Spring Break And The Broken Me: Panama City Beach Edition

The lurid tales reaching across the bridge from the Rapneck Riviera (aka Panama City Beach) via cable news and social media are disturbing. I stand with Frank McKeithen’s recent crusade to protect and secure our shores and citizens during Spring Break season. But I wonder if our outrage is misplaced if it’s leveled only towards the drunken frat boys and sorority girls and “100 mile” gang of deviants.

We may hang our head with every voyeuristic Fox News Spring Break expose that works to throw soil in our white sand. But our little beach community isn’t the only ones that should be slumped in shame. Sure, there’s much to lament about Spring Break; not because it’s happening in Panama City Beach, but because Spring Break in Panama City Beach is the manifestation of long broken hearts, homes, and heads in this generation.

Twenty year old kids didn’t learn hedonistic anarchy during their short stay in Panama City Beach. They brought hedonistic anarchy with them. It was a twisted culture ingrained in them. From their music, movies, and magazines of choice. These were long-held values and learned traits. From their colleges, towns, and dareIsay: families.

Spring Break in Panama City Beach may be the delta where this generation’s worldview is spewing it’s fruit, but it’s not the spring. For 30+ years American culture has treated the stage of adolescence to adulthood as a moratorium on morals and common sense. A time to “sow wild oats” and “live it up” until they enter the real world of responsibility. You know obligations to families and bills and such? It’s no wonder the trend now is grown twenty and thirty somethings seeking to extend that adolescent stage into adulthood. Peter Pans with beards loiter in their childhood bedrooms on the continued dime of mom and dad. Seventeen year olds in the greatest generation beat a hell-bent Nazi Regime in World War 2; with their blood. Twenty seven year olds in this generation beat Nazi Zombies in the Call of Duty; with their thumbs.

Bay county can make laws and enforce restrictions that progressively choke the life out of this type of Spring Break in the coming years. I hope it does. That will be good for Panama City Beach. But the delta will spew elsewhere. It must. Because rocks and laws and land can’t stop the powerful rivers of the human heart.

We may say, “That’s not my kids out there.” But they are. They’re America’s kids.

They’re the fruit of the culture of excess and “adolescence” we’ve passively ingested.

Our teenage sons have the common sense to hide their drunken exploits on this side of the bridge. But when we do catch wind of our perfect sons hypocrisy some of us shrugged and winked, “Well, boys will be boys.” Little did we know the can we kicked down the road then would be the grenade that exploded across the news today.

“Our” kids may never indiscriminately shoot a gun into a crowded party. Thank God. But many of “our” kids do passively absorb the cultural trappings that make such a situation ripe. There’s a quiet complicity that pervades the minds of even the best middle class church kids we know. They may never be gang bangers but I promise many will buy the next gang banging album released and know all the lyrics before you can say “Sean Hannity.”

I know this because they’ll be singing it in the hallways, classrooms, and locker rooms of my school.

I’m not just an old codger simply lamenting the olden days of Leave it To Beaver ethics. I’m a decade removed from being a college student. Thirteen years ago I was one of those golden boy youth group leaders buzzing off Jesus on Sunday mornings while still buzzing off the Natty Lites from the night before. Hypocrisy has a home in this heart. I see a kindred spirit in the Spring Breaking revelers. Even now my planks are just masked with an acceptable cultural Christian facade.

The problem isn’t out there in the mythical dark corners of the world we dare not tread. The problem is the actual dark recesses in our own chest cavities we dare not tread. The evil that touches us most intimately every day doesn’t come from without but within (Jeremiah 17:9).

It takes some courage to face the lawlessness of the Spring Break; but it takes supreme courage to face the lawlessness of our own hearts. But a revelation of our own lawlessness begets our own brokenness. And brokenness has a bent towards the only grace that can heal it.

Grace found in Christ is where the wildest hardest hearts are reigned in and melted. It’s where the hope of mourning beach communities like ours resides. Because the deepest issue is not legal, cultural, economical, or social.

It’s moral.

The gospel solution changes moral behavior by forgiving our immoral behavior. Again and again.

Every morning (Lamentations 3:17).

The spring that never runs dry.

And that’s good news for scalawags like Spring Breakers and me.

Bryan Daniels

Driscoll and Ditches and Dirt and Us

As an old-young man: There’s some things I don’t wrestle with anymore.

Yet there’s other things that have my psyche crippled like a Rhonda Rousey armbar.

Ten, OK maybe two, years ago I would gladly jump into a variety of online political or apologetic debates. Acting like my two cents was a million bucks I’d weld philosophic catchphrases like a Thor Hammer:

“Out of context!”

“Straw Man!”

“Ad Hominem, sir!”

Driscoll is wrong and so is everyone

I don’t inject myself into those blog comments and Facebook threads anymore. Maybe it’s life taking me by the shoulders and shaking some sense into my big ornery head. Maybe I’m blinded by the apparent planks protruding from my own eyes. Maybe that sounds humble-bragish, it probably is.

But my mission has become more simple lately. To love my beautiful pregnant wife as the Bridegroom has loved the church. To rear my sons and model manhood to them in a way that makes them see their daily need for Jesus. To put to death the nasty flesh that still lurks around the corners of my own heart. To sow into fellow strugglers and friends the gospel seeds of grace. To teach and coach in such a way that my students and athletes will see that life is bigger than school and sports.

If I strive to do these well: How will I have time to be the interweb keeper of theological/political/philosophical/ecclesiastical/whatever fidelity?

I’ve admittedly spent too much time on Twitter and Facebook (just reactivated) this last week of my summer. One common article theme was regurgitated within my social media circle: The scandal(s) of Mark Driscoll and his Mars Hill Church outing of Act 29 Network.

Five years ago I would have cared a lot more about this cultural Christian news. That’s not to say I don’t care, because there’s still a latent scandal-seeking rubber necker inside me scratching to get out. But there’s too many battled and bruised souls (including mine) in the world to give two rips about the latest fabricated scandal. You could replace “Driscoll” with “Gungor” here and nothing would change about my sentiments.

This isn’t a just Christian problem. It’s a human problem. If it wasn’t Mark Driscoll or Gungor for us it’d be the Kardashians or Jay Z or insert some other political or celebriscandal.

What we humans end up having is a strange echo chamber of faux outrage towards fresh juicy news about public figures. And we almost never really know the people we rage against. Their public persona is largely made by the marketing whims of others. So we breathe our own fiery rhetoric into the heated reactions to reactions all clamoring for anonymous interactions with people we don’t care to meet or know.

If I may corner my own “tribe”: The online Christian community spends so much time and energy being angry at people they don’t know or never will meet I wonder how they have any time and energy to love the people they do know and meet everyday.

I believe the scandals we long to gaze into say more about us than the people involved. Maybe we want to see a chink in the armor of the best among us. Maybe if we peer close enough we’ll see through the shiny marketing and find a soul that’s hemorrhaging a bit like ours. A fellow sinner stumbling in the dark yet desperately reaching for the light.

We need to know the imperfections of our perfect. That we’re not alone in frequently falling into the ditches our own shovels have dug.

I’m with you.

And I believe grace lifts us out of those ditches again and again.

And it enables us to help lift others. The nearest ditch faller is the one we run towards. The souls closest to us need the hand of grace we’ve found in Christ. Not our self-righteous posturing, just our honest forgiven self.

I may pull you out today. Tomorrow I’ll need you to pull me out. It can’t be from afar or from the safe confines of a raging online persona. Let’s make this commitment to one another:

We’re gonna have to get dirty at some point.

Bryan Daniels

An Open Invitation To Those I’ve Hated

Come you bumper sticker theologians and activists

The 33 item man in the 10 items or less lane

All you opinionated e-hard drive by commenters

and my neighborhood speeders.

Come all you cat lovers and treehuggers

and the doomsday preacher of Law keeping

KJV onlyists and skeptical materialists

and Joel Osteen.

Come MSNBC and Fox News hollerers and pundits

Right and left puppet dancers

IRS directors and ambulance chasing lawyers

and Sean Hannity.

Come Kanye come Kardashians

Hollywood bring your elite and your plastic surgeons

Julia Roberts and Lindsey Lohan and Oprah

and Bill Maher.

To dead beat dads and chain smoking pregnant moms

To everyone else in the world I can’t stand

My heartfelt apologies as I stumble to lead the way

To death and falling like dead

before the dying God Man;

Where life begins

Where the worst are forgiven

and the hateful and hurtful put down swords of spite

Like David and Peter and Paul

and me.

Bryan Daniels

….While We’re Busy Asking Favor For A Parking Place

Christian persecution in Sudan

She refuses to deny the name of the only Man

Who lit up her soul in a warped darkened land

Once her child is born she’s on borrowed time

100 lashes and a noose await for her crime

To her family she’ll die an apostate adulteress disgrace

While we’re busy asking Him favor for a parking place

Bring Back our Girls Nigeria

All they ever wanted was to read and write

They’re victims caught up in demonic guerilla fight

It’s illegal to give an education to chattel

So these girls are leverage in the midst of battle

They’ll be kidnapped, raped, and sold without a trace

While we’re busy asking favor for a parking place

While we're busy asking favor for a parking place

And while we dream-speak, blab-grab, and name-claim

Grip old laws to hoard coats and boats and fleeting fame

We forget our bloody Savior who died without friend or home

The apostles and early church torn apart by lions in Rome

Our American god wants to quench our every desire and taste

So we’re busy asking favor for a parking place

Precious bride: The tragedy is not that we’ve lost the cultural war

Or that we’re socialistic or relativistic or materialistic at our core

It’s not that we fail in signs, service, or power

Or that church membership is falling by the hour

It’s that we’ve lost the beautiful simple gospel of His grace

While we’re busy asking favor for a parking place.

Bryan Daniels

Getting blind drunk on 200 proof Grace…

“The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellar full of 1500 year old, 200 proof Grace–bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly. The word of the Gospel–after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps–suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started.” Robert Capon

Turnt on Grace. Let’s start another Reformation of Grace guzzlers shall we?

 

Sleeping Beauty Can Be Ugly

 

The other morning Josiah received a Cyberverse Transformer from my garage-sale-hopping wife (I can neither confirm nor deny she’s addicted). I wouldn’t have recognized this character had his name not been on the unopened box: “MudFlap.” When he’s not a Decepticon-fighting Autobot he’s drag racing the streets as an orange tricked out Chevy Traxx. So he’s a good guy.

But when we lifted his head out of the hood my six year old had a couple of questions:

Mudflap got beat by the ugly tree.

Mudflap got beat by the ugly tree.

“Why is Mudflap ugly? Is he bad?”

I stumbled over an answer and tried to explain how good guys can be ugly too. As parents, we have attempted to sow into our sons the truth that looks have nothing to do with a person’s character. But the dominating wind of culture seemed to blow all those seeds away for a moment.

It got me thinking.

My first crush was probably Ariel, from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.” I was seven. Other than fish scales for legs, she was a knockout redhead with a Barbie body and a voice like a choir of baby angels. A mythical creature.*

Ariel, The Little Mermad

She was good.

And Beautiful.

But this disgusting obese Octo witch wasn’t:

Ursula the Seawitch, Little Mermaid

Bad and Ugly

Sleeping Beauty didn’t have an overbite. Prince Charming didn’t have a double chin.

They’re good.

And beautiful.

Even when the culture tries to get it right, it still gets it wrong. “Beauty and The Beast” has good intentions from the outset, but the chivalrous premise disintegrates in the end. The “Beast” is actually a dude who looks like this:

I mean, come on.

I mean, come on.

You didn’t think a beautiful girl would live happily ever after with that ponytailed Giant Schnauzer did you?

It’s not just a Disney induced disease. “The Avengers” movie series has a similar premise, just for an older audience:

Other than the roid raging Hulk, the main characters consist of 1. A cocky billionaire playboy with a hot wife and genius wit (Iron Man) 2. A god King with a chiseled frame and flowing Fabio like blond hair (Thor) 3. The perfect boy next door and patriot who may be part timing as an Abercrombie and Fitch model (Captain America).

All good guys. All good-looking.

Even though we know this shouldn’t be true, we drink this Kool Aid down. It’s the toxic air we passively breathe, so we rarely notice it. Modern renditions of Christ confirm this. How many commercial caricatures of Jesus make him a tall white Vidal Sassoon spokesman with six-pack abs? A pure and holy pretty boy. A soft Savior:

Not Jesus

You want to know what Christ looked like on earth? Go to any Iraqi village and look into the sun worn face and dark brown eyes of the average male peasant there. You’ll be closer to truth.

But the truth isn’t sexy. And most times, neither is good.

The most evil creature in the world masquerades as a beautiful angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). So beauty, in all of its alluring draw, can be flat-out bad. It can be twisted for the worst.

Let’s reject the fallen outlook that only values what is seen.

The real knights in Shining Armor may have acne.

The real Princesses may be quite plain.

But they shine like stars (Philippians 2:15). Now and ever after.

Bryan Daniels

*I married my very own bombshell redhead 14 years later

I Want To Be A Garbage Truck Man When I Grow Up

Growing up, I wanted to be a garbage truck man. Not a garbage truck driver mind you. THE MAN. The one hanging on for dear life on the rear of the trash dispenser truck as it perilously weaves in and out of neighborhoods. Like the Indiana Jones of city workers. The man who hops off when the truck stops and heaves buckets of mysterious waste into the mouth of a massive trash transformer.

When I was eight years old my dad would ask me.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Some kids say Astronaut. Or Michael Jordan. Or President.

I said half jokingly (I was a sarcastic turd back then too), “A Garbage Truck Man.”

And he would say without missing a beat, “Be the best garbage truck man you can be then.”

Even if I was being a bit tongue in cheek, there was a curious draw to that ancient occupation. The risk of falling off into oncoming traffic any moment. The adventure of the open road ever winding before you. The weighty obligation of rummaging through a whole city’s secret junk. The wind and sun and elements falling on your face and running through your hair.

We had a basketball goal at the end of our neighborhood cul de sac. If we were playing a pickup game the Garbage truck man would sometimes stop a moment and substitute himself in. We’d feed him the rock and he’d drive the lane and throw down a highlight reel dunk. With his jeans and work boots on. And then he’d walk away and hop back on his truck. Like a boss. It was only a 9 foot goal but that was big deal to 9 year olds.

I’ve been a public high school educator and coach for five years now.

I enjoy it.

That being said, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

It’s easy to get caught in the perilous mental trap that conflates who we are with what we do. Success is found in titles, numbers, grades, stats, and bank accounts. We find our worth in our works. This is our born default, and if we’re not careful, our every morning default. “I do this = I am this” is the modern equation of personal identity.

The gospel offers a totally different approach to our fallen math.

Christ did this with his person and work, and based only that, we are now beloved adopted children. Our highest identity is purchased by another. What He did makes us who we are. Our doing was no variable in the equation. At all.

He did this=I am this now. It’s simple beautiful math.

Who knows: I may be an educator, astronaut, coach, doctor, or garbage truck man when I grow up.

Doesn’t really matter.

I know what He’s done.

I know who I am.

Bryan Daniels