Friday, March 30, 2007
Tomorrow morning I'll pull behind Ehringhaus dorm on campus at around 8:30 a.m. I'll pick up Joe and Kevin, two outstanding sophomore guys in our fellowship, and we'll make the two-hour trip to Concord, NC, for Jason Ray's funeral.
Perhaps after eleven years of campus ministry the surprise should be that this is my first funeral, but it's hard to think of it that way.
Joe and Kevin were freshmen last year in Jason Ray's small group Bible study in Ehringhuas. J-Ray and Brian co-led "that" freshmen guy's small group. Every year there seems to be one guys small group that is the powder-keg of quality male leaders that will fuel the chapter for their next four years.
Joe and Kevin were in "that" small group last year. This year they're leading "that" small group with a bunch of their freshmen guys stepping onto leadership next year in several different capacities.
I was scrolling through my cell-phone last night before large group, looking for someone to give a last-minute testimony about a big year-end conference that we're recruiting students to sign up for. I didn't even know that I had it, but there was J-Ray's cell phone number. Do I delete it? I considered for a moment and decided not yet. It felt too permanent or something.
Psychologists say that funerals provide all-important closure. And of course, I'm glad for that for me and for my students. But in another way, of course, I'm glad to say that Jason's legacy will continue for several more student generations, through leadership of many more "that" guy's small groups, long after tomorrow.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Historically, I either grieve something well after the fact or never quite figure out how to do so. This in spite of the fact that I'm an "F" (for Feeling, versus Thinking) on my Myers-Briggs. I've definitely grieved this week. But I'm doing so primarily as a dad, thinking about how the parents must feel to lose their little boy as I look at my little boy. If this had happened five years ago, I'd probably just be in "go" mode.
A big part of my job this week is to free students up to grieve however they might be inclined to do so. I'm constantly surprised by who's deeply affected (and who's not) by tragedy. Some of my students feel like they should be feeling more than they are. Others are deeply disturbed and they barely knew the guy. For some of them, it won't hit them for another week or two or three.
College is a strange time relationally. You can make your best friend for life in one semester. Other people pass through your life, are significant for a time, and then they pass on to other circles of friends. Jason had tons of friends. He knew a zillion people. He was a senior, getting ready to move on. Many had already more or less "said good-bye" to him as they have to so many other second-semester seniors as they prepare to leave.
It's interesting doing grief counseling in the midst of this, or at least to think about doing grief counseling. I was e-mailing a friend yesterday and confessed that I was exhausted physically and emotionally, but all that I had done was deal with logistics (if I watched the local news, I might know who these people are who are calling my cell phone and could at least feel cool) and grieve personally.
Thursday night we're doing our second large group in preparation for Easter: the resurrection. We asked our original speaker to bow out so that we could invite a local pastor to come speak, Scott Vermillion, who had my position before me and who knew Jason very well.
My prayer is that the hope of Easter really will be clear--that we'll make room for Easter in the midst of this immediate, urgent, felt need. My hope is that Easter will be center-stage, the Big Story, and that we'll understand Jason's story in light of that, understand all our stories in light of that. And that as we do so, we'll leave lots of room for people to be wherever they are, wherever they need to be, in processing all the events of the past five days.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
As we've been thinking and praying about how to handle it this week, particularly in our Thursday night weekly large group meeting, is to have Easter be the big Story that makes some sense out of this (littler) story. That forces us to use more substantive words as well as to be more humble in our understanding of what's gone on in the past week.
I've been thinking some about the need that we have to remind ourselves of what is true during times like these. Are we just trying to scream a fairy-tale over the thunderous noises of death? Are we just trying to make ourselves feel better? Or is it that we live this life as a free-fall. And every now and then, someone's parachute opens and their fall as we know it is over for them. And so we gather together, with that one now removed from our presence, and remind ourselves that, we, too, have parachutes. That these things actually work. That what is true is still true for us, even though someone else has passed beyond our understanding of what's going on.
Or is that just a dumb cliche analogy that I thought sounded good in the shower this morning but really sucks, just like most of the rest of them?
I'm grateful to the many of you who have personally e-mailed me or who have posted here on the blog. Thanks for speaking truth and doing a darn good job of avoiding the Precious Moments trinket theological cliches (like the one that I just posted).
I'm also extremely proud of my students who are working to process this as well as serve fellow students who are sometimes in more dire straits than they are.
Monday, March 26, 2007
I had gotten the word last night that they were going to take him off life
support at around 8:00 a.m. At 7:45 this morning I was cutting up bananas
for my kids, wondering how in the world I would handle it if I had to make
that kind of decision for one of them. And I wept, and I wept.
Please continue to be in prayer for the family and for the campus and for
our community. We are praying for Easter to be particularly alive in light
of this event. Either He is alive, and so is Jason, or all is fruitless,
empty, just a random SUV hitting a random person on the side of the road.
Either Hope Wins, or all is lost. And right now, for most of today's
minutes, I've been able to hold onto the reality that Hope Wins.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Jason has made some very small but hopeful steps in the past day or so.
We're hosting a night of worship and prayer on his behalf tonight at 8:00 in
Hanes Art Center for those of you who are students who haven't gotten the
word yet and would like to come. Please continue to pray for Jason, his
family, the doctors, the students as they process this together and for me
to have wisdom as I work through this myself and help my students to do so
Thanks for your prayers,
Saturday, March 24, 2007
Those of you who watched the UNC basketball game last night may have heard
the announcers talking about a student, Jason Ray, who was on the
cheerleading team who had been hit by a car and was in critical condition.
Jason is a senior who has been heavily involved in InterVarsity since his
freshmen year and is a dearly beloved part of our community. The latest
news last night was that he was completely on life support and they were
awaiting the arrival of family before making any decisions about what to do
Clearly, this is devastating news to many in our community and to the
broader campus community as well. Jason is a quality human being with tons
of gifts and talents and he has many friends in many different parts of
Please pray for our community as we process this event, pray for his family,
pray for me as today we are supposed to be in the middle of a day-long
process of selecting leaders for the fall and I'm not sure that any of us
are in a good place emotionally to make clear decisions.
Thanks for your love and prayers,
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Sociologists invented the term "post-adolescence" to describe adults (mostly males) who continue to live like children for an extended period of time. It is fearful, lazy, self-absorbed, hiding, passive, predatory, spoiled, alone. This is the description of the lead character of the number one comedy on television.
Men run and hide. It's what we do. It's why we retreat to video games and sports rather than pro-actively engage the world around us. My home and ministry worlds both function with men and women in equal partnership together. But I believe that the Scriptures call men to a certain level of initiative that is unique. I think that's because our default is mostly to be passive and lazy, it's how we cover up our fear of being exposed for being frauds.
I was talking with a student about a guy that she has a very healthy, platonic relationship with. She was concerned about a certain set of behaviors in his life, specifically when he was called upon to take significant leadership in a group project. "It's like he screamed 'please don't take me seriously.'" To which I replied, "Exactly." To be taken seriously is to risk something. To perhaps fail. If I'm lazy or just cut-up all the time, there's no real risk involved.
A fallen culture that idolizes youth will inevitably foster a love for the passion of youth and forfeit the wisdom of age. "Two and a Half Men" (and the images of male-ness that it promotes) is a case-study of the type of men that we are producing: forty-one year-olds who revel in the fact that they never learned to move past the mistakes of a twenty-one year old.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
So we went to Best Buy and found a sweet fridge, on deep discount, with an on-line coupon and we bought the floor model--it all added up to a cool fridge and we got it for relatively cheap. We squeezed it into the bed of Kelly's step-dad's pickup truck and brought it home.
The only downside to this fridge is that the quite hum that refrigerators generally make is not so quiet. I'm not sure if it's because it was the floor model, if the make and model is just noisy, or if it's because we had to the refrigerator-equivalent of heart-transplant surgery outside of our house to get it through the front door (in the rain, no less). But it's kind of loud.
Every morning as I'm up with the kids, we listen to classical music. Studies show that kids who listen to classical music have higher iq's, have straighter teeth, and are more likely to win bingo at the retirement home in their old age. Okay, just kidding about the straighter teeth part.
The refrigerator's hum, however, tends to drown out the soft, lilting classical music that's supposedly enriching the uranium of my kids' grey matter.
I was reflecting on that yesterday morning as I was getting ready for my day. Sunday had been a great day of worship, rest, time with the kids and my wife, and some great basketball. But now here it was Monday morning, and my to-do list was over-running my Sunday rest-full-ness. I was anxious and harried. The gospel that was so clear to me 24 hours previous was being drowned out by Monday morning's refrigerator noises of tasks and challenges ahead.
I'm not entirely sure what the "fix" is for either my ice box nor my soul, but my guess is that both will require attention in order to be able to move forward into the life that I really want to live.
Sunday, March 18, 2007
As I was rocking her and hoping against all hope that she'd go back to sleep (she actually did, score one for dad), I considered this passage again.
C.S. Lewis in "The Problem of Pain" says something to the effect that pain is God's megaphone to rouse a deaf world. Alas, the world somehow, inconceivably, manages to remain silent even in the midst of the pain. Therefore, because the pain "event" does not reach it's desired outcome/purpose, there is a lot of unredeemed pain in the world. There's plenty of pain that does not bear good fruit in people's lives.
It seems to me that the crucial promise that James is making here is that in the life of the daughter or son of the Most High God, all our pain is guaranteed to reach it's mark. But again, we must allow it to do so. We still have a participatory role to play, which is why James bothers to write this, why all the Scripture writers bother to write anything. This is good pastoral advice that frames all our pain in the larger picture of it's intended meaning.
There's lots of un-redeemed pain in the world. For the Christian, even in the face of "many kinds" of trials (from garden-variety to catastrophic), there's no reason why that pain should not bear the fruit of life. We've been given many promises--promises both that the pain will come and that the pain must serve our greater good.
Friday, March 16, 2007
*And of course, against Eastern Kentucky my Heels showed why they could win the whole thing (racing out to a 20-something point lead in the first eight minutes of the game), or could lose to anyone (sleepwalking through the last 10 minutes of the first half and the first 5 minutes of the second to cut the lead to 6 at one point). Hopefully we'll finish all our games as well as we finished last night.
*My favorite commercial of the tournament to this point isn't a new one but one that I've pondered deeply and contemplated often as it's aired during games over the past several weeks. Consider, ladies and gentlement, the deep truths and the beauty and wonders of this glorious statement, the opening line of the Golden Corral commercial: "Everything tastes better with bacon."
*I was listening to the opening games on-line while attempting to do some work. The Oral Roberts v. Washington State game was a bit puzzling because the announcers kept talking about "Liberty." I mean sure, you've seen one slightly fundy Christian college, you've seen them all, but can't the announcers get their schools straight? Then I turned on the t.v. and realized that Liberty was the name of an Oral Roberts player.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Check it out!
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
So trials happen. We complain. In the common experience of the world, there is no guarantee that trials will yield anything positive. Plenty of people experience trials, process them angrily, and become embittered. Your nearest retirement community is full of people of this sort.
And so James here in these words is not expressing a "you ought" but a "you may," to steal from theologian Helmut Thielicke. It's not "you ought to consider it pure joy when facing trials of many kinds" but rather "you may consider it pure joy." There is this glorious new option opened up to us. We are free to consider even the harshest trials we face pure joy because we know that in the life in this new Kingdom of God, all the trials that we face must be subjugated for our good. There is a guarantee that it will bear good fruit if we allow it to do so.
And so we suffer trials with great hope. Not because we must but because we are suddenly allowed to. We press into these great promises of trials redeemed, a new and glorious hope that has dawned in the midst of the great blanket of darkness that are the trials of every kind that have assailed every generation since the beginning of time.
Hope wins. And so we are free to live a life of joy in the midst of trials because they must serve us for our good. And this changes everything. And so we rejoice in the hope beyond the trials as James invites us to do, not because we should but because we may.
Monday, March 12, 2007
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
This passage is often engraved on Precious Moments dolls and other Christian trinkets. The general implication is that we're supposed to be glad when life is a colossal disaster.
Let's be clear about what James is saying here. We do not delight in trials in and of themselves. Trials are not our joy. The clock is ticking on the times of trials. There will be a great and glorious day when trials will be no more. Trials have no future. They are passing, momentary, fleeting. To hell with them. They are not our joy.
Our joy is in the fruit that is produced by the good God who walks us through the trials, the God who redeems trials, and yes, the God who from time to time leads us into trials in order to produce this perseverance. Our joy is rooted in the life that is on the other side of the trials as we undergo those trials under the watchful eye and powerful presence of the Holy Spirit.
God is passionate about our growing up. He is a good Father. A Father delights in a two year old doing two year old things. But it would be cause for grave concern if a fifteen year old were still doing two year old things.
We must be mature and complete. God is determined that we should not lack anything. He will spend our whole lives leading us into this outcome. Here in the Land of the Ruins, trials are a primary (indeed, for some of us, the only) way that we arrive at that place.
And so we take great joy not in the trials themselves, but in the hope that we have that these particular trials, tailor-made for us, are leading to something much, much greater; an eternal good that will still be growing in beauty long after the day of trials are over and done with.
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Here's the link to my bracket pool: AK and Friends
The password: GoHeels.
If you've never done this before, this is your chance to add another addiction to your life. The good news is that it's a confined addiction in that it only lasts a couple weeks. The bad news is that it only lasts a couple weeks.
Happy Madness, everyone.
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Christians need to partner anywhere and everywhere they can for the common good.
In other words, the Secular Pluralist's education agenda and the National Organization for Women's "Take Back the Night" march (speaking out against rape) and all other organizations and people groups that fight for justice are instruments of God, whether they know it or not.
God is justice. Justice is not a disembodied virtue. It has it's complete embodiment and root in a Person: Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. All justice is God's justice. It all flows from him and honors him, even if those who are participating in it do not recognize Him or themselves as a part of His plan. Said participants do, of course, miss out on the joy of being a part of that larger thing, but it is no less a God thing because those who participate in it don't see it as such.
So as Christians we need to be as eager as God is to find partnerships in the gospel work of transforming culture and blessing all those we come in contact with. We need to build relationships along with all those who seek justice and to care for the poor and marginalized and oppressed. In so doing we both honor the God who's idea those things are and we build bridges of credibility over which the gospel message can travel.
I'm in conversation right now with the Outreach Coordinator for the Gay and Lesbian Student Association on campus about helping to co-host an Easter weekend gathering for students in their organization. Many students who "come out" are kicked out of their house and have no place to go for the long weekend. I believe that caring for these students by helping to host a meal for them is participating in the reconciling work of the gospel in these student's lives. This is Easter worked out in real relationships. Jesus loves these students. Loves them enough to die for them. Loves them enough to want them to live out right, healthy relationships--something that may not be happening in their lives now but who knows what might happen should the Word who became flesh become flesh to them over a meal during a hard weekend in their lives?
I'm hoping that these types of partnerships might multiply and multiply again in our little part of the world here at UNC. We're already seeing how co-hosting an event with the NAACP, participating with the Campus Y, and joining with groups who are lobbying for action in Sudan and who are lobbying for a safer Carolina is opening up doors for real conversations about a real God who really is all about making wrong things right.
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
Like Marxism, Romanticism, and parachute pants, there will most likely remain ardent followers. And old worldviews never fully go away, they become a part of the cultural consciousness, a patchwork of thoughts and ideas and concepts that continue to inform our understanding of how the world works (or why it doesn't).
By the way, the talk last Thursday that my rants for the last several days have been based on went pretty well. One person received Christ and there have been lots of fun follow-up conversations over the past week with a variety of different people.
It's interesting to see how much my Christian students respond to this type of converation as well as those who aren't Christians. For both sets of students, it's often the first time they've heard someone offer an apologetic or defense of the Christian faith using largely secular terms and engaging in intentional dialogue with the culture to find both points of commonality and to articulate clear places of divergence. Mostly they hear the latter from their Christian sub-culture and have heard very little about the former.
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
The Scriptures capture the essence of this reconciliation wondrously in many places, but this one particularly sings:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. -1 Corinthians 5:17-21This reconciliation, the restoring of right relationships first with God and secondly with everyone and everything else, is the universally necessary work that is available to all. It does not negate the need for or value of education, but it does supercede it. It is the first and most important work.
The Spirit of Activism and Justice is at work to make relationships right, to reconcile relationships anywhere and everywhere they have become broken, disfigured, maimed and then systemized in laws, customs, cultural norms.
It is this reconciliation that restores right relationships in every direction that then frees people up to love one another. And love is a higher virtue than mere tolerance.
Monday, March 05, 2007
If people are basically good, all we need to do is educate them thoroughly and let their innate goodness take over. Then we will all at least tolerate one another, even though we will certainly not all agree on everything.
This has many things going for it. Education is essential to peaceful co-existence on this planet. But education as the panacea for all our ills is a myth.
Let's take life at UNC-Chapel Hill. No one would dare to posit that UNC-Chapel Hill as a university community is free of the ills of racial injustice and other systemic issues. As a subset of people, the students, faculty and staff at UNC-Chapel Hill are in the 99.99999 percentile of the global educational level. And so if a group of over-educated people such as ourselves can't conquer these problems, what hope does 99.9999999 percent of the world have? None.
Education is a critical part of the process, crucial to genuine progress. But it's a myth that education alone will fix everything. And that's a good thing. There's too few with access to the education that would be required to reach this nirvana.
The problems that we're taking on run much deeper than the band-aid of more information. There's a deeper need for transformation that cannot be addressed by morally-neutral educational processes. And the salvation that the world needs must be much more broadly accessible than the illusion offered us by secular pluralism.
Fortunately, it is.
Sunday, March 04, 2007
We were made to be image bearers--bearers of God's perfect image. We were made to represent or reflect something of God's goodness perfectly, if incompletely.
Scot (only one 't') McKnight in his book Embracing Grace uses the analogy of icons on a computer. When you and I were double-clicked on, whenever we took on a task--answered the phone, drove to work, checked e-mail, took a nap--we were supposed to mediate something of God's goodness, His beauty, truth, love, perfection to one another and to experience it ourselves.
But then sin happened, and the icons cracked. Sin is broken relationship. We are fallen, broken relationship-type people. Now when I'm double-clicked on, this icon may or may not produce something of God's character. It depends on how much sleep I got, what I ate for lunch, and if I happen to like you today or not.
We've broken relationship first with God and secondarily with one another, with the ways that we write laws and handle money and sexuality and t.v. and power and natural resources.
See, we were made to worship God, love people and use things. Instead, we worship our own desires, love things and use people.
And so when we come together and make nation-states and militaries and build supermarkets and churches and make movies, it all so easily goes so very wrong.
Friday, March 02, 2007
However, there are some significant places where the Christian worldview and Secular Pluralism diverge--and where I think that Secular Pluralism breaks down. I think there's a Biblical Pluralism that's pretty phenomenal, but that's a whole other night's talk. Let's take a look at some of the places of divergence in order to more fully understand what we're talking about as we talk about Christianity being revolutionary.
The fundamental supposition of Secular Pluralism regarding Human Nature is that people are essentially good. Now if Freud accused Christians of building a religion around wish-fulfillment, I think we can only say that and more for this beginning assertion. Forget Christianity or anything else for the moment. Does the weight of the evidence of human history over the past 5,000 years really bear this out? Doesn't 5,000 years of bloodshed, mindless violence, political tyranny, conquest, slavery, human trafficking, and exploitation of animals, children, and the environment speak to the contrary?
We would like for people to be good. But in actuality, they aren't. We would like to think that we are good. But I think there are few places where we are more self-deluded than in our estimation of our own goodness.
What if we took every thought you've had for the past 24 hours and projected it on this screen? Every single one. How good would you appear to be then? What if we did that for all 225 of us here in this room? How good would we seem to be collectively then?
As much as we might like for it to be the opposite, people are not essentially good. There is much beauty and goodness all around us, certainly. There are moments of transcendence, grace, love, truth, wonder. But they are all just passing. They are quickly tarnished by brokenness.
Very little is as bad as it could be. But none of it is as glorious, and wonderful, as truly good as it was intended to be.
Thursday, March 01, 2007
There's some bad thinking that gets passed around about what Christians think happen after it's all said and done. We do not end up in heaven. We are not sitting around on wispy clouds strumming harps. When all is said and done, God is so deeply committed to what he has created that he does not abandon it but he heals it completely and dwells here, along with us.
Check this out:
1 Then I saw "a new heaven and a new earth," for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the
, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 'He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." Holy City
5 He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!"God, the ultimate and first activist throughout human history is going to dwell here on earth--it's a new earth, but it is the earth all the same. Look even further:
1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be any curse.The healing of the nations. No more mourning or crying. All shall be well. This is the sure and certain hope that the people of God who are activists alongside Him lean into. And the invitation for all of us is to join in his revolutionary, reconciling, restorative work that will one day be done, once and forever.