Red Like Tango

Amor mi mosse, che mi fa parlare.

Near Misses

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How It Should Have Gone

Me: One last thing.

Her: Yes?

Me: Do you love him?

Her: I… I don’t know.

Me: Well, listen: I’ve made my affections for you abundantly clear, you know I’d date you if you were available, but-

Her: *kisses me*

How It Went

Me: Alright, see ya later!

Written by Ian

17/11/2017 at 22:06

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“Well, shit.”

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Window: *rolls down*

Breeze: *gently blows*

Crickets: *buzz*

Sun: *shines*

Hands: *grasp steering wheel at 10 and 2*

Officer: License and registration.

Written by Ian

08/11/2017 at 18:20

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Coffee Shop

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I play the game where I look at her long enough for her to look at me and then I look away. Thirty minutes pass on wooden chairs. She sighs, gets up from her table, collects her accoutrement, and leaves. I leave, too, and walk out under the cold light of the sidewalk lamps.

Written by Ian

07/11/2017 at 20:55

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The Pursuit of Happyness: Or, Why I’ve Been Getting It All Wrong (And You Probably Have, Too)

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I’ve been thinking for some time now – about fifteen years, maybe longer – about What To Do With My Life. Here is a partial list of the ideas I’ve entertained and actually spent some time pursuing: concert pianist, novelist, doctor (’cause my dad is my hero), lawyer, truck driver, sailor/captain of a sailboat (Bring Me That Horizon!), rock and roller, preacher, missionary (check), President of the United States (when I’m feeling down, I settle for foreign diplomat), Hollywood actor, Navy SEAL, English teacher, professional triathlete.

Now, I am convinced I could do any of the above to the glory of God and know people in almost each of these professions who does or has. The problem isn’t, therefore, that any one of these professions is holier than another. But this doesn’t help me toward making my decision.

I’m also convinced that God has a plan for my life. One of the things I do in trying to make this decision, then, is look back over my story – the story he’s been telling to me and through me – and try and look for clues as to what he’s doing. This kinda helps me to narrow down the list and kinda doesn’t. I’m just interested in too many things.

Well so in response to all this, I’ve done two things: 1) read, and 2) bore anyone who will listen (lookin’ at you, Ma) for hours on end and then ask for advice. The books and articles all say one or more of the following: 1) figure out what you wanna do and do it, 2) poor us (my generation talking to my generation), we have too many options, and 3) poor us (my generation again), we were told all our lives that we were special and unique flowers, that the sky was the limit, and we found out that’s not true, boohoo, &c.

Number one is great advice, and that’s what I try to do. (Numbers two and three are just complaints.) But there’s still something bugging me, and so we finally get to it:

I’ve been doing it all wrong.

The issue here isn’t the making of the decision. The issue is why I can’t. (Or more accurately, haven’t been able to.)

Why I Haven’t Been Able To Make The Decision

This is frustrating, because I’ve known this answer for ages.

Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Psalm 37:4

I haven’t been able to make the decision because I’ve been hoping to be satisfied by whatever I end up doing instead of being satisfied in Jesus, not as an act but as a state of being. And I will never be satisfied by anything I’m doing if I am not first satisfied in Jesus. Because he’s the only one who can satisfy. He’s got the Good Stuff. And if I will be delighted in the Lord, if I can get my soul to really want him above everything else, all the rest falls into place.

[Post Text: Still doesn’t answer the question about What To Do With My Life, but the answering of it becomes a whole lot more fun without all that excess weight.]

Written by Ian

23/03/2015 at 21:44

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For Friends of Bill W

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I’ll remember for the rest of my life the first time I said it. I wonder sometimes about starting my testimony that way, but I choose not to because it’s a little too obvious. I have quietly observed as people who have never attended a meeting laughingly role-play introducing themselves like they’ve seen it done in the movies.

It was a really powerful moment for me. I’d arrived at an outpatient clinic in Minneapolis and walked into the room I was supposed to be in and sat down in one of a large circle of chairs, glancing quickly around the room to see if my suspicions were correct – they’d all be people off the streets, surely, because that’s what drug addicts are and I’m still not sure I am one – and seeing C and A and J and M, and nervously looking down at the ground again.

The facilitator – I don’t remember her name now, but she was kind of harsh and older – the facilitator had us all introduce ourselves. I don’t remember who started, but they were using that same structure – inserting their names and addictions where necessary – and as each one of them spoke it out, a kind of warm, golden energy mounted up inside the words, barreling into the next person to speak, setting each of them free as they spoke truthfully about who they were in their innermost beings, and suddenly it was upon me and I said, “Hi. My name’s Ian, and I’m a heroin addict…”

And I stopped.

I think we were supposed to say something else about who we were but I forgot in this moment, and said instead-

“…and that’s the first time I’ve ever said that.”

And then I said something like, “And I’m really surprised to see that you are all normal people, nay, lawyers, doctors, college dropouts like me, because I thought you’d all be homeless and I would continue to feel totally alone because I’m not homeless, never have been, and yet I have this thing eating me up inside…”

I don’t remember what I said. That probably all happened in my head. It was a volatile time.

And that’s what was – is – so powerful about Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Suddenly, you’re a part of a community. In fact, you’re a part of a community of people who know they’re broken, which is way more powerful because we all know we’re broken but most of us don’t know how to admit it. Or don’t want to. But then you get into this community of people who knows, they really know, they’re messed up – nobody’s putting on airs, nobody’s self-righteous – and it’s powerful.

I remember the first time I heard the phrase “terminally unique” and how it just opened me right up. That’s what I thought about myself. It seems insane now (and I was, at the time), but I really thought I was living something that no one else had ever lived, and those two words summed up that whole feeling and suddenly I realized no one could have verbalized them without understanding the feeling behind it which means… I’m not alone. That’s it. I’m not alone.

I heard a story once – I think it came from the Big Book – about an alcoholic in an airport. She was in recovery, traveling alone, walked past a bar, and started having that craving. Somehow, she got a person on the intercom to ask for “friends of Bill W” (one of AA’s founders) to meet in such-and-such room, and a whole bunch of her fellow alcoholics and addicts showed up and they had themselves a meeting. That’s community. That’s what I live for. That kind of I’m-gonna-be-there-for-you-no-matter-what brother-and-sisterhood.

I thank God for C and A and J and M and D and S and B and all the rest who were in that room the first time and then took me to my first meeting afterwards. I miss you guys.

Written by Ian

22/03/2015 at 01:16

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Crooked Deep Down

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I’m really messed up. I forget, especially being in full-time ministry (whatever that means), but the reality is, I am really, radically, awfully messed up.

Even my honesty is crooked. I’m sharing all this in hopes that in the sharing I’ll be forgiven my shortcomings.

But what led me to write this at this moment is that I decided to do a fast yesterday. I decided I was fed up with my inability to make decisions. (The problem, you see, is that it’s never just about the decision itself, nor even about honoring God. It’s about money. It’s about finding a wife. It’s about nice clothes and leather shoes. What in the world am I doing in ministry!) So I decided that I wanted to hear from God about these things I’m facing, and the way in which I was going to hear from him was in fasting and in prayer. So off I went.

But I messed up. I don’t demand things of God, and I don’t, by my right actions, cause him to act. But it was with that attitude that I started a week-long fast, and with that attitude that I made it about 24 hours and fell flat on my face and ate some peanut-butter toast.

You laugh. I did, too. But that assessment – that I messed up – doesn’t address the real issue. I didn’t just mess up. I messed up because I AM messed up. Even in fasting, my motivations were all wrong.

No, no, no, you say. You’re too down on yourself! Self-esteem is the answer!

Well, it hasn’t worked for me. In fact, self-esteem has been perhaps the most dangerous path of all. Why? Because God has given me so much. I have much to self-esteem about. I’m a decent musician, a decent writer, I’m emotionally intelligent (when I manage to get outside myself), I know a good amount about the Bible, I can think deeply about things and grasp complicated concepts with relative ease. For what? How does any of this help me? I’ll tell you what self-esteeming about all that does: it destroys me when I encounter musicians who are better than I am. It destroys me when I think about how I’m only decent, how much better I could have been by now with a little discipline, which I can never seem to muster.

Ever waiting for the moment when there won’t be that inner sense of dread about being found out. When I’ll finally reach that next level of holiness in which I might actually feel capable of helping someone toward freedom.

No. Self-esteem and all the motives for which I could have it is just a heaping pile of poop. The only freedom I know doesn’t come from what I’m able to do nor what I’ve been able to accomplish. It comes from recognizing my devastating insufficiency and saying to God that HE is my sufficiency. For real. And this act, this turning over of my insufficient sufficiency, is made possible only by the recognition and acceptance of my faults. (So many good words for failure.)

That’s why self-esteem doesn’t work. Because of reality. You know it and I know it. Something’s not right, and it doesn’t become right because we tell ourselves it actually is right.

And it doesn’t end at self-acceptance, either. (Thank God. That would be depressing.) It ends with GOD making it right. Oh, how he loves to restore the broken-hearted! And then he changes our desires so that we want good things! Honestly, if I back up for a second, I am, in fact, far more disciplined than I was a few years ago, and that hasn’t come from me. How could it have, if my own efforts continue to fall flat on their faces at every turn and bump (or hunger pang).

Bad behavior is a symptom and correcting it is a bandaid without disinfectant. The real issue is that we are all crooked, deep down, and unimaginably needy.

(This will preclude judgment, by the way.)

“This is a song about me and you and Billy Graham and Mother Theresa and Charles Manson and everybody. Everybody.” -Derek Webb

(The end of the story about fasting, for those who want to know, is that I’m gonna go ahead and keep trying, because I’m still tired of not being able to make decisions/see clearly/whateveritis, and I think God sees and appreciates my heart.)

Written by Ian

23/01/2015 at 15:22

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Questions About “Relational Evangelism”

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I’m worried that all of my thinking about “relational evangelism” or “ministering to the post-modern man” is really just a cover up for not wanting to share the Gospel. I’m afraid that underneath it is a sneaky seed of wanting to be cool, wanting not to offend – basically being ashamed.

Yeah, I suppose there are cases in which it is necessary to build trust. But if we are trustworthy people, won’t those in our vicinity see it? If we aren’t seen to be gossips, if we are joyfully hard-working, if we are good bosses – isn’t that the stuff of trustworthiness?

Are you sure that you’re being guided by the Spirit in the putting off of the sharing of the Gospel – and I mean directly, like, “You’re a sinner and God’s angry about it, but good news! He showed up on Earth and took care of the consequences himself and now we can be saved from his wrath!” – or is it more that it just doesn’t feel “natural”?

Bad news: I’m a missionary and it still doesn’t feel natural. Perhaps this means I don’t have the gift of evangelism, but I’m still called to evangelise. You are, too, Christian. And don’t quote St. Francis of Assisi to me – you know, that share the Gospel at all times and if necessary use words quote – because St. Francis of Assisi did an awful lot of sharing of the Gospel with words. Have you?

Here’s the major danger I see: that this methodology of relationship-building-toward-the-end-of-evangelism turns into a Spirit-less (and thus self-righteous or human-powered) one. Are we walking in the Spirit? Asking for his guidance (please God! people are DYING!)?

Hey, and I’m a big fat hypocrite in all this, just so you know. We’re in this together. I’ve just been really affected recently by the sight of some of my friends here in Spain just outright sharing the Gospel. Take my friend Joel, for instance: He loves to talk, he’s very philosophical, but as soon as he reaches the point in a conversation with someone new in which he figures out they aren’t a Christian, he starts preachin’ to ’em. (Notice I didn’t say “at ’em.”) He starts giving them the Good News! It’s been so refreshing to watch.

Well, and I’m tired of watching. Who’s with me?

(NOTE: I’m willing to believe that not every “relational evangelist” is falling into the same trap that I did/do. I also don’t believe we leave it at “saving souls” – that is, the call is to “make disciples”, not leave ’em high and dry once they’ve prayed a prayer.)

Written by Ian

25/04/2014 at 12:47

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Reflections on Being Clean for Four Years, Part One

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Today I celebrate, by the grace of God, four years clean. Prepare yourself for lots of CAPS, boldness, BOLD CAPS, suave italics, and exclamations, ’cause I am one excited dude today! Also I’ve had lots of chocolate. Anyway. This is my first think in a series of thinks about it. (Being clean, that is. Not the chocolate.)

Why I Did It (Got High, that is)

This is a doozy. People ask, you know? They wanna know why. As you might imagine, I did, too, but it’s not an easy question to answer.

For a while, I thought it had to do with a few concrete things in my past. To some degree, I’m sure they played a role, and there’s no doubt in my mind that facing such things was a very important step in my recovery. That being said, a piece of advice: face yer demons but keep the train a’chuggin’. After spending too many years in the tangled thought-maze of Cause and Effect, I found no escape but the obvious one, namely, that the maze wasn’t real, that it had at some point become a false construct to mask my inability to face myself. Deep, I know.

Well, so I moved on to accusing my upbringing. Life is easier when you don’t have to take responsibility for it, and since I decided those few concrete instances in my past, while terrible, couldn’t be blamed for it all, my parents were the next likely target. But my parents, you see, are human, and as humans are known for making mistakes from time to time, I decided this, too, wasn’t going to provide the answer I sought.

But what about the Church! There’s a place FULL of bad, hypocritical people entrusted with teaching Sunday School just begging to be maligned! I did this for a while, and with gusto. Unfortunately, while I don’t hold to every piece of the Southern Baptist doctrine in which I was brought up, the Church, too, is full of humans, and as humans are known for making mistakes from time to time… yeah.

It was me, folks. I was the problem. More accurately, what I didn’t do was the problem. Jesus gives this caveat at the end of his revolutionary Sermon on the Mount: “Listen, y’all. If you do what I’ve told you to, you know what you’ll be like? You’ll be like wise and discerning men who build their houses on FOUNDATIONS (Does anyone else hear an awful lot of irony in this statement?), so that when hard times come – storms and floods and wind and whatnot – their houses don’t fall down. If you don’t, however, you’ll be like the unthinkably foolish, who decide it’d be fun to have a house right there on the beach…”

Here’s the thing: his words are so good! They’re for our good, not to put up some unnecessary red tape. They’re words for flourishing, for health, for life. From beginning to end, the Bible talks about people choosing either life or death. EDEN: all kinds of awesome fruit to eat, but Adam and Eve have to have the forbidden stuff (in other words they choose death) and they die for it. THE JEWS: sometimes they choose life (following Moses out of Egypt), sometimes they choose death (makin’ cows outta gold in the desert and then worshiping them, because that makes sense), and God’s always telling ’em stuff like, “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse… so choose LIFE that you might LIVE!” I wanna LIVE! Don’t you? DAVID: gets off to an incredible start killing a giant, for God’s sake, but ends up choosing death – the death of his first, precious, baby son – all because he can’t keep it in his pants. SOLOMON: super smart, total disaster. ETC.

And then Jesus comes along and says, “You guys! I really want you to get this! I want you to have what I intended you to have from before Time began, and I want you to have it SO BAD I’ll die for you to have it.” And he did. He chose death for our life.

But then he got up! Can I get a Hallelujah?! But that’s another sermon.

In short, I heard the words of Jesus and I didn’t do them and my house fell down. And GREAT was the destruction of it. And LONG-LASTING the pain it caused, to me, to my family, to everyone I loved, and to lots of people I didn’t. I know it’s not in vogue to talk, in moments like these, of the danger of hell, but whatever. Heed my warning: The same destruction, the same growing, gnawing emptiness which ended with me and a needle full of heroin in my arm stares you in the face even now if you neglect Jesus’ words.

Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

Written by Ian

16/02/2014 at 22:00

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The Way Out

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I have a problem from time to time: I forget who Jesus is. I also sometimes forget who I am.

It’s dangerous, you know. It’s one of the reasons I started doing drugs. Had I known, had I really understood the Gospel, I wouldn’t have felt the enormous weight of guilt and shame from which I was trying to escape because it wouldn’t have existed. I’d have known that Jesus loved me anyway, that he bore all that weight so I wouldn’t have to, that I’m actually and finally safe/accepted/loved. And I did, in my head. I knew it. I just didn’t believe it.

How did it happen, you ask? How in the world did I actually start believing it so that things changed? So that I changed?  Well, as I said, I still don’t believe it all the time; but the way I sometimes catch the fleeting glimmers I do is by listening to him, to Jesus.

Somehow, I developed this habit over the years of always reading about him. The Bible was more like a history book instead of Words That Are Alive. From time to time, I would have experiences while reading where it felt like it was really real, but those were few and far between. (To be honest, they still are.)

But when I remember to read as though the things about which I’m reading actually happened, as though Jesus were actually a person, things begin to change. I sit down to read and I imagine the whole scene: there he is in the middle of a crowd, walking from person to person, looking into their eyes and smiling at them, healing them and loving on them, trying to teach them things which most of them totally miss, and this young guy wearing a three-piece suit made from Italian wool and some expensive-looking leather loafers comes up to him, hands in his pockets all casual like, and he says, you know, Hey, I like what you’ve got, so what do I need to do to get it? And Jesus looks at him with that piercing gaze of his, cocks his head to one side, and says, Love God and love your neighbor. And this young, successful, arrogant guy inflates his chest a little and says, Yeah I’m doin pretty well with that actually.

I’m not gonna tell the rest of the story because most of you know it. I’m just trying to say when I read it like that, when I’m listening to him, he’s different. He says stuff that doesn’t make sense. He rarely answers questions directly.

But that’s just it: we know too much. I mean we know, don’t we, that he was answering their hearts, answering their real questions, or what their questions should have been. That’s what you were thinking as you read that last bit, wasn’t it? Try and forget all the stuff you know and just listen.

There was an exercise we did at Wayside – the fifth and final rehab I went to – in which we went through the Gospel of John and summarized every chapter, wrote it down in our own words. That’s when it happened for me. That’s when I met him again.

So my submission to you is that if you find yourself having the same problem – you’ve forgotten who he is, or you just want to change so badly but you can’t – try it. Even if you’ve done it before, do it again. You’ll start to believe he can actually change things. You’ll start to believe he wants to. And actually, he’s so good that you’ll start to change just by getting to know him better.

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” That’s from the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, and you know what comes right before it?

“…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

Written by Ian

11/07/2013 at 22:30

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A Sacrifice of Vulnerability

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I got on here to publicly shame the movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower. (If you haven’t seen it, know that there are spoilers in this post.) I planned it throughout the entire movie because I thought it was going to be like every other movie. I thought this poor kid was gonna fall in love with this poor girl and she was going to totally miss it and treat him badly and then realize it toward the end and that would be that – requited love, which is rare and frustrating to watch – and I was going to ask insightful questions about what that movie says about what our culture is telling us about love, and then the end happened.

You wanna know why I watch movies? I watch movies for the moments that open me up. You are wrong: I could not be doing better things with my time. I live to feel raw and awake and alive to the Story – the story of brokenness and redemption.

Like the part when this kid’s parents find out what his aunt did to him, and his dad walks in to his son’s room in the psychiatric ward and walks up to him and takes his head in his hands and kisses his forehead. You just have to see the movie because the whole time his dad is this disinterested non-person, and then this, this understanding! This gentle. encompassing. closeness.

The big questions now are not for you or for our culture. They’re for me. Like: What happened to me that makes me seek out sickness? Why is it I want to be like that kid? I was way too young when I was introduced to sexuality, but I wasn’t abused like he was.

I just want to be understood, you know? Yeah. I want to walk next to be people who get it. This kid finds a group of people who get it, and that rings this big bell of longing inside of me.

But the sickness… you wanna know something? I was relieved, six years ago, when a psychiatrist told me there was a strong possibility I was developing schizoaffective disorder, but it’s not for the reasons I used to think. I used to think I just wanted to be sick, to be lazy, to have excuses. I mean those could be part of it, but the real, deep undercurrent was that I could maybe, now, be free to be me. I thought schizoaffective disorder would provide a lens through which I could finally see myself clearly. I thought it could explain the darkness inside me.

But I don’t think that’s all of it, either. When I came home from that appointment, my sister was the first person I told – I didn’t want Mom and Dad in the room with me when that psychiatrist told me because I didn’t know what her diagnosis would be (or maybe I didn’t want them to hear that I wasn’t ADD, that I didn’t have an excuse for totally failing at college) – and when I did, when I told my sister, she just hugged me and said, “I knew there was something else going on.”

But what was it? What else was going on? It wasn’t schizoaffective disorder. I always felt different, but I know now that I’m not.

That’s the point here: We’ve all got the same story. We’re all trying to fill the big impossible holes inside of us. I’ve always felt different but I’m not. I am seriously – but not fatally, oh no, thank you, Jesus – narcissistic. Or I was.

The Gospel really is wonderful.

I was led to pray recently that God would restore the innocence I had when I was three, because when I was four, it was gone. I was that young. (That would certainly qualify as an answer to those questions.) I didn’t understand it at the time. I understood that I had to hide it from Mom and Dad, and as I grew older, I became so. ashamed. so full of guilt.

You know what opened me up? Another person’s honesty. Michael’s honesty. He told me what happened to him, and I thanked God at that moment that at least my offender was only a little bit older than me and that she was a she.

What is going on in the quiet?

I’m not trying to scare you, really, but we have to be serious from time to time. We have to ask ourselves these questions. And if I’m not vulnerable about all of this like Michael was, you might not ever see it in yourself. You might not ever come out and ask the questions which are eating you alive because you don’t even know they exist. You might not ever talk to someone about it.

And if that’s you, you have to. You have to talk to someone about it.

Written by Ian

07/03/2013 at 04:39

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