Monthly Archives: October 2012


Jesus told a story about a lord who would be going away for a while and who left three servants in charge of certain amounts of money in his absence. Two of the men took the money in their charge and put it to use, gaining even more. One man though, was afraid of losing what his master had left in his charge and hid the money to protect it until his lord’s return.

When the lord returned from his journey, the first two men brought the lord’s money to him, along with what they had gained in addition. The lord was pleased with the men and rewarded them. When the third man came, he could bring only the original amount the lord had left with him. Instead of being pleased, though the lord reprimanded the servant for his fear and for not even being diligent enough to at least put the money in the bank where it might have gained a little interest. He took what little he had then and gave it to one of the other, more diligent servants.

So what does this have to do with selfishness? The short answer: everything! In the words of the intrepid Inigo Montoya, “Let me explain.” You see, the third servant really wasn’t protecting his master’s money. In fact, he wasn’t thinking of the master at all–he was thinking only of himself, and himself was what he was protecting. Not himself in his best possible way either–only himself in the smallest way. Fear, when handed the reigns to our lives, tends to do that to a person. It makes us smaller. Smallish people then tend to live smallish lives.

For the short life of this blog I have been encouraging others to live out their lives in passion and compassion. To live in the moments we are given, unshackled from the ghosts of the past and worries of the future. The currency that has been given to us to steward for a while isn’t money, but life itself. Will we live in our smallest selves–fearfully hiding the treasure we possess? Or will we flesh our lives out, with gusto, adding to the life we have been given, enlarging it, reaching for everything God has intended it to be?

It isn’t selfish to live out the passions the Maker has laid on our hearts, balanced with compassion for those we share this amazing world with. It isn’t selfish to live in the moment, because the only moment we ever truly have is the present one. It isn’t selfish at all. It’s LIFE. It’s abundance. It’s true thankfulness–the thankfulness of making use of a gift rather than tucking it away. It’s glory.

But you know what IS selfish? To refuse to do those things. To hide. To fear. To protect our smallest selves instead of risking them in living out the lives we have been given. That was the mistake of the third servant in Jesus’ story. Too often it has been mine. I pray it will be mine no longer.

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Be You (Part 2)

On reading my last post, a friend immediately commented via Facebook something along the lines of “I still don’t know who the real me is.” This is from an older friend much experienced in life, so I thought perhaps a few details might be helpful in reaching the point I hope to make.

We ended the last post with the thought of looking at ourselves with the labels stripped off. That is, trying to see ourselves before all the labels of nationality, religion, politics, work, etc got pasted on. What do we find in every human being when we look underneath those things? By no means is the following exhaustive, but it seems to me when the labels are stripped away you will find first and foremost…a person.

A person!

How silly that seems. Of course you find a person! But watch yourself and others carefully and you will note how quickly we minimize or even eliminate the humanity of others and even ourselves based on the labels we are wearing. Children who ostracize others or feel down on themselves based on surface issues like brand name clothing are just mimicking adults who do the same over the political, economic, and spiritual, and cultural brands we wear. We could end so much of the suffering in the world by just seeing past the labels both when we look in the mirror and when we look out at the world. Underneath the words we are all human beings–not human doings or human believings (no, that’s not a word but it should be).

Ok. So now we have stripped away our labels and found a person. What’s next? What do we see?

We see need. We have physical needs and emotional needs. We’ll save the physical stuff for another time and focus on the emotional needs. Primarily we see the need for love and connection. We may have different levels of need based on personality type, but we all need people who will love and care for us and we need to give it back. We are individuals but not just individuals. This is why neither selfishness nor emotional martyrdom lead to happiness. We are made to live in balance in community, both giving and receiving love. Tilt the balance one way or the other and we will be out of kilter.

Along with the need we see wounds from the times and places our needs have not been met. It’s important to recognize our wounds and to know they shape us, but also to know that we are larger than the wounds themselves and not lose our identities in them. When we lose ourselves to our wounds we become perpetual victims and hand over the keys to our lives to them and those that cause them–or in many cases to those who we believe cause them even if they do not. Living in our wounds we will always be blaming others and not take responsibility for our own lives. People not only survive but thrive in spite of great wounding when they live above it, refusing to give responsibility of their state of mind to others. Call it salvation, transcendence, triumph–I just call it Life. History is full of people who have done just that.

Fortunately, wounds are not all we see. We also see passions. I don’t mean here the romantic feeling of new love (though we could include it to a degree). I mean the things that set our hearts aflame with a zest for living. Have you noticed that we don’t choose these things? Instead, they seem to choose us, or to have been chosen for us. We discover them as our lives unfold. I have no idea why I love wild things and wild places so much. I only know I do and always have since I was a small boy. I come alive more fully in the woods and on the water. I am literally a better, bigger person when I’m out there. Others do it in museums or classrooms or concert halls or laboratories or  workshops and thousands of other places and things. What sets your heart on fire?

Lastly (for today anyway) you see some gifts. Everyone is good at something. Everyone’s a natural. Again, while we may develop our talents we do not cause them. They are given to us that we might give them to the world at large, the tools by which the love we have can be given to others.They are the means by which we leave our mark on the world, and our use or misuse of them will echo through the generations. If we fail to use them they eventually wither, so we must use them while we can!

So here is a start. If you don’t know who you are, begin here. Recognize your humanity and value and see the same in others–even if their labels differ wildly from yours. Know your wounds but don’t live in them and they will begin to heal. Pursue your passions and use your gifts in love, for otherwise they are wasted. In other words (and I find myself saying this so often these days)–LIVE!  Lovingly. Completely. Abundantly. Because there is only one other option.

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Be You

To be one’s true self may be about the most difficult task we human beings have. We have to figure out who we are to begin with, and then we have to live that out in a world which will often try to dictate that we should be something or someone other than what we are.

Now before I take one step further down the path, I should probably say a word or two about what I am not advocating here. I am not saying we should be selfish. I exist in the world, and therefore have some place in it, but the world is not about me. I’m a character in the Great Story–and the primary character in my chapter, but it’s pretty clear that much has come before and much will likely come after so I best not let my head inflate too much. Much of the world’s trouble and suffering comes from folks mistaking their story for the Big Story instead of just enjoying their part.

Nor am I encouraging anyone to be an ass. Sometimes we mistake rudeness for authenticity. “I’ll say or do whatever I think and I don’t care what anyone thinks about it” may have had twelve or fourteen valid applications in the history of the world, but generally is misused as license to be jerk or start a war or some other destructive behavior. Often it comes from acting out of our wounds–and our wounded selves are not our true selves at all. Whatever or whoever you are, acting like a jerk isn’t a good thing. We should never kid ourselves by thinking that dressing boorish behavior up in principles makes it less boorish. It really just sullies the principles.

Ok–now that that is out of the way, on to the good stuff.

Be yourself!

I have been often asked lately by people who know me personally why I ceased being a Christian minister. I’ve given different answers to different people based on what I thought they could handle, but probably the most honest, simple answer is that the words “Christian minister” carry so much baggage that they had begun to to suffocate Jeff Johnson. I was losing myself underneath the weight of those words and the human expectations that came with them. So I had a pretty clear choice to make–be the person God made me to be or be the person others thought I should be. When I considered it that way, the choice was pretty obvious which way I should go.

You see, words are pretty potent things. They woo women, flatter men,  and start wars. They take on a life of their own. The words we use as labels to describe ourselves can become especially powerful things. The more we and others use those words the more they can paint a facade of expectation over who we really are. Wear any facade long enough and it can get hard to tell where the facade ends and our true selves begin. So probably the first step toward seeing one’s true self is to step away from the labels–even if only for a bit.  Who are we when we shed all the words we and others use to describe ourselves? Who’s underneath all those layers of verbiage?

I certainly can’t answer that for anyone but myself. Nor do I have to. That alone is a powerful liberation. I don’t need to try to live anyone’s life but my own. That is more than adventure enough, and oh how I am coming to enjoy the abundance that comes with not living out other peoples thoughts for me, nor trying to impose mine on them. Don’t get me wrong–I love hearing other people’s thoughts and stories and I love sharing mine. But ultimately only you can live your life and only I can live mine, and neither of us will do a good job of that if we are trying to be someone else.

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Life is a Hunter

Life is a hunter, and it preys on death.

We tend to think of this the other way around, but one of the simplest observable truths is that as soon as something dies living things begin their work of turning it back into life again. Death may stalk life, but life stalks it right back.

I sat in a tree this evening to hunt. My purpose was to take a life.

Not for fun, for I find no joy in the actual death of any living thing, and certainly not in being the one bringing about that death. To thoughtfully hunt is one of the more sobering things a person will ever do. But I know death is part of life, and that all animals (and even a few plants) kill to sustain themselves, for even herbivores must kill the cells in the plants they consume to obtain their nutrients. So I sat in a tree with a bow and arrows in the hope of being quite directly and personally involved in this sacred circle that sustains all creatures.

I did not have long to wait. After only a short period of time, three deer passed near me, but not near enough for me to take a  clean shot. I have no desire to merely wound an animal and see it suffer. If I shoot, I want to be as certain as I can the animal will feel no needless pain. I want–no I need–a clean shot for a clean kill. If I am going to consciously join this dance, I owe the animals that much and so much more–for the animal will help to sustain me.

Shortly after the first three deer passed, two more approached. I drew my bow on the first and my arrow flew true. The doe ran only a short distance. I felt sad and thankful and deeply a part of something wild to the point of scary. On reaching her, I thanked her and told her I was sorry. That she could live on in me perhaps. I stroked her fur and felt her beauty and wildness. I thanked the earth from which she sprang and  the Maker of all things–for the food, for the experience, for my own earthy life which one day too will end.

I will butcher the deer myself. She will be truly honest food for me and mine. I will not take one bite without thinking of her. Of her living and of her dying and of my part in both–and of both our parts in the larger story of life on earth. Much of that story is the ceaseless hunt. Death stalking life and life stalking death. Life is a hunter. Today, so was I.

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Your Life Is (Now)

The present. The only life we actually possess. Regardless of spiritual persuasion the life that counts is right now.

I have become a person reluctant to speak in absolutes. There is just so much more to what I don’t know than what I do. So both humility and reality encourage care in the the choice of words, and absolute words easily stray beyond that care into recklessness. But I speak absolutely today about living the life we have been given in each moment we are given it.

Everyone has a worldview, and everyone’s worldview contains an element of faith. By that, I mean only that we interpret our experiences and knowledge and are forced to say “I believe” about a great many things. There are things we can’t “know” in the same sense we know things by experiencing them. Even history is an exercise in faith–I believe a person called “George Washington” existed though I have never met him and cannot absolutely prove the evidence for him isn’t an elaborate hoax (wouldn’t THAT be a hoot!).

Even so, amidst this uncertainty, I remain convinced the life we have right now is what matters most. Not the life we have had–gone into glory or gloom and never to be recouped. Nor the the glory or gloom we might have at some uncertain point in this life or the next. But the life we have right now. Today. This hour. This moment.

Every person who reads this will have a history–some good stuff and some bad. If much of that history is negative, will it then become our present and then become our destiny? Will we be ruled by the hurts of history? So much of the world is in slavery to what has been. How needless this is. How much suffering it causes.

Every person who reads this will believe something about a life beyond this place. Some will believe it exists, some will believe it doesn’t. Some will be unsure which way the evidence points. What all these perspectives have in common is right now. Right now matters if you don’t believe in something beyond this place because this is literally the only life you will ever have. This is your golden ticket. Mark the cosmos constructively now with your presence–with your passion and compassion–because there are no “do overs”.  As Andy DuFrame said in The Shawshank Redemption, get busy living or get busy dying.

Maybe you do believe there is something beyond this place–if so I am with you–I envision a life beyond. But it pains me greatly when I see so many who believe in something beyond just treading water here. Waiting for a glory to come without thought to the fact that right now is the starting point to everything that will be. Transcendent glory must be tasted now to be devoured later. If there is a next life, surely the trajectory of this life will determine the destination in that one. So, are we busy living or busy dying? Loving or fearing? Trudging or triumphing?

Or maybe you haven’t a decided position. Is death a wall or hall? What does it matter? The moment still stands. Now. The life you have. We humans are so different in outlook and understanding, but this great truth binds us all–life comes to each exactly the same way. Some of us seize the day we have and become fully alive. Some of us don’t, or won’t. And that will make all the difference.

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