Dirt Wars and The Bane In Us All

(I’m considering on devoting some of my summer time to completing a manuscript, with chapters and such, out of the theme of this post. This would be the incomplete rough draft of Chapter 1)

When I come home from work everyday, I’m ushered into an epic battle royale. Spiderman and his sidekick, the yellow power ranger, have put me in their sights. It may happen right when the door is opened, after dinner, or after bath time. But the beatdown is inevitably coming, like a Mark Wahlberg face off with the Mickey Mouse Club. Their barrage of face racks, shin kicks, chest hair grabs and ear piercing squeals cripple me on the ground.

Their request is unrelenting, “You be the bad guy, you be the bad guy!”

Once on the floor I’m open game. From my mock fetal position the two year old Ranger slaps the back of head, the four year old Spiderman canonballs from the couch into my side. We all collapse into a heap of justice and giggles.

Once upon a time it was Cowboys and Indians, now it’s Transformers and Decepticons. The principles are the same. Little boys are hardwired to admire heroes and abhor villains. They know inherently both are required in any storyline worth playing out. Both are a reality.

Children see it clearly with every nursery rhyme, cartoon, bedtime story and newsreel their parents watch. For them, it’s painted in disarming black and white. It’s expressed in unpretentious terms.

We need a hero.

Because

We have a villain.

When I was a child it was the Allies v Nazis. As the Cold War came to a crumbling end in the walls of Berlin, our youthful ire would also at times be directed to the “Commies.” Either way, we’d find the closest empty dirt lot in the neighborhood and quarter off our teams on opposite dirt hills. Armed with foot long PVC pipes we’d strategize our attack on how we’d take each enemy hill.

If you’ve never fought a dirt war you’re missing out. Stick the PVC pipe three inches in fill dirt and fling it towards your target like you’re throwing a football. The dirt will spread like buckshot and can be accurate up to 35 feet. If you’re a decent shot you can temporarily cripple your opponent with an eye blast for a good thirty seconds. Once you’ve taken the final Nazi hill a Dresden like bombardment on the cornered enemy will surely lead to total surrender.

Of course, instead of conducting war tribunals we’d go back to our buddy’s house and drink Capri Sun while playing NBA Jam (no way John Stockton could jump that high).

The bad guys always intrigued me. Whether it was Shredder, Darth Vader, The Joker or Wile E Coyote. Their dark motives fascinated me as a child. Other than that gut level attraction I didn’t have anything else in common with them. I was a suburban kid from a good family whose greatest crime against humanity was hiding his mom’s Victoria Secret under his bed. A diabolical scheme to rule the world didn’t quite resonate with me, but yet their twisted masterminding did in a way captivate me. The bad guys had layers of complex psychotic struggle that was supplemented by a brilliant maniacal laugh. The good guys were usually monolithic do gooders with a boring personality and cheesy smile.

As much as I love Captain America’s patriotism, his vanilla projection looks more comfortable playing in a ‘50s sitcom than battling the Third Reich. His pure All American motives and neatly parted hair made him a dull boy to me. In American cultural conscience, this is probably why a tormented protagonist like Batman exceeds Mr. Red, White and Blue in phenomenon.

How we view bad guys on the silver screen is one thing.

How we view bad guys in actual life is another.

When we hear the names Adam Lanza, James Holmes, or Dylan Klebold a romantic understanding of the word “villain” quickly wanes. But our collective fascination remains. When a heart rending tragedy like Newtown, Connecticut happens, our whole nation becomes transfixed not on victim, but perpetrator. Psychoanalyzing abounds, political posturing picks up steam, and prophetic voices lament a culture of violence in video games. Bystanders blame media, media blames the NRA, and the NRA blames Call of Duty. And the cycle descends into an incomprehensible shout match on network news between talking heads on opposing teams.

Surely, it’s okay to debate the state of our mental illness industry or gun control policies. But these are symptoms of a much greater disease. A disease that spreads and permeates into the recesses of our hidden dreams and nightmares.

Another word becomes apparent in all the intricate philosophizing of the tragic account. A word so blatantly clear we only mutter under our breath for fear of sounding like an ignorant child gripping dark age fairy tales dismissed long ago:

“Evil”

On public airwaves, this word is on the no fly list.

Not just evil in an abstract sense, “out there.” But evil in a tangible personal sense, “in here.” Not evil in the actions of sociopathic men, but evil in the heart of socially conscious me. This childhood intuition that intimates there are real heros and real villains is closer to truth than the educated meanderings of PhDs and lawmakers

And it’s not just something to curse out there.

It’s in me.

It’s in you.

There’s a Bane in us all. It can’t be excised by a surgeon’s scalpel or exorcised by a psychologist. This is always the world’s way. Manipulate and rearrange the outside and you have fixed and healed the inside. Like a zombie with an extreme makeover. For a time, behavior modification may work.

But the way to reach and conquer evil in hearts of men like me is not outside in.

It’s a track altogether impossible.

It’s from inside out.

Thankfully, there is one who majors in the impossible realm. He flows (super)naturally and effortlessly through the hidden recesses of the dark heart.

Jesus is the only lasting answer for terrorism and terrorists, wars and rumors of wars, fanatics and bigots.

Jesus takes the impossibly hardened heart and melts it like wax with his blood covered grace.

It’s before him that all superheros and villains and everyone in between must bow in awe.

Where perfect justice and hope for a better world is not just a comic plotline, but eternal reality.

Bryan Daniels

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Like A Cocky Spelling Bee Finalist…

Spelling Bee

I competed in my fifth grade spelling bee. I was one of the biggest fifth graders in the elementary school. Kind of like those sixteen year old Puerto Rican pitchers with beards who illegally compete in the Little League World series…the only difference is that I belonged in the fifth grade.

“Horizon”

“Prosperous”

“Corridor”

None of these words were a match for my dizzying prebubescent intellect.

Twenty or so fellow class finalists stood before our school in the cafeteria/auditorium. After a few rounds the stage whittled down to a handful of contestants. I made it all the way to the final four. The top three went to the County wide spelling bee where a big gold plastic award and an eternity of local fame awaited you.

The final word given by the judges to me was:

“Geranium”

I was flippant in my respect for the stage and this word. I could spell this word backwards while playing “Sonic The Hedgehog.” I spoke into the mic confidently, yet a little too quickly than I should have.

“G-E-R-A-N-I-U-M, Geranium.”

I waltzed back to my seat, like Michael Jordan after hitting a buzzer beating game winning shot.

“Incorrect” said the judge in a bland tone.

I was dismayed as I took my seat with my fellow classmates. I knew I spelled it right. My teacher sat down beside me and asked me to re-spell it for her. She knew I spelled it right.

She made an appeal to the judges. They reviewed the tape and the decision stood. In my hurried haste I had pronounced the “M” to sound more like an “N” to them.

My brief stint of Spelling Bee legend wilted like a geranium in the Sahara.

Sometimes it is easy to be correct in truth and fact, yet wrong in presentation of it.

The burden of clarity is mostly on the communicator.

Orthodox meanderings divorced from a broken humbled heart can muddle rather than clarify the gospel we share.

Let’s not be a cocky fifth grader in our presentation of Christ to the world. There is no other message in all eternity that should be handled with more care. So much more is at stake with our speech than a long forgotten fourth place finish.

Bryan Daniels

The Father of Meth Heads

Every few weeks I lead a Sunday morning bible study at a local drug recovery center. Typically, my father in law leads this ministry but when he’s out-of-town or too busy I’m his back up teacher. I never turn down the opportunity.

Some of the faces I see again and again, but many are new. After jail time served this live-in program tries to prepare the recovering addict for life normalcy and a steady job. After three months or so most have met their counseling hours and legal court ordered requirements and they are given tentative freedom apart from the structure of the house.

All the faces at the study, men and women, are worn and marked by hard living no matter how young they are.

I used to wrestle with what message I could bring to these weary souls.

The extent of my illegal drug intake was a brief stint of youth binge drinking. I never served hard time for anything, just a few hours of community service for “underage consumption of alcohol.” Spring break court got me off easy.

The stories of these struggling addicts testifies of meth labs, broken families, prostitution, theft, and strings of court proceedings.

I’ve found I don’t need to pound much on their sinfulness and wickedness. The fallout from their fallen nature is all too evident to them. They’ve been pegged mercilessly by the curveballs of life. It’s all staring at them in the mirror every morning.

They know their grave error(s). They’ve made a shipwreck out of their lives, their families, their careers. They’ve abused the trust of those who love them most They’re at this voluntary weekly bible study because they’re well aware of all this.

The Law misapplied would only exponentially add to the guilt they daily carry.

So I don’t speak much at all about addiction or how to be a better parent, church member, or law-abiding citizen. I can’t offer much in the way of witty sounding psycho babble and I’m not qualified to lead them up the mountain of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

I choose to speak about grace.

I speak about a Father who adopts rebellious children, regardless of dark pasts, A Father who supersedes and perfectly satisfies the deep intimate family craving they’ve felt since an infant.

I share what it means to be adopted by a King.

What it means to be an heir of His Kingdom.

What it means to have an elder brother sacrifice His life for us.

What it means to be a child.

I don’t know if that is exactly what they need or want to hear. I know it is the best news I can muster up for bruised reeds who are already broken.

Their addiction doesn’t have to be the all consuming label of their lives. The Father of Addicts sees them through the lens of His perfect Son’s blood. And they likewise are perfect.

Whole. 

Beautiful.

Precious children forevermore.

Bryan Daniels

The Greatest

There’s nothing you can do that could make God love you more than He does right now. There’s nothing you can do that could make God love you less than He does right now. That’s the nature of His grace.

Some may posit this sounds like “cheap grace.” That such a strain of theology will produce lazy Christian workers and spoiled children.

But it’s a grace that cost God everything in giving His own Son to be a rejected bloody spectacle for us. This grace has a high eternal value incalculable to finite minds. Can we return the favor? Can we reciprocate such a sacrifice?

Can we ever repay?

Never.

That’s kind of the point of grace.

“But we shouldn’t take it for granted!”

No, we shouldn’t. And the Law tells us as much. But the Law can’t empower or comfort us towards new life. The gospel of grace does that. And reality is, we’ve taken God’s grace for granted before our feet even hit the bedroom floor each morning. The oxygen in my nostrils, the sleep I got in my own bed, the roof over my head.

I take all these for granted at least everyday.

The way forward in life toward broken humble gratitude is in a revelation of the all consuming unconditional grace granted to us in Christ.

I always appreciated Martin Luther’s response to a works minded magistrate who said to him, “If I believed what you did I’d do what ever I want to do!”

Luther asked:

“Well, as a blood-bought-born-again-child-of-God what exactly do you want to do?”

It’s a life far from perfect. But it is a life transformed through a daily experience of undeserving favor. Adopted children sealed into the family with their elder brother’s blood cannot forfeit their rights because of immature stumblings and addictions.

After falling, they get snatched up by the strong arms of the father with a little more thankfulness, and dependence, and humility. And they’ll never stop needing this grace anymore than they’ll stop needing water or breath. Dying to self is akin to dying of self-dependence. We are reliant on the daily care of the Father every bit as much (and more) than a newborn baby is to his mother.

I’ll never stop having the impulse to scoop my son’s up when they’re in falling into a ditch of their own making. I’m a fallen man. How much more complete and loving is the perfect Father’s love towards us as His children (1 John 3:1)?

Grace purchased for us by the Heavenly Father’s sending and the only Son’s sacrifice sounds like the gospel.

Good news.

No, great news.

The greatest.

Bryan Daniels

Ripping Off The Foliage Of Our Fellowship

We’ve been naked since the garden and we’ve been covering up our shame with the dead foliage of duplicity ever since. As a result, I believe everyone is a bit scared of being “found out.” That we’ll be exposed as frauds if people really knew what we thought about God, life and them.

Much of it is basic social survival skills. Ingrained in us as a toddler when selfish toy clinching and angry floor tirades were met with scolds and swift parental justice.

If people really knew us they certainly wouldn’t like us, we think. And so the charade goes. Our fellowship with other souls is based on forced niceties and fake smiles.

“How are you doing?” a bleached grin asks.

“Great, Great” says another struggling stumbling pilgrim.

If broken honesty isn’t the standard then fractured doublemindedness will be. It’s a catchword that’s a bit played out so I’m reserved in using it, but “authenticity” comes to mind.

Not the self-conscious introspective hipster kind of “authenticity” that plays itself out as an art and fashion snob. The kind that bares soul warts and all before a critical world irrespective of what the cultural cool kids say or think.

A lack of courage in us, and lack of safety in our environments, keeps other people at a safe arms distance from our heart issues.

This is where church should come in. This where a community of fellow strugglers should work to foster a safe place where stumblers can unload all the latent weakness and nastiness they keep bottled up inside. But religion and performance keeps these vices bottled, and the toxic effects of these airtight soul traps are seldom seen by brothers and sisters.

Until it seeps out in the open by scandal. By then it’s too late. No one saw the divorce, or drug addiction, or child abuse, or tax cheating, or extramarital affair coming. It was hidden for years under the painted up facade of spirituality and social skills.

The modern church, and religion in general, is most susceptible to these unexpected explosions of toxicity.

That’s why grace has to reign in the context of an assembly. Planned events and potlucks where grace is not the center may be a cute social gathering, but it will never be true fellowship. Fellowship is the result of relational intimacy, and intimacy is a result of shared trust. Trust will never happen where grace is not  given to bruised and broken hearts.

We can’t trust people who are violent with our deepest hidden hurts.

Following Christ is not just about receiving grace from Him.

It’s also about learning to give and receive grace from others, in real-time, in real vulnerability.

Every moment of every day is the perfect time to give or receive the grace He’s given us. This is the basic way we are His body in this world. 

God help us (me) do it.

Bryan Daniels

When We Fall Into A Ditch (We’re Not Ditch Fallers)

prodigal son

Not too long ago we were visiting at my parents. They have a small battery-powered four wheeler for the kids that reaches about 2 MPH top speed. I stood on the front driveway watching my two-year old, Gideon, manipulate the little red toy between the yard’s pine trees. He was getting good at steering.

On the side of their yard runs a steep ditch the county dug obnoxiously deep. A few inches of water and muck had developed at the bottom from previous days showers. In my youth this ditch was a consistent summer playground for water moccasins.

My two-year old was heading right towards the ditch on his four-wheeler.

Surely he’s going to turn….I thought…Surely.

He didn’t turn.

“Gideon!” I yelled.

But no brakes were administered, no turns attempted, just a toddler plodding headlong to the edge of moccasin cliff.

I activated my awkward adult sprint but it was too late. Head over hills Gideon fell, about four feet down. When I got to him he was straddling the four wheelers handle bars with his legs and bracing the side of the ditch with his hands. He was letting out a scared whimper. I scooped him up.

Not a mud spot.

Not a scratch.

Within seconds he was completely unaffected by the great fall.

I can’t help but strain an analogy. The way we view God almost always has more to do with our personal projections than actual truth. We believe we are defined by what we do. Culture tells we are the sum of: Our careers, our good deeds, our sins, our addictions.

Businessmen.

Homeschoolers.

Writers.

Philanthropists.

Alcoholics.

So when we slip and fall and fail as humans tend to do, we stop and define: We’re “stupid messups”…”clumsy idiots”…”abject failures.”

But the beauty of the gospel says we’re never defined by what we do, only by who we are in Christ.

I didn’t see a failure falling into that ditch, I saw my precious son.

My heart jerk reaction wasn’t to scold him, it was to protect him and hold him tight in my safe arms.

And I’m an evil father. At least according to Jesus:

If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him” (Matthew 7:11)

What is a perfect Fathers heart towards children who stumble and fall? Does His holy heart of concern surpass mine in care and provision? Of course it does.

Times a billion. At least.

When we find ourself in the bottom of snake infested ditch. When our worst enemy has been self. When all we can do is groan over the plight we’ve put ourselves in.

God’s not shaking his finger at us like a disappointed school teacher.

He’ running to us.

With an open heart of unconditional love.

No questions asked.

No strings attached.

Just a child scooped up in the good Father’s strong embrace.

Bryan Daniels

How Football Makes Warriors Out Of Peter Pans

Mosley Football Dline
My D-Line from last year

I’ve been an assistant football coach at the high school level for four years now. I played the sport in high school. I appreciate the benefits of football now as an adult coach much more than I did as a player.

If my two sons have an inkling to play football when they get a few years older, I will encourage it.

Here’s why:

Football makes boys become warriors

I don’t want to over-exaggerate my case with legitimate military vocabulary, but I believe this is true: Football instills a level of toughness most modern boys would not experience in their natural climate. Especially considering when their natural climate is playing Call of Duty 24/7, eating Cheese Puffs, and being coddled by an over protective mother.

There are too many Peter Pans living in a fantasy world who should be young men taking real initiative and responsibility to protect and provide for their family and futures. With the passing of World War Two’s “Greatest Generation”, football is the closest most boys will come to experiencing a battlefield.

There is a fierce fighter lying latent in every chubby adolescent couch potato. That warrior inner man can be beckoned by the stiff demands of sweltering two a days. That future responsible family man can be refined by the daily grind of stingers, head aches, and swollen knees.

Football makes individuals become a team

When done right, a coach can tear down an individual in the heat of battle and build him up afterwards. Tough coaching can help kill ego, laziness, and general selfishness in boys who sincerely believe they are the center of the universe. Football is a constant reminder that players belong to their teammates, coaches, and community.

It helps cast a vision greater than self.

No player is an island. Every player needs the cooperation of his weakest teammate to be succesful. In a generation that is becoming increasingly isolated by the dull glare of a smart screen, boys need community more than ever. They need interpersonal life skills that will help them become better teammates and co workers.

Football makes boys witness and model men

Ask any grown man who played sports: “Who affected you most in early life?” I can almost guarantee a coach will be mentioned. In a modern society replete with absentee dads (physically and emotionally) coaches are often the only solid male authority figures young boys will ever see growing up.

Coaches are the men who will help raise up the potential men who will serve the next generation.

Coaches have a ripe opportunity to speak life, encouragement, structure, and discipline into a boy’s heart very few parents even do. The coach takes a natural authority position most boys will respect, even when they have little respect for the rest the world.

Lost boys fed a steady cultural diet of women chasing, drug consuming, and stuff gathering have a complete lack of father figures to steer them towards true wisdom.

Football (and team sports in general) can help fill that void.

Bryan Daniels

What are some positives (or negatives) you see that team sports may play in an individual’s development?