I Am Paradox

Oh, God.

I am not near You. I am too often a professional Christian and too rarely a real one. The war within is cataclysmic. My tectonic faith floats upon a sea of inner molten conflict. I ponder my name and feel such shame.

Oh, God.

I am so near You. I am always loved and treasured in Your sight. The faith within is anchored more deeply than sentiment. I know the one who sleeps in this boat as it tosses. I cannot be shaken, because You are unshakable. You whisper my name and I am not ashamed. You whisper, “Don’t You dare doubt my love for You.”

Oh, God.

You are a majesty I will never be. You are a man, just like me. I pressed sharpest thorns into your flesh and nailed You to a cross in the place called death. You pressed me deep to Your chest. You’ve known me from before I had form, and when all of these earthly days are a memory on the furthest shore, I’ve only just been born.

Oh, God.

Eternity more.

See the Sunlight as it Goes

See the sunlight as it goes

Pulling down the night I chose

Always open to the close

Beg the night to find repose

 

Fetter me in afterglow

There is nothing left to know

This is heaven that I sold

Tear the curtain of my soul

 

Let’s forget the bleeding parts

All the scars upon my heart

Pour the tears out of the jar

They’ll never bring me where you are

 

Left to questions in your place

What was love and what was waste, and

Will I ever kiss your face?

If I draw you close and say

 

“I was wrong.”

 

Chris Akers ©2014

Give It Away

As ever, the moment we think we’ve received all we can, God seems to shout, “No, wait! There’s more!”

I had come seeking solitude: A Protestant, evangelical, worship pastor withdrawn to a Benedictine monastery in pursuit of silence. My body was tired and so was my faith. I wanted to hear the voice of the Lord and lay down my counselor’s hat, glad though I am to wear it, if only for a moment. Alongside my heightened apprehension for assumed differences between my belief and that of those I passed in the hallways, I kept a low profile. I tread quietly, I avoided eye contact, and at the communal meal times, I sat alone. Not all of this was bad – I was trying to be respectful, and our Lord often withdrew to quiet places in pursuit of communion with the Father – yet we are made social creatures and thankfully a few, kind, brave souls approached me.

One lunch, a woman risked sliding her tray over to my lonely corner of the table. Forsaking the comfort of her usual meal companions, she chose time with a stranger. She was several years my senior and a sheer delight to talk with. I learned she was originally a West-coaster like myself, a practicing Methodist, and that our dining hall was far more ecumenical than I had imagined. We reveled in all God had taught us in these times of retreat and prayed for each other. I chuckled to myself. This had not been a part of my design for the weekend and it was wonderful; an encounter so outside my usual rhythm that it forced me to pause and consider the Lord. It was an interruption, and in the time since I’ve come to thank Him for it.

Days passed and I returned to my way of silence. I heard from the Lord and journaled often. My soul thus refreshed, my tank refilled, I treasured these things inside and prepared to leave. My plan was to coast through one final breakfast and then begin my journey home. God’s plan was different. As ever, the moment we think we’ve received all we can, God seems to shout, “No, wait! There’s more!”

The intrusion came in the form of a boisterous man my inner introvert had spent all weekend avoiding. “Hi brother, what’s your name?” Sigh. Almost made it. With selfish reluctance, I turned to him and entered in. Naturally, it was nowhere near the painful experience I’d projected in my mind. It was, in fact, exactly what I needed. Once again, a caring stranger had bridged the social gap to care for me. As our conversation neared its end, the man reached in his pocket and pulled out a penny with a cross punched through. He handed it to me, looked in my eyes, and said,

“God bless you. Remember to keep the faith… by giving it away!”

Indeed and amen. Months later the words are as arresting as ever. They go against my nature. When I love something I try to bottle it up. I want to cherish it and hold it forever. God calls us to give it away. A friend once told me, “Whenever I learn something new, I look for a chance to teach it to someone else. The best way to remember something is to share it.” That cross-pierced penny sits on my side table and I’m reminded of the words to that famous song, “Magic Penny”: Love is something that you give it away. You end up having more.

So it is with faith. You keep it… by giving it away.

I Recorded an Album

I believe better, truer songs await my future, but the blissful catharsis of having fulfilled a decade-long ambition was well worth the while. This album is infinitely greater than one never released out of fear.

I recorded it with great effort. I learned new things along the way. I entered the abyss of self doubt and emotional confrontation, emerging with something I am not wholly ashamed to share. Six months of retrospection have afforded me the chance to look upon it with kinder eyes.

Is this the greatest work I could have ever created? Perhaps not, but it is certainly the best I had to offer at the time. I believe better, truer songs await my future, but the blissful catharsis of having fulfilled a decade-long ambition was well worth the while. This album is infinitely greater than one never released out of fear. For that, and for the possibility that God was glorified along the way, I am proud.

I sincerely hope that this work speaks to you in some way.

My Good Samaritan 

True love cares not for the color or the convenience but rather for the sacred image that unites us and calls us precious.

The first two years of public education were difficult for me. They were my first experiences of prolonged separation from my Mother, having never been to any form of preschool or daycare apart from her. I spent many days weeping and friendships developed slowly. Like a newborn in its first breath, the comfort of my tiny world was suddenly, shockingly torn from me. All faces were new, all places were huge, and all sense of time and context became fluid. Every moment presented new information, often with life-altering effect. Words could be read. Numbers could be added. Lunches could be hot or cold. People could come in any size, shape, or color. Kids could be friends. But kids could also be mean.

One recess I was enjoying a game of keep away. Me and four other boys had made a daily ritual of this and I was finally feeling a sense of security in companionship. We were in first grade now and the world was stabilizing. We spread out across the blacktop, running as fast as we could, weaving between other students and chucking the red ball at each other.

That’s when he struck.

Without reason or warning, a third grader and his friends intercepted my pass and charged at me. This had never happened before. I didn’t know what to do. Suddenly he was kicking me. In terror I tried to hide behind other kids, but I couldn’t escape. I called out to my friends but they seemed as shocked as I was. Again and again he kicked me. I was disoriented and confused. Why did my friends do nothing? Could no one see what was happening? Did anyone even care?

Gurdeep cared. He was a boy in my class. He had always been friendly, but he was also different from me. His skin was darker, his hair was very long, and he bound it up in the turban that he wore every day. One show-and-tell he had shared with the class why he did this, but it had not made much sense to me.

Perhaps, unconsciously, it was for these differences that I shied from knowing him better. Perhaps circumstances simply hadn’t afforded us the chance. Whatever the reason, none of it prevented him from saving me that day. In an instant he was standing between me and my assailant. He pushed the bully away and called for an attendant.

Relieved but shaken, tears filled my eyes and my surroundings blurred. All I could perceive was Gurdeep’s arm wrapped around my shoulder, walking me back to class, calmly explaining the situation to my teacher and making sure I was ok. He sat with me a minute as I regained composure. Then, just as suddenly, he was gone; off to help resolve the matter back on the playground. I watched him leave and soaked in the afterglow of the love I had been shown. His charity was so incredible that I had to tell my parents that night.

Decades later, this six-year-old boy’s compassion remains a monument in my life. He proved that true love looks not at the flesh but the heart. True love cares not for the color or the convenience but rather for the sacred image that unites us and calls us precious. What a gift; so wonderful you want to give it to others.

Out of a gratitude I never adequately expressed that day, thank you my friend. I do not know where life has taken you or if I will ever see you again. I can only pray that my actions today and forever will give the same love I was shown, that my heart will always have room for more, and that my borders will be wide open with my walls torn down.

It’s Going to Be Ok

My brother might be glad today, or sad, rich or poor, etc. It doesn’t matter. I am called to love him or her.

I wrote a song today. A simple song. A simple message. Maybe too simple. But I believe it is what we have been called to do in this life, regardless of current affairs. We start a new chapter today as a country, and no matter where it leads, I want to love my neighbor as myself. I want to love my brother as myself. My brother might be glad today, or sad, rich or poor, etc. It doesn’t matter. I am called to love him or her. If Jesus lives within us, if He is the true Lord of our life, we can do this.

“I’m gonna be ok // And we’re gonna be ok // If I put your best before mine it’ll be ok // What’s the point in having if my brother haveth not? You are beautiful and we’re gonna be ok // It’s gonna be ok // It’s all gonna be ok // ‘Cos I’d rather die than live and watch you suffering // If you fall we fall together, we will rise together too // You are all to me and we’re gonna be ok ”

The Most of It

This morning I experienced the difference between my own efforts to be spiritual, and the efforts of the Spirit in my life when I invite Him in.

“Lord help me to get the most out of this.”

It was a simple prayer, so quick it might have been an afterthought. In essence it was. I was about to dive into a time designated to reading from the Gospel of Luke. I expected the time would be shortened by a need to get to work, and at the last moment I paused to ask the Lord to help me truly hear from Him as I read. It was a knee jerk reaction to a sudden suspicion that the skepticism and cynicism of my recent cultural interactions might just obscure my ability to hear. After all, it is hard to hear a whisper when everyone is shouting and my culture loves to shout.

But the Lord has no need to shout. His power is not made any greater by being louder. His perfect truth is not made any more accurate with more volume. Perfection cannot be enhanced. It has no need to advertise. We must draw near to it, rather than the other way around (although the Lord in His goodness graciously takes the first step). How can I do so if thirteen other voices are rattling their way around my thoughts?

“Lord help me to get the most out of this.”

Immediately He answered. He rebuked the noise of my life and grabbed my full attention. As I settled into the eighth chapter of Luke, my usual plodding became a dance. Distant names from an ancient past became real people with real life struggles and real life journeys. Antiquated statements with a foreign cadence became life changing moments of wonder.

I panicked in the boat with the disciples until I witnessed a mortal man rebuke the wind and waves. I felt my eyes well up and my spine tingle with shock as I realized with them that this man might be greater than I had guessed.

I saw the veil of our reality peeled back as a host of demons mutilated a man’s soul only to be utterly crushed by one they clearly recognized as the Son of God. I saw their victim restored. I felt the desperation of the woman’s twelve-year affliction lifted in a powerful moment of faith. I witnessed the resurrected hope of a father as his only daughter died and then was called back to life. And when I closed with the crucial question, “What have I learned?”,  I understood what the Lord was asking: “Where is your faith?”

This morning I experienced the difference between my own efforts to be spiritual, and the efforts of the Spirit in my life when I invite Him in. It left me with the hope that my life will become an habitual request for the Spirit’s filling and assisting before anything I pursue.

Lord let my faith be in the power of Your Spirit to do immeasurably more than I can possibly imagine. When you ask, “Where is your faith?” Let my answer increasingly be, “In You, Jesus, my Lord.” 

Legacy

It seems self-evident to me that I am hardwired with the desire to have a purpose. I must know why I exist.

Last night I lay awake in my bed as my wife drifted off to sleep. I found myself suddenly, sharply aware of my mortality. I marveled at the speed with which I have distanced myself from even my migration to Iowa. Already it has been nearly five years.

Faster still I have ventured from the days of my golden youth in Ferndale. Already it has been almost 13 years since my high school graduation. Already I have missed a reunion, and the next one will signify 20 years. I will be 38. I will have lived further beyond high school than I did before it.

Many of the people who were close friends have faded into distant, compressed memories. There was a time when I wanted life to end at 18 because I could not imagine caring for anything more deeply than I did for the things of those days. Yet I am now almost 31, hoping to soon become a father, and realizing how fleeting those things were.

Only a single, common thread connects all things, and that thread is the Lord.

Everything else in my life has changed. Markedly so. I have literally met, interacted with, and even walked through seasons with thousands of people. Most are no longer a regular part of my life.

30 years have passed very quickly. 30 more should be no trouble. By then I will be 60. By then, I can have confidence in the likelihood that well over half of my life will be complete.

Even now, I can have no confidence that I will even see tomorrow. I am brought to the first real grip I’ve ever had on a core understanding that I truly am going to die someday. My lungs with stop breathing. My heart will stop beating. My brain will stop thinking. My story, in the first person narrative I know, will end. And over the years I will fade into public obscurity (if not instantly). I will be what nearly all other men have become: A semi-permanent blip on an unfathomably long line.

What then ought this life to be about? How can I get busy living with the very little time I have left? It seems self-evident to me that I am hardwired with the desire to have a purpose. I must know why I exist.

Today I feel an awakening to the basic teaching my Christian faith and heritage have been preaching all these years: Personal achievement, accolades, notoriety, titles, wealth, and all other things of that ilk do not matter. They all fade, and will have no worth to me in the grave. They are in fact, as Paul so astutely observed, a loss. A waste of my days. An effort to secure my hope to things that perish. A distraction from plunging my life headlong into the only thing that lasts: Christ, and a life modeled after his.

I claim this because I look at my life and, as previously observed, Christ remains the only constant. I claim this because I look at the history of the world and Christ again seems to me the only unchanging figure. He seems, rather, to become more important with each year. Like a solitary jewel, untarnished, and only ever more brilliant as each blow only polishes and clarifies. In Him seems to be the life that only seems to fade everywhere else. I must be like this man. In Him seems to be the unfading purpose that fills my lifelong desire. I must have this Christ.

How can I be like Christ? By emptying myself. By loving the Lord my God with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength. Meditating on Him, seeking Him, seeing Him in everything at every moment of every day. Likewise, by loving my neighbor as myself. By seeing the least of these: the orphans and the widows. By teaching my children to do likewise.

This is the only legacy that lasts, buried fully beneath the only name that lasts. If I spend my life aiming to make Chris Akers great, my greatness ends with my days. If I spend my life declaring instead the greatness of Christ, my worth is found and bound up in His eternal greatness. I must lose my life to gain it. I must decrease, but he must increase. Lord, let it be so.