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.