What I Write About

I write about the infinite number of intersections between every day life and the good news of the God who has come to get us.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Opening Night Jitters

Tonight's our first large group meeting on campus--that's where we gather as a whole community for worship and teaching. I speak a handful of times each year and tonight I'm batting lead-off. I spent just about all day yesterday working on my talk, and it felt heavy and difficult...like trying to roll a bolder out of a mud-pit.

As I was thinking about this talk and why it was so difficult, I looked back over the past ten years of opening-night talks and realized that I almost always feel this way about this first talk. Here are the reasons why:

1. I know that in our crowd of probably 300 or more students tonight, many of them are doing "Christian Rush" where they check out all the fellowship groups on campus before deciding which one they'll plug into. I want to be able to compare favorably with other campus ministers that they'll hear/that they have heard.

2. I want my own students to like me.

3. I know that for some students, they're not doing Christian rush, in fact, they're not sure they want to do anything religious while in college. Tonight might be the very last "religious" thing that they do for a very long time--maybe ever. I want to say just the right thing or present the message in just the right way that maybe it actually connects for the first time, or that it keeps them engaged with Christian community and considering Jesus for a little longer.

4. There will be a couple students there tonight who have never done anything Christian or religious before--how can I speak to them as well, to help them understand what all the fuss is about?

As I considered this list of pressures after a long and somewhat taxing day of laboring over my talk yesterday, I realized two things: these aren't made up, they're genuine and real issues; and in none of it does God appear to be sovereign, faithful, working, good, for me or for these students that I'm charged and privileged to speak to tonight.

So I repented of my functional atheism last night. I repented of the fact that I spend much of my life talking about God being faithful but living as if he was non-existent.

I'm going to go to work with the Lord today. It's good work, it's important work, and it's all way beyond me or my abilities or my gifts to make the important stuff happen. God has to show up in both my preparation today as I finish up and in the students lives all day today as he prepares them to engage our community, be in the midst of our worshipping community, and yes, hear the talk I will give. But God is over this whole equation, start to finish, and that's my hope, my energy, and my motivation as I sit down to go to work with him this morning.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

What He Will, What He Won't, What it Means

What Davis will eat: blueberries, strawberries, grapes, bananas, apples, fresh cucumbers, green peppers, red peppers, Goldfish, rice cakes, raisins

What Davis won't eat: just about anything else

What this means: we're the only parents in America who can frequently be heard saying: "No more fruits or vegetables until you eat more of your pizza/chicken nuggets/hot dog!"

Monday, August 28, 2006

Test-Driving Definitions

Redemption: the act of an outside force or person stepping into an otherwise hopeless situation and bringing about change for the good.

In the Christian story, this is seen ultimately in Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man, taking up residence in the Land of the Ruins to bring about reconciliation between God and People, People with one another, People and the natural created order, and People within themselves.

This Christian redemption has two primary consequences:

1. We are no longer defined, named, or enslaved to our baggage, sin, and brokenness. Jesus is Lord, and He defines us, not our situation or circumstances, past, present or future.

2. Our redemption is not only for ourselves but also for the benefit of those around us. We are redeemed to be a blessing, a gift to the world and a witness to the hope we have in Christ.

Biblical Criticism and Fall Fashions

So I'm having an e-mail conversation with a World-War II generation friend who's questioning the validity of the New Testament based on the objection that the disciples and Jesus clearly thought that the world was going to end in their lifetime. If they were wrong about such a significant thing as that, what else were they wrong about?

There are a couple things to be said about this objection. One is that it was a very popular objection in the early 20th Century and two is that almost no one objects to Christianity on these grounds any more. This is why hanging your faith (or the dismissal of it) on current Biblical criticism is just about the same as banking your 401K on the staying power of this fall's fashion trends. The status changes constantly. What's 'cool' to criticize today will get you laughed at tomorrow.

If you only read Acts and the Epistles, you might, indeed, get the sense that the apostles considered the clock to be ticking and the end of the world to be imminent. However, if you look at the gospels which were 'sourced' by those same apostles, every single time the issue comes up, Jesus is emphatic and adamant: no one knows. Even (and this is almost embarrassing to admit) Jesus didn't know. Only the Father knew.

If the apostles were so sure that the world was going to end, why not put those words in Jesus' mouth? It would have been easy to do. But instead, they report what they actually heard. Jesus would return. All things would be exposed, made right, dealt with. No one knew when that would happen, so best be prepared.

It is in the context of this crucial backdrop that we need to read the letters and the sermons in Acts. The apostles knew that they didn't know. But they did know that Jesus had come and died and risen again and that these events had ushered in the last days, this final season. The Messiah had come and there was not another to be waited for or looked for. It was a new era, the final era before the end of all things. The Holy Spirit was available to all, and everyone now had access to the throne room of grace in Christ.

There was only one more major event to happen in all of history: the return of Christ. This was coming at any point, at any time, and so we need be ready for it--woe to us if it caught us off guard!

Speaking of being ready, I gotta' go make a run to the mall-I hear that friendship bracelets are back in this year.

Friday, August 25, 2006

New Student Welcome by the Numbers

Number of New Student Welcome Events over number of days: 4/6

Number of hot dogs cooked for picnics: 1,000

Number of homemade cookies baked the day before: 1,700

Number of bees attending last night's sweat tea and lemonade picnic at the drink cooler (approx): 500

Number of students attending both picnics last night (approx): 600

Number of students that attended last year's picnic on the better day (we alternate which day we do our picnic with another campus ministry because the day before classes start is clearly the better one): 500

Total number of students who have filled out info cards (approx): 700 (and counting)

Total number of students who filled out info cards last year: 600

Thursday, August 24, 2006

TInkering with Sacred Cows

InterVarsity has been at UNC since the 1950's. One of the great things about that is there's tons of tradition and history. One of the challenges is that there's tons of tradition and history.

Today we're doing our New Student Picnic. For eons, IV at UNC has done our New Student Picnic at Polk Place, the main quad on campus. For eons of IV at UNC alumni, the New Student Picnic at Polk Place is where they got their start in InterVarsity. And so, of course, it's a prized memory and a special event.

But this year, the University changed their policies about the use of Polk Place--no amplification allowed (there's classes that meet right around there). They also had a really old tree up and die on them out of nowhere last year. When they brought in an arborist to examine the problem, they said that it was because of all the foot traffic crushing the roots. Ergo, all events on the Quad now require that we pay hundreds of dollars to fence off the trees to protect them.

Given these factors, we're tinkering with sacred cows and moving the picnic. We're doing two picnics, actually, in two different locations at the same time this afternoon. One location is E-haus Quad, within two hundred yards of three huge high-rise-style dorms that house nearly half of the freshmen class. Being forced to re-think our locations could be the best thing that's happened to our New Student Welcome events in decades.

But when I try to explain all of this to alums, all they can think is that we've been ruined by the University and we're doing this hair-brained scheme. Of course, we might all collapse into a heap tonight after it's all said and done. But good people, I implore you, trust in the Lord to redeem the picnic!

I'll let you all know how it goes tomorrow, if I can get myself out of bed.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Another Mall-Star Sighting

Those of you who have been long-time Piebald Life readers know that I frequent our local mall, Southpointe, for two reasons: 1. Davis loves the play land area and 2. Celebrity jocks hang out there all the time. Last spring I had three Marion Jones sightings, once with her son at the play land for an extended time during which I can testify that she took no performance enhancing drung.

Last night I gathered with Brian Wilcox, Shawn Morrison and Dave Shepley for a little dinner at Champps. All four of us have played fantasy football together at various points and for Shawn and Dave, it was draft night. Our conversation was deeply spiritual, stuff that I'm still pondering this morning: fantasy football draft picks, fantasy baseball, were we going to see Snakes on a Plane, has Samuel L. Jackson ever done a "great movie," and did Shaft count as a "great movie." Questions we all ponder.

On the way out I was saying to Shawn that we needed to look around because you almost always see someone you know at Southpointe mall. And then we saw some folks we knew, sitting right there at a table: Sean May and Raymond Felton with a bunch of other guys who I think had high hopes that their tabs were going to be picked up by the former UNC greats and current NBA over-paids.

Dave, being a former IU Hoosier, was tempted to tell May that he still should have gone IU, but broke from his usual character and showed restraint.

I just chalked it up to yet another star-sighting at the mall...why are these people following me?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Butterfly Effect

Yesterday during our day-long Coordinating Team retreat with the core six student leaders we took a chunk of time in the morning to be with the Lord. I usually enjoy the prospect of extended time to be with God, but yesterday I was anxious.

This busy time of year almost always brings up deeper stuff inside of me. Some years I'm just too busy to deal with it--"not now God." Other years, I pry myself away from trying to make everything happen exactly how I want it to and take a deeper look at what's going on in my soul and what God might want to do in me instead of trying to control what God might want to do around me.

This year, by God's grace and his incessant prompting, I've been digging around to deeper places in my soul than I think I've ever been before. And what's happened is what we often fear might happen--the questions and the loose screws and the issues run deep and at times are overwhelming.

And so yesterday as I was with the Lord, the questions and issues did seem to be overwhelming. My life on the outside--all the activities on campus over the weekend and a full calendar over the next couple weeks--was hyper-active. And my internal life was churning as well, asking deep questions of significance and motivation.

In the midst of this I paused and looked around--we were at a quiet house set back in the woods in Hillsborough, and I was sitting by a small pond. God often uses things in nature to teach me lessons or to speak to me, so I had prayed at the outset that I would be open to anything he would say to me out there.

A butterfly was flapping around. I don't want to offend anyone, but butterflies really aren't all that graceful. They're flight is jerky, and this one in particular seemed to be frenetic and moving in every which direction, almost unable to really direct it's motions.

As I looked at it, I began to wonder how in the world this flimsy little butterfly with all it's jerky and crazy and frantic motions going this way and that could ever manage to land on a flower. How does a butterfly get to where it was designed to go?

And then I realized: by slowing it's wings, of course.

Monday, August 21, 2006

"So what year are you in school?"

You'd think at age 32 I'd stop getting this question.

But Saturday morning as we sweated and shuffled with freshmen and their families moving into high rise dorms, I heard it again. Parents, students, it doesn't matter.

I'm 32 and I still look like I'm 20. In the long run, this might be good, but sometimes in this biz, it gets a little tiring.

Speaking of tiring, I'd love prayers for energy and endurance--a weekend full of activities and events, a day-long retreat today and lots more later this week.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Friday Grab-Bag

*Anyone watch last night's finale of America's Got Talent? Kelly and I watched part of it. If they had given away a dollar for every awkward moment on that show, it would have been much more than a million dollar grand prize.

*Some good movies in the past week--I mentioned earlier Memoirs of a Geisha, we also watched Inside Man with Denzel Washington and directed by Spike Lee. The bank robbery in the movie is so well designed, it's worth it just to see that.

*Today marks the start of the new year for me--a Leadership Gathering tonight and then freshmen move-in tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m. We'd love your prayers for us and especially for incoming students at UNC, that the Lord would meet them in powerful ways during their time in college.

*Historically there's something else that's getting ready to kick off in my life at this time of year apart from getting back into the school-year gear: fantasy football. Alas, this year I had to pause to consider: do I have time to both blog and participate in the sport of hypothetical-o.c.d.-know-it-alls? I thought not. So I fasted and thought long and hard. Two roads diverged in the wood, which path would I take? Would I continue to pour out my heart and soul in trite, pithy messages for the world to see or would I once again languish in the basement of my fantasy football league?

In the end, I came to this conclusion: I'm a better blogger than I am fantasy football player--which is to say, that I can write in complete sentences.

Farewell, fantasy football, maybe next year.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

A Little Old-School Encouragement

The last couple weeks as freshmen get ready to arrive on Saturday, I've been in pre-New Student Outreach stress-out mode. The University has changed so many policies that affect us in regard to space and noise and what we can and can't do on campus that it's making us re-invent (and making me stress out) over tons of details.

And so I wasn't really all that excited this past Saturday to go to an InterVarsity reunion of folks involved in IV between 1965-1975 at UNC, Duke, NC State, and UNC-Greensboro--the only places where IV was happening in North Carolina at the time. I especially didn't want to go (and this is even more indicative of my sin) after I found out that we wouldn't be allowed to do a fundraising pitch.

And then I got there. And I saw why God had me there. I needed to remember why I fight for picnic locations, toil over large group room reservations, and deal with t-shirt complications. I work to welcome 17 and 18-year-olds over the next month so that they might be 50-year-olds who delight in the glory of God and who remember their time in college as ridiculously formative and significant.

We love on young people so that they might become wise old people. We reach out to crazy and sometimes obnoxious kids so they might grow up to be beautiful and wise old folks. This is why we do what we do.

And Jesus wants it more than we do. He is at work in them now as they are preparing to come to us and he will be at work in them long after they leave our communities. We have a small part to play in a larger plan of salvation, a bigger story of redemption.

And so, back to the details of planning, preparing, and most importantly of all praying--but this time with a little bigger perspective on what this is all about.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Beyond Self and Gollum...Which Leads to Tom Petty, Of Course

The thing about our attempts at self-redemption is that it's most often a grasping at fixing something that genuinely needs fixing. We see or feel a problem or lack or need in our lives, and so we go about trying to get things fixed, healed, redeemed.

But these attempts at self-redemption don't ever fully work. We're never able to quite make everything okay within ourselves.

When it comes to trusting to God's redemption in our lives, there are things that we need to do--but it's not what comes naturally. It is a real giving over, submitting, and then waiting. Waiting on God's Spirit, in God's timing, to do the real work that he knows needs to be done.

And to quote the venerable and wise 70's and 80's rocker Tom Petty, the waiting is the hardest part.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Beyond Gollum

One of the most powerful portrayals of this attempting to redeem ourselves is Gollum's character from Lord of the Rings.

Smeagol kills his friend to get the ring ("It's my birthday, precious, give it to me.") He is driven from his home by the people in the town and is forced to survive in the wild. Smeagol is weak. Gollum becomes this larger life, the super-ego, that attempts to redeem and save Smeagol. In the wonderfully powerful scene in the movie where Gollum and Smeagol are talking back and forth to themselves, Gollum asks Smeagol, "Who saved us? It was me! Gollum!"

And so it is with us. In our weakness we attach ourselves to something (med school, the lethargic life, the party life, relationships, our culture or sub-culture, our sexuality or the American dream) and our souls wrap our hopes around that thing. We become like Gollum, taken by what is not a redeemer, wrapped up in what cannot give us life.

There's a principle in Scripture most vividly described by the Psalmist: we become like what we worship. If we will not worship the only Personalizing Person God, we will find something else to worship. In the end, that is who we are. In the end, our lives will stand or fall, will last or will go the way of the shadow, based on where we spent our worship.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Beyond Self-Redemption

"The temptation to take over God's role in our life is the essence of the false self" M. Robert Mullholland, The Deeper Journey

As I read that the other day, it struck me that not only am I tempted to take over God's role in my life in asserting myself outwardly (to control the circumstances of my life) but also inwardly--specifically in my own redemption.

We are born weak and helpless. Eventually we develop skills that overcome some of our weaknesses, but we continually find more weaknesses--there's always more stuff that we can't quite do. So we set out in search of redemption and transformation of this weak self, and there's plenty of redemptive stories that we are invited to participate in.

For much of our country's history, there was the 'pull yourself up by your bootstraps' redemptive story. This had spectacular results in terms of the growth and development of America as the most powerful nation in the world. But it was a story based primarily on fear (failure was always in the near-rear-view mirror) and it demanded a good bit of denial of the internal life. There's no time to be a sissy when you're busy pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.

For the latter half of the twentieth century, the counter-redemptive story that was offered was largely therapeutic--with pop-psychology blossoming all over the western world and especially in the U.S. This was the over-reaction of "feelings rule all" to the previous extreme of the bootstraps redemptive story that essentially dismissed feelings.

Of course, there are many other redemptive stories that circulate around (financial success, sexual conquests, popularity contests), but with these two you begin to get the picture.

But basically, these are all the same thing: attempts of "the false self" to do what only God can do: genuine redemption, a real change of the weak and broken self to a fully human person.

God is the Personalizing Person. He meets broken and weak people and invites them into a story that is genuinely re-making them. It consists both of continuity (we are still recognizably tied to our own history and stories and families of origins and ethnicity) and a radical discontinuity (the old is gone, the new has come).

I suggest that all of us hook our lives into one redemptive story or another--even a 'religious' one that actually uses God for our own prop instead of having God re-make us. As Mullholland suggests, to hook our lives into a redemptive story where we play God will always leave us with a false-self, an empty person. It will always be a half-redemption, if that, and the questions and doubts will always linger--am I still that same old person? This false self must die, or we will die with it long before we actually leave this world.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Loving What I Do

Last night Kelly and I watched "Memoirs of a Geisha." Watching it made me think about a couple things:

First, I'm glad I'm not a geisha--I don't think I look good in face paint.

Secondly, I really do love my job! Let me count the reasons why I've got one of the greatest jobs on the planet:

1. I get to drink lots of over-priced coffee beverages.

2. I get to care for people at a crucial time in their lives when they're asking all of life's biggest questions: who am I? what should I do with my life? does God matter in any of this? should I marry this person? And of course: what do I do with my pot-smoking roommate?

3. It's really hard. I'm part theologian, part pastoral-counselor, part public speaker, part visionary and builder, part evangelist, part R.A, part event-planner, part administrator, part p.r. guy and part fundraiser. I like hard work. Work is good, and work that makes you think and grow and develop is even better. This is good, hard work.

4. I like the seasons of my work: the sprint of the next four weeks will settle in as we head into October and will undulate and moderate and wax and wane throughout the year.

5. Like all jobs, I have annoying paperwork. My boss makes sure I do my annoying paperwork, but she also does more: she encourages me to grow personally, professionally and spiritually. I know that my boss is always entirely for me--how cool is that? How many people can say that?

6. I get to take the mundane stuff of life (roommate conflicts, family squabbles, to date or not to date, school work) and help people see how the good news of Jesus Christ affects all of it. Every little bit. This not only helps them, it reminds me of what is true as well.

This last point makes me remember something bigger. Not everyone is called into full-time ministry. Some people can remember the gospel clearly and engage with it deeply while working at IBM, teaching in a public school, or staying at home with kids.

But for me, I'm gospel-remembering deficient. If I'm not reminding people of the gospel with great regularity, I find that I forget it myself. So God, in his wisdom and mercy, has given me work to do where I am privileged to remind others so that I might remember it myself.

Ministers, missionaries, full-time religious folks are not superheroes. This is simply the place that God has us to shape and to form us into his image. It is simply the place where we are learning to live in and out of the gospel--which is the same call to everyone, no matter where we work. It is no better, no worse a place than the place where God has you right now.

And so I'll stay here, in this great job, until God calls me somewhere else to change and to shape me. But hopefully, that won't be for a while...I'm still working on getting good at that annoying paperwork.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Game On

Every year in early-August IV staff meet in their area teams to pray for and prepare for the fall ahead. It's my opening ceremonies of sorts. When we come back, it's game on.

So I just got back from three days at Lake Gaston. It was a good time, the calm before the storm. I hope to blog about some things that I was thinking about during my time there.

In the mean time, it's just great to be back home with Kelly and the kids and to have one more quiet weekend before things kick into high gear.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Preparing my Kids for Counseling

I want to be the cool dad. That's perhaps a shallow goal in life, but one that I should probably confess to my little blog community.

One of the requisite behaviors of a cool dad is that you actually use the word "cool" with your 2-year-old as much as possible as positive reinforcement to a positive category of behaviors. Peas for dinner, picking up toys, fun gifts from grandparents are all cool. Hitting sister and fidgeting around on the changing table while I'm handling five pounds of toxic waste that have overflowed the diaper--not cool.

I've wondered recently what will happen when I no longer have the monopoly on defining the cool categories. In other words, at some point in Davis' (and Zoe's) life, other people--actors and t.v. stars, classmates, dj's on the radio--will use the same word and fill it with all kinds of meanings that I would hope he doesn't buy into. They will attempt to deconstruct my meaning of cool and infuse it with other meanings, ones that I'm not so sure are so cool. Was I setting them up for moral collapse by using a word that would be co-opted by others in the future?

But as I was thinking about this the other day, it dawned on me that this is true of all of the values that I'm teaching my kids. Many of our words are placeholders for deeper things: family, love, country, church, education, faith, wisdom, joy, friends, God. The more important the word, the more "place-holder-ish" the word itself becomes. I will teach and present my kids with the deeper meanings and values that I believe those placeholders represent. Kelly and I will do this both deliberately by explanation and subversively by our family culture.

But at various points and stages along the way, all our definitions will be subject to challenge, revision, and change. And in the end, all I can do is attempt to be faithful to give correct and good and "real" images and meanings to those placeholders in the broader context of loving my kids as best I can. It cannot be about me controlling them. It cannot be about me always being right.

In the end, they have to make their own choices. Cool is just one of many categories that they'll have to ultimately decide to adapt, re-invent, or leave as is.

And really the bottom line on kids is that as parents we're pretty much bound to screw them up somewhere along the way. So parents out there, just go ahead and put aside two savings funds: the college savings fund and the professional counseling savings fund.

Davis and Zoe will probably be talking about how their dad tried too hard to be cool.

Here's a sweet shot of the two of them. Zoe is striking her 'future movie star' pose.

Here's Zoe at 7 months. She's sitting up and really wants to get stuff that she can't reach...but can't quite crawl yet. She's sprouted a couple of teeth this month. I must also say after my complaining a couple months ago about the lack of sleep around this joint that for the first time in almost three years I can almost definitely count on being able to sleep until 6:30. Zoe's sleep is much better over the past couple weeks. God is good!

Friday, August 04, 2006

Guest Ranter: Middle East Crisis Meets the Hummer

My co-worker Jen Hagin e-mailed this little rant to several of us as she was watching too much cable news a week or so ago. She and her vegeterian-eating self (which is an important bit of background info to help understand the rant) gave me permission to use it and I thought in light of yesterday's post this was fitting. Enjoy!

Here is my rant for the week. It's almost everything y'all pick on me about
in one.

I admit I have been watching too much CNN lately. I have always had a heart for the Middle East conflict, so I often check in to see the latest update. So there I am, already sad and irritated when a Hummer commercial comes on. Maybe it's displaced anger, but I managed to go from prayerfully desiring an end to conflict to wanting to throttle a corporate executive way faster than a Hummer can maneuver out of an average size parking space.

It's a man at a grocery store buying Tofu and soy looking a little sad. He watches as the man behind him loads the conveyor belt with lots of meat. The man gets inspired and leaves to go buy a Hummer and the final scene has him driving with a big smile with the phrase "TAKE BACK YOUR MANHOOD" plastered on the screen. Now I hit a whole new level of irritation that we define manhood by overpriced and environment destroying vehicles.

Well, that wasn't enough for the Hummer advertising man. Then the next day I started to feel like I was being personally targeted when I saw a commercial of a woman at a playground with her son. Another woman and her son cut in front of them at the line for the slide. The woman gets mad and goes out and, you guessed it, buys a Hummer. By her smiling face at the end appears the words "GET YOUR GIRL ON." We're talking about a grown woman with a child, and the sentence doesn't even make sense. Besides, could we be any more stereotypical?

I'm going to turn off the TV now.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

An E-mail with a Friend

Sorry no post earlier today--August in campus ministry is like retail in December, being a CPA during tax season, or being a lemonade-stand operator in 98-degree heat. I'll most likely be a little more hit-or-miss during this stretch.

Below is an e-mail exchange I had with a really sharp student about the Israel-Lebanon crisis. More half-baked thoughts for you to chew on. Enjoy!

Hey Alex,

I've been waiting for some sort of post about the Christian response to the Israel/Lebanon crisis. I did read the blog about the media's portrayal of the situation, but I was wondering if you had any other thoughts about the situation.

I've been trying to process the whole situation and just have some questions. Do
you think that as Christians are we obligated to support Israel, no
matter what? As I was getting ready for work this morning the Today
show was doing a story on how b/c of the Middle East crisis many
Christians think Jesus's return is really close. I actually had to
leave before the piece actually came on but I read one article a couple
of weeks ago about some evangelical ministers attempting to fulfill
prophecy to bring about the second-coming.
http://www.statesman.com/opinion/content/editorial/stories/insight/07/2endtimes.html. Personally, I think that is a little ridiculous. You may not want to dive into this political stuff on your blog, but I'd love to hear your thoughts about it if you get the



Thanks so much for being a thoughtful reader and responder to world issues. I wish I could say that I knew a lot about the issues going on in the Middle East, but it's so complicated and I've been so occupied with other things, I have to say I haven't done much good research into all that's going on in the past couple weeks. That said, of course I have some opinions!

1. It's always been a mess in the Middle East, and Israel has nearly always been in the middle of it. In other words, how can anyone assign particular significance to this event when it's been happening for approximately 4,000 years, or since Joshua led the people across the Jericho at flood stage in Joshua chapter 3.

2. Ergo, people trying to predict the end of the world based on these events: idiots. I wish there was a better word for them, but really there's not.

There's a school of theology that deeply informed much Baptist thinking for much of the past couple hundred years or so that really unraveled the past forty years or so called 'dispensationalism.' Dallas Theological Seminary was the hotbed of it, and Baptists all over the place bought into it. Basically what they attempted to do was break up God's working in Scripture/throughout time into various dispensations in order to explain hard things--like 'the dispensation of multiple wives' for example. Depending on who you talked to, there were anywhere from like four to fourteen dispensations, everyone coming up with their own 'markers' of when one dispensation ended and the other one began. In this line of thinking, Israel continued to hold the central place as God's people.

Dispensationalism was a great idea, except one thing: it's no where in the Bible. But this theology has been so deeply imbedded in our national conscience and sub-conscience, even now when even most Baptists think it's mostly crap, that we (wrongly) continue to put Israel in this place of centrality that it no longer has. Of course the Lord loves Israel, and perhaps there is a special work to be done with and in the Jewish people before it's all said and done, but to continue to 'cue' off Israel as the focal point for God's work and particularly the second coming is silly.

3. So this outdated theological support is why many Christians still today believe we need to stay behind Israel no matter what they do. Of course, one look at the Bible reveals this clearly to be foolish. God dealt with Israel harshly often by the discipline of having them carried off into captivity several times throughout their history precisely because they had strayed from him. I believe that as Christians we are called to love justice and mercy and to speak out against oppression and injustice wherever it rears its' head. I do not know enough in this case to say whether that is Israel's case or not, but I do know that as people of the Spirit we are called to live by the Spirit in discerning what is good and right and true. And that includes how we think about global affairs, and that includes how we think about Israel.

Just some half-baked thoughts, I hope they are helpful. Thanks for your e-mail!


Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Essence of my Piebald Life: The Tidal Wave Meets My Vomiting Aversion

I changed my piebald life description today.

I have a recurring tidal wave dream. I have it when I'm under stress. Sometimes it hits before I actually feel stressed. I had my first tidal wave dream of the school year a couple nights ago. August is here. Students are coming in the next couple weeks. What happens over the course of the next six weeks affects the next four years. In campus ministry if you miss a freshmen class you pay for it for four years.

I hate throwing up. I'd rather be sick for days, ill and nauseaus for hours than actually vomit and get it over with. Throwing up is so oogy feeling.

It struck me as I was praying during my retreat yesterday that my tidal wave dream and my vomiting aversion might have something to do with each other.

The tidal wave dream is a symptom of anxiety produced by fear. The fear is wrapped up in one of my idols: to have a numerically successful and impressive InterVarsity chapter at the University of North Carolina. The tidal wave dream is my nausea. What's making me soul-sick is my idol. What my soul-sickness really needs for me to do is to puke--to give up my idol of what success means and my warped view that it all depends on me to make it happen.

Instead, I coddle my nausea. I give myself all kinds of reasons to grasp for more control. I try to find ways to live with the pain/sickness/fear/anxiety rather than do the one (admittedly difficult) thing that would actually make me feel better.

There's all kinds of images and words for the Biblical word "repentance:" u-turn, to change your mind...but I think yesterday's image of puking is right up there.

I've known people who have been physically or emotionally sick for so long that they actually don't want to get well--they wouldn't know who they were apart from being a sick person. I desperately do not want this to be true of my soul. And yet if I weren't having anxious tidal wave dreams at the beginning of August, would I even recognize myself? If I wasn't worrying about the start of the school year, would that mean that I was less important or less needed?

In one of the most haunting questions in Scripture, Jesus asks a sick man "Do you want to get well?" If it means I have to actually throw up my idols, go through the painful process of letting go of something that somehow makes me feel like I've got more control (which is a lie and an illusion), my honest answer some days is a stubborn, haunched over next to the toilet bowl "no."

And so I pray today: Lord, give me the strength and courage to puke.