The Mat Turns Six!

the-mat-header-2011 From time to time, I write about my involvement with The Mat, a ministry for freedom and recovery sponsored by Quest Community Church in Lexington.  I have been involved in The Mat since 2007, and we are celebrating our 6th Anniversary this Friday, June 10.  As you can see if you click on the link above, The Mat covers everything from dealing with addictive behaviors to helping people become more free in their relationship with Jesus.  I first started by attending the Men’s Integrity group and now help facilitate groups for men.  Recently, I’ve been going to the Wild At Heart special series, which is based on the book by John Eldridge—it’s been great.

As I’ve been reading the seemingly endless headlines about celebrities and public figures crashing and burning—everybody from Lindsay Lohan to Arnold Schwarzenegger to imagesAnthony Weiner—I feel as much empathy for them as I do outrage or dismay.  They are just public examples of how broken and fallible we are as human beings.  I read a quote from one of Weiner’s constituents: “how can someone so smart be so stupid?”  Well, I’ve done some pretty stupid things myself, and I consider myself at least semi-smart.  The irony of our digital age is that we think we can live these anonymous online lives that have no connection with our face-to-face lives (James 1:6-8 reminds us that double-mindedness is nothing new; we just have a new, technological, way of practicing it).  But when the proverbial ____ hits the fan, it’s a fan that blows across the worldwide web.  So much for secret behavior, huh?

If Anthony Weiner or Arnold Schwarzenegger lived where I live, I’d want them to know there’s a safe, judgment-free place where they could bring the arnoldbroken pieces of their lives and let God begin to put them back together again.   I’d also tell them there’s a group for their wives to begin working through their unresolved hurt and anger, which left untreated can do as much damage as the initial betrayal.  To me, there’s no greater joy or sense of amazement than watching someone come through the door with absolutely no hope and then to see God create hope in them through real healing.

By the way, for those who read this and DO live in the Lexington area, I want to extend a special invitation to join us this Friday for our 6th Anniversary celebration.  We will be cooking out at 6:00 and then having a great time of worship at 7:00, where people will be sharing stories of redemption and where we will be describing the kinds of groups that will be running over the summer.  Whether this is something you could use yourself or something you’d like to know more about for a friend or family member, it’s a great way to learn more about it.

See you there!

I love it when it all comes together

When I began this blog, I subtitled it “Random Musings on Life, Literature, Film, and the Matchless Love of God.”  A while later I was reading some column on how to have a successful blog, and one of the cardinal rules was to focus it only on one thing.  I considered starting over and picking just one of the areas mentioned above, but I decided not to, and I’m glad I did.  One of the things I love best about what I get to do for a living is that I don’t have to focus narrowly on just one subject.  People sometimes joke that English majors are folks who don’t know what else to do with themselves, and that may be true, but I like to think about the opposing truth, which is that folks who are drawn to literature–or the arts in general–can’t NOT see the interconnectedness of all things.

This particular semester, I get to teach a survey of early English literature (just finished Beowulf), a course in Modern Poetry, and a course titled Film as Literature.  In the film course, we just finished watching and discussing The 400 Blows, by Francois Truffaut, which is about a 13-yr-old boy–Antoine Doinel– who rebels against all the institutions that have failed him–formal education, the social order, his own family–and who must then decide what his next step in life will be.  The closing scene shows him running on a beach to escape his past life, then turning to the camera, his face frozen in an expression of “what now?”

In my poetry course, we have been reading Robert Frost, who most people think of as that folksy New England poet of apple picking and Birch swinging.  But I love his poems that go beneath that veneer and reveal the darker questioning that all of us have gone through at one time or another:

 Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast
 In a field I looked into going past,
 And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,
 But a few weeds and stubble showing last.

 The woods around it have it--it is theirs.
 All animals are smothered in their lairs.
 I am too absent-spirited to count;
 The loneliness includes me unawares.

 And lonely as it is that loneliness
 Will be more lonely ere it will be less--
 A blanker whiteness of benighted snow
 With no expression, nothing to express.

 They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
 Between stars--on stars where no human race is.
 I have it in me so much nearer home
 To scare myself with my own desert places.

                           (Desert Places, 1936)

So then tonight I got to spend three hours with some of my favorite people on the planet, men and women who choose to spend their Friday nights at The Mat seeking healing and recovery for their own “desert places.”  This particular evening I was privileged to sit around a table with five other men who, twelve weeks ago, decided to take Jesus up on a dare to believe he could bring hope and restoration into situations that seemed full of hopelessness and despair.  They were in many ways like Antoine, knowing that what lay behind them hadn’t worked but not sure that the future held anything different from their past experience.

I got to watch them as, week by week, they were faithful in the small things–like doing their homework, being painfully honest about how they were doing, and, most importantly, believing there was something unquantifiably different about doing this with other people instead of in isolation from them.  This all culminated in a great conversation where we actually got to tell each other the specific ways in which we had experienced real change in our own lives, and we had the even greater gift of being able to tell each other how we’ve observed God working in each other.  It’s one thing to say to yourself, “I think I’m different.”  It’s another thing entirely to have five other people say, “you are so different from where you started.”

So, while slaying dragons or monsters single-handedly seems wonderfully heroic, and running alone along a beach of limitless horizon seems liberating, and feeling the weight of one’s existence in a night field of freshly fallen snow seems poignant, none of them compares with the wonderful messiness of doing life together with people who are experiencing redemption one day at a time.

A Fun Evening at The Mat

Last night I had the privilege of teaching for the first time at The Mat, a ministry of Quest Community Church in Lexington.  It’s a place for freedom and recovery that I’ve been attending for the last three years, and I can’t believe the transformation I’ve witnessed during that time, both in myself and others.  It was a great feeling looking out at people who have patiently walked me through healing and others to whom I’ve been able to extend that same grace.

Our theme this summer has been Extreme Makeover, and I talked about the simple but hard step of asking for help.  One of my inspirations for the talk was the entry I posted earlier this summer, Camping With Josh.  I thought about how many times I’ve found myself hanging from a tree of my own making (figuratively speaking), trying to get myself down instead of asking God for help.  One of my goals for the rest of this year is to “get my time down”—the gap between when I know I need help and when I actually ask for help.

I’ll let you know how it goes.