow piles, and walked down the road like many of the other skiers. But he didn’t. He couldn’t. He was leading his family. The children were mimicking his every move, and he had to model what they needed.

Since the beginning of my wedded bliss I’ve always said that the hardest thing about marriage is that I’m no longer thinking and acting for one. Every decision, every action, affects my wife just as it does me. Maybe in a certain situation I’d be happy to sacrifice my own comfort, but I can’t just snap to that decision because I’m not the only one sacrificing. Sometimes I speak too quickly, before I think through every side of a response and how it affects BOTH of us. As it turns out, rippling consequences multiply even more so as my family grows.

Now I have a wife, two kids, and we live far from every comfortable memory and familiar face from the first 25+ years of our lives. More than ever my family needs me to be a leader. So I drive and direct, I do finances, I deal with legal paperwork, I even make hard family decisions. But that’s not leading, at least it’s not all of it. I spend time with my kids, I do chores... all good things, but still not what my family needs of me.

I need to walk the path that I want my kids, my wife, my whole family to walk together.

Diverge for a second... allow me to explain why something so simple is so hard for me. I have this weird complex about hiding the ‘good’ things I do. Not exactly hiding, but sort of shielding. It’s like this strange attempt at running from pride that I’ve ingrained in myself. I nearly always make gifts for my wife surprises, because I don’t want her to have even a hint that I’m doing something nice. If I’m home alone I make that my time to clean the house or wash an extra load of dishes/laundry, all because I don’t want to look like I’m begging for praise... or something. Instead of openly declaring a time to study the Bible, I find times that are blank spots in the day where no one will notice if I disappear for 30 minutes. Yes, I’m strange.

But that which I have always done is the opposite of what my family needs right now. I must sacrifice my own preferences and ticks to walk the walk that my family needs to walk. I need to stop doing worthwhile things in secret, and start doing them in front of and amongst my family. I must do it not for myself, but for the value that will be learned and adopted by those that love and respect me. I need to interpret the needs of my family and do exactly those things.

I should get up early, even though I don’t want to (or think I need to). I ought to organize and streamline in a way that makes sense to someone other than just myself. I have to deal with the discomfort of living my life as an open book, which must include the good things. I have two beautiful children that already imitate everything I do. Lead by example, right? It’s not that hard.

And then there's this:Where does he get these ideas?!