Tuesday, July 31, 2007
This speaks to the reality of the Trinity and the essential problem with Western Culture.
The Trinity, as I discussed last week, is the essential reality underneath our experience that all of life is relational. Everything that is, exists by virtue of a specific set of relationships: cells, brains, chairs, cell phones, the game of chess. Everything that exists exists by virtue of a specific, clear set of relationships that makes it what it is.
Including what I call "me." I'd like to think of myself as a self-made person. But that's a big, fat, humongous lie. It's the lie that Western Culture is built on that unfortunately also pervades Western Christian thought.. Rugged individualism is a foundational crack in our understanding of ourselves as a culture. We are who we are by virtue of our relationships. Obesity is just one reflection of that.
That's some of what it means to be "image-bearers" of God. We become who we are by virtue of the relationships that we are in. For better or for worse!
Sunday, July 29, 2007
At the beginning of Acts, Jesus gives his disciples a critical command: "Wait." The Holy Spirit was going to come on them in power. It was the power that was going to propel Christianity from an obscure sect of a small ethnic group to the most globally-transformational movement in the history of the world.
Islam began with a sword. It was to spread by the sword in impressively powerful ways for its first century of existence. Not so with Christianity. Christianity was to be spread by the power of the Spirit. It gained power and prominence not through military conquest but by the death of the martyrs.
And so Jesus commands his disciples to wait.
I don't do well waiting. I hate it, actually. But last night as I began Acts I realized that this was critical for me. I lack peace so much of the time because I lack patience. I am often in a hurry, going from this to that. The tasks of each day feel important, feel like they demand me to move and not linger.
My life feels like it's going in high-gear. Baby number three is due in six weeks. There is so much to do before a new school year begins and then we have a baby that will take me out of the loop for a couple of weeks. Turning the calendar to August always pushes the anxiety and haste button in my soul.
So I need this word of waiting if I'm going to be sane over the next two months. Wait. A rather inglorious word to build a globally-transformational movement on. But there it is.
If I will not submit to the "wait" of my Lord then I will be crushed by the weight of my anxiety and burdens. These are my choices. I pray for clarity, wisdom, peace, and courage to choose the wait that will bless me and all those around me.
[Ed's Note: I'll be in meetings most of this week, posts will be as I can sneak away to get them in]
Thursday, July 26, 2007
My professor summed himself up thusly: "I was an ignorant Australian sitting in a room full of Americans. And to everyone else in the room, the phrase 'four score and seven years ago' meant something deeply significant--it conjured up a whole set of ideas and images and passions and communicated all this sub-text of meaning that I didn't pick up on."
He went on to sum US up thusly: "And so it is with us as we read the New Testament. So much of it is written and addressed to a Jewish audience that would have picked up on Old Testament references without anything like a footnote or a direct quotation. Just picking up on a phrase or a specific image from Daniel or Micah or Isaiah would have resonated deeply with most of the Jews in the audience and would have communicated a whole set of concepts that we just don't pick up on."
It is an unspoken footnote.
I thought about this today as I was reading in Proverbs 30: "Two things I ask of you, O Lord...keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread."
Perhaps many of you perked up as you read that last phrase from Jesus' famous "Lord's Prayer." Jesus does some copyright infringement from the passage that in context goes on to read like this:
"Otherwise I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the Lord?' Or I may become poor and steal and so dishonor the name of my God."
In light of the "unspoken footnote" idea, have to wonder if we wouldn't be doing the "Lord's Prayer" a service if we actually added this part into our recitations. Perhaps then we wouldn't be reciting the Lord's Prayer like ignorant Australians.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
I'm proposing that the Trinity itself offers us an intriguing starting point for discussions. Christianity says that God is not a "monolithic piece of granite in the sky" but a dynamic, ongoing relationship: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And all that we see around us is a relationship: what I call "me" is the product of my social relationships as well as the product of the relationships between my brain, heart, lungs and kidneys. And each one of those organs is itself an "organ in relationship"--made of cells, for example, which also exist by virtue of being in relationship...
The Scriptures teach us that all of creation acts in some way as a pointer or sign to who God is. This is one of the ways that creation does that. The creation mirrors God’s innately relational character by being a creation that is always in relationship. If and when those relationships begin to break down, the creation ceases to exist.
God exists as a relationship. And so he creates a cosmos that is a cosmos in relationship—it is a relationship that exists in and of itself but it is a created thing, a derived thing, and it was intended to exist in relationship with its Creator.
Since our relational nature is borrowed from a larger “life source” in the nature of the Trinity if we were ever to be cut off from that life source, life as we know it would begin to disintegrate. This is what has happened as a result of sin. Sin is broken relationship. We have broken relationship with the God-in-Relationship who created us to exist as derived creatures—creatures who were meant to exist as beings-in-relationship with God.
And so, as the second law of thermodynamics tells us, all things tend towards decay. We die. Our lives are marred by death and broken relationships everywhere—wars, unjust legislation, exploitation, genocide, divorce, lying, manipulation, greed, selfish ambition.
The system of related-ness has broken down. And if nothing is done from the Triune Life Source that stands outside of the system of brokenness then it will simply continue to spiral into decay.
But something has been done to reconcile people to their original relational life-source. God himself has come and entered into our broken relational world and he has offered us a way out. He has come to offer us a life of connected-ness back to the Sustaining Relationship we were intended to feed off of, to live on.
We live on a relationship between the food that we eat and our stomachs that then break down those foods into nutrients and energy that our body needs to survive. Our souls were made to relate to the Triune God in the same way. We were intended to draw life from the Relational Life of the Trinity that then animates our spirits, our imaginations, our minds, our emotions, our wills, our relationships.
And that happens, of course, through the work of Jesus Christ.
[Ed's note: I'm not posting these clips because I think that my paper is so brilliant that everyone should read it. I simply can't think more than one deep thought on any given day]
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
I believe that this passion for justice is a critical bridge between the gospel and the culture that needs to be developed and explored. The spirit of activism that will not rest until things are made right is familiar to Christians. We know that Spirit. It is the Spirit of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is his name, and he also will not rest until all things are made right.
The Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ is similar and different to the spirit of activism that is on campus. It is similar in its’ discontent with things as they are. But it is different in some very significant ways.
Primarily, the Spirit of Christ knows exactly what “justice” means. In our pluralistic culture everyone’s moral decisions are a private matter. Many argue that no one has any right to pass judgment on any one else’s decisions. So how are we to know what justice really is? To scream out that injustice has taken place is to call someone to account for an action that we intuitively know to be wrong. But if it is an action being knowingly perpetrated by someone, then either they do not think it wrong (and to disagree is to impose your morality on them) or they are ignorant (and your attempt at “informing” them is simply another form of cultural imperialism).
Thus, eventually we see that secular, agnostic pluralism must ultimately implode on itself. If all that truly exists is individual choice then, as Nietzsche said, all that’s left is the will to power. If there is no such thing as justice, only localized or personal definitions or constructs of it, then there is no place for any rule of law in any sense of the word. The result can only be anarchy. And in anarchy the strongest survive while the weak are crushed.
There is no place for the concept of “justice” apart from being committed to a search for something that is true and real. We believe as Christians that we know the One who is Justice. We believe we know the Spirit of Activism, the One who is making all things right. Not that Christians already know all the answers or that we always make just decisions. But simply that we are on the way of Justice, we are following in the steps of the One who is moving all of history in the direction of all things being made right.
Sunday, July 22, 2007
5:45 a.m. One or both of the children wake up. Deliver children to Nanny and/or Grampy who are foolish enough to find them cute, even at 5:45 a.m. on vacation.
8:30 a.m. Kelly and I wake up, blessing Nanny and Grampy for being so deluded.
9:15 a.m. Begin process of lathering up 2.0 of the 2.8 children as well as all four adults. Somewhere between age 22 and 32, I developed into my mother's pasty-white skin. It takes me thirty minutes to rub in the spf 30 required to keep me looking as pale when I come back from the beach as I did when I arrived. I look forward to the days of wearing spf 60 and above later in life, a.k.a. "liquid shirt."
9:45 a.m. Arrive at beach. Begin to coax anxious/recalcitrant children into water. Zoe (18 months) clamors for "up" and clings to mom or dad like a tree frog. Davis (3 years) turns tails and flees at any point that the water gets within 50 feet of him.
10:15 a.m. Davis makes contact with water.
10:45 a.m. Zoe demands snack. We produce the requisite Goldfish, which are quickly encrusted with a lovely, sand coating. Kelly and I rationalize that she won't eat any vegetables, so she needs her roughage. Sand-coated Goldfish in place of veggies? Brilliant.
11:15 a.m. Begin to pack up children and all accessories. Realize that we should have started packing up 15 minutes earlier as children flail all the way back home.
11:45 a.m. Kids eat lunch in front of Mr. Rogers.
12:30 p.m. Kids go down for 1:00 nap.
12:33 p.m. Adults go down for 1:03 nap.
1:15 p.m. Davis begins to call out from his bedroom "cockle-doo-doo mama!" After brief consult we narrow our options to freeing the child from his room or putting the rooster out of our misery. We decide to free the child, reluctantly.
2:30 p.m. Zoe wakes up. Both children have inherited my mother's pasty-white skin, so we cannot return to the beach for several more hours. This means an afternoon of reading books, playing with Thomas trains we've brought from home, and/or watching t.v. We watch plenty of t.v.
5:00 p.m. Dinner time for kids: chicken nuggets, frozen veggies, cheese, bread, fruit. They eat nothing.
5:30 p.m. Back to the beach for a "walk." This chiefly consists of not bothering to change into swim trunks and/or lathering up with sunscreen. We go to the beach, sit in the sand, wade some in the water. Davis gets wet again. Zoe clamors for more sand-Goldfish delicacy.
6:30 p.m. Kids get bathed, adults throw dinner together.
7:00 p.m. Adults eat. Kids work the table like vultures to get scraps of food from adults' dinner plate.
7:30 p.m. Kids go down for 8:00 bed time.
8:00-11:00 p.m. Adults flip through hundreds of cable stations while reading books and scrap-booking.
Total time spent on the beach per day: approximately 2.5 hours. Memories that last a lifetime? Priceless...
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Like tonight at Emerald Isle. Do I subject myself to the WNBA? Or do I watch World Series of Poker? I have a question--how can there be a World Series of anything if it goes on interminably? Or do I watch the Soap Opera network? Or maybe one of 80 news stations like C-SPAN 2?
If a t.v. show is airing and no one is watching does it make any noise? How about if a senator is speeching and no one is listening--does it shape any policy?
I think I'll turn to the History channel for some white noise (and because I can't bear to waste a night with cable) and read a good book.
Monday, July 16, 2007
"Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty" is a bumper-sticker movement that sort of peaked out about eight years ago. This is, of course, a great thing. But the pitfall of "random kindness" is that it can sometimes enable us to continue to live in the illusion that the world is a basically good place and we are basically good people. All we need to do is be a little friendlier to one another, that's all.
"PRAK&SAB" as a centerpiece of anthropology, sociology and theology replaces the cross for slobbery sentimentality. At least, as it is popularly understood.
The Scriptures read that "God's kindness leads us to repentance." If that's the kind of kindness we're talking about, then kindness can and indeed does sometimes look like this: striking someone blind (see Saul/Paul on the Damascus road), telling someone to leave their family (see Jesus and his disciples), and calling people white-washed tombs and brooding vipers (see Jesus and the Pharisees).
The fruit of the Spirit (one fruit, many facets) does indeed include kindness. But this kind of kindness has both the cutting-edge-ness of a sword as well as the fluffy softness of a teddy bear run through the dryer with fabric softener. To have one without the other is to miss the full contours of kindness. And it is to miss the point altogether.
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Being a good Sunday school kid, I knew this story. But the Spirit really captured me up in the wonder of it all last week when I read it. Consider these two people walking just outside of Jerusalem after a good friend of theirs and their hope of God's Messiah meets this gruesome, humiliating, catastrophic death. Perhaps they had left homes, friends, family to follow this man. And now it's all over.
And then Jesus himself appears. And they walk and talk with him, not recognizing him as he explains that it all had to go down exactly as it had. And then he reveals himself. And they rush back to Jerusalem (about 7 miles) and tell the disciples that it's true! He's risen! Overjoyed!
My study Bible had a very thoughtful reflection on this passage:
"It is God's way to come cloaked, and also for his greatest promises to come cloaked. It is his way to come when the storm is peaking or fear deepest or when hope is almost gone...It has always been his way. No resurrection without Golgotha. No freedom without Gethsemane. No Christmas Eve without a Good Friday....
But the other truth is that the world is interstitial--he will fling back his hood, he will throw off his robe to make obvious his heraldry....Our task is not to figure everything out or imagine every angle God might come at us from, but to stay on the roads of our years, plodding on, encouraging one another with the voices and the mysteries of heaven. It is only that. To stay on the road until God in Disguise joins us and eventually comes to sit at our table. Or we at his."
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Here are a couple Ebenezers for me this week:
1. Davis started swim lessons this week. In the grand scheme of things, not a big deal: just five days, 6:30-7:00 each day. But six years from now when my life chiefly consists of running our three children to and fro soccer/field hockey/macrame/equestrian/ballet/violin/tuba/chess club/future ______ of America/young flat-earth-society/ping-pong practices, I want to remember that it all started in July, 2007.
2. My fiscal year with InterVarsity wrapped up this week. One of the challenges and stresses of this past year has been that for the first time my fundraising has not come in as it has in the past. And so I approached June with much prayer and much dread.
Incredibly, the Lord answered my weak, generally faithless prayers through generous individuals and church communities. I raised over $14,000 in June. My previous biggest month this year was just over $5,000. It's an indicator of how much behind I was that this helped me to finish this year well but didn't necessarily solve all of my funding issues. However, that $14,000 is God saying to me: "I know. I love you. I've got you where I want you. Relax."
That's worthy of an Ebenezer.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
But some time in early June I decided to read through Proverbs as I was eating my breakfast and trying to keep my kids from killing one another. And through this book I can say that I'm in a very different place than I was after the lunch-money beat-down bruises that I came into the summer still carrying.
Here are the things that Proverbs has reminded me of that have renewed me:
*My life is about who I am becoming, not what I am doing. This is huge in Proverbs--the issues of character, of becoming a certain type of person, are dogmatically and adamantly asserted as first and foremost throughout the book.
This is radically counter-cultural in a world where the first question upon meeting just about anyone is, "and what is it that you do?" In America, doing is what sets your place in the cultural strata. But Proverbs commends a different way of thinking about life--a life of being a person of depth, integrity, understanding and discernment and of course wisdom. Wisdom is the centerpiece of this, which leads me to the next Proverbial lesson...
*Wisdom is worth whatever it may cost. "Though it cost you everything, get wisdom...she is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her." The wise person is the goal of this life of becoming. To be wise in how I relate to God, to the people and situations around me, towards money and other objects that I'm tempted to worship. This is what the goal of my life is. So I welcome whatever it takes to get me there.
*Discipline is good. Character that lasts can only come about by discipline and trial. Not all of the challenges that I faced this past year were disciplinary from the Lord, but all of them can serve the same purpose as discipline: to refine my soul.
*Delayed gratification. "An inheritance quickly gained at the beginning will not be blessed at the end." The work of becoming a wise person is a slow process. So we must have a long-view of life's purposes. We must persevere through difficulties and trust in the long-term processes of redemption and transformation that are all serving to change and bless us.
*Character infuses our work with power. While "being" takes precedence over "doing" in the Proverbs, the doing part of our lives is not neglected. "The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life" is a verse that I meditated on in the weeks leading up to my class last week. I want to become a certain type of person (wise) in part to infuse my work (teaching) with a power that cannot be acquired any other way.
*God knows my heart and holds my days in his hands. This is comforting and refining at the same time. Am I motivated to minister on campus simply out of fear--of failure, of what others might think? I'm supposed to be serving the Lord and serving students, but am I simply using these people and this ministry to prop myself up and to meet my own needs? Do I trust that God put me here both to bless me and to bless the campus? Do I trust his work in my life and in our fellowship to lead us to places of grace and power and peace or do I feel like it's up to me to make those things happen?
All of this has re-oriented me around the thing that Proverbs is most clear about: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." Refreshingly clear, simple, true. The fountain of life that the Lord has used to renew me over these past two months.
Sunday, July 08, 2007
A couple random and floating quotes and thoughts from my class that are still with me several days later. And if you don't care about these but have seen the movie "The Prestige," stick with me to the end because I've got a question about the movie and maybe you can help me.
*What is the gospel? It is the good news of God's victory over everything wrong in the world and in us through the life, death, resurrection and promised return of Jesus Christ.
*A great moral code is not the power or uniqueness of Christianity. All religions have moral codes and even those who claim no religious affiliation have constructed a moral code for themselves. What makes Christianity unique is that it is the only religious system that deals decisively with the hard reality that absolutely no one lives up to any moral code--not even the ones that we invent for ourselves. What makes Christianity glorious is that the final decisive act is not ours to perform but has been done for us by God Himself, at great cost to Himself.
*95% of human beings hear words as pictures. The human mind is craving to create images to grasp what is being said. Story-telling, therefore, is critical for the preacher because stories turn ears into eyes. "We seek to reach a generation that hears with their eyes and thinks with their heart," Ravi Zacharias.
*This from Walt Whitman:
After all the seas are crossed (as they seem already cross'd)
After the great captains and engineers have accomplished their work,
After the noble inventors, after the scientists, the chemist, the geologist, the ethnologist,
Finally shall come the poet worthy of that name
The true son of God shall come singing his songs
*I've added two new links over to the right. The first is a new blog from one of my teachers last week, John Armstrong. I commend him/his blog highly to you (as I do all the bloggers that I've got listed over there) as someone who is both wise and articulate and engaged with matters of faith, culture and everyday life. The second is a link that students who read my blog should check out: Student Soul. It's InterVarsity's e-magazine dealing with issues of campus life, leadership, and following Christ.
*Okay, so The Prestige. Rented it this weekend, great rental, thought things tied up pretty clearly at the end (don't read the rest if you haven't seen it and plan on doing so): the one dude had a twin, they lived one life between the two of them, all good. But the very last little voice-over at the end has Michael Caine telling me that I think I know that truth but I really don't. Am I missing something?
Friday, July 06, 2007
"I love you daddy."
"I love you too, son."
"Daddy?" he said again, working as hard as he could to stall bedtime for even just a few more seconds.
"I love you so much."
"I love you too. Good night."
I just spent a great week learning about all sorts of discussions surrounding the existence of God and inviting others to share in the with-God life. But at the end of it all, nothing convinces me more than the opportunity I have to share life with this little 3-year-old and his 18-month-old sister. The joy and the love that I have in those relationships is doing the work that Jesus invited his disciples into when he commended the faith of children as a model for true relating to God.
While the above exchange was clearly designed to buy a few more seconds before bed, there are sweet moments of spontaneous expressions of love pretty regularly from our little guy. And the joy and the warm-fuzzies that I get from those words has prompted me to be much more thoughtful and regularly spontaneous in my expressions of love to my Good Father who loves me and who (unfathonable to me) watches over me with an infinitely greater fondness for me than I have for my own kids.
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
One question we tackled yesterday: how do we talk about what Christ has done in the cross, the resurrection and his promised return? There are many faithful biblical images, but one angle in particular was captivating to us as a class: the work of "Healing."
"By His stripes we are healed," declares Peter. And it is so. To a world that is slow to admit personal responsibility in sin but is quick to understand themselves and the world around us as broken, this is good news, indeed.
As I continue to grow and see my own "cracks," this image of healing is good news. To paraphrase a pastor I once heard, there are few places in my own life where I am more self-deceived than in my own estimation of my own goodness. God is good to pull back the curtain with great but gentle regularity to expose me for who I really am.
"Behold, I am making all things new!" This is the promised end of the work of Christ at the very, very end. Revelation pictures a tree whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. There is also the glorious promise of every tear being wiped from every eye.
And so I trust in the Christ who died on the cross to make all things new...and I lean into that promise as the rabbit-hole of my own brokenness and neediness continues to be revealed as deeper than I ever imagined.
Sunday, July 01, 2007
One staff from Minnesota told this story: they set up booths for students on campus to interact with spiritual and personal issues. The first day's question: "how has evil invaded your space?" They thought there would be all kinds of responses: my parents screwed me up, abuse/neglect, concern about the environment, racism or other bad experiences. They got nothing. No one was willing to call anything evil.
The next day they asked a more personal question: "what would you change about your heart?" They expected people to be more hesitant to engage, but just the opposite was true. They couldn't keep up with the numbers of people coming to the table.
I think that there's several reasons why people are hesitant to engage with "evil:"
1. It's been used as a power-grab politically and sociologically/religiously, so people are distrustful that it has any appropriate use.
2. Pluralism convinces us that our perspective is entirely socially conditioned. What we might have historically called evil was just a matter of our viewpoint. If we were Nazi's in Germany, we wouldn't have thought of Nazi Germany as evil. Christopher Columbus was a hero in Western history but certainly "evil" for native peoples. So better not to "label" anything evil at all, because we might just be operating out of social conditioning/our limited historical-cultural context.
3. No one and no thing is ever considered to be entirely evil. All people have circumstances and issues and all situations have nuances that, when seen from a different point of view, might help us to have much more sympathy for the bad thing that has occurred that we might be tempted to call "evil." The Virginia Tech shootings this past spring are a great example of something that certainly wasn't "good" but was complicated by the fact that this kid certainly had psychological and other issues going on in his life. So he wasn't "evil" and neither was this shooting. They're all victims to varying degrees.
I think that this shift from the problem of evil as being the central issue in religious conversation to not being on the table at all is interesting. And certainly post-modern culture has other words that serve as replacements: injustice, oppression and brokenness--these words also function in place of the word "sin" in our culture.
I wonder if these more sociological/psychological approaches are valid in and of themselves or if they can only serve as a starting point for the conversation? In other words, is it necessary to convince someone of the necessity of the existence of evil (and sin instead of just brokenness, for that matter) before we can have a reasonable conversation about the Christian faith?
Oh, and by the way, this is post number 365. Happy Birthday, Piebald Life!