Mitchell Richards [Words]

Month: April, 2010

Earth Day Schmearth Day

Imagine an artist painting on a canvas. He is painting a huge masterpiece; each stroke of the brush is intricate in its detail, each smudge of paint blends perfectly with the colors around it. The lines are perfect, the shading is perfect, and everything else is perfect. It is a beautiful blend of abstract, reality, and divine.

Now, imagine the artist adding a person to the painting. His masterpiece is complete. Years go by and everything is fine, but soon the person inside the painting takes on a life of his own and begins to ruin the painting. He takes paints remover and erases the perfect smudges and blends. He trashes the place, leaving trash in the once perfect trees. The creation, slowly but surely, is being ruined by a piece of the creation itself.

For the record, I am not a crazy environmentalist or anything. I do think it is important that we take care of our environment though. Whether that means recycling or being smart about the energy you use, it is important that we take care of the Earth. One of my favorite parts about walking around Oregon was the fact that it was an extremely clean city; there was never any trash around.

As Christians we should be in the forefront of environmental care and preservation. Why? Because our God created this world, and as Rob Bell says, how to treat the creation reflects how you feel about the Creator.(Rob Bell’s Sex God) It is kind of sad that many Christians, especially down here in the Buckle (buckle of the Bible Belt, my nickname for Oklahoma) are not aware of things that are damaging to the environment. Imagine God as the artist here:

“When they were in [art] school, Peter used to say that everything you do is a self-portrait. It might look like Saint George and the Dragon or The Rape of the Sabine Women, but the angle you use, the lighting, the composition, the technique, they’re all you. Even the reason why you chose this scene, it’s you. You are every color and brushstroke.

Peter used to say, “The only thing an artist can do is describe his own face.”

You’re doomed to being you.

This, he says, leaves us free to draw anything, since we’re only drawing ourselves.

Your handwriting. The way you walk. What china pattern you choose. It’s all giving you away. Everything you do shows your hand.

Everything is a self-portrait.”

an excerpt from Diary by Chuck Palahniuk

I am not saying that we should all go out and buy those special light bulbs and install solar panels on our roofs, but it is our duty to be aware of things like reducing your carbon footprint, your energy usage, recycling and waste, among other things. It’s the same reason why would should take care of our bodies as well.

This isn’t an issue of global warming or climate change, this is an issue of treating the creation in a way that is pleasing to its Creator.

Happy Earth Day.

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4 OT

4 OT

A couple of years ago around this time, 3 of my friends and I made a trip to Dallas, TX to go watch an NHL hockey game. It was kind of a fluke thing actually, the stars aligned just right to where my favorite sports team, the San Jose Sharks, would be playing a playoff game six in Dallas on a Sunday (allowing us all to be able to go). After spending the day in Dallas, enjoying the best burger I have ever eaten among other things, we headed to the game. We were rooting for the Sharks along with some friends in the section next to us, but other than that we were pretty much the only Sharks fans there. A normal hockey game, for those that don’t know, is three periods of twenty minutes. The Stars (Dallas’ team) scored first and the place went nuts. I also remember in the third period when the Sharks finally tied the game how eerily quiet the building was except for us lone Sharks fans.

The game went into overtime. Overtime periods in the playoffs are also twenty minutes long until a team scores. It was the most intense thing I have ever been apart of. One overtime. Two overtimes. Three overtimes. Keep in mind they stopped serving food and beverages somewhere in the third period of regulation. But not a single person had left the building as the time was now reaching 2 in the morning as the fourth overtime had started. Four overtimes, the equivalent of two games had been played and then some. It ended up being almost 130 minutes long, the eighth longest game in NHL history.

There were some close calls in the scoring department; a couple of near goals went under review for both teams, until finally in the fourth overtime the Stars scored. The place went ballistic. Streamers were falling from the sky, fireworks, horns were blowing and we sat there in silence for about 20 seconds before quickly making our exit.

Even though “we” lost the game, I remember feeling strangely okay with it. Not in the sense that “we” tried our hardest and put out our best effort, but more in the realization that sometimes this is how life goes. Sometimes the things we put the most effort and energy into don’t work out in our favor. Sometimes we will go through trials and overtimes and don’t come out victorious. Sometimes we will get our asses kicked and have nothing to show for it. I think sometimes in life, the moral of the story isn’t try your hardest and you will succeed.

I’m not trying to be a downer here or anything, I do believe that the best things in life are the hardest to achieve and even though we may never achieve them there is no harm in trying. More importantly, if we never achieve these things we can still learn a lot in the process.

I do think that some people do quit when things become difficult. Sometimes people believe that God “closes doors” and doesn’t want people to do certain things. To a certain degree, I think that this excuse is bogus. I believe that if God is showing you something that He wants you to do it, but you need to be sure that you want to do it. The biggest mistake we can make is thinking that just because God has inspired us to do something that this means it is going to be easy. I would argue the opposite actually; that once God places something on your heart then you should get prepared to go through hell to get there. Nothing in life that is actually worth anything is easy, nor should it be. When God “closes a door” in your life I think it to be an invitation to kick the door down—to find a new way.

Sometimes we will win and get to the destination as planned, but the majority of the time we will get kicked around and beaten up so much along the way. But the beauty of it is that just because we may never cross the finish line or achieve the goal, it doesn’t mean that God is not proud of you, it doesn’t mean that you aren’t where God wants you. But there is a sense of pride in knowing that you gave it everything you had and you learned something along the way.

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Embracing the Mystery

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.  It is the source of all true art and science.  He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”  –Albert Einstein

Whenever my friends and I go hiking we don’t like to hike on the paths.  Most recently, hypothetically of course, we managed to find a hole in a fence that we crawled under to begin our hike.  I remember talking to my friend Jesse halfway up the mountain about how we were probably the first people to be in that particular spot in a really long time since it was fenced off and everything.  It was a cool thought, being on the middle of a mountain and finding your own way to the top as opposed to following a path to the top.  While following a path is good to a certain degree, isn’t it a bit more fun to find your own way there?

I think that you’ll find stories all over the Bible of God not telling people where to go or how to get there, instead letting them find their own way there.  I like the fact that God doesn’t just move us around like action figures but He allows us to make our own choices.  We usually end up shooting ourselves in the foot and making a lot of mistakes in the process, but I have found that it is in these mistakes that life is lived best.  I seem to learn more about myself in the process of not knowing what I am doing than I actually do when the process is finished.  For example, I learned more about my habits and writing abilities in the process of writing a book rather than the finished product of having written a book.

We all live within a mystery.  We all have no idea what is going on with the world as it continues to spin on its axis, we have no clue what is going to happen next, and we have no clue whether or not this God that we are following is really there—it is all a mystery.  There are basically two kinds of ways to deal with mystery:  you can try to solve it or you can learn to embrace it and live inside of it.  Jesse and I both really love to watch the TV show “LOST” and it is about as mysterious as you can get.  But Jesse and I both watch the show differently, at the end of each episode my mind is going 1000 different directions and I am trying to theorize what is going to happen next while Jesse is thinking about what just happened.  I am trying to solve while he is trying to digest.  The worst part is that all my theories end up being proved wrong within a matter of episodes, but Jesse is still enjoying what is happening.  I think that I live my life like this to a certain degree as well—I am always trying to solve the next step instead of enjoying the moment.  I am trying to solve the mysteries of the universe and I am missing out on what is happening in the here and now.

Out of mystery sparks creativity.  Half the fun of creating is the mystery of not knowing what is happening, if art were inspired by fact then we’d have paintings hanging up in museums of math equations and open encyclopedias instead of the mysterious swirls of paint.  It would be like following recipes your entire life instead of experimenting with your own ideas.  It would be like following paths your whole life instead of crawling under fences to find your own way.

There is a really great story in the Bible about a kid named Joseph, you know, the guy with the colorful robe.  He has a dream that one day his brothers will all bow down to him. (Destination) But instead of having some trip to power where everything is handed to him, God has a different idea.

He’s thrown in a well by his jealous brothers, sold into Egyptian slavery, accused of sleeping with his master’s wife, and was thrown into prison.  While he was in prison, he interpreted dreams for the cupbearer of the pharaoh, saying that he will be freed.  Once the cupbearer was freed, he forgot all about Joseph for two years until the pharaoh was having dreams that no one could explain.  The cup bearer remembered Joseph in prison and had him interpret the dreams, which the pharaoh believed, and released him out of prison and put Joseph in charge of all of the land of Egypt.  Part of the dream that he interpreted was about a famine in the land, and when it happened all of the people came to the pharaoh begging for food, some of those people happened to be Joseph’s brothers.  It was then that his brothers finally bowed down to him just as his dream had predicted so many years before.

The thing about Joseph is that God was with him the entire time—at the bottom of the well, in slavery, in prison, and in power.  I imagine Joseph spent a lot of time thinking about his dreams and his gift, wondering if he was just crazy or not.  He could have spent a lot of time complaining to God that he wasn’t where he was supposed to be, but instead he embraced the mystery of what was happening and write his own story.  He had no idea how he was going to get there; he just knew that he would end up there because God was on his side.

Just because the path doesn’t look right doesn’t mean that it is the wrong path.  While we may enjoy the facts and the knowledge of knowing, it is in the journey through the mysterious that we often find knowledge more important that the facts themselves.  Mystery is a gift.  The unknown is a gift.  Wandering and wondering is a gift.  Embrace it.

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Green Screens

In movies, they use these things called green screens that they can stand an actor in front of and in postproduction can make the screen behind them anything they want to. Think Avatar or weather men. Any fantasy you want can be put into the screen behind you. I am not really into the whole CGI and green screen craze that is happening in movies right now; I enjoy something that I know is real and not computer animated.

I am glad that our lives are not portrayed with us in front of a green screen, because if I could make it be anything I wanted to, my life would certainly look a lot different. However, I think as Christians we do live a green screen life, we stand in front of a grand scene where everything is magical and fine, but our realities are anything but spectacular. What I mean is, we are really good at faking that our lives are okay, that we have it all together, that life is breathtaking. We are portraying out lives as a captivating movie with a happy ending but we are actually hurting on the inside.

At what point did we as Christians decide to act like we have it all together? At what point did we turn in our community card to become individuals? Where in the Bible does it say that you are supposed to isolate yourself and fix your own pain, heartache, worry, and troubles? At what point did God decide Adam needed Eve?

We are not made physically, spiritually, or mentally to be alone. It is in our DNA to need community, so why then do we act like Mr. Lone Ranger Cowboy Desperado Guy and think we can handle our own mess?

This week, I have talked a lot about getting rest and being able to properly release your stress and anxiety, but the most important key to doing all of that is to quit acting like you have it all together. Once we all come out of hiding and fear, we will realize that we have only feared the very things that should be bringing us together as believers. We hide in the bushes thinking that if anyone knew our junk then we would be laughed at or judged, but what we all don’t understand is that we are all in this together, that we are all stupid, we are all sinners, and we all sin the same way! Jesus came to deliver us from the need to hide in the bushes. Jesus didn’t die so we could ascend into Heaven one day, Jesus died so that we could experience Heaven here on earth. He died so that we could be free from our sins, but yet we still hold on to them.

Stop pretending, be honest with yourself and be honest with the ones you love. We need to quit acting in front of a green screen and start living in front of our community.

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The Art of Lamenting

Have you ever seen videos on TV or online of people in another country mourning the loss of a loved one?  Maybe you saw videos of families in the recent earthquakes mourning and crying out because of the loss they have experienced.  Now, have you ever been to a funeral in America?  It is totally different, right?  In just a quick observation, it seems people all over the world know how to mourn, but Americans see to it that we keep the grief inside of us.  In some countries they actually hire people to mourn in the streets during a funeral procession.  In America we try our hardest to keep our composure.  I’m not saying we don’t cry at funerals, but I am saying that the level of mourning taking place is drastically different.

As people, we have forgotten how to mourn, how to really grieve.

Luckily for me, I have always been one to show my emotions easily.  I am not afraid of a good cry in happy times and sad times.  There is a man that comes into my work every so often and he will occasionally bring his kid in with him.  I believe his son has Down’s Syndrome or something similar, and every time they walk in and I’m not busy I find myself watching them together.  I can tell that the father really cares for his son, and 99% of the time a tear will come to my eye.

When my grandfather died a few years back it was the first time anyone really close to me had ever died.  He was my grandpa, an old mechanic, WWII veteran, all around amazing guy.  We road tripped one summer to Arizona for a family reunion.  And I think I got my story telling skills from him.  All I have are great memories with my grandpa.  But after he died I was having a hard time dealing with it all.  After the funeral, I was trying to be the “strong” person by trying to compose myself and not show emotion.  This went on for weeks until I finally began something that I continue today:  I lamented.

Lamenting is simply to express grief.  It was after my grandfather died that I started to begin seriously writing a lot and I found that I was able to express my questions and fears that I was having in words.  I didn’t have a lot of super close friends at the time to share my pain with, luckily I do now, but I found myself writing a lot those days.  A couple of months later, my grandmother died and I wrote one of my favorite things I had ever written.

I guess what I’m saying is that we have all probably been through some sort of loss or tragedy in our lives.  And even if it is something simple like losing a contest or not getting the grades you want in school, we still need to lament these things.  We need to mourn the things that need to be mourned.  When we try to compose ourselves all of the time we are turning ourselves into emotionless machines but when we release our emotions we become even more human.  There is no shame I emotion, I often find myself tearing up in everyday activities because I see the beauty in all of it.  Just the other day my friends and I were hiking in the Wichita Mountains and it just dawned on me while we were on top of a mountain that these normal, everyday, run-of-the-mill people are the people that I care about most in my life.  If I were still bogged down with emotions that had been penned up, how would I have ever realized it.  I have dealt with a few seasons of depression in my life and have found that lamenting is one of the few ways to get out of my funk.  Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions.  Don’t be afraid to be angry.  Nowhere in my Bible does it say to not be frustrated with God, it doesn’t say to not be angry with Him, it doesn’t say to not ask questions.

I think when we lament to God, He becomes more real to us.  Even when we honestly lament to ourselves we become more real to us.  It sometimes takes time to break off the layers of stone that we have been applying for years trying to stay composed but once we do, once our hearts become softened, we are able to freely lament and ask the hard questions.

What questions do you have with God?  What are you angry about?

I encourage you to write down your feelings, I encourage you to express you human emotions to God; a God that is not human but knows your pains. David writes this in the Psalms, and it doesn’t really sound like your typical mushy gushy Bible verses:

God, God . . . my God! Why did you dump me miles from nowhere?  Doubled up with pain, I call to God all the day long. No answer. Nothing. I keep at it all night, tossing and turning.  And you! Are you indifferent, above it all, leaning back on the cushions of Israel’s praise?   We know you were there for our parents:  they cried for your help and you gave it; they trusted and lived a good life.  And here I am, a nothing – an earthworm, something to step on, to squash. Everyone pokes fun at me; they make faces at me, they shake their heads:  “Let’s see how God handles this one; since God likes him so much, let him help him!” And to think you were midwife at my birth, setting me at my mother’s breasts!  When I left the womb you cradled me; since the moment of birth you’ve been my God. Then you moved far away and trouble moved in next-door. I need a neighbor.  Herds of bulls come at me, the raging bulls stampede,  Horns lowered, nostrils flaring, like a herd of buffalo on the move. I’m a bucket kicked over and spilled, every joint in my body has been pulled apart. My heart is a blob of melted wax in my gut.  I’m dry as a bone, my tongue black and swollen. They have laid me out for burial in the dirt.  Now packs of wild dogs come at me; thugs gang up on me. They pin me down hand and foot, and lock me in a cage – a bag Of bones in a cage, stared at by every passerby.  They take my wallet and the shirt off my back, and then throw dice for my clothes.  You, God – don’t put off my rescue! Hurry and help me! Don’t let them cut my throat; don’t let those mongrels devour me.  If you don’t show up soon, I’m done for – gored by the bulls, meat for the lions. 22Here’s the story I’ll tell my friends when they come to worship, and punctuate it with Hallelujahs: Shout Hallelujah, you God-worshipers; give glory, you sons of Jacob; adore him, you daughters of Israel. He has never let you down, never looked the other way when you were being kicked around. He has never wandered off to do his own thing; he has been right there, listening.  Here in this great gathering for worship I have discovered this praise-life. And I’ll do what I promised right here in front of the God-worshipers.  Down-and-outers sit at God’s table and eat their fill. Everyone on the hunt for God is here, praising him. “Live it up, from head to toe. Don’t ever quit!” From the four corners of the earth people are coming to their senses, are running back to God. Long-lost families are falling on their faces before him. God has taken charge; from now on he has the last word.  All the power-mongers are before him – worshiping! All the poor and powerless, too – worshiping! Along with those who never got it together – worshiping!  Our children and their children will get in on this As the word is passed along from parent to child. Babies not yet conceived will hear the good news – that God does what he says. (Psalm 22, The Message)

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