Friday, December 28, 2007

progress and the electric toothbrush

For Christmas I got an insulated USB coffee mug. This is a picture of it plugged into one of my laptops.

USB 2.0 Coffee

It cracks me up. But I'm sure a lot of my people would call it the perfect gift for me. It's hard to think about me apart from coffee or computers. And if the people who gave it to me are reading this, thank you. I will use it. And to be fair it also has an adapter to plug it into your car cigarette lighter.

But here's what I'm wondering. I'm wondering how valuable progress really is, and where it's taking us.

If you don't know of Tim Hawkins, you may not appreciate the humor of an electric toothbrush (below). It's all about laziness. But now there's something for the more disciplined among us, or more fearful—the wireless toothbrush. The wireless toothbrush streams data to a remote display, prompting you how long and how hard to brush. I'll bet Wireless Toothbrush 2.0 will include an accelerometer based on the iPhone's to determine exactly which tooth you're brushing and at what angle. But then where does it go?

I know better than to make a slippery slope argument. But I do wonder what the slope might look like with the likes of a wireless toothbrush. Maybe the insurance companies will get ahold of this and give discounts to anyone who promises they have bought a wireless toothbrush, and that they brush their teeth 3 times a day for 2 minutes (hey, it could happen—they give me one if I promise I bought an alarm system for my home, and that it’s monitored). But then, men like control, don’t they? If those insurance companies could figure out a way to monitor my tooth brushing themselves, they wouldn’t need to trust my promise (kind of like the way the state dials my car’s computer into their computer when I get a mandatory yearly car inspection). I doubt the insurance companies would pass a law requiring me to submit tooth brushing data. But they don’t have to. If it costs $25/month with a wireless toothbrush and $150/month without, it’s law enough. There’s written laws and there’s unwritten laws. Ask anyone who doesn’t go to church.

When you think about it, the promise of progress is exaltation. Whether it's in technology or in the church or wherever, it's about me escaping the common human plight, setting me apart from the less fortunate, and making me feel like a god. It sounds great up front, but the side effects are hell.

Friday, December 21, 2007

to see through not with the eye

I wonder what God is up to? It must be one of the most important questions that can ever be asked. I love Blake's poem. And I'm pierced by the term “practical agnosticism”. Thank God for Brent Curtis, God rest his soul.



I Wonder What God Is Up To?

12/20/2007



Several years ago I went through one of the most painful trials of my professional life. The story involves a colleague whom I will call Dave, a man I hired and with whom I had labored several years in ministry. We spent many hours on the road together, speaking to churches about the Christian life. A point came when I needed to confront Dave about some issues in his life that were hurting his own ministry and the larger purposes of our team. In all fairness, I think I handled it poorly, but I was totally unprepared for what happened next. Dave turned on me with the ferocity of a cornered animal. He fabricated lies and spread rumors in an attempt to destroy my career. His actions were so out of proportion it was hard to believe we were reacting to the same events. He went to the head pastor in an attempt to have me dismissed. The attempt failed, but our friendship was lost, and several others were hurt in the process.

In the midst of the crisis, I spoke with Brent one afternoon about the turn of events and the awful pain of betrayal. He said, “I wonder what God is up to in all this?”

“God?” I said. “What’s he got to do with it?” My practical agnosticism was revealed. I was caught up in the sociodrama, the smaller story, completely blind to the true story at that point in my life. Brent’s question arrested my attention and brought it to a higher level. In fact, the process of our sanctification, our journey, rests entirely on our ability to see life from the basis of that question. As the poet William Blake warned long ago, “Life’s dim window of the soul distorts the heavens from pole to pole, and leads you to believe a lie, when you see with, not through, the eye.”

(The Sacred Romance, 146–47)



From The Ransomed Heart, by John Eldredge, reading 354 Ransomed Heart Ministries http://www.ransomedheart.com/

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

do you see what I see? part ii

Yeah, if there was another verse (which there wouldn't be), it would have to go something like this:

Said the people to the passers-by
“It is time to obey!
Look no further now, passers-by,
It is time to obey!
Your knees, your knees, you must surely bow
And confess like we tell you how,
And confess like we tell you how!”

It doesn't particularly stir me to anything. I'm not really tripping over myself to join up.

Monday, December 10, 2007

darkness

I went room by room, flipping switches, turning off incandescents and fluorescents one by one and ten by ten. It was getting darker at every turn. But there are so many lights, and there is so much power being used. I could smell the aroma, so I knew it was somewhere, even if it was so faint and dim that the slightest slipped breath would have put it out. But for some reason I could not see it. I wanted to find it. I desperately wanted to find itthe candle, the light of the world. I would have this flame over all the wizardry of modern man, and against whatever perils crouch in the aegis of darkness. The lights had to go out.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

do you see what I see?

I've always liked this Christmas song, but I just noticed something new when I listened to it on the radio last week.

Said the night wind to the little lamb,
"Do you see what I see?
Way up in the sky, little lamb,
Do you see what I see?
A star, a star, dancing in the night,
With a tail as big as a kite,
With a tail as big as a kite."

Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy,
"Do you hear what I hear?
Ringing through the sky, shepherd boy,
Do you hear what I hear?
A song, a song high above the trees,
With a voice as big as the sea,
With a voice as big as the sea."

Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king,
"Do you know what I know?
In your palace warm, mighty king,
Do you know what I know?
A Child, a Child shivers in the cold.
Let us bring him silver and gold,
Let us bring him silver and gold."

Said the king to the people everywhere,
"Listen to what I say!
Pray for peace, people, everywhere,
Listen to what I say!
The Child, the Child sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light,
He will bring us goodness and light."

What I just noticed is this. Every character in this tale asks a question except one. The king makes a statement, and then it's over. When you think about it, isn't that what all statements do?

And when you think about it, isn't that what Christianity has largely become?

Statements.

Really, the only thing there's room for at the end of a statement is an argument or an amen. There's no invitation, no wonder, no longing, no cast of characters, no story, no awe.

Thinking back to my childhood, I always liked this song, but it wasn't my favorite. I think it was because it left me feeling flat. I didn't know why until now. It just ends so abruptly. It so quickly flatlines.

Do you see what I see?
Do you hear what I hear?
Do you know what I know?
Listen to what I say!

I think I'll go join the night wind, the little lamb, the shepherd boy, and stay away from the king. I was liking the story.

Friday, December 07, 2007

when technology works

...it's a beautiful thing.

I got a call from a former client who was in bad shape. From the airport in Atlanta, in 15 minutes I was able to fire up my Lenovo Thinkpad, connect to the net with my Sprint EVDOrA cell phone modem, tunnel into their network with the Cisco VPN client, run Windows XP's Remote Desktop, diagnose the problem, and tell them how to fix it. All the while, the client was sharing the session, so he could see everything I did. And we were on the cell phone together the whole time, talking busines, and sharing a few laughs.

It's a beautiful thing.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

evocative

It truly is remarkable the kind of man Jesus was. From baby to adult, there was something about him that was unmistakable: confident but humble, fully connected but disentangled, compassionate but not suckered, longing but not needy, a servant but not a debtor, a king but not a dictator, worshipped but not spongy.

I got a day behind on my Advent readings, so I just read this today. In The Miraculous Journey, Marty Bullis contrasts Herod with Jesus out of one little phrase. When the wise men came from the east, Herod “was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him”.

He comes into the world having accomplished nothing yet He is worshiped. He exits the world having brought salvation yet is scorned. He walks the entire way, from incarnation to crucifixion, needing no affirmation. He is content to simply be and do what He is.

…He [entered] the world through a broken family, in a city regarded as insignificant, and in the form of a helpless child. Yet in this we see the ways of God, where the least are greatest, where the poor are rich, where the meek inherit the earth. This Christ child is a King who can lead His people, not merely lord them, and who does not force them to mirror His emotional state. He is a babe who does not require our worship but evokes it as only an un-needy God can.

Evocative.

Now there’s a great yuletide word if there ever was one.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

a thrill of hope

a thrill of hope...
the weary world rejoices...

Are there any words in all of language as beautiful as these? Someday.

Friday, November 30, 2007

the most wonderful time

nutcrackers

Yes, it's time for Christmas. We put on an Amy Grant Christmas album and set up the tree tonight, and even though it's warm enough to go barefoot outside, it's beginning to feel like Christmas. It really is the most wonderful time of the year. I broke my fast tonight as well. Four days of the Master Cleanse was enough. So I'm sitting here at my computer with a glass of Chardonnay, writing this entry while I look into the pretty room where the most beautiful kids, smiles donned, are picking out ornaments and hanging them on the tree together. There's no better feeling. And it's the first time today, I think, that they haven't been snipping at each other or playing computer games.

One of the best parts about Christmas is discovery. It's not just the presents you finally get on that magical morning. There's lots of discovery. One of my joys is when we get the lights out and discover that I had a brain last year when I repacked them because they're all labeled and ready to hang. Then there's the discovery of ornaments, some made by hand, some special gifts, all bearing memories. There's the drives through the neighborhood where we see some familiar wookies and find some new ones. There's the discovery of who your true friends are as you make your Christmas card list--the ones who endure through the years and the ones who are most precious today.

Of course the best discovery of all is that once upon a time God came near, that Christ a saviour was born, that God lived with us, and if you're very lucky, you discover that he still does.

Monday, November 26, 2007

my cookie nightmare

We just moved in to a new neighborhood. As usual someone brought by the proverbial cookies. My wife, knowing how much I like cookies, thanked the welcoming party, and left the cookies for me. I uncovered them and pulled one out. Interesting shape. I set the cookie down and wandered off into the living room to think about it. I wondered how they made that shape, and where they got the idea. I became so intrigued with it that I went to my tool shed, got some tin that came with us (for some bizarre reason), and began to fashion a cookie cutter to match the shape of those cookies. It was a little tricky, lemme tell ya. First, tin is unwieldy. And dirty. And it leaves this silvery black film on your hands that is quite difficult to get off. I cut myself several times and bled all over the kitchen after a few expletives. But I survived that phase. And the cookies for the most part did, too. The tin wasn’t really pliable enough, though, and my hands and wrists were beginning to feel it, so I heated up the tin in the oven. That actually worked great, but hot tin burns flesh. Gloves help. The other thing about tin is that it cools very quickly, so I had to go with this process of placing another cookie on a board, throwing the gloves on, swiping the tin out, darting over to the counter where the cookie was, and trying to trace it before the tin cooled and became rigid again. After a dozen or so iterations, I got pretty good at this. In fact I would even say I perfected it. But there were still problems. When the cookies first arrived they were warm and a little pliable. The problem was that I ended up misshaping them a bit with the tin. And of course I didn’t want a cookie in the image of my tin. I wanted a tin in the image of my cookie. During the time I worked out the process, though, they cooled and hardened, which solved that, but led to a new problem. I kept breaking the cookies with the tin. The shape of the cookies, if I could describe it, was almost a human shape. Almost, but not quite. And it was that not quite part that I really wanted to immortalize with my cookie cutter. So frustrating. I broke a leg here, a hand there, chipped a head, broke one right in half. And then the worst thing of all happened. I got ready to run the process again and found that I had run out of cookies. Yep. Every single one was either blood-stained or broken. Well by this time I was all in. You can imagine that this was no small thing. I mean, I had roped off the kitchen and threatened my wife and kids with bodily pain if they disturbed my lab in any way. Thus, the panic at the cookie basket’s silence. But then I had a comforting thought. I would just go and ask the neighbors that left the cookies if they’d mind cooking another batch. It seemed a little imposing I guess, but at this point it was for the greater good. So I checked the name on the card, warned my family once again, and headed out the front door. This would be quick. Right. I finally was informed that said family leaving said cookies had moved. This I found to be completely ridiculous and exponentially improbable and patently unacceptable and…unnerving. I walked then jogged then ran back to the kitchen to get at that basket to look for another clue as to the identity and whereabouts of the cookie people. I was beginning to worry. Ok it was an all out anxiety attack. I saw that card tied onto the wicker basket and ripped it off, which was not a good idea because I tore right through a handwritten note. When I pieced it back together here is what it said:

Welcome to the neighborhood and goodbye. We’re sorry we won’t get the chance to know you because we’re packed up and moving out again to follow another crazy dream. We hope you enjoy the neighborhood as much as we did, and that you can take as many and varied memories with you as we’re taking with us, starting with some warm cookies.

Sincerely,
The Striders

So here is my desperate plea. If anyone named the Striders moves in next door to you, PLEASE ask them if they have a special cookie cutter like the one described above and let me know immediately. I never even got to taste those cookies. But they sure had the most wonderful aroma when we first received them.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

blasphemy or cosmic child abuse

I ran across this video of some Christian slamming some other Christian. Two authors. Turns out the slammer is John Piper and the slammee is Steve Chalke. Chalke wrote a book where he refers to the way the cross is currently taught by conservative Christianity as "cosmic child abuse". Piper pulled out the blasphemy word.

This has intrigued me.

Doing a little research on this I discovered that this was a big controversy in some circles. Circles out of which I am. (what a correct use of English grammar, don't you think?)

The controversy, as best I understand it, is this:

Modern Evangelicals say that God is a just God, and therefore sin always has to be paid for. Sin has to be judged and punished or else God would be found to be unjust and indeed unholy. And even though this generally means that each individual sinner has to pay the consequences of his or her own sins, God (in his mercy) made a way for someone to pay for someone else's sins, if possible. The word they apply to this idea is "atonement". It traces back to the ancient practice of a certain category of sacrifice where a substitution is made, where God counts the death of a "holy" or "accursed" or "dedicated" animal (one set apart by a sinner or a group of sinners for this express purpose) in place of the sinner(s). God then pours out his wrath on this holy animal instead of on the sinner, so that his anger and judgment and wrath against the sinner is quenched, and then the sinner is able to be reconciled with God.

I'm pretty sure I fairly stated this because I was wholly indoctrinated with it. And I would add that it has a certain reasonableness and even beauty to it. If you accept the premise.

But here's where Chalke is rocking the boat. According to Chalke the cross was not Jesus satisfying his Father's demands for justice on our behalf. Rather, Jesus was demonstrating the fallacy of violence and fighting for your rights. Jesus taught that it was worth it, if what was to be gained was precious enough, to turn the other cheek, to not respond to hatred and injustice and violence with more hatred and injustice and violence. It's seen by God as good even to die rather than anwser. The resurrection of Jesus, then, becomes the proof that love is superior. In making his case, Chalke says that to begin with "God is justice" is starting off on the wrong foot. Equivocating God with "justice" is not supported, according to the Scriptures. However, equivocating God with "love" is. "God is love" says John (in 1 John 4). Twice. So viewing the cross, this apex of Christianity, the crux of the Christian faith, from a position of "God is just" rather than "God is love" leads to error.

This is an idea that is gaining a lot of steam among post-modern Christian groups and among Christ followers. It's not going much of anywhere in Christianity, though. The idea is that Christ's willingness to lay down his life is precious, not because his just father demanded it, but because he himself wanted to validate by his own actions that what he taught was good and true and beautiful.

I'm not taking sides here. I'm just standing back and watching the picture change as the colors swirl. With a certain pleasure, I might add, that comes from not being already overcommitted.

I have to say this, though. I'm reading through some of the arguments for "God's holy requirements" and I find them lacking. One source that is rebutting Chalke has listed these:

But God is described in the Bible as light (1 John 1:5) and Spirit (John 4:24). Moreover both Testaments affirm that God is a consuming fire (Deut. 4:24; Heb. 12:29), and dwells in unapproachable light (1 Tim.6:16). The sight of God's holiness filled Isaiah with dread and made him conscious of his guilt (Isa. 6:1-5). Christians are called to holiness not impurity (1 Thess. 4:7). This confusion of God's attributes of holiness and love is not just a basic error; it appears to be an intentional misrepresentation to serve his own agenda.

If that's the best you can do, and I'm not sure it is, then I say you're on pretty thin ice. Here's why:

First, God being light and wind does not lean him toward the vengeful aspect of justice in any way I'm aware of. Lights shines wonderfully illuminating things, changing our perception of them and opening our minds. Wind moves things around, whether they were happy where they were or not.

God being a consuming fire has nothing to do with vengeance for people who have sinned against him at all. Look it up. His consuming fire is his jealous love for his beloved. What wouldn't I do for someone I was infatuated with if they were being abused and mistreated? How much more a God who is pure love? (If you look up Deut. 4:24 and Heb. 12:29, also check out Proverbs 6:30-35 and 2 Corinthians 11:1-2. Or just click here to read about God's hot love.)

Unapproachable? I'm not sure how being unapproachable makes God scary or vindictive. I read that chapter, too, and I think it's talking about how not to get infatuated with rich or powerful people, or people you think are necessary to impress, but rather to keep looking to God, who alone is worth worshipping. Even Jesus said "only one is good". And is this really the way they want to go? God is not approachable? If so, they need to get their scratch-out pens out and do some Bible editing (I'm thinking about parts like Ephesians 3:10-12 and Hebrews 4:16)

As for Isaiah, he was aware of his specific guilt--that of his lips, not of his being generally unclean. And I also think it's interesting that no death was required for Isaiah's atonement--in his case a seraph flew a live coal between some tongs he got from a burning altar and singed his lips--in the seraph's words, "See this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for."

That Christians are called to holiness and not impurity... duh. Am I missing something? Do you know of anyone out there saying "Jesus wants you to fornicate and defraud people"? I don't. And I don't see how this would tip the scale from "Christ dying to demonstrate violence's folly" to "Christ dying to demonstrate God's justice" anyway. So it's a basically a red herring.

Ok. The point of all this (to me) is something I keep coming upon. There's this trying that every counter-cultural author or speaker has to undergo, whereby he must be subjected to the established truth, whether or not that established truth was ever really God's view or not. This guy, Chalke, is saying that evangelicals have been getting it wrong because they've been starting with the wrong premise (to extremely simplify: "God is just" instead of "God is love"). But then he gets objected to with derivatives of the very premise he questions. What's that about?

Are we so far advanced that we cannot go back and check our premises? Is the tree so full grown that it cannot be uprooted and replanted?

Monday, November 19, 2007

a great story for congregants

Once upon a time in a far off country with green pastures and blue ponds where it was always spring lived a prince who was the apple of his father's eye. But the king's advisors despised his child, so they kidnapped him, tied him in a woolen bag, and went to hide him in a cave where they would feed him stale bread and warm brine.

When the king missed his beloved son for dinner he decreed a search throughout the castle for the charmed lad but he was not to be immediately found. But some in the king's house became suspicious of the conspirators, so the king had them followed. Quickly enough they were found out, and the boy was rescued and returned safely. The king tried all the bad men and found that they had misbehaved. As a result, they reaped punishment for themselves and were not allowed to be the king's advisors anymore.

Life went back to being like it was supposed to be. The end.

the truth

yield it don't wield it

Friday, November 16, 2007

satisfaction

Some radio preacher was saying

Sanctification should be a healthy spiritual dissatisfaction with who you are. Not self-hatred. Not self-contempt...

I never heard the rest of what he said becuase I turned the radio off as fast as I could. Because I think that is completely false. I think

Sanctification should be a healthy spiritual satisfaction with who you are.

And at least according to Jesus it does include hating yourself. I think the reason statements like this get so much play is because there is a widespread misbelief that there is one way to be, and that Christ is a very well-defined standard. But there is way more variety to God than that.

But accepting who you are will cost you a lot. You'll have to say goodbye to lots of stuff you were convinced you should do and should have and should be. And be satisfied with who God calls you. God has lots of children. And he sets them all apart for something special.

Self-satisfaction is way underrated.

P.S. for those who don't know the term here's a link to sanctification on wikipedia.

way beyond words

Not everything has a name. Some things lead us into realms beyond words. —Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Skepticism really is the mode of the day. I didn't like admitting this at first, because I have found myself somewhat more skeptical lately, especially of pulpits and all that they bring with them. But I've just finished a book called The Myth of Certainty and the author, Daniel Taylor, suggests “that among the things one should be skeptical about in our skeptical age” is skepticism itself.

We all know doubters—people who can find the massive black cloud in the middle of every silver lining. But are these people the clowns diverting our attention from the cowboy riding the one ton bull? Are they really all part of the same show?

There is a way of approaching things that is basically a glorified doubting game. A way of defending everything, proving everything, setting up every conversation or statement as an argument, cornering the truth.

Taylor says that behind all this “the person playing the doubting game is afraid of looking foolish, of not appearing logical, rigorous, and disciplined”. And that’s probably most of it. Nobody wants to be debunked or ridiculed. And deeper than that, nobody wants to find out someday that their whole life was meaningless. So what do you do? You play defense. You talk to yourself in the mirror. The man in that glass becomes your detractor, your doubter, your antagonist.

But you can’t corner the truth. You can’t trap it in the mirror. Not everything has a name.

One benefit of release from the monopoly of the doubting game is the awareness that a belief, feeling, intuition, or conviction does not have to be “defendable” to be worthwhile. Solzhenitsyn says, “Not everything has a name.” Likewise, not everything is explainable. Not everything can be put in terms that allow it to be ground through the doubting game machine. Even the concepts of explanation, defense, and proof are derived from one particular way of looking at the world which, while powerful and historically productive, has no valid claim to exclusive rule. Again, this is not an apology for anti-intellectualism or irrationalism, but a recognition that the search for truth is too important to limit ourselves to one faculty or one methodology. —Daniel Taylor, Myth of Certainty

This is all stuff so familiar to me. God rescued me from wanting to be right two and a half years ago. He painted the picture vividly. But I would add this as a word to the wise. Don’t expect everyone to accept your escape. Expect to be called irresponsible when you stop defending yourself. Expect to be accused of jeopardizing those around you when you don’t lock all the doors and arm the alarm. Expect to be ignored when you stop arguing. And don’t expect that if you lay down your weapons that a cease fire will happen. Smiles can be wiped off. Glass can be shattered.

But please escape. We need you to escape. We need you to stop defending yourself and get back to being yourself. We need creativity—stories, music, adventures, ideas, humor, painting, photography, philosophy. We need healing and restoration—causes, gifts, breakfast. “And aside from controversial things,” as Taylor says, “tasks accomplished which have nothing to do with partisanship of any kind, simply because we are human beings whom God has given many, many things to do.”

There is so much to life than cannot be defended or explained. There is another way.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

life in truth

want to live well?
submit to truth
wherever you find it
refuse
to the point of death
to wield it

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

1000

HAhahahaw! I have exactly 1000 unread emails in my inbox as evidenced by the Inbox (1000). It's a magical moment.

heart matters

The heart of a matter—the heart of anything—is the truth of it. Everything else is just packaging.

Packaging is ok. There’s nothing inherently good or evil about it. It’s just packaging, though.

Sometimes the packaging communicates something about the heart, sometimes it obfuscates.

Imagine the difference in the way you feel when you get two gifts. One is a cheap trinket packaged exquisitely. The other is a beautiful string of pearls wrapped in a shoe box with newspaper.

I have a huge distrust of packaging. Maybe it stems from my first gag gift. It was at our family Christmas. I must have been 6 or 8. Everyone drew names that year. One gift under the tree was much larger than the rest. Turns out it was from my cousin Cathi, my elder by two years, to me. Everyone was excited when it came my turn. I opened the box. Another box. Wrapped like the first. I opened that box. Another box. Also wrapped. This went on for about 5 or 6 iterations. Finally, I got to a very small box, wrapped with Christmas paper and ribbon. I shook it. Everyone looked on with anticipation. I opened it. It was a cheap, used tube of red lipstick. Everyone laughed. Ha ha ha ha! I was confused. “It’s a gag gift” someone said. “What’s a gag gift?” I completely didn’t understand.

I do now.

Since then I’ve been gagged many times. But never again with boxes and ribbons.

And I’ve found lots of treasures in stinky shoe boxes wrapped in yesterday’s news.

It’s the heart that matters.

Monday, November 12, 2007

in Spanish color ii

I enjoyed so much looking back through my pictures of Spain that I put together a new album. Such a beautiful place.



From the album in Spanish color ii

without the frames:



From the album in Spanish color ii (full)

like or what

Our friend Carla came over today. I was in the kitchen making coffee when my five year old ran in and started rummaging through the cabinet for a drinking cup. “We need to make Carla feel like she’s welcome!” he said. “But she is welcome,” I said. “I know, but we just need to give her pretty stuff,” he said. “If you say so,” I thought. It really was a sweet gesture.

There is a subtle but rather important distinction between “we need to make her feel like she’s welcome” and “we need to make her feel welcome”. I think Joshua actually meant the latter, even though he said the former.

There is a subtle but rather important distinction, isn’t there? This runs through all our beliefs and practices and gets at the core questions of what is the truth.

Do I want to make someone feel like they’re welcome, or do I want to make them feel how welcome they truly are?

Do I want to make someone feel like they’re forgiven, or do I want to make them feel how forgiven they truly are?

Do I want to make someone feel like they’re chosen, or do I want to make them feel how chosen they truly are?

Do I want to make someone feel like they bear the image of God, or do I want to make them feel the image of God they truly bear?

Honestly, when I look around, I see a lot of the former. Call it marketing, call it spinning, call it training, call it exposition, call it disbelief, call it spell casting, call it whatever. There is a lot of trying to make people feel LIKE they are, rather than feel WHAT they are.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

in Spanish color

Last year we visited my Spanish sister and her family in what was a breathtaking trip to Spain. The whole family. All seven of us. It was a great idea in so many ways. It was an experience of a lifetime for my kids, most of whom had never even been out of the States. It was theraputic for us to spend time with a family who really treasured us. It was not only educational but very soul-settling to breathe the air that birthed the discovery of America with the voyage of Columbus, and planted the seeds of liberation with immortal words like

no es causa justa de guerra el deseo de ensanchar el imperio
(it is not a just cause of war the desire to expand the empire)

There were so many sensations...smells, sounds, colors. I don't know why I'm just getting around to posting some of the photographs I snapped. Maybe it's because I didn't know the best way to do it. Anyway, I took a couple of thousand pictures with my (then) brand new Canon A620 digital. It is a remarkable camera. Highly recommended.

So here's a link to the album. These pictures are untouched. I only applied this framing effect and compressed them so I could enjoy the whole picture when I set it as my desktop background. Enjoy.

From the album in Spanish color

Update: Awesome! I was over on Molly's blog and found out that you can embed a mini-slide show. :)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

infallible

I have been thinking a lot today some continued thoughts. More confessions of an amateur Christian. One is the idea of the Bible being infallible. I don’t know if technically it is or is not, but practically it’s not.

But there’s this idea that the Bible is this book with no errors and is infallible, which means it cannot fail, I think. But it can fail. It can fail easily and often. For example, it fails to justify Hitler’s murdering millions of people, many of them Jews. It fails to keep an elder-in-training I know from devouring the life of a young woman I know and love. It fails to keep people from bludgeoning weaker Christians with its supposed rules. It fails to keep a former friend from blaming me for everything that didn’t go their way. It fails to keep people from having sex before they’re married, or sex with lots of people afterwards, or sex with people of the same sex before or after. It fails to prove that people are right when they put sinners down. It fails to make people regularly meditate and have consistent communion with God. It fails in many ways.

Of course I’m being master of the obvious here. And I’m sure I could be straightened out so that I have to admit some doctrinal tenet of infallibility. I’m sure it goes something like this, that human beings are fallible but the Word of God in the written form of the Bible is not. People fail the Bible, and not vice versa. And I would say that’s just about right. The problem is that the Bible is not written for anyone but people. So the claim is that it is perfect and incapable of failing when read and applied perfectly. Which it never is. Because we haven’t yet found the perfect person to read it and apply it. And if we did he/she would probably be disqualified because they’d be either lying or delusional about being perfect.

So the thing is, it doesn’t really mean all that much to have a perfect book that is incapable of failing when a person perfectly reads and applies it. What would really make a difference in the world is if someone treasured the ancient words and traditions so much that THEY decided to be infallible. Now that is something I could get really excited about. And I would love to be an apologist for a group of People who, no matter what they did wrong, never failed to love, and leave Book defending to people going the way of the dinosaur.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

the Holy Spirit didn't write the Bible

These things run through my head from time to time. They're never the main thing going on in my life, but they're these true and plain things that I haven't taken time to write. I don't really know if anybody does. So here's one...

The Holy Spirit didn't write the Bible.

Ok, if you're a fundamentalist, you're ready to rend your garment and spit on my face. If you're a normal person, you're either saying, "huh?" or "uh, yeah, no duh."

The thing is, sometimes people get this weird idea that the Holy Spirit sat down once upon a time and decided to write a book, which later came to be known as the Holy Bible. And the problem is that the people who believe this don't talk about it as if it's a mystical thing, a ghost writing a book. They talk about it like it's a real book straight from the pen of God to the paper between the covers of their Bible sitting on the front seat of their car.

If you have this idea I think I can help you out. You probably were told that the Holy Spirit did indeed write this book, and that's what makes it flawless. And you were told that it's imperitave to memorize as much of it as you can, and to live by it. And you were told that it's important that you don't interpret or make judgments on it, but that you should just read what it says and do exactly that. Because the Holy Spirit wrote it. And the Holy Spirit is God. God said it. You believe it. That's it. Period.

And you were probably given tips on how to handle objections, really good objections like, why are there discrepancies between the different gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John)? I won't go into those in detail because I'm sure you can easily find a good long list somewhere on the Net.

But this one about the obvious discrepancies is really important. The thing is, you were told that this one is easy to explain: the gospels were faithful accounts written by four different men from different vantage points. This is like if four eyewitnesses were describing an elephant, and could only be present at one place at a time, they would have very different accounts, but taken together, a reader removed completely from the elephant would get a good picture of what an elephant is. And that's a really good explanation if you ask me. But what happened to the Holy Spirit writing it? The problem is that the Holy Spirit has no vantage point. The Holy Spirit is everywhere. Omnipresent is your word for that. So if the Holy Spirit wrote it, you wouldn't need different versions that you hve to compile. If the Holy Spirit wrote it, then there's no vantage issue. But if men wrote it, there is.

The thing is, I believe you. The gospels were "written by four different men". Like you said. Not the Holy Spirit. And I'm sure they are faithful accounts, like you said, too. Stick with you story. They are human accounts. There's not a Holy Spirit account of "what really happened".

What seems most reasonable to me is that this Holy Ghost, or Wind of God, the same spirit that animates all life, brought clarity and truth and light and inspiration to some men in the first century who wanted to write about God and Jesus as they had encountered them. And so they did. And as a result, we have this collection of early human letters that we can read and appreciate and compile our own images of who and what God is. As we encounter Him.

And the same goes for Paul's writings, and James, and Peter, and even all the Old Testament stuff. The Spirit is way more mystical and flexible and way more generous with men than we've oft been told.

Friday, October 26, 2007

great company

AAAAAAAAAAAUUGH!

I work for a great company! It must be great because they tell me how lucky I am to have a job with them. it took me 20 @!$#fdjw9p%U(*$# minutes to log in to email on their GREAT email system. Not exactly efficient. But it's ok, because I get paid based on how many hours I bill my customers. Those 2o minutes were FREE! Thanks to me. I'm so generous.

Monday, October 22, 2007

in the blue

Once upon a time there was a ship floating aimlessly at sea. A small boat it was, but sturdy and true. The waves tossed and buffeted the vessel, splashing up its side, pooling its hull with water as if to spit in it mockingly. But the ship was strong, and whether of bravery or numbness, pressed on. For days and days it rocked on, steady, now drowning, now baking in the hot sun. With nary a soul to keep, it moved onward, perhaps, but if so not knowing where.

At last it came to an island, a small patch of earth with a lone palm. At first this seemed to be salvation—from the monotony of the blues, and the incessancy of the salty slaps. But the sandy shore did chap its hide, and the lonely tree gave but few moments of relief from the scorching heat. And besides all this, the boat’s planks were drying out and beginning to harden.

The boat drifted off again with a long, melancholy howl blowing across its gunwale.

For two long years the empty hull navigated the sea, aimlessly, patiently, persistently, ever reaching for the horizon. Or running from it. But the sea will have its bigness. The little boat had run so long that all desire was gone—either to press on or to turn back. The boat had finally come to a place where there was no memory of former purpose or plan, nor was there any hope of renewal. It was utterly lost.

a story too good to waste

My 5 year old, has invited the neighbor kids to join us for church or whatever this thing is we do on mid-day Sundays. The 5 year old has been coming, but the 7 year old is not sure he's in. The conversation basically went something like this...


Joshua: Hey you wanna come to Joy Kids?
Henry: I go to church on Sunday.
Joshua: That's ok. You can come after.
Henry: Well, I already go to one Bible study; wouldn't that be like doing two in one day?
Joshua: Not really. We talk about God and Jesus Christ!

Perfect.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

generosity

Last Sunday, we had some complimentary movie tickets, and a ticket for a free entrée and drink that expired the end of the month. We had already used several of them, and there were a couple left. We were hoping that Christian and Ally would use them. Saying yes meant we would need to babysit Reece (the cutest baby ever). They did and we did.

When they got back, they told us how they spent the coupons and their time, and they expressed their appreciation. And then Christian bursts out with, "Thank you very much for your generosity!" I told him he was welcome, but I felt uneasy with it. Couldn’t tell you exactly why. But I have always had a problem with people calling me generous. It’s almost like it’s a dirty word or something, like they’re accusing me of something.

I still couldn’t shake it Monday morning on the long drive to work. What is it with generosity? Why does that bother me so much? Besides that, I didn’t even pay for these tickets anyway. They were given to us because Christian, Brent, Christopher, Benjamin, and I suffered through an imax movie experience so close to our face that our eyes hurt for a week, and I had written the manager to complain. Christian had claim to his ticket anyway. I just kept thinking, I didn’t do anything big, anything extraordinary. That wasn't me being generous. That was just me loving my friends.

And then it hit me. The problem has been with me. I have had this warped view of generosity. For some reason I thought generous people were this superclass of humans. Big people. Wealthy people. People who have their act together. People who look down on the little people and have pity on their state. Benevolent people. And frankly, people who are better than others. And it would kill me if people saw me that way. Kill me quicker if they thought I saw myself like that. I don’t know where this idea came from. Maybe you’ve had this idea, too.

And then an amazing thing happened. Once I was able to put my finger on this thing, this thing I now know to be a big lie, I was free to rip it down. And I got something cool in its place. I was indeed just loving my friends.

Generosity is love dealing with the problem of abundance.

We had more than we could use. They had less than they could use. So we gave. That’s the way love works. No guilt. No ought. No pride. No division. And no room for feeling uneasy about doing it.

I started thinking that maybe love does lots of stuff like this. Maybe all the virtues are just love dealing with some problem.

Maybe...

Justice is love dealing with the problem of oppression.
Bravery is love dealing with the problem of fear.
Gratitude is love dealing with the problem of undeserved favor.
Loyalty is love dealing with the problem of being hurt by a friend.

Because somehow it's all about love. Everything good hangs on loving God and loving each other. And what's wrong with that?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

why do you call me good?

So there’s this new book out by Chip Ingram called Good to Great. It’s about, in his words, the only way the church is going to become the church, what it’s supposed to be, is if leaders and mature Christians take it to the next level. And so “good to great” is about getting to the next level. And personally, I like the idea of taking it up a notch.

The problem I have with this is, or the confusion I have, is this. There was this guy who went to Jesus and he addresses him, “Good Teacher”. And then Jesus says, whoa, hold on there. Why do you call me good? Because there is only one who is good, and it’s God.

So, I mean, Jesus looked out and he said, look, there’s no good people, there’s only one who’s good. It’s God. I know people who I would like to call good people, but can I? I know there are pockets of good in all of us, and I think it’s like a preview, a foretaste, a share of the divine nature. A helping. But is anybody only always good? To Jesus, nobody’s good. Nobody’s truly good. Except for God.

But this book is supposed to take us beyond good to great.

So what’s my problem?

I think somebody’s response to me about all this would be, “Steve, you’re harping on semantics. We’re not talking about nobody’s perfect (and that’s clearly what Jesus was talking about—no one is perfect), but we’re talking about good as in, “It’s good, you know, but it could be better.”

My question to that is: When did good get a downgrade? When did being good become less than being great? When did being good become less than being perfect? When did being good become less than being right? Who came up with the phrase, “a good thing is the enemy of the right thing” (the right thing being the greatest)?

When did good get a downgrade?

Because clearly to Jesus, good was not second place. There was only One who is good. There are all kinds of people that do things right, that do things well, that do things beautifully, but to Jesus there’s only one who’s really, truly good.

Jesus didn’t say there’s only One who is perfect. Actually, in another situation he said, “You be perfect, for your heavenly father is perfect”. So he does expect that some can be perfect.

But good…

Good, Jesus holds in highest honor. Jesus reveres Good. He says, “There’s only one who is good. Why do you call me good?”

So my question to Chip is, “Why do you call me good?”

the radio goes to heaven again

So this morning Dr. Ed Young, whom I believe is the father of Megapastor Ed Young, is preaching a series on heaven, “the realm of eternal rewards". Not heaven the realm of God. Not heaven the realm of holiness. Not heaven the realm of goodness. But heaven the realm of eternal rewards.

And his interpretation of heaven is that it’s the place and time where you get all the rewards. It’s like a homecoming where you get recognized and rewarded.

He told a story about a missionary in years gone by who was on the same boat as the President of the United States whenever he arrived back from an overseas life in mission work. And there was all this fanfare for the President, and when he and his sick wife get off the boat, there’s no fanfare, nobody there to meet them, so he goes back to his hotel room to pray about that, the bitterness (which was a good idea). And God says to him, “but you’re not home yet.” Which is a moving story. And…it’s true. You’re not home yet. Why are you worried about not getting the praise of men? You’re not home. Your only home is me. But I don’t think that’s the way the doctor was looking at it. He was talking about it as in “You’re not home yet, because you haven’t died, you haven’t got your castle in the sky.”

So today he’s talking about heaven. The same heaven the other radio preachers have been talking about—the one that is for dead saints. And he brings up the story Jesus told of (bizarre enough!) the owner of the vineyard at harvest time who goes out and finds the workers. He finds the first workers and he promises to pay them a day’s wages, and then he goes back into town, makes another round and picks up some more workers, and he goes back into town to get even more workers, and he goes back into town however many times. The last crew he picks up an hour before sundown, and they come out for an hour and do the work, and he pays them a denarius. He pays them all a denarius. And then the first workers, who got paid last, so they got to see everybody else and how much they got paid, as if to RUB IT IN THEIR FACE, the owner of the vineyard pays them a denarius, one day’s wages, just like he promised them. He gave every single person the same exact reward.

And so this guy, Ed Young’s application of that, Dr. Ed Young, is…everybody gets heaven.

Everybody gets heaven.

So, you may serve your life faithfully for 30 years as a Christian, as a believer, 50, 100 years, and then some guy just accepts Christ at the last minute and gets in, and he’s going to get the same reward. He’s going to get heaven, too. He’s going to get to go to heaven. And you’re going to go, “Dude, how come he gets heaven, the same as me?”

He actually told a story about a man to whom he had witnessed for 10 years, trying to get him to accept Christ, and the guy “played games with God,” and “played games with the church”, and wouldn’t accept Christ. But then he got cancer, and 3 months before he died, he actually accepted Christ. He said the guy lived an incredible 3 months for Christ. He was a man of influence, and he used his influence and lived a great 3 months, whatever that means. But for 3 months? That’s all? He gets to go to heaven, too? (Note: I noticed that he didn’t say there was a guy on death row who just raped and murdered a handful of women, and he accepts Christ from the chaplain right before they throw the switch, but he did mention that there was this guy, and he was a “man of influence”, for 3 months. I wonder if he would have told about Jeffrey Dahmer, to whom it’s said that Dr. James Dobson witnessed and he accepted Christ while on death row…)
Anyway, the story of the workers in the field has nothing to do with the afterlife and the place where you go to get rewarded.

Oh! Before I go on… His applications were 3. He said this parable teaches you how to work for God: (1) You need to “invest” in God. The first guys, the ones who ended up bitter, came and worked their contract, whereas the later ones came out and just freely worked. They didn’t have a contract. They just trusted in God’s goodness. (2) You need to “prime the pump”, which is like a corollary to investing in God and trusting in him. Prime the pump because if you will work sometimes without having a guarantee on the table, it will come back to you and pay you dividends. (Prime the pump I think refers to giving in faith when you’re not receiving anything, in the hopes of a future return—I think he was referring to story #2 on this page) (3) And finally, it was this idea of not working for God in a contractual relationship, but trusting that God will reward you with what is—what he called—fair.

Ok, the parable is not about rewards. At all. I know us plain folks don't see all the story, but the doctor is looking at it backwards, from the reverse angle, from the same angle as the religious people Jesus was trying to reorient. Jesus is not trying to say, “You gotta trust God, and this is how it goes. You just gotta trust God and he’ll give everyone what is fair, because everybody deserves the same thing. You all get to go to heaven.” But this is how this parable gets filed. This parable gets thrown in to the conversation about heaven (the realm of rewards after you die), and it’s part of where this theory of heaven comes from. “Look, it’s all just about, did you say yes to God (in Jesus), and if you did you go to heaven and that’s perfect. That’s all. That’s the ultimate.” But that’s not at all what Jesus is talking about.

Jesus makes clear what the story is about. Jesus says this parable is about greed. Envy. The master comes to these people at the last and they complain. They say, “We worked the whole day, and we only got paid the same as them.” And the master says, “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what is mine, or is my generosity making you envious?” As the KJV says, “Is thine eye evil because I am good?” It’s a stark contrast, isn’t it? Maybe even ironic. Certainly tragic.

Jesus is not trying to teach people what it’s like to die and go to heaven and get fairly rewarded. Not at all. What he’s trying to teach us about is how heaven is. Now. Heaven is like a generous vineyard owner. God is generous. And if you don’t take to generosity then you’re not going to take to heaven. So, if you’re concerned about the unfairness of God in dealing with people (he’s too generous), then you need to check and see what’s going on with your greed, your evil eye. And if you’re quite ok with your greed, the message of this story to you is that you’re going to miss out on heaven. If you’re not happy with the generosity of God, you’re not happy with the way heaven is. You’re not understanding God. You’re not abiding in heaven. You’re not inheriting eternal life.

The whole thing is about the generosity of God. This is how God is. This is what the kingdom of heaven is like. It’s like generosity. Do you like that? No? Then you don’t really want to inherit eternal life. You don’t really like the heaven that is available to you, even now. Jesus would say, the reason you don’t like me is because you’re greedy. You don’t like that I’m coming and offering something to sinners. This is the source of your woes, not the Romans.

One final observation. There are only a couple of places where I read about Jesus saying, “The kingdom of heaven will be like…” Mostly he said, “The kingdom of heaven is like…”

Friday, September 28, 2007

the radio goes to hell again, part iii

And another problem with the theory that heaven is the place to go when you die if you have confessed Jesus as your personal savior....

The end justifies the means. It seems to authorize Christians to do whatever they want to do in the name of saving souls. It's like this trump card. I can make outrageous claims, beg, plead, cajole, pressure, exhaust financial resources, creatively interpret the truth, even lie to people because their situation is so dire (they'll go to hell and be tortured for a trillion years if they don't accept Jesus as their personal savior). It's all in the name of it being worse for that person to go to hell when they die than to suffer me right now and my antics.

This preacher on the radio the other day was saying that people give him this excuse when he tells them they need to evangelize: "Well, you can never know for sure who's going to heaven, so I'll just leave that to God." His response to these lazy Christians is, "It's true that we don't know who IS going to heaven when they die, but we can absolutely know who is NOT—it's the person who will not submit to your assertion that there is only one way to the Father." (Note for a future post: what a bizarre infatuation we have with "knowing for sure" - a very modern age philosophy to be sure. Like what? we can't live unless we know for sure?)

To me it's one thing if you are a true evangelist, if you have a passion for people to know Jesus, to be saved, as Rose said, "in every way a person can be saved". It's quite another if you have set up a hyperlogical scheme of prosecuting unbelief. And I'm pretty sure I smell some control issues and some power grabs there anyway.

But I have even a bigger problem than all the abuse....

My bigger problem with heaven being the eternal home of the dead is the whole idea of a reunion of the inhabitants (Christians).

I don't know if your experience is like mine, but there's all kinds of Christians who hate me, who do all kinds of things to hurt me, who snub me, who abuse me, abandon me, or who won't associate with me for whatever reason. And I know other Christians who have just been incredibly abused by other Christians, divorced by them, beaten by them, raped by them, murdered by them, you fill in the blank. Everything has been done. And to me, none of those are as bad as, "Well, we just see things differently, and so we won't be with you any more." I would rather you murder me.

And I just wonder, how does THAT work? So, I die and go to heaven because I did the legal transaction with Jesus while I was alive. And you die and go to heaven because you did the thing with Jesus while you were alive. And then, even though you won't talk to me here, and you have anxiety attacks that you might accidentally run into me somewhere, when we get to heaven, we're suddenly just going to be one big happy family? No wait. Not even one family, we're going to be ONE? even as Jesus and the Father are One?

If we don't go to heaven now and embrace each other now, what's going to be different after we die?

If the thing that's important is who's right, who's in the right, and who ought to submit to the other one, when is the magic moment? I mean is God going to come to along in heaven after we die and smack one of us on the head and say, "They were right. And so to make you one I'm going to put you in submission to them; you'll serve them for a trillion years, because, you know, you blew it. You had your chance. Yes, you're in heaven, but they were right. And now you have to admit that and they get to gloat for a trillion years."? I mean if that's what it is, how does that work?

It seems to me that Jesus was more concerned with, "Settle things quickly. Do it now. Don't wait. Life does not begin after you die. Life is now. Let the dead bury the dead. You live."

I don't know. I guess us plain folks don't see all the story.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

the radio goes to hell again, part ii

The problem with heaven being “the place you go if you die when you know Jesus” or as the evangelicals remind us, “when you die if you know Jesus” is…it’s such a small view of heaven, and it rejects the real heaven. The thing is, heaven is everywhere. It is all around. It affects everything. It flows in and out of every good deed, every act of godliness and love everywhere. It embraces everything. It pervades everything. It is in all, and through all. It’s here, it’s now, it’s past, it’s present, it’s future, it’s everything.

And so when you say, “Everyone needs to accept Jesus as their personal savior so that they’ll go to heaven when they die”, you are rejecting every other instance of heaven, except for the one you’re in after you die, wherever that happens to be. You’ve never seen it, experienced it, Jesus didn’t even really talk about it (except in the vaguest and most enigmatic terms). That’s the real problem.

And because you are rejecting heaven, you’re winding up with all kinds of unheavenly things…like a divorce rate that’s higher in the church than it is in the secular world, out of the church. Priests and pastors in these heinous sexual sins and crimes. Like, just bizarre stuff. Because heaven really hasn’t come to all those places.

Just like it hasn’t come to all of my life, and my domain. There are places in my life where I am not holy, where I have not been swept into heaven, been rescued from sin, and been given the peace that comes only in heaven. There are places. But I’m looking for heaven. I want heaven to sweep me away, to take over, to baptize me, to immerse me in goodness and holiness, in righteousness. I’m not writing it off to “oh well, it’ll just…someday when I die, then I’ll be perfected”. That is totally anti-Christ. Jesus talked about heaven, this heavy way to live, where you can experience the rule and the reign of God now. The rule and reign of God is awesome. You’ve never known what a real and good king, and the pleasure and joy and peace and satisfaction and freedom he brings until you’ve known…until you’ve been to heaven. There’s no abuse. There’s no abuse of power, no abuse of priviledge. It’s amazing.

But the thing is people put heaven off. And so you get people that casually divorce each other and abandon friends, that bail on people, that just act completely selfishly, and do other things that we’re tempted to say, “Oh it’s just a weakness of theirs”, but they end up hurting other people. Anyway, that’s another story.

Monday, September 24, 2007

the radio goes to hell again

If I hear one more radio preacher say that Jesus talked more about hell than he did heaven I am going to puke. Jesus only talked about heaven. Everything Jesus said and did was heaven. It is all he offers us. Sometimes I get the impression from being around Christians that they think Jesus offers not only heaven, but also blessing and forgiveness and riches and abundance and a whole list of other things. Healing. Success. Conviction. Service. A long list. And when I engage that ideology, I get...tired. So many things to choose from. Do I get it all? Or do I decide which? Does he decide which?

Jesus only offers heaven. That's it. Heaven is way bigger and way more beautiful and way more real than these people make it.

When you talk about heaven as a real place somewhere else, and when you talk about hell as a real place somewhere else, you betray yourself. Your underwear is showing. You show how fragmented your belief in God is. You show that you think something called heaven is important, but so is paying bills and getting enough exercise and not flirting. The problem with this is that Jesus had no compartments. He wasn't concerned at all with paying bils or getting enough exercise or flirting.

Everywhere Jesus went he took heaven with him. This is why there is always a halo above his head in every painting.

All he talked about was heaven. When he talked about the chasm separating Lazarus and the rich man, and when he talked about the wedding feast, and when he talked about virgins, and when he talked about lost sheep and coins and people, he was talking about heaven. If you want to know where heaven is, look around. If you want to know where hell is, look around. You don't have to wait until you die. And you don't have to wonder what it is like. Ask someone who has been raped. Ask someone who has been cherished. Ask someone who has been bludgeoned by New Testament Law. Ask someone who has had their bills paid by someone who cared.

It's pretty easy to figure it out really. When God reveals himself somehow - whether through nature or by Jesus' words or whatever - everything that embraces him is in heaven, and everythying that refuses him is in hell. All the talk about judgment is just another way of saying that someday God will get to the end of his rope for letting the masquerade go on, and then everyone will be seen for who they are and for what they've been doing. The notion that sinners will be judged and Christians get off with their "get out of jail free" card is hogwash. Everything will be revealed.

I am certainly not convinced that Jesus promised that everyone who believes in him will go to a place called heaven when they die, where there are bizarre hybrid creatures and stuff made of gold and precious jewels.

I am certainly not convinced that Jesus promised that everyone who rejects him will go to a place called hell when they die, where there is pain and torture for a hundred years, a thousand years, a trillion years like the guy said on the radio today.

What I am convinced of is that Jesus lived in a certain way, a way he called heaven, or the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God, or simply God. He lived it in wherever he was before Abraham was born, and he lived it when he was on earth, and he's living it now.

Heaven is the way things really are, not a place to go when you're done here. Hell is the way things become when you have a better idea than heaven.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

number two

There’s this hilarious video on youtube that some guy put together with movie clips form Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s called “Why is the Rum Gone? - REMIX”. To get the full effect, you should watch the 1-or-so minute clip of the original scene, and then the remix, which is easy to do because youtube lines up several other videos to the right that you might be interested in after watching the first (Like they do… Like they brilliantly do…) One of those is “HARRY POTTER WHY IS THE RUM GONE???”. The interesting thing about it is…they totally just ripped off the first guy’s original music (which was a quite good adaptation on the Pirates of the Carribean movie score) and replaced the first guy’s video with clips from the Harry Potter movies (I suppose…never seen them).

So the guy who had the original idea sees the second clip, and what do you think his response was?

He really had two choices.

One, he could express indignation at the blatant theft of his intellectual property, the product of his thought.

Two, he could be honored that someone enjoyed his creation, and appreciated it to the point of giving it a go on their own.

He chose number two. His exact words were, “Woah...no way!! Somebody spoofed my video! I feel so honored!! Thank you!”

I think God is like number two.

I think the world for the most part is like number one. And I include in the world politicians, celebrities, businesses, megachurches, and Western Christians. Most of what I see is people striving so hard to get ahead, and then protecting their interests. Remember the Flower Mound Pumpkin Patch Feud? This includes an obsession over who gets the credit. I’ve even heard sermons about “God gets the credit” more than twice.

Not only do I like the first guy’s creation. Because of his generosity, I also like the creator.

Regarding God and heaven and faith and hope and love and all that, I want to be like number two, too. Not so God will get the credit. Just because I think God’s production is cool. And because I think I have what it takes to do my own version of it. I know I’m not very good at imitating God most of the time, but I keep coming around to give it another try because I’m holding out for God to say about me, “Whoa…no way! Somebody spoofed my life! I feel so honored!! Thank you!”



Friday, August 10, 2007

the worst of both worlds

Because if you’re going to work all alone, why would you drive sixty miles through highway construction into the sun both ways to do it, in a place with no cell phone access and all the network computing privileges of an indentured servant? And if you’re going to work with other people, why wouldn’t it be in a place where you could actually see their faces?

Cubeville.

The worst of both worlds.

And now they’ve even blocked my blog. I guess they’re on to me. If you’re reading this message it means that I’ve broken through and found a cell phone hotspot and uploaded.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

independence day

Been a melancholy day today. Nothing seemed to go right at work. Not to mention being triple-booked. People have expectations. And I as much as any.

I never expected my kids to grow up without my mom being around. I was sure I would have the other problem - keeping her from spoiling them. But today marks two years without her, and it's starting to settle in on my heart. And it's settling heavy.

I called my dad. He said he raised the flags today. I thought he meant he raised them to half mast. But he's been flying them half mast the whole month of July. He has dubbed today as my mom's Independence Day.

Friday, July 20, 2007

an appetite for reality

The amazing thing is how infatuated everyone is with what's hot and exciting and "in" and how little we care about real value. That's why Paris Hilton (among many others) gets air time.

I read in this cheesy newsletter, which was really just an advertisement with a few oddball stories and some fortune cookie class proverbs, this one - "Fashion is so ugly and cheap that we can only stand it for about 6 months before we change it all." Yeah. But we stick with it.

But that's not as amazing as this guy who had such a hard time getting a novel published that he became convinced that it was just impossible, that unless you had an agent who worked the system of favors and whatever else they do, you can't get novel published. So he changed the character names and chapter titles to Jane Austen novels and sent them in. The publishers thought they were crap. Only one actually recognized the ruse and retorted.

It's the same way with preaching. Go to church. You don't hear things that are true and beautiful and painful, filled with joy and grief, filled with passion and adventure and romance. In other words, you don't get reality. You get the easy sell, what plays well, what's popular, what's in vogue, what can be expressed with style and rhythm and "amen?" and the know-it-all grin. In 42 minutes. And there's about 1000 varieties of the same cheap trick.

Those publishers have lost touch with what is good literature. They are living in a reality of what sells, and of who's who.

It's the same with preachers.

Oh, I know. Your church is "different". Your preacher even preaches about those other preachers who have sold out, or who are populists, or who water down the gospel, or who preach ear tickling sermons...and your ears tickle the whole time they talk.

If you're saying "not me, not my church, it's different" right now, then I'm talking about you. If this is you, if your church is different, you are still blind.

Thing is, you can't build a church today on the beauty of the gospel. People will vomit it up. The very reason they go is because they know they can get cheez whiz there. Just invert the can, bend that applicator, squeeze out some processed, predigested cheese-like substance on your cracker, and munch away.

You can't build a church on the beauty of the gospel anymore. People need something to say "amen" to. "Selah" is right out.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

waiting to live

The daily reading from Ransomed Heart today was entitled Eternal Life. When I stop my madness, pull over and watch the world go by, I realize that life is not only what I want...it's all I want.

But what is life?

And what is eternal life?

And what does it mean to cross over from death to life, to be saved from death?

Christianity hasn't been very useful here. I say that because whoever it is in the back room making up the talking points has decided that how people need to view eternal life is this. It's "going to heaven when you die". Another image is "not going to hell when you die". Salvation then is being ear-marked for heaven when you die, wherever that is. Nothing more. When someone tells you "I got saved" this is what they mean. It's what we were all told happens to us and how to view what happens to us.

It reminds me of the bulls my dad and I used to castrate, vaccinate, spray for ticks, brand, and pierce their ears with these plastic tags. But what are the (former) bulls supposed to do then? Stand around, eat grass, get fat, and wait for the slaughter? Apparently so.

There has to be more to life than this.

What Dallas Willard wrote in The Divine Conspiracy is intriguing to me.

Jesus offers himself as God’s doorway into the life that is truly life. Confidence in him leads us today, as in other times, to become his apprentices in eternal living. “Those who come through me will be safe,” he said. “They will go in and out and find all they need. I have come into their world that they may have life, and life to the limit.”

Could it be that salvation is being made an apprentice, rather than a fatted calf?

And what's all the business about going in and going out? I thought the goal was to get in and stay in.

Apparently, when you forfeit "eternal living" for "eternal life" you have to figure out what to do in the mean time.

I'm looking for a Way of Life that is not about learning where the fences are, not about learning how the grass really isn't greener on the other side, not about learning how to be fat and happy, not about learning how to convince other people to come into the safe pasture where all the rest of us saved creatures wait for our death so we can finally get started doing something besides waiting, not about learning how to keep from thinking about what's on the other side of the fence, not about learning how to figure out where the invisible fences within the fence are, not about learning how to argue about fence lines (invisible or otherwise) with other creatures who are outside or inside one or more fences.

Unfortunately, the pickins are slim. Judging from the sermons, magazines, Bible studies, and letters thanking me in advance for being a "friend of the ministry", I'm going to have to look somewhere besides Christianity.

I'm tired of waiting. Very tired.

I have to find the other way Jesus talked about.

Friday, July 13, 2007

advice and help

There's a big difference between advice and help.

A big difference.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

lost

This is one of the most stirring things I have ever read. The whole parable is. But particularly this opening.

Once upon a time there lived a sea lion who had lost the sea.

He lived in a country known as the barren lands. High on a plateau, far from any coast, it was a place so dry and dusty that it could only be called a desert. A kind of coarse grass grew in patches here and there, and sometimes wind, which together make one very thirsty. Of course, it must seem strange to you that such a beautiful creature should wind up in a desert at all. He was, mind you, a sea lion. But things like this do happen.

How the sea lion came to the barren lands, no one could remember. It all seemed so very long ago. So long, in fact, it appeared as though he had always been there. Not that he belonged in such an arid place. How could that be? He was, after all, a sea lion. But as you know, once you have lived so long in a certain spot, no matter how odd, you come to think of it as home...

from The Journey of Desire by John Eldredge


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

adaptation

I was reading MJ’s blog a while back—black background with white text. When I looked away from the screen, I could still see the image of it superimposed on my office wall.

A few weekend ago, I did some tree trimming with my son—hot work on a hot afternoon. When I first went out I noticed it was hot and muggy, but we just kept working. I finally realized I was getting dehydrated, so I went back inside for a while. Man was it cold! And dry. I wondered why on earth we would pay so much to keep the air running like that.

The other night I made grilled salsa and pickled jalapeños with my son. We were crying from the onions and sneezing from the jalapeños, but we just kept at it. It wasn’t too bad. I had to run to the store to get some canning jars. Everything was off the fire and cooling, so I just left it where it was. When I got back I walked in to this thick, overwhelming wave of odors, and I hoped everyone wasn’t too mad at me for stinking up the house.

I use this bible software program on my computer. One night I was scanning through it, looking for something. My mind started wandering, and before I realized, I was just scrolling and scrolling and scrolling back through scriptures and high speed. I finally broke out of my daze and let up on the mouse. But the screen kept moving. Only, it was now drifting back the opposite direction. And I was having a hard time catching up to it.

I read an intro to a story once where the script was leaning back, as if it were written by a person who was backhanded. It was kind of an interesting and archaic looking font. And then I got to chapter one. Regular font. I could hardly read it. It looked so strange, like it was going to fall off the page.

And then there are the noise-cancelling headphones my family gave me for birthday or Christmas or father’s day or something. Awesome. I let the flight attendant try them on the airplane. I thought she was going to freak out. The way they work is they have these built in microphones pointing out that listen for repeating patterns of noise, and then they produce a negative sound wave to cancel the external noise. So it’s actually louder inside the headphones than when it started (there’s no way to create anti-sound), but my ear adds the one sound to the other and gets something that’s flat but at a higher level, and so it gets interpreted as silence, but louder silence.

I also have on my car stereo this thing called Speed Controlled Volume (SCV). If I use this, it automatically adjusts the sound up when I’m going faster, and down when I slow down. This seemed strange to me at first, but I’m sure everybody’s experienced this thing where you’re listening to music going down the highway, and then you come to a stop sign, and it hurts your ears. You wonder what in the world you were thinking to make the music that loud. But it really wasn’t that loud. Your ears had adjusted up for all the engine and road noise so that the music wasn’t that much louder than “normal”, than “baseline”, than “rest”, than “peace”.

The human body is adaptable. Evolution theorists have told us for decades now that adaptation is the key to survival and even progress. They are quite pleased with themselves for figuring this out. And there may be some truth in it. But the most amazing thing to me about adaptation of our species is how quick we are to do it. Even in these simple things I’ve just written out. It’s amazing how quickly and how decidedly we adjust to what we are presented with, and are able to accept it as normal.

It makes me wonder how much our heart adjusts to and calls it normal. And how long the soul can survive in chaos and unholiness and call it peace and blessedness. It’s not that we’re wrong to accept things, to accept a life of sin, to accept a desert of lack. It’s not that we are rebellious if we are accepting something less than “God’s best” for us. It’s just that we have the amazing ability to adjust down or up to the version of reality that is being presented to us at the moment. It's part of our design. It's also why we need friends, why we were created to live in fellowship. We need people to say, “What’s up with that?” and “Is this what you really want?” and “Why is it you think this is the only response for that?” and “What would it take for you to wash your hands of this whole mess?" and even, “How long do you intend to keep living this way?”

Friday, July 06, 2007

-cide

Homicide
Suicide
Infanticide
Genocide
Herbicide
Insecticide
Pesticide
Biocide
Algaecide
Bacteriocide
Decide

When you decide something, you end it.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

an utterance

They have turned My love affair into a lawsuit.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

cheap signiture

There's this cheap sign someone printed out and tacked to the bulletin board at one of my clients. Actually the bulletin board is the back of someone's corner cubicle. It's a permanent fixture as far as I know, because it's been there every time I have rounded that corner. Here's what it says:

Inspiration

To have a great day isn’t always doing what you like, but trying to like what you must do. Spruce up your attitude and have a great day no matter what the circumstances may be.

I have a word for that: bullshit.

The thing is, bless their hearts, these people are trying. They recognize that life as it presents itself to each of us is meaningless and depressing. But keeping your chin up does not infuse happiness, fulfillment, or destiny. You won't have a great day if you pretend it is. And "trying to like" something is just another way of saying, "lie to yourself". Telling the truth is a much better way to live.

The truth is, life as it presents itself is the lie. There is way more going on than meets the eye, obscured by shades of boredom, frustration, and futility. Salvation from boredom, frustration, and futility is not in selling yourself on accepting life as it presents itself to you. It comes from seeing what is truly going on, from discovering the Story that you were born into and the role that is yours to play. And positive attitudes won't get you there. You have to learn to look through the facade, to look mythically, to look with the eyes of your heart.

Trying will never get you there.

Trying will only get you further embedded into the lie.

More later. I have to go back to work. To do what I "must" do.

Whatever.

Monday, June 18, 2007

reception

The client I work for right now has who-knows-how-many thousand employees. So when you walk in there is a receptionist. Well, when you walk in the North Entrance there is a North receptionist. I suppose there is a South receptionist as well. This woman is incredible. She must be Greek or Italian - something Mediterranean. She's got short black hair, a touch of gray, and is full of life, full of energy. You can't walk by and look her way without eye contact. And usually, even if you're across the way, just walking by, she'll talk to you. She always knows what's going on in the complex, how to get where you want to go, and there are not enough things going on to derail her. The phone can ring while you're standing there, she can answer that, still get you to where you're going, respond to the caller, and be jotting down a note at the same time. With a smile on her face.

Every time I see this woman part of me comes alive. I feel energized. I feel like getting something done. And I have this sense that everything is working, like the world is right side up and someone is probably in charge somewhere.

The other day I walked in and there was another woman there. At first I thought maybe they had switched shifts or something, but after passing several times throughout the day, I realized that the real receptionist must be on holiday. Or (God forbid) promoted. Or quit.

Anyway, this was the day after I had lost my cell phone there. Actually I know what happened. I was reclining on the couch checking my email, when it slipped out of my pocket. Fortunately someone turned it in to security. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I walked up to the desk to ask the new receptionist if they have a lost and found. I waited forever. Well, I am an American, so you have to take that with a grain of salt. Actually, it may have been 45-50 seconds. And I really did wait patiently since she was engaged in something. I hate to interrupt, because I hate to be interrupted. But as I sat there waiting, I started thinking. Wait a minute, I said to myself, she's a receptionist. And even if she's not the real receptionist, I can't imagine that there's another priority for a receptionist besides receiving and responding to whomever walks up to the reception desk. Hmmmm....

She finally looked up, and I asked her about the lost and found. She said to check with security. Fortunately, there was a security guard walking by at the time...who was a real security guard. I asked her about lost and found, she picked up the phone and called down, and in a few minutes, I was sporting my good old cell phone.

You can run into lousy service everywhere, but this one has me thinking. Here's why. The thing the receptionist was looking up from was reading her Bible. She totally ignored me for the longest time, and when she did look up, it was as if she was returning from a trance. I suppose you've heard the term, "too heavenly minded to be any earthly good". C.S. Lewis had a lot of disdain for that phrase, and I think being "too heavenly minded" was not her problem at all. The first receptionist was heavenly minded. Not the second.

I think the receptionists in heaven are like the first one, not the second. I think the bakers and the programmers, and the accountants, and the bike repairmen in heaven are more like the first receptionist. I run into them from time to time, and whenever I do I always feel like my burden is light. I feel inspired to do whatever it is I do with all my might.

Paul wrote in one of the letters collected in the new testament how we should just let people people do whatever they can do. If someone can prophecy, then let him. Likewise, if there are people who can serve or teach or encourage or provide for others or lead or show mercy, then let them do that. It's not "compel them to do it" but "let them do it".

When I think about this receptionist, I just want to say, "Somebody wind her up and get out of her way, and you'll get the best damn reception you could ever imagine." I think that's what heaven is like. And when I'm around people doing what they can do, I'm sure I'm receiving heaven myself, or at least getting a foretaste.

sixteen

My friend and I were at a favorite coffee bar last Saturday. I told him, "It's really starting to bother me all the waste. I look around in here and see all the cups..."This inspired Christian to write a letter to Starbucks telling them that with 40,000 stores worldwide, they should be more responsible and come up with a way for people to recycle their cups. That or at least make a receptacle for stacking cups so they don't convert more and more earth into landfill space.

I took a slightly different tack. I was inspired to see how many times I could reuse that same cup. It turns out that this cup was a high quality operation. It's coated paper on the inside, and some kind of insulated, styrofoamish material on the outside. I took a Sharpie and made a mark every time I used it. I used it sixteen times. SIX-TEEN. 16.

Anyway, here's the picture.

sixteen

And here's a graphic illustration of all the cups I would have wasted.

fill fill fill

random thought i've been thinking for about a year

It's amazing how easy it is to be avoided when someone is nervous about running into you.

Friday, June 15, 2007

call it grace

God brings things into my life. Beautiful things. Undeserved things. Unexpected things. Like this painting.


Whenever these days look you in the face, call it grace.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

do what you can do

And because things don't go like they should, a person who lives like he should finds himself in a continual state of frustration and confusion.

My friend Christian was telling me recently about a church that he and his wife used to be part of. The church had this bold, ambitious focus on evangelism, both world and local. It was a vibrant church. And all their talk of evangelism was genuine. As a group, they really wanted to do this. But the problem with groups wanting to do great things is that not everyone can. There are always some members of the group who really can and who are really passionate about something like evangelism, while there are others, who are really talented people with good hearts, but not passionate about—and therefore can't do—the great thing, like evangelism. Been there. Done that.

But even this is fine.

It only becomes toxic when everyone starts thinking that the group should do something, like evangelism.

And really, this is the same situation for lots of stuff in the spiritual life, the religious life. Doing the things you should do will absolutely wear you out. It will age you quickly. You will develop that odd hollowed and harried look.

Please, for God's sake, and for ours: Don't do what you should do. Do what you can do.

For the longest time I lived by the motto "Do what's right and then you’ll live with no regrets”. I have a book on my shelf (not a great book, but a great title) called How to Do Everything Right and Live to Regret It. Exactly. And thanks a lot. You could have told me that before all this.

Do what’s right. Do what you should. That’s the motto of a withered man.

I’m not dissing spiritual disciplines. Not at all. But there is a difference in keeping a spiritual discipline because you should and keeping a spiritual discipline because it is good for you. So, if you commit to a time of regular solitude every week or every day, because it is good for you, well then. But if it’s because you’re supposed to, then please, for God’s sake, and for ours: don’t do what you should do. Do what you can do.

Sometimes, I’ll admit, you have to make yourself do something to begin with, even if it doesn’t seem to work. Running, for example, seems like a completely foreign and counterproductive activity. But for some people, once they force themselves to do it for a couple of weeks, they realize they not only can do it, but they enjoy doing it, and they get lots of benefits. It’s good for them. I tried that. The longer I did it the more I hurt. So I quit. I know. Un-American. But I took up backpacking instead. Same health benefits, and it’s something I can do. It’s something I can be passionate about.

Back to the spiritual disciplines. Dallas Willard talks about the three central ones: solitude, silence, and fasting. Solitude ranks first.

For most of us, Sabbath will not become possible without extensive, regular practice of solitude. That is, we must practice time alone, out of contact with others, in a comfortable setting outdoors or indoors, doing no work. We must not take our work with us, even in the form of bible study, prayer or sermon preparation, for then we will not be alone. An afternoon walking by a stream or on the beach, in the mountains, or sitting in a comfortable room or yard, is a good way to start…This will be pretty scary for most of us. But we must not try to get God to “do something” to fill up our time. That will only throw us back into work. The command is: “Do no work.” Just make space. Attend to what is around you. Learn that you don't have to do to be. Accept the grace of doing nothing. Stay with it until you stop jerking and squirming.

This is such great advice. Especially for Americans. If there is any killer that is common to just about each of us Americans, it is a lack of solitude. But I gotta tell ya, if even solitude doesn’t work for you, don’t do it. If you can’t do solitude, then please, for God’s sake, and for ours: don’t do what you should do. Do what you can do.

And here’s why I get into trouble. When I start suggesting to people to stop doing what they should, to stop doing that severely subjective thing they call “what is right”, in favor of doing what they want to do, and what they can do—they look at me as if I’m recommending laziness, recommending that everyone just screw off, recommending that they throw in the towel and just go the way of all things.

But if what you can do is hang out with people and initiate great conversations about the stuff of life, then do it. If what you can do is be hospitable, then do it. If what you can do is visit people in distress, then do it. If what you can do is cook, then do it. If what you can do is give money, then do it. If what you can do is farm vegetables or raise livestock, then do it. If what you can do is nurse, then do it. If what you can do is be a good parent, then do it. If what you can do is throw great parties, then do it. I hate listing these things because there’s no way to include one thousandth of what you exclude. So if you can make a list of ways to be yourself, or in other words, to bear the image of God, then do it.

But whatever you do, for God’s sake, and for ours: don’t do what you should do. Do what you can do.