Contacting Craig

To contact Craig for speaking or interview opportunities, email at
Visit his website (Big Fat Grace) at

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

"Why?" (Some thoughts about Grace and the tragic death of a friend)

Last weekend I found out that a high school friend of mine had died. She was several years younger than me but a friend none the less. I'm not going to post her name or information here, partly out of respect and partly because her death sparked some things in my soul and I am going to speak my mind and I don't want my thoughts directly attached to her passing.
My friend was a beautiful, sweet girl when I saw her last. She came from a very devout home. Her parents and siblings were good people. Very good people.
In no way would you ever look at her life and, knowing her background, think she was someone who was ever going to wind up drinking herself to death one day. But that's what happened.
I don't know how old she is, but she's a few years younger than me. I'm 49. She was probably 44 or 45. That's awfully young to die from something so awful. It's no way to die at all.
It's also no way to live. What follows here is not an indictment on anyone. It's conjecture, but I believe it's based in fact. I believe this because I have watched too many friends from that period in time, ruin their lives in some form or fashion. And the undercurrent to it all was a horrible, grinding adherence to a legalistic belief system and a miserable, unfathomable avoidance of Grace. Real Grace. The Grace of a loving God. Not the "grace" that makes you feel like a beggar every single day of your life. Not the pathetic, legalistic, Pharisaical, cruel, systematic grace that is never really yours. That you have to earn, but never quite can. That you have to work to keep but never really have confidence that you have kept it.
The kind of horrible excuse for "grace" that forces someone to hide their addictions  -whatever they might be- instead of  blurting them out to those who would call themselves your "Sisters and brothers in the Lord" and finding the help you need. The niggling, petty, diminutive grace that barely covers our "old sins" and holds no room for any sins in the future. The grace that teaches us that we can never lose our salvation because it was a gift. But then sends the signal that the God who sent us the gift regrets offering it every single day, because we never work hard enough to have "deserved" it or to be worthy of it. In the culture of graceless grace, my friend could never have opened up and asked for help. Because "saved people don't have addictions." Because, after all, "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature. The old things pass away and all things become new"  (II Cor 5:17)  Here is the problem with quoting this verse and not understanding it's dangerous. The circle I ran in, and my friend ran in more so than I did, only adhere to the King James Version of the Bible. Now, I own the KJV and I use it when I am in churches who hold to this particular preference. It's a VERY good translation. It's very accurate. But it is not perfect. The problem with the KJV is that the English is about 600 years old. So verses can be excessively harsh if you don't understand their proper translation from Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic. This verse is a prime example.
"If any man be in Christ..."  "In Christ" means that a person has experienced the New Birth. They are Born Again. Pretty easy there. Then it says this person is a "new creature". This is where the legalists start getting in trouble. The "new creature" here means not a renewed version of what this person was before their head-on collision moment with Jesus. They aren't a "new" Craig Daliessio. They are a new creature. "New" here is  kainos. It's a Greek word that depicts not some new and different but new like a baby. You aren't just going into the shop for a are starting over from scratch. You are not starting as a spiritual adult. You are a newborn. A new creation. A kainos. The term "old things become new" is future perfect tense. Those old things are becoming new...a little at a by day. We grow each day and God removes things as we go along and replaces things as we go along. It is a lifelong growing process. The circle I ran in, and that my friend ran in, never saw it like that. They saw the "new creature" as perfect from the beginning. No excuse for falling and failing. If you failed, there had to be an accompanying trip to the altar where you confessed your state of being "out of fellowship" and you made a tearful penance which had to be as emotional as your salvation was originally. There became a habit of constantly spending time at the altar every Sunday, "searching your heart" for "unrecognized sins" and confessing things that probably didn't need confession. It became a system that produced not strong sons and daughters of God, who walked in the unfathomable love of their Father, but a groveling colony of worms who never saw anything in themselves that God could love and so they spent their lives trying to manufacture something. It produced a hollow, feeble, empty, tenuous grace that we feared losing. Healthy Christians fear God the right way. The term for "Fearing God" is what you feel when you see the Ocean. Or when you stand in the distance as a powerful thunderstorm rolls by. Or when you watch a baby being born. Or when you stare into a starry field on a perfectly clear night and are in awe of the power that could create that. That is fearing God. The fear of God we learned was not reverent was dread. It was what people felt about Tony Soprano. It was frightful. He was a brut and a capricious taskmaster. He could never be counted on to let His face shine on us as He did on David. We were never told that He was wildly, passionately, ridiculously in love with us. We were never told that He didn't hate us. He wasn't angry at our sin. Read that again...He wasn't angry at our sin. He isn't angry at it now. His anger was vented at Calvary. The debt was paid. From that point on, it was a simple matter of justice, not vengeance. Not punishment. He punished Jesus for those sins. He doesn't ask for double payment. If you accept Jesus as Savior, your debt is paid, and a just God is satisfied. On that terrible day when judgement falls, it won't be a God who is laughing and wringing His hands as He watches the lost walking into an eternal Hell. It will be a broken-hearted God, who did all He could by paying the price. He will have tears in his eyes and no joy on his face as sin is expelled forever. But they never told us this. They never painted this picture.
They taught us about a God who was a tyrant and a fearful, vengeful, capricious score-keeper. We never knew exactly what would make him happy so we'd better be trying everything we could think of.
And God forbid you admit to secrets and sins. God forbid you have an addiction that you can't beat. They'll doubt your salvation. They'll question your faith. They'll shame your parents. They'll use you as an example in sermons. They cast you out and make you grovel and beg to come back. But they won't show you Grace. Not the grace of God. Not the love of God.
And so my friend wrestled with the bottle and the demons that made her drink. And she couldn't find grace and she couldn't find help and she couldn't reconcile her humanity and her frailty with the life we were all told we were supposed to be living. And so she died a horrible, miserable, tragic death.
She will end up in whispers and bywords. She'll be mentioned as the nameless example of how "sin when it is finished bringeth forth death". But they won't ever grasp how this happened. How the lies they told about the God who loved her contributed to her demise.
The graceless prophets of legalism will pick a few bones and crow under their breath. "This is what happens". They could have been Jesus to her when she was wrestling with the bottle in the middle of the night. When she probably tried to cry out to the God she was convinced could never love her or forgive her. They could have been there to explain that He will never, ever stop loving her and there was nothing to forgive that hadn't already been forgiven.
They should have told her how being human means wrestling with these things until the day we die. They should have told her that it was nothing, this alcoholism. It was nothing that God didn't already allow for. That it only became sin when she let it come between her and the love He has for her. They could have been open and honest and transparent and broken themselves over their own sins and failures, But they weren't and so she drank until her body gave out.
She is at peace now. Resting in the Grace she never tasted here. Because it was never offered.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

If Only...

If we ever were to grasp how much God loved us...I wonder how far that knowledge would carry us.
I wonder what sort of prayers I might pray if I was sure...really sure...that He was at least as eager to hear my voice and grant my request as I am with my daughter. Undoubtedly He loves me even more than that, but it's the strongest feeling of love I know personally.
What kind of peace would I know, in the midst of the turmoil my life has been stuck in for 5 years now, if underneath it all, I really grasped that God was absolutely, breathlessly wild about me. That even this was not only something He "permitted" but something He weighed in His balances eons ago, decided it was the very best thing for me, and then orchestrated more minute details within this desert I've been walking than I will ever know about. He has never --not even once-- been caught off guard by my struggle. Nothing that has happened has be reactionary on His part. Everything happens right now and He always knew about it.
What kind of love could I show to other people...especially people I distrust, dislike, disavow, disagree with, or the ones who just plain annoy me? If my experience of the love of Jesus in my own life was so genuine and so entirely dependent solely on Him, then I wouldn't need to try (in vain) to elevate myself in my own eyes by standing on someone else, or their dreams, or their stupid habits that make me want to smack them. If I really grasped the overwhelming flood of wild, out-of-control love He has for me, there would be enough left over to spill over the others around me. The ones I have such a hard time loving on my own.
What would silence feel like if I could hear His constant whispers: "I love you so much"
What would a walk in the woods feel like? Or along the beach? What would I see in a starry night or in an approaching thunderstorm? What kind of dad would I be if I was able to love my daughter from the bottomless well from which God loves me?
What would it do with the knowledge I've gained with my Bachelors and will gain in Seminary? What would it do to the words on my pages and the speeches and sermons I deliver?
We try all our lives to attain the approval of people around us. It's nearly impossible and it's more fleeting than a breath on a winters morning.
God...the parts of our hearts that receive love are so damaged. It's hard to love each other and to let others love us...much less to believe that You want to. Please give me the kind of heart that loves you enough to let you love me.

Monday, June 10, 2013

We Are Not As Strong As We Think We Are...

If you are a Rich Mullins fan, you'll recognize the title of this post as the title of a song Rich did in the mid 90's, just prior to his death in 1997.
The song is one of my very favorite Mullins' tunes, and in true Rich Mullins form, it never made it onto any album. The story, if I remember it correctly, is that he intended it to go on the original Ragamuffin record (A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band) but simply forgot to include it. It didn't fit well with "Brother's Keeper" and so he left it off that one too, but it was included on his "Songs" record, and the set list for almost every show in the BK tour.
I saw Rich and the Rags at the Ryman Auditorium in November 1995. Rich performed the song and I fell in love with it.  The chorus is one of the most concise, complete descriptions of the human condition I have ever heard or read. It's everything a Ragamuffin really is:
"We are frail. We are fearfully and wonderfully made
Forged in the fires of human passion
Choking on the fumes of selfish rage
And with these our Hells and our Heavens
So few inches apart
We must be awfully small, and not as strong as we think we are."
Once again...Rich got it.
Rich was honest enough to admit lyrically what we all knew in our hearts and what so many of us refuse to say out loud. That we are broken. That our hearts spend far more time in various stages of breaking and in subsequent pieces, than they do in joyous wholeness. Rich admitted, for everyone who would be truthful enough to permit him to speak for them, that they were tired of trying to deny their brokenness. That they were through with pretending. That they had grown so very weary of shifting the heavy suitcase from the right hand to the left, and back again...never finding rest. (Thank you Brennan for that eternally perfect visual)
This is the second time in five years that I find myself homeless. The first time lasted 3 1/2 years. This time is currently at the 4 1/2 month mark. But it feels longer. It hurts more than the first 3 1/2 years ever did. Because for 14 months I had a place to live, and work was going reasonably well, and I had begun "walking upright" again. (Shame and embarrassment will literally stoop your shoulders as it bends your spirit, thus I refer to living without shame as "walking upright")
Last night was torturous. I had a hockey game at 5:45. I play hockey with, hands-down, the best bunch of guys that anyone could ask for. Sunday night hockey has been my refuge. The place I can go for 3 hours a week and feel like I'm just one of the guys again. The men I play with are funny, sincere, caring, rough-around-the-edges, but under it all they want to see me bounce back. I think they instinctively know that their friendship and camaraderie are keeping me alive right now. They cheer my meager successes and look out for opportunities for me to get out of this mire. We had an early game last night, at 5:45. By the time we were done, and had showered and met up at the local restaurant for a bite to eat it was about 7:45. I had been blessed with the sale of a couple of books that morning, quite accidentally, and so I had a few dollars so I could join the boys for a while.
I went to the place I park my truck at 9:15. The sky was already flashing. Rain was coming. It had rained almost all day and another band of storms was heading for us. Sleeping in your car leaves you at the mercy of the weather. Last night was warm and muggy and as soon as the storms came in I had to roll the windows up. The truck was stifling within an hour. On top of that, I felt like I couldn't breathe. The air was still and stale and I tossed and turned all night. The rains never really let up until 4 AM. I slept maybe an hour so today I am a zombie.
It was enough to break me. This is a hard life and I am very weary of it.
I'm not as tough as I like to think I am or as people see me. This life is hard. This isn't the world we were built for.
Yesterday I got sucked back into an argument online that began three years ago. I defended someone back then who was a friend. In the interim, that relationship has...ummm...changed. (I don't wish to air this set of dirty laundry so this is all I'll say.) The guy I defended this "friend" against, somehow dragged me back into his continuing attack. I could care less. I wish to be left alone in this matter but the guy just won't stop.
He was describing me to some unknown Tweep last night around 1AM. He described me as "Angry, tortured and claiming that I hate him" Well first of all I don't think enough of him to hate him. He really is inconsequential to me, and to the rest of the world (as we all are). But something about him calling me "tortured" really struck a nerve. Not in anger but in a sense of relief. Yes of course I am, James (his name) we all are in some form. I responded to him:
"Well in that you are correct. I am tortured. Like Brennan Manning. We are irretrievably broken and frail held together by wisps of hope and desperate prayers in the wolf hour.  We seldom have it together. We shift the heavy suitcase from one hand to the next looking for relief. We read about God's love and desperately try to convince ourselves it's true. We measure ourselves against each other, hoping we come out okay. We carry the scars of life and limp to the finish line, and the only real "grace" we taste is the grace God gives us to take just one more step, to not quit because our kid needs us and our family needs us. We read about grace being "sufficient" and  then we find out that more often than not "sufficient" means "barely enough to survive" but enough. We walk each day in a world we weren't built for and we stumble and fall and it hurts being human. The difference between us, Jim, is that you find comfort in bashing everyone else for falling or even for disagreeing with you. It's how you make your life tolerable. Me...I see everyone as ragamuffins. Even you. The Philly Italian in me would hate you easily. But the failed, fractured, very broken and barely redeemed ragamuffin in me sees through you. I don't pity you, because you are to prideful for pity. But I see torture when I see you and how you act toward everyone else except those who hold you in awe."
That was my response to him last night. It's so true and as much as I dislike this man intensely, I wish he would read what I wrote and really grasp it. I wish he would grasp that he is as broken as any of the people he attacks for being broken. I wish he understood that his game isn't new. People have been doing this for eons. I have had four or five pastors in my life and I loved them all, but my favorite by far was Pastor Paul Walters at Praise Assembly. He is retired now but the six years I spent attending that church did more for my life as a Christian than any other period before or since. He was always ready with a bit of anecdotal wisdom that perfectly fit the situation. One time he was preaching a sermon about difficult people and he said something I'll never forget. He said "Remember, the hurters are the hurting".
Pastor Paul had been wounded deeply at a former church and he found it in his heart to be forgiving and gracious when anger would have been acceptable. "The hurters are the hurting". In every case, excepting maybe true sociopathic behavior, when someone attacks you and wounds you, it comes from the wounds they themselves carry. Most of the time, those wounds are found in something very similar to what they are attacking you for.
James, the man I mentioned above, is just another wounded, limping ragamuffin. He spent seven years or so attacking this guy who was once a friend of mine and proclaiming certain "sins" that he is also guilty of. In a mildly different form, mind you, but guilty nonetheless. Three years ago I hated this guy for it. Now I almost pity him. Five years of crushing disappointment has taught me many things. One of them is how to spot an angry, hurting man or woman. How to understand the difference between a dog that barks because it's vicious, and a dog that barks because it is scared. It's scared but it doesn't want you to know it is scared, so it bares it's teeth and comes after you like a wild animal. In truth, the dog is desperate to just lay down and rest. But maybe it was abused and it is too afraid to believe that rest can be found. So it barks instead. And in doing so it loses any chance of becoming a beloved member of the family, and  finds itself a stray.
We all do this. All of us. Even James...who offers the world a view of a guy with all the answers, a great plan and the relentless force to wear down anyone who tries to disagree or dissuade. The truth is that deep inside, there is the same weary ragamuffin that lives in us all. Because he is as fallen as I am. He is as broken and fractured and as wounded as I am. He'll probably never admit it, and that's sad. Admitting it doesn't mean it beat you. It doesn't mean you don't have faith. It doesn't mean you aren't as good as anyone else. It means you are honest and admit that sometimes...with all the prayers and Bible verses and hymns and books on still don't think you can make it. Sometimes life still doesn't go right. Sometimes you just can't paint a smiley face on your situation anymore. Sometimes your prayers become loud, desperate questions. Sometimes you claw at the ground and spit at the sky. Because we are frail. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. We are not as strong as we think we are. We are broken and will remain broken until Heaven. In the interim, we discover the Grace of a loving God. His grace is "sufficient". Sometimes that means overflowing and abundant and other times it is barely enough to hang on until daybreak.
We do much better when we admit this...when we grasp it and let it be the truth we tell. Because once I say "I am hurting...I need a friend...I want to quit"  Then we can stop shifting that suitcase from one had to the other and we can finally set it down. I prayed at moments throughout the night last night. I prayed and asked God to help me stop trying to be everything to everyone and stop trying to smile through this awful desert I find myself walking through. If I must suffer, let me suffer well. Suffering causes pain and saps your strength.
But I have set down the suitcase. I will be who I am. Not who James thinks I must be or who Williamson County Christendom says I should be. I am a hurting hurter...just like every soul alive on earth. I can't stop the hurt I feel but I keep trying to rein in the hurt I dish out. James...consider doing the same, because you have so much to offer.
"We are frail,
We are fearfully and wonderfully made.
Forged in the fires of human passion
Choking on the fumes of selfish rage
And with these our Hells and our Heavens
So few inches apart
We must be awfully small
And not as strong as we think we are. "

Monday, June 3, 2013

Hope deferred...

The Bible says Hope deferred makes the heart sick.
The Bible is never wrong.
Three weeks ago I went to East Nashville to meet a guy who had a weeks worth of work for me. (That's how he described it. For me it was probably 3 days...maybe 4) He was two hours late showing up. Probably should have known right there that this was trouble.
But I needed the work and I was trying to send my daughter to Youth group camp with her church. She is such a great kid and she loves Jesus and that's the sort of thing you try to promote and encourage. So this job was perfect timing. So it seemed.
The guy was late, as I said. It became obvious that he doesn't know what he's doing rehabbing a 150 year old mansion. He's an IT guy. He had some ideas. I had some much better ones and shared them and he loved them. He agreed on my rate and we set a starting date. Two days away at the time.
I am too weary to recount the whole thing but suffice it to say...the job never actually materialized. Week one, he was trying to find materials. Week two he was negotiating with the owner (it's an owner occupied deal for him) and the owner wants doors more in keeping with the original architecture. We were all set to get rolling on Memorial day. Friday...then Saturday...then Sunday came and he never called me. I called him. No answer. I called him answer. same thing on Wednesday. Friday I finally left him a nasty voice mail. Sunday night he called me back and I ignored the call. He has nothing to say to me now. He left a message and I erased it without listening. This is the third time in two weeks people have done this sort of thing. I'm guessing they ran into someone cheaper, because my work is superior.
Each time, I had a little hope. Each time...hope disappeared.
Back home people never do this stuff. Never.
This isn't my usual prose or beautiful flowing writing. It's just a vent. Because I need to vent when I am losing hope.