Monday, December 5, 2011

Geri, Meet Facebook

With only four days left in Budapest, we are saying our fair share of "goodbye's." Everyday we wake up, sometimes in a panic, and think, "Ok, did we say 'bye' to 'him' or 'her'...Oh! And what about 'them'?" It's as if we have some sort of sick Christmas list where we cross off the people to whom we've bid adieu. Last Sunday my friend Geri came over to wish us well on our journey and share some French press coffee with us. Geri and I have had many conversations about many topics--politics, hiking, European culture--but I never imagined our last conversation would revolve around friendship within Facebook.

Geri and I have been practicing our respective English and Hungarian speaking skills over coffee with each other for almost a year. Since my Hungarian is about as solid as the Euro and Geri is a beginner-level English speaker, we've both needed the practice. But this Sunday, with much-needed help from caffeine, we spoke freely and with ease about what it means to be a friend in Hungary and on Facebook.

"I don't understand," Geri said while shaking his head and hands simultaneously, "I have a friend, I see him on street or at home, why this cyber world?" Hungarians and Americans define friendship differently. The analogy we often hear and use is one of a peach and a cantaloupe. Americans are like the peach: Easy to access on the outside, but once you get to the core it's much harder to break in. Hungarians are like a cantaloupe: There is a hard outer shell that's difficult to break through, but when you do it's sweet and much softer inside. So you can see why, once you're in, Hungarians take friendship seriously and don't call just anyone their "friend."

Given our fruity analogy, it's easy to see just how American Facebook really is. Everyone can be your friend, in fact you can have thousands of friends--the more, the better! You can sink your teeth into everyone's soft outer skin, "liking" their music, movie or political preferences. It's a hyper-extension of the person behind the keyboard who is constantly updating and refining their internet avatar. Just how real is the person you see on Facebook? Well, that's a question that both Hungarians, philosophers and anyone who has ever thought about dating a potential Facebook "catch" has asked.

It's not that Hungarians aren't on Facebook, because many are, it's just not for Geri. "Where is life, it's right here...You and me." Geri was making his point about the present and it's place in a friendship. Through out our Sunday morning coffee date, Geri made his case for "real friendship" versus "hyper-real friendship." It wasn't an annoying or overbearing attack on something new, like an old man would complain about a new street that brings too much traffic through his neighborhood, it was simply an appeal for life to be enjoyed right now, in the moment.

Instead of refining his circle of friends as those who are "close friends, family" or just "coworkers," Geri prefers to cultivate close friendships over coffee, attend family birthday celebrations and get to know his coworkers at work. What I love about Geri's detachment from Facebook is how genuinely real it makes him. When we're talking about how much we love the coffee we're drinking, he doesn't whip out his smartphone to tell dozens of pseudo-friends about it. Whenever Geri celebrates Christmas with his family in twenty-some-odd days, he won't leave the table to tweet about the outstanding goulash his Mama made. Geri is simply here, with his friends and family, not "out there" promoting his avatar on Facebook or Twitter.

Geri has taught me a lot about being grounded. "How many friends do you have in the US," he asked me just before he left. Because I know Geri, I didn't feel the need to impress him with some great number. "Three, maybe four close ones," I answered, constantly reevaluating in my mind the ones I can truly call friends. Geri simply nodded his head, finished the last of his coffee and smiled.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hospitality and the "Pop-In"

Hungary has taught us how to be spontaneous. The other night our friend Dáni Hamar came by to pick something up and hang out for a few minutes. As we stood in our entry way, talking about the change in weather and the boat trip we recently took together, Dáni’s brother, Dávid, called. It turned out Dávid was just down the street and Dáni wanted to know if his brother could pop in for a minute.

Now Let me pause the story here. Honesty is a quality we both admire and sometimes loathe in our Hungarian friends; it depends on the situation and what they are being honest about. But that night, as Dáni hung up the phone and waited for his brother to arrive, he made an honest inquiry about whether we could host the two Hungarian brothers for dinner. His boldness in asking us to host a meal on such short notice was both endearing and exciting!

Luckily for the brothers Hamar, Allie had already planned on whipping up some Tex-Mex for the evening. So there we were, two Americans rushing around the kitchen, eager to show our Hungarian friends that we too can be hospitable. When Dávid walked through the door, Allie was preparing chicken tacos with beans and rice, while I took the cork out of our best bottle of wine. We all stood in our kitchen, sipping wine and laughing as we told stories and waited for our impromptu supper.

The meal was a hit! Allie hit a home run, which is no surprise to anyone who knows her. Through out supper our conversation was only interrupted by, “mmmm” or “Ha! This is so good--Nagyon finom, Allie (very delicious, Allie)!”

Afterwards, we sat with our elbows on the table and reclined into more casual conversation. I kept thinking, “This moment was brought to you by ‘Spontaneity’.” And it’s true, because if we had said we were too busy or didn’t have enough food for everyone, we would have missed this moment. Nights like that one make me incredibly thankful for Hungarian spontaneity, honesty, hospitality and their appetite for life.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Cold War Kids: Mine is Yours

One of the drawbacks to living overseas is IP restriction. For example, if you want to watch a late-night movie on NetFlix or listen to free music on Pandora, you will find an unnerving message awaiting you: “Due to licensing restrictions, we cannot allow you to watch/listen to this awesome site you once greatly enjoyed in the US--have a terrible day.” The first time Pandora recognized my European IP address and slammed its cyber-door, I scrambled to find alternatives for sampling new music. Thankfully, I stumbled upon and there found the new album by the Cold War Kids, Mine is Yours.

The Cold War Kids were wedged in between Cage the Elephant and The Black Keys on Jango’s “alternative” station. Their “alternative” sound is exactly why I love CWK. Lead singer Nathan Willet’s unconventionally high voice and penetrating melodies are a perfect match for guitarist Jonnie Russell’s jagged riffs. The Kids from Long Beach, CA manage to channel Southern blues with triumphant soul searching and pulsing rhythms. Though they've not yet won awards for their creative efforts, their latest album establishes CWK as an unsuspecting talent with stories to tell.

In Mine is Yours, Willet and company get much more personal than their last two studio LP’s. Songs like “Louder Than Ever” and “Mine is Yours” portray a journey away from love and back into its arms again. Instead of detached, third-person storytelling, Willet sings about “I” and “you.” In “Louder Than Ever,” he reflects, “I was takin’ you for granted, you were holding the reigns, but I can hear you louder than ever.” The simple switch to first person opens up CWK for inspection and allows listeners to connect with Willet’s winding path.

When I listen to Mine is Yours, I hear someone who has traveled the globe, tapped into the full spectrum of human emotions and lived to sing about it. And after the last few years, it's a surprise to many that CWK is singing at all. Following the huge success of their first album (Robbers & Cowards), the Kids received scathing reviews for their sophomore album (Loyalty to Loyalty). The effort was criticized as sloppy, loose and devoid of any real substance. In an interview with RELEVANT Magazine, Willet admits to selling his own bandmates short by closing himself off and "not stepping out and saying something" in their earlier efforts.

The darkness, confusion and even criticism of their second album seems to have laid the groundwork for something more authentic. The result is a weathered, yet brighter, musical expression, one that I can respect. The song "Finally Begin" betrays the wounded heart of an artist who faces the cold, cruel world and is left with a decision. "Do I open up my arms wide and learn to trust again or keep my eyes to the floor and just look out for myself?"

It’s risky being an artist. Art asks you to put yourself “out there” for the masses to either empathize or criticize, understand or scorn and various shades in between. I appreciate CWK’s boldness in sharing their experiences, especially since they were at first hesitant to do so. It takes a lot of guts and talent to use music to tell a story, especially your own. Even so, the Cold War Kids' emotional investment on this album gives us something deeper than story, where narrative and experience intersect: real life.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Bence, meet Starbucks

Two weeks ago I met my friend Bence for coffee. The last time we met, we watched the Dallas Mavericks beat the Heat in a replay of the NBA Finals. Since our prior meeting had us feeling “quite American,” we agreed to meet at a newly-built Starbucks for a cup of Joe.

Inside the Starbucks at Király Utca (“King Street”), Bence was eager with curiosity. “I’ve never had Starbucks before, so this will be a first,” he said in a barely-excited rhythm fit for 9:30am. Unbeknownst to Bence, his morning was about to get very interesting when Hungarian and American cultures would engage in an awkward head-on collision.

Bence reluctantly dished out the money for over-priced coffee and was then asked, “And what’s your name?” The question caught him off guard and in a double take he replied, “tessék (“excuse me”)? He had already given too much money for coffee that ranks about average in Budapest, but Bence wasn’t sure he wanted to give his name to Lady Starbucks as well. Asking for someone’s name is just as personal as asking, “How are you,” and it doesn’t happen here as a passing gesture. All the same, he relented and the strangely friendly barista scribbled his name on the cup.

“What was that about,” Bence turned to me and asked. Now I had some explaining to do. Because my wife was once a fully-indoctrinated Starbucks barista, I was able to draw from my well of Starbucks corporate and consumer culture.

I explained that most Americans don’t sit down for a three-hour cup of coffee (which is common in Hungary) and so asking someone’s name puts a personal touch on an otherwise impersonal transaction. Cue the blank stare. I went on to tell Bence about the “third place,” a setting that isn’t home or work but a place where “community happens.” “You see, Bence, Americans go from home, to car, to office and so they need a place where they can actually interact with one another,” I said as we made our way to an air-conditioned lounge area.

I could tell that Bence’s head was still spinning. In Hungary, community is one of the primary values of the culture. We often have people apologize to us for being able to “only” spend two hours over tea, coffee or a beer. Even when you are growing plants on your balcony, everyone in the building will have an opinion on how they should be watered and taken care of. As opposed to America, one must work hard to separate themselves from community in Budapest.

Eventually Bence settled into his comfortable chair and enjoyed his first Starbucks coffee. We had a great conversation, talked about sports, music and international politics. But the best part of our time that morning took place when we left the American coffeehouse. For the next two hours Bence led me on a walk through the city. Much like our meandering conversation, we wandered about and simply enjoyed the cool, morning air.

Bence taught me that I don’t need a building to have community. All I need is people, time and genuine interest. As a timesaving, on-the-go American, I have gained a lot from Hungarians. And if we leave Hungary next year, I hope I can take back with me Bence’s high appraisal of community. I hope I can still schedule coffee appointments with no agenda or impending meeting. I pray I can make space for people to interrupt my schedule, even if it means paying four bucks for over-roasted coffee—for community, it’s worth it.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Video: "You're Never Giving Up"

This song has been wrecking my heart for months now. Ever since I've found Jonathan David Helser's music I've been in touch with someone who uses worship music to sincerely connect with the living God. As someone who is now leading worship, it's a constant challenge to put my heart out there and have it be something genuine that I am singing to God and leading other people to worship through.

Because the past year and four months has been one in which I have often questioned, "Is God really here for me; Will He leave me this time," this song has broken me with the reminder of God's unending love.

Watch the video above and let me know what you think. What spoke to you about the song? Which words touched your heart?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Listen to the King

When the NBA Finals kicked off, I swore I wouldn’t be one of “those guys” who cheered for the Mavs simply to spite the Heat. Though Lebron James has done enough to make people criticize him from afar (see here and here) and the Miami fans are rumored to be the worst in the NBA (according to Charles Barkley’s trustworthy opinion), rooting against a team--or player--seems to suck the fun out of sports and replace it with bitterness. Even with all of this well-reasoned basketball moralizing, I caved in by Game Six and caught myself hoping for a Heat loss.

I turned sour towards the Heat after I saw a video with Dwayne Wade and Lebron mocking Dirk Nowitzki. I don’t watch a lot of Mavs basketball, but while we visited our family in the Dallas I was able to catch the Western Conference Finals. Dirk played incredibly and with great character, doing little, if any, trash talking. So when it was reported that Dirk played sick and with a fever against the Heat in Game Four of the Finals, I was impressed! The Heat, not so much. Apparently Wade and Lebron thought his sickness was a little feigned and that the media blew it out of proportion--hence the video linked above.

Whatever their reason for poking fun at Dirk, the whole incident was arrogant and, in Dirk’s own words, “childish.” So I decided from that moment on to cheer against the Heat (oh yeah, and for the Mavs). What was I looking for in a Mavs win? For Wade and Lebron to be put in their place, to learn their lesson and recognize the higher road of integrity. In two words: too much.

I became like so many sports fans who put entirely too much stock in a game. In wanting “justice” for Dirk and heaping contempt on Wade and Lebron, I was acting no better than the European soccer hooligans I hear so much about, who fight and maim “football” players--on the home or visiting team--for winning or losing. All of the negative energy is tied to an unmerciful and unforgiving attitude. So I cannot help but wonder, what does my so-called defense-of-Dirk say about me?

When the Heat finally lost Game Six, Lebron was asked if it bothered him that so many people were hoping he would fail? He answered,

“Absolutely not, because at the end of the day, all the people that were rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day, they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today...They have the same personal problems they had today.” (Brian Mahoney, AP)

I believe I’ve just been told. The uncrowned king has a point. All of us sports fans who hang our entire hopes and hate, cheers and boo’s or dreams and despair on professional sports need to get a life: our own. Lebron exercised outstanding wisdom by sending the hate he so often received back to its rightful owner. My hatred for Lebron, any athlete or team says a lot more about what’s inside of me than it does about someone’s sports performance.

Another King once said, “[O]ut of the overflow of [the] heart [the] mouth speaks.” And, “[H]e who has been forgiven little loves little.” I must admit that I’ve had a tough week and Lebron James made for a perfect whipping boy. On him I could hang my condemnation because it felt good to hurt other people when I was hurting. The times when I am most harsh on my favorite or most hated sports icons are usually those very times when I myself feel hated or condemned.

Lebron is right. I still have this aching heart and imperfect life, even after a Mavs victory. Sports is great for entertainment, but in terms of therapy it can only indicate which problems we have in life; not solve them. Jesus is also right. My reactions to these sports events are a telling barometer for where my heart lies. In the meantime I will continue to watch and enjoy sports. More importantly, I will continue to be thankful for the King who was and is willing to take my scorn, abuse, blows. For the One who through life and death revealed my hatred and then was gracious enough to begin healing it.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Why all the blood?

This morning I opened my laptop and began surfing around the internet, searching for something interesting to start my day. Every morning I look for an exciting and revelatory news headline or an encouraging sports score. "Wow, Syria is protesting...the Astros won, just six more games to .500!" What I didn't expect this morning, largely because I forgot what day it is, was a gruesome picture of Jesus staring at me from the cross.

The shot-in-the-arm I was looking for in my dawn, internet surf session was more like a shot in the gut. "Well, that's kind of a downer," I thought. And then it hit me, "What's the cross all about anyway; What's the point in Jesus being betrayed, tortured and dying; Isn't this 'Good Friday' thing a little over-the-top?"

The thing that bothers me most about the cross of Jesus is all the blood. I hate blood. I can't be around it, I don't like talking about it and I certainly don't like seeing my own. I once convinced a professor to turn off an in-class video of a woman giving birth because I had turned white and put my head between my legs--the blood and flowing liquids were just too much for me.

Even though I'm a Christian, I confess that sometimes it's hard for me to understand why Jesus had to shed his blood--and so much of it. Why did he go through the scourging and have his flesh torn from his body? Why did he willingly receive a barbed crown of thorns on his head (Everyone knows head wounds bleed easily)? And why did the Son of God, "God with us," go through a merciless Roman crucifixion? Jesus' blood would have been smeared all over Jerusalem. His divine DNA trail would have been easily followed to the place of his death outside the holy city.

A week ago I was walking to church when I had to step over a large, fresh pool of blood on the sidewalk. I have no idea how it got there, but its owner was long gone and the blood was slowly moving down a slope into the street. Throughout my entire week I had to walk down that same sidewalk. Each day I watched as the red blood made a path, turned brown and stained the concrete. I kept wondering, "What happened to this person last Saturday night?" If Jesus was looking to make a lasting impression with his death, there's no question that he chose the perfect means to his end.

So, like I asked at the beginning, why? In my clean, sterile, controlled little world, the shedding of blood interrupts everything. Suddenly I'm uncomfortable and can't keep from asking "why?" Inherent in my question is a desperate plea for sanity, for justice, for things to be cleaned up. Part of me simply hates the sight of blood, but a deeper part of me hates why it was violently forced from someone's body. To understand the "why" behind violence, we must learn to see it in ourselves.

It's too easy to remove myself from headlines about a violent "Ivory Coast Civil War" or the deaths of "800 Egyptian protestors." Most days it's hard to see how such tragic events relate to me. It's easier for me to scoff at "barbaric" acts of violence and separate myself from "those monsters." But when I face up to the innocent blood I shed daily, my perspective changes.

I am in traffic, my blood begins pumping and I fire a murderous gesture or comment at anyone who dares to interfere. I am at work, and I cut the throat of anyone who stands in my upward path to the top. I am on the bus, the doors fling open and I thrust my shoulder into the people who won't let me get off before they try to get on. The truth is, I do everything I can to protect myself and my world--even if it means using violent force.

Jesus knew we needed to see the physical manifestation of all our violent acts. He knew we needed to see the shed blood in order to understand the severity of our crimes. He understood that not everyone would understand, and some people would reject the cross outright. But if it weren't for the most innocent, beautiful and miraculous of men suffering at the hands of sinners and holy people alike, we might have gone on thinking everything was alright. If it weren't for the bloody crucifixion of Jesus, we might have stayed in our plastic-wrapped worlds, content to ignore our pain and the pain around us. Jesus' spilled blood made quite a mess, but it's the only way we can come clean.

Monday, March 7, 2011

I Messed Up the Macaroni

My pregnant wife is on bed rest so I've been trying to help out a bit more around the flat. My hands are dried and cracked from daily dish duty and I'm developing expert timing when it comes to simultaneously washing and hang drying clothes. Allie likes to laugh and call me a "lady" when I talk about "all the laundry I have to do today." I've told her over and over again how sexist her jokes are, but some women just don't get it.

So far, my favorite inherited task is cooking dinner. Whereas I use to play video games to let my mind rest in nothing space, preparing dinner has been a restful end to my day. And fellas, if you want to surprise your lady and make a meal, the internet has never made it easier! The other night I browsed the Food Network's website for Friday-night Mac 'n Cheese. All I had to do was follow the simple steps and "one, two, three," Mr. Mom made another wonderful meal.

Internet recipes are foolproof, unless you get greedy and try to double the recipe. After two hours of chopping, pouring, preheating, grating and making an impromptu grocery run, I was ready to hear, "You're the best husband in the world!" Instead, I left out about half of the cheese needed and heard, "Does it taste cold to you?" The reason it tasted cold was for lack of cheese and excess milk, which cooled the meal almost instantly after it left the oven. Now I was the one feeling cold, and bitter, because my heroic cooking effort failed.

At this point some of you might have thrown up your hands and ordered a pizza--not me. I stormed back into the kitchen and pitched the cooling casserole dish into the oven with a "crash!" While I waited and hoped the oven would fix my miscalculation, I melted down faster than a half-serving of Euro cheese. I've never been more pissed off about Mac 'n Cheese and more confused as to why I was so angry.

Being the sympathetic and proven cooking veteran she is, Allie graciously told me it would be ok and asked me to sit down. Then she fired a question: "Do you think this Mac 'n Cheese represents your life right now? It's messy and imperfect. And the harder you try, the worse things get?" The oven light suddenly turned on inside and I grew quiet.

Lately I've had a lot of trouble allowing myself to be human. I take the wrong bus and whip myself for it. I say the wrong Hungarian phrase in a café and then cower in embarrassment. The Mac 'n Cheese incident was the capstone of a week when I felt painfully human. For some reason I have this expectation that I should be a better husband, cook and even Christian.

In preparing to teach from Genesis this week, I've noticed just how imperfect people in the Old Testament can be. People sleep around, lease out their wives to avoid trouble, kill each other and still God is gracious. The Patriarchs--Abraham, Isaac and Jacob--continually disobey God and put their entire family at risk. And yet God reiterates his promises to bless them, multiply them into a "great nation" and take them into the promised land. No matter how hard they try, the Patriarchs' humanness doesn't get in the way of God's purposes.

This is the kind of God I need. This kind of God allows humans to be human, so long as they are willing to let God take His place. It's when I think that I can control everything, rely solely on myself and live without flaws that I stop being fully human. It's then that I step into the role of demigod, not quite divine and unwilling to simply be human. I have found a sweet grace, however, in releasing my claim to divinity and embracing my humanity. When I make that surrender, suddenly I feel lighter and more peaceful about my changing circumstances.

I'm sick of playing God; I'm ready to be more human. I want to order another cappuccino, even if it means I'll be awake until 2am. I want to take the wrong bus and enjoy the view on my way to an unknown destination. I want to burn dinner and laugh about it over pepperoni pizza. I want to take risks and not be afraid of fear. I want to trust in the God who is love and is powerful enough to overcome me and my mistakes.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Lessons from a Year

Today we celebrate our one-year anniversary of living in Budapest. It’s frigid and overcast outside, which means it is still winter in Central Europe. While I am thankful for the snow I can’t help but hope for sunshine, and soon. We are both feeling a little depressed today. We miss home and wonder what the next year holds. In this melancholy state, I hit my knees desperately searching for hope and answers when I came across Matthew 28:16-20.

This passage is commonly referred to as “The Great Commission.” As missionaries, we have read this passage a thousand times before we left and re-read a couple more thousand since we’ve been here. Today, however, I am floored by a few things that either I haven’t paid much attention to or have never noticed at all.

The eleven disciples, who have been through the emotional ringer and even lost one of their own, gather at a mountain where Jesus instructed them to meet. When they see the resurrected, crucified Lord, “they worshipped him, but some doubted” (v.17). Then Jesus makes yet another dramatic statement, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (v.18). Apparently being nailed to a Roman cross didn’t soften Jesus’ flare for the controversial.

The first thing to observe is the power of Jesus and frailty of His followers. Verses 17 and 18 remind me that Jesus is still God-in-the-flesh and the disciples are still human. After laying eyes on the risen Jesus, some of the disciples break out in triumphant worship and still others have the audacity to doubt him! I can’t help but wonder which crowd I would have joined. Despite seeing God work miracles before my eyes and within my own heart, I still have trouble trusting Him. God only knows why He would call me to go overseas in the midst of the darkest season of spiritual doubt I have ever experienced.

Even so, Jesus does not rebuke the doubters or call them foolish for being skeptical of what they see. Instead He affirms his authority over all things (an incredible statement) and charges the half-believing riffraff with a worldwide rescue mission:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (v.19-20).

The second observation I have so often missed deals with how one makes disciples, by “baptizing” and “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” I can say with certainty that I haven’t always taken seriously everything Jesus taught and commanded. After all, Jesus did and commanded a lot of crazy things: The casting out of demons, healing the sick, healing the lame, multiplying food resources and even raising the dead. He can’t be asking His followers today to “observe” or obey those things?

While living in Europe, I have seen God heal people on more than one occasion. The first time it happened I thought my brain would short-circuit. I didn’t have a category for “modern-day miracles.” It made me feel uncomfortable, out of control and humbled, like watching lightning strike a building and shut down all of its power. I am seeing just how important it is for God to display His power in a place like Europe, where God is by-and-large a subject to be discussed in Philosophy courses. Despite yours or my system of theology, Jesus is still empowering His followers to heal people, cast out demons and even raise the dead.

The final words of Jesus, as recorded by Matthew, are the most intimate of His commission. The promise to be “with you always, to the end of the age” is one I have clutched dearly over the past year. When my ugliness and selfishness seems too potent to have divinity anywhere near me, God is here. Regardless of my doubtful thoughts, overwhelming feelings or hateful actions, I can’t stop Jesus from being the great “I AM.” Jesus simply won’t leave me alone, and I am thankful.

Jesus’ persistence in loving us and breaking out of our boxes reminds me of a quote from CS Lewis in Surprised by Joy, so I’ll close with it.

In describing his hatred for authority, Lewis explains how he tried desperately to be a rebellious individual, to hide himself even from God...

“But Christianity placed at the center what then seemed to me a transcendental Interferer...There was no region even in the innermost depth of one’s soul (nay, there least of all) which one could surround with a barbed wire fence and guard with a notice No Admittance.”

Friday, February 11, 2011

Riding Along

On my way home tonight I sat next to a homeless man riding the metro line around Budapest. Sometimes homeless people will ride the metro from the beginning of the line to the end because it’s warm and provides a comfortable place to sit. I watched as this man used the window next to him for a pillow and gazed into nowhere. I can’t stop thinking about that guy’s life. He’s not really going anywhere, but he still rides and the tram will take him somewhere.

Tonight I feel like the homeless and aimless metro passenger. It’s been nearly one year since we moved to Hungary and it still doesn’t feel like home. And when it comes to our service here, I’m moving forward but I don’t know where to. I’ve tried my hand in many different areas (I believe working with youth is my best option), but what impact can I really have in two years? I have lots of questions, but that doesn’t seem to slow this tram down.

I use to think my life’s calling was to be a teacher of the Bible. “If only I could teach at a church,” I daydreamed, “then I would be truly content and happy.” After all, I am creative, can tell a funny story, am an effective communicator and I love the Bible. Lately, however, I’ve realized that a few witty jokes, a couple of catchy phrases in a sermon and an enjoyable stage presence isn’t enough. It’s not enough for me or the world I live in.

So what do I do? I can’t help but feel like my well-crafted Bible talks aren’t going to change the world. These little blog posts will, at the most, render a barely-audible, “hmmm, interesting thought.” I also can’t help but wonder if the most important part of my week is spent playing Wii Tennis with a sophomore in high school. I wonder about those seemingly small interactions with students that slowly build a friendship. Isn’t this what it’s about? Sacrificing a little time, and sometimes glory, to waste my life on a high school student who just wants to know he’s loved?

I use to long for a cushy preacher job that provided me a book deal with Zondervan and a popular podcast. I know it’s important to reach a wide audience, especially if one has the gift of communicating God’s love well, but it’s not the end of the line. If I never write a popular Christian book, it doesn’t mean I haven’t “arrived.” We’re all riding this tram and all of us have to exit eventually. I still don’t know exactly where I’m heading, or at which stop I will have to get off, but at least I’m awake and growing aware of the people around me.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The King's Father

It sometimes takes a while for movies to make their way to Budapest. So when The King's Speech hit our theaters we were eager to see what all the buzz was about. Last night I was a part of a giddy group of missionaries who had heard about the movie from friends "back home" and were finally able to see it. The hyped-up Best Picture favorite did not disappoint.

In case you live overseas like me, or just have something against popular movies with great reviews, the plot goes like this. Britain's reigning King George V is dying; two brothers stand in line for the throne. The elder brother, Edward VIII (or David), is conflicted between the crown and a consuming love interest. The younger brother, George VI (or Bertie), wants not to usurp his brother, but more seriously is held captive by fear in the form of a stammer.

When David willfully steps away from the inherited throne, Bertie begrudgingly enlists the help of an unorthodox speech therapist--Lionel Logue. With Lionel's persistent help and friendship, Bertie is transformed into a more confident King George VI and rallies Great Britain at the start of World War II.

Though the story focuses primarily on George VI overcoming an embarrassingly painful speech impediment, I want to highlight the relationship between him and his father. King George V knows Bertie is fit for the throne, yet he too is frustrated by his son's inability to speak clearly and "Get it out!" All the frustrated father can think to do is shout and order modifications to his son's posture and pronunciation. Unsurprisingly, it doesn't work.

Unbeknownst to both father and son is the disastrous effect a father's disapproval can have on a boy-turned-man. Only Lionel sees the deeper core issue that Bertie is facing when he stammers: Fear. Bertie fears he cannot be a worthy King almost entirely because he fears that he has been a disappointment to his royal father. The stammer is merely a symptom of a soul desperate for approval.

Bertie's elder brother David also struggles with Papa's approval. Our first glimpse of David might be deceptive, though. He doesn't appear insecure of his father's love. He first appears in the movie confidently piloting and landing a plane. We then hear of David gallivanting with various women, some of whom are currently married. David lives the life of a King-to-be, doing what he pleases with whomever he pleases.

As the story progresses, however, we see that David too lives in fear. Only, David fears that he may never be truly loved. David speaks harshly of his dying father because he knows the King doesn't approve of his "immoral" relationships, or of his son's life in general. In the last hours of his father's existence, it's all David can do to not call his lover once more and hear that someone cares for him. There is a deep fissure between Papa and David. Ultimately David refuses the crown because being in the arms of one who says, "I love you" feels more secure than even the throne of England.

Men who don't receive affirming love from their fathers are missing what Patrick Means calls, "The Father Blessing." Such a blessing is a sign of approval from Dad that he is proud of his son, no matter what. Without the Father Blessing, men search for signs of affirmation in their jobs, accomplishments, relationships with women and even in sports teams. David and Bertie were lacking their father's blessing and it drove both of them into acts of insecurity: The elder into the arms of many women and the younger into an agonizing stammer.

Instead of medicating ourselves and minimizing the pain of feeling unloved, it's vital that we receive the Father Blessing. Like Bertie, our fathers may pass away before we can communicate to them our need, or they may refuse to talk about such an emotionally-charged subject. If it's impossible for a man to receive such a critical blessing, all is not lost.

God has revealed Himself to us a Father to the fatherless; as One who stands on the front porch waiting for His lost son to return home. There is no need for long speeches, excuses or explanations. The Father simply takes us into his estate, tired, afraid, stammering and needing the security of His love. That kind of love feels like home. That kind of love can transform fearful boys into assured sons of the King.