What Is Your Epitaph?

The masculine initiation can often be characterized not as a series of high achievements,

but rather as a series of humiliations of the false self.


Within the span of a single month last year, the world lost too many really good men. A few were elders; their crossing over was filled with sorrow but also with joy. As Paul taught regarding the life of David, these elders had fulfilled God’s sacred purpose in their generation and now awaited the restoration of all things (Acts 13:36).

But at least one man was cut short of his time.

Jason.

Years ago, I reached out to thank Jason for his contribution to my initiation; that connection planted seeds of a friendship. Last year, he took his own life. It broke my heart.

When I received the news of his death, I was shocked. I sat stone-still for several moments, watching specks of dust shimmer in the winter light cascading through our southern windows. Then, as my shock turned to pain, I knew I had to get outside. Though it was cold, I found a patch of earth tucked in from the wind, and with the sun on my face, I fell apart.

I can’t remember the last time I couldn’t hold it together. I’ve become long accustomed to soldiering up and doing hard things. I’ve been rewarded for it for decades. Yet on that day, something in me finally broke open.

There was much to process. The terrible loss of Jason’s life. The excruciating pain his wife and two young children will have to endure. The gaping hole left in the world from his death.

But there was something else.

And in the belief that sharing in vulnerability strengthens our community, I want to share the picture that came to me: it was a vision of my own funeral. Or better said, a vision of the funeral of a version of the man I have become and who I’m afraid will have the final word on my story.

In this scene, I saw the faces of those closest to me: my daughter, my son, and my wife. All the other faces were out of view. I sensed that someone was speaking words—offering a eulogy regarding the impact of my life. And then the picture shifted to a grave marker and the epitaph carved upon it:

 

The words were alarming, yet so very true of an aspect of the man I have become. I let them find their way into me, again and again…

He came through,

proudly and anxiously,

for many and much,

at the expense of

who and what mattered most.

I know this man inside of me. I’ve lived with him all my life. I’ve served him, strengthened him, matured him, and demanded that his effort provide me some version of peace, safety, and validation.

And he has let me down.

That afternoon, I wept over the death of Jason. But I also wept over the man I have, in part, become, a man who anxiously and proudly comes through for many and much at the expense of who and what matters most.

It was then that the Father kindly and confidently reminded me that this anxious, proud, self-sufficient man is not the only truth. There is another man alive in me as well: a less mature but more true man.

There is a true man within me who is being initiated by a Good Father and has set his heart on things above, not on the things of the world’s system. A man in me who loves who and what he sees in the mirror. A man who is growing in his capacity to receive God’s love and to love God and others as himself in the overflow of that love.

Both men are within me.

And the question I have is this: which man will have the final word on my life?

Almost two millennia ago, the apostle Paul articulated this crux of the human experience: we have two selves within us, both contending for primacy.

As I continued to reflect, I realized I had come to another fork in the narrow road of the masculine journey. It is my choice. There are two men within me with very different motives, different fuels, different destinations, and different relationships.

And there are two potential epitaphs.

Which one will ring true at the end of my life?

In the weeks that followed, I asked other trusted, like-hearted men this question:

How about you? Who is the impostor within? What would be the epitaph for your false self?

Each courageously took time to form his own version of an epitaph for his self-life. And with their blessing, I have shared some of them below:

He finally made it happen.

He reached the goal.

He pushed through every obstacle, including the ones he loved.

~

He left an indelible mark…on his couch.

~

He was smarter and better than everyone else.

He was untouchable, able to push everyone away to not get hurt again.

He died rich and alone and empty inside.

~

He pursued the self-life and got results,

but they were never enough.

Never good enough and quite frustrating,

Even infuriating, below the water line.

Maybe the results impressed some from a distance, but never those who mattered.

A costly game he played…

~

He always felt care for his heart was synonymous with selfishness.

He was paralyzed to step into the octagon in times of need.

Unfathered orphans and a broken widow are his legacy.

Well done, indeed.

~

God’s poet,

Who described the frontier of God’s grace

Only from his view at the fenceline.

~

He was a Diamond travel member,

Promoted every decade,

Made double-digit moves across the country,

but ignored his elderly Dad,

Held unforgiveness tight on his heart

and brought revenge for those who crossed him.

~

He was distracted, never present, on his phone.

He loved with condition, ignored the present, and his famous last words were, “I don’t have time. Maybe someday.”  

~

His wife thought she married a man, but learned later he was but a boy.

~

He rushed and hurried and stayed busy, because he prized relevance over Reverence.

~

He graduated with honors from the “Nice Guy Academy.”

~

Master Illusionist – He had it all in control

~

Here lies an orphan

Never trusted anyone

Doubted God

Strove to “make it happen” by himself

Angry, afraid, alone

~

A successful man who relentlessly fought the man he knew he could become

~

Bully, baby, git

Nobody liked him.

He tore the skin off his own hands

To win the approval and applause of those he didn’t know,

Whilst neglecting those he should have loved.

~

He earned his way.

~

He was right.

About everything.

At the expense of relationships he said were dear to him.

He died all alone.

(If you’re viewing on a computer, here is the video of the grave marker collective.)

Here is the good news: the epitaph that describes our false self need not be the final word over our lives. There is another way. The way of apprenticeship to Jesus, the way of pervasive inner transformation.

Instead of denying the reality of the two selves who vie for our allegiance, the Kingdom of God places our hidden inner world on center stage. The Spirit of Jesus teaches us that God’s love comes to expose the false self in order resurrect the true.

As Paul wrote to the followers of Christ in Ephesus, “But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light” (Eph. 5:13 NLT). Through bringing our false selves into the light of God’s love, God transforms them from sources of shame to sources of strength, markers of orientation along the ancient path of recovering the True Man within.

David Brooks, in his book The Road to Character, shares candidly his own version of the false self at work with him:

“I’m paid to be a narcissistic blowhard, to volley my opinions, to appear more confident about them than I really am, to appear smarter than I really am, to appear better and more authoritative than I really am. I have to work harder than most people to avoid a life of smug superficiality. I’ve also become more aware that, like many people these days, I have lived a life of vague moral aspirations—vaguely wanting to be good, vaguely wanting to serve some larger purpose, while lacking a concrete moral vocabulary, a clear understanding of how to live a rich inner life, or even a clear knowledge of how character is developed and depth is achieved.”

He goes onto to explain,

“We live in a society that encourages us to think about how to have a great career but leaves many of us inarticulate about how to cultivate the inner life. The competition to succeed and win admiration is so fierce that it becomes all-consuming. The consumer marketplace encourages us to live by a utilitarian calculus, to satisfy our desires and lose sight of the stakes involved in everyday decisions. The noise of fast and shallow communications makes it harder to hear the quieter sounds that emanate from the depths. We master the skills required for success, but that gives little encouragement to humility, sympathy, and honest self-confrontation, which are necessary for building character.”

Brooks suggests that “resumé virtues” may contribute to short-term success, but eulogy virtues are the ones that matter in the long run. “They’re virtues that get talked about at your funeral, the ones that exist at the core of your being—whether you are kind, brave, honest or faithful; what kind of relationships you formed.”

Here are a few questions that might help you take another step along the narrow road:

Who is the man in you that is no longer working?

What is on his epitaph?

What do you observe about his energy, his motive, his fears, his goals?

Take the time to write out his epitaph.

Then consider, What is the next step for you? How is the Father beckoning you to crucify this false self? How is Father calling forth the true man God meant when he meant you?

And finally, what would you love the epitaph to be for your True Self? In a few words or sentences, what description of your impact would mean the world to you?

Entering the Kingdom means receiving the invitation to the with-God life and entering a grace-fueled process of taking off the old self and becoming the New Man in the spirit and nature of Jesus, our brother. It’s a prevailing story of inner transformation and deepening access to and union with a life, a source, and a person beyond ourselves. Receiving this new way of being human frees us from being at the center of our own story and gives us a safe place to mature in love. It invites us to mature in the life-giving perspective that the life of the Creator of creation is alive and well, is authoring and perfecting a story, and has destined a unique place and sacred purpose in our participation.

In time, I saw two men and two epitaphs. These two men, the false man within me and the true man, have different motives, different fuels, different destinations, and very different relationships. And seeing them both so clearly, I realized I had come to another fork in the narrow road of the masculine journey. It is my choice. Will the epitaph that described my false self  be the pronouncement at the end of my days, the summation of who I was and what I offered? Or will it be said that I was a man who resolved day by day and decade by decade to put the self-life to death in order that the true man, connected to God, could rise and live a life of loving and being loved?

Could I become the kind of man who says yes to a few things that matter most, to live a life that makes his wife proud to call him husband and his kids proud to call him dad?

Will I choose to crucify the energies of self-saving, self-sufficiency, and self-deception in order to receive the intimate resurrection life of Christ acting with me to respond to God’s initiation and learn his heart and his Kingdom as he truly is?

For the Kingdom,

Morgan


“Every moment we make in response to God has a ripple effect, touching family, neighbors, friends, community.”
– Eugene Petersen, The Message

 

 

(1) music bed in epitaph video provided graciously by the Pattersons.

Cultivating a Love Language [Video]

Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion. Let this become the most important thing in your life.

Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child


When we excavate our layers of defenses, we find a longing for more. C. S. Lewis put words to this deep longing in The Weight of Glory:

“In speaking of this desire…I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both…The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

To be fully known and fully loved is perhaps the deepest desire of the human heart. What if so many of the conscious and unconscious choices we make throughout a day are shaped toward its fulfillment, and our gladness or despair the fruit of how it is all playing out?

Is there a different way forward, a path to a reliable Source of being known and being loved? What if our deepest need could be met by the One whose great gladness is to know us and engage with us in every moment of our lives?

Friends, I invite you to pause. To be still, to be seen, and to receive a glimpse into the promise that we are indeed each God’s favorite.

You are.

Enjoy this video from a recent teaching I offered.

For the Kingdom,
Morgan

Context Is Everything

It is the pungent aroma of elk that catches me first, a musk unlike any other in the wild. And it is intoxicating to a bowhunter. The prehistoric smell is a sure sign of close proximity to these giant ghosts of the forest.

As least it should be.

But at this moment, I’m not confident about much of anything in this land. It has been more than a year since I’ve been overnight in wilderness (painful confession), and my mind, heart, and body are rusty, stumbling to find their way. Thankfully, some file deep in the archives of my soul kicks in, and I am able to enter into the thrill of chasing wild for Colorado’s opening of archery season.

I am fully immersed in the rare experience of days without a single spoken word. No human interactions. No fences. No technology (with the exception of an emergency location device should all go sideways). No luxuries, unless you count the toothbrush (minus the handle I sawed off to conserve weight) or the micro flask of Fireball (a longstanding element of backcountry liturgy that joy alone insists upon). For three days, I immerse myself in a choice parcel of Colorado wilderness that stretches over more than 100,000 acres: cascading alpine meadows; rugged rock escarpments; ancient, towering aspen stands; and scores of wild animals that rarely encounter the presence of humans. In the brilliant words of Dan Flores, it is a sensual feast of the minimal.

I confess I find myself on edge as I fumble mentally to select a reliable camp site. I am clumsy with my tent’s guide wires as I work to brace for a potential storm like the one that destroyed my first backcountry tent many years ago. The awareness of three fresh piles of bear scat within a stone’s throw of this spot keeps me more punchy than I’d like to admit.

The first night I lie awake for hours as the light of a full moon holds time in a perpetual twilight. I must finally doze off, because I’m awakened in the dead of night by a magnificent bull elk sounding off with bugles somewhere close enough for me to feel his guttural chuckle shake the earth. Making his bravado known in every fold of the landscape, he calls out to potential mates and challengers alike.

In the predawn hours of opening day, my steps are heavier, noisier, and more awkward than in years past. I feel untested; I have grown softer than I realized from living in a more manicured world than my soul is meant to live in. As I begin to formulate my strategy, it is clear that once again, the advantage goes to the elk and not to me with bow and arrow.

Sweat builds as I work my way across a rugged rock face, hoping to gain the ridge before break of day. As I exert my body, I can feel my soul steadily detox from a plugged-in and instant world. I laugh out loud at the contrast between my life and the simple, rhythmic life cycle of bull elk. When I eventually gain the ridge, I take in the nearly endless expanse of wilderness below and the September thunderheads amassing above.

And I am reminded of this simple reality:

I am utterly dependent.

Through the unknown expanse of this place, the starkness of my dependency leaves me feeling exposed and vulnerable. I consider my dependence on the water I filtered from the creek, my dependence on a flimsy one-man tent at risk of deadfall and underated for late-summer hail storms, my dependence on my minimal food rations, on weather, on survival gear, and on meticulously packed first aid materials.

But it’s more: I am dependent on God. And it is this revelation that causes part of me to recoil.

A wise mentor in the ways of the ancient path often says to me, “Context is everything.”

I think of the past several weeks and how I experienced the truth of this:

  • It was the context of a broken air compressor belt on my truck that created the necessary initiation I needed into deeper agency and fierce mastery in my domain.
  • It was the context of a date with my daughter this week that taught me that, at her age of 11, it’s still more fruitful to be playful and curious about her world than to try to dive deep into the Scriptures.
  • It was choosing the context with my kids of chasing wild in Wyoming that allowed them to step out of their insulated world and experience dependency on food, water, shelter, and God, in the moment-by-moment but also in unexpected challenges like getting stuck in the mud 21 miles from civilization.

And it is in this context of wilderness that I wake up to the truth of my ultimate situation: I am utterly dependence on a Source beyond myself.

Confession: I live the majority of my days within the comfort and convenience of modern life, and dangerously within the illusion of independence and self-sufficiency. And in this context of wilderness, I feel like I am back in confession in the truest sense of the word: each step into this expansive unknown exposes me and requires me to admit to the truth of utter dependency.

I, like many modern men, have been steadily distanced from many important things that were intended to form and forge my masculine soul. Yet as I have watched the wise men who have gone before me choose, I am reminded that I too can create context—trading the insulation of my daily life for experiences of the dependent life that comes only through chosen vulnerability.

Over these days, as I begin to consent, I notice the telltale signs of life returning the confidence in competency. My external world slows to a soul’s pace, and in time, my internal world follows suit. Conversation with God—listening, asking, becoming curious—begins to flow in like a much anticipated tide. The familiar pattern of alignment slowly takes place. I find myself thinking of the people I love and wondering what stories I would share if given the opportunity to honor them. I write the stories in my soul of men I know and admire who are going before me choosing the vulnerable path of initiation. With each passing hour, curiosity about God and his Kingdom takes over my thoughts and imagination. And for moments, here on this uncivilized landscape, it is well in my soul.

Whatever else we need as men, we must sacrificially choose and fight to place ourselves in an environment designed to mature our utter dependency. There is a particular grace (God acting) that flows only in a context of vulnerability. I spend much of my time observing older men, and I see the convergence of increasing time, money, experience, and knowledge that affords many of them to experience ever-increasing self-sufficiency. When exposure and dependency become unpracticed, something goes to sleep inside the soul of a man. I feel this at stake in my own story. Experiences of vulnerability, exposure, and dependency are not only to be found in wilderness. Vulnerability can be found in risking intentional descent into the unknown terrain of our kids’ hearts. Vulnerability can be found in admitting we know little about our vehicles (and other specific dimensions of our unpruned kingdoms), suffering the exposure and experiencing the reward of taking a step to expand our mastery. Exposure can be found in risking to lay off, for a time, the alcohol or other substances we use to manage how we feel in our bodies in order to experience the vulnerability, press through the anguish of powerlessness, and experience once again the restorative power of our utter dependence on God.

It’s the second day. Mid-morning on a clock, perhaps, but I’m spent from having put in a full day’s energy chasing elk. I make my way to camp, lower my bear bag that’s suspended out of reach of other hungry hunters in the area, and fire up the camp stove. Ravenously, I put down calories and settle into a morning coffee. I pause, breathe in the smells, the air, the ancient trees, dead and alive.

And then I hear them. First one, then multiples. It is clear as day: these are elk chirps and meows, just a stone’s throw away. I thought I was done for the day, but my Father has other plans.

I remember dependency…I return to my first love.

I dump my coffee and drop everything save bow, arrows, and range finder, plunging into the dense, dark timber north of the meadow in which I’m camped. The Author of my story is a wild one, and I’m eager to participate in this next chapter.

But it is more than chasing wild. It’s bigger than hunting for an animal and the hope of putting meat in the freezer. It is a hunt to know union.  To bank on the reliability of my Father. To both practice and learn in the deep recesses of my masculine soul a strength that only flows from dependency on the One from whom all strength is resurrected. God, you have my yes. Let’s go…

Friends, context is everything.  

The goal is dependency and the fruit is union. What will you do today to choose to engage your courage and your strength—sacrificially—in order to access the depth of the Kingdom of God known to the masculine soul through utter dependency?

Aldo Leopold reflected in his later years, “There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.”

I am among those who cannot.

And there are also some who can settle for a life without dependency, and some who cannot.

I am among those who cannot.

Perhaps the deepest cry of the heart of God comes out in Jesus’ prayer: “Father, I pray that they might be one with you as I am one with you.” Oh, my friends, let us choose to respond to the invitation to go deeper into this oneness.

What context can you pursue to place your masculine soul in intentional exposure and dependence, in order to experience the reward of strength through the One who is inviting us into more?

For the Kingdom,

Morgan


God, you promise in your word that I honor you when I call for help.

Oh, God, may my yes be yes.

Oh, God, may my no be no.

I give my heart to you and you alone.

Undivided.

I call for help in my trouble and choose to trust that it’s in crying out for help that I honor you, God.

It is through this ask, through turning to you in my deepest and darkest need, that I honor you.

I need you.

More of me penetrated, intoxicated, consumed by your love.

I choose to be completely dependent upon you.

Be a river of life streaming out of me.

Flow into me so that you may flow through me.

You are water.

You are life.

I choose strength through dependency.

I give you my need.

I honor you.

 

(A prayer applied from Psalm 50, MSG)

043: Intensive Series (Episode 4 of 8) [podcast]

Podcast: Subscribe in iTunes | Play in new window | Download


In Renovation of the Heart, Dallas says,

“Our soul is like a stream of water, which gives strength, direction and harmony to every other area of our life. When the stream is as it should be, we are constantly refreshed and exuberant in all we do, because our soul itself is then profusely rooted in the vastness of God and His Kingdom…and all else within us is enlivened and directed by that stream. There we are harmony with God, reality, and the rest of human nature and nature at large.”

It’s been said that the infinite need of the soul can only be satisfied by God’s infinite capacity and desire to satisfy.

The soul was designed for a habitat in which it can thrive.

Let’s dive in behind the scenes for a portion of another session from the most recent Become Good Soil Intensive.

In this episode, among other categories, I refer to an IKEA instruction manual and, by way of contrast, a powerful trailer from Gerber Knives: Hello, Trouble.


Through October 12, we are accepting applications for the next Become Good Soil Intensive. Find out more.

For the Kingdom,

Morgan

Click to Listen

Play

An Invitation – (Now Accepting Applications – Colorado BGS Intensive 2019)

Growing up, my dad was my hero. He was everything I wanted to become. He was strong, yet playful. His courage taught me how to stand up for those in need. He was daring and always dreaming up and investing in our next adventure. He could fix anything from a broken mower to a broken heart. He loved God, and he taught me a life of wholehearted integrity. At every turn, he modeled for me and gave me access to vibrant life in God’s Kingdom. What I remember most was his laugh. And what I’ll never forget was this simple fact: no one loved me more, knew me more, and pursued me more than him. 

And he lives forever because he lives in me.

What will your children say at your funeral? How will you be remembered? What if someone was able to speak these words—of you?

It was Johann Goethe who said, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”

As a desire, this priority seems clear. As a practical reality, however, to recover a life centered on what matters most is a rare and remarkable treasure few find and even fewer are able to sustain.

There is an ancient path, a tried and true road that leads to a life abundant, a life burgeoning with what matters most, a life everlasting. It has always been so. And this hope whispers to us, beckons us in every moment of every day.

Roughly 2,600 years ago, a wild-eyed prophet, living through four of the most violent and tumultuous decades of his country’s history, cried out on behalf of the people:

“Go stand at the crossroads and look around.

   Ask for directions to the old road,

The tried-and-true road. Ask where the good way is, and walk in it.

   You will discover rest and what is right for your soul…”
(from Jeremiah 6:16, The Message, NIV) 

Every generation and every person experiences the devastating loss of the Gospel. And every generation and every unique person is charged with its recovery.

As a small company of like-hearted peers, surrounded by sages who have marked out portions of that tried-and-true road, our team is endeavoring to do everything in our power to participate in the recovery of the Gospel in our generation.

In May of 2019, we will host the 10th Become Good Soil Intensive. As this mission has grown and matured like fine single malt, so has the event. The 2019 Intensive will take place in a new facility here in Colorado and will incorporate more alumni participation, more sages, and more leadership from Kingdom-hearted men who have courageously journeyed through much of a decade of becoming.

It was Dallas who said, “The most important thing about a person is not what they do, but who they become.” Who will you become? What will your wife and children and friends say about the impact of your life? And how will you get there?

We are now accepting applications. The deadline for submitting completed applications is October 12th.

Find out more details about the event and access the application here.

For a behind-the-scenes peek into some of the teaching of the event, be sure to check out the upcoming series on the Become Good Soil podcast, featuring never-before-released content from the 2017 Intensive. The first episode will go live next week.

In the meantime, this week, choose an hour. Write out the eulogy you hope to be spoken at your funeral by those closest to you.

And ask our Father this question: What is next for me in becoming that man?

For the Kingdom,

Morgan

 


Photo by Justin Lukasavige

Receiving the Mother Heart of God

What would it be like to burst with joy and feel ten feet tall?(1) If that were available, where would you find it, and how would you make it last? 

I invite you wonder about the *more* that is possible. Come with me as we explore Sonship – Receiving the Mother Heart of Goda teaching I recently offered at Discovery Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

For the Kingdom,
Morgan

Reflection Questions and More to go deeper into this teaching


(1) Isaiah 66:14 MSG