Monday, December 18, 2006

Stood up at the PeGe

The sharp crack of Alethia's whip woke me from my blogmatic slumbers. Has it really been over a month since I last posted? Yup, I guess it has.

Well, those of you whom I care about should be getting a Christmas card from me sometime soon. If you don't, then I've probably forgotten about you. Or don't have your home address.

Anywhooo....

I went to Louisiana for Thanksgiving. I always like going back to Louisiana and seeing my relatives and friends. I like eating the Thanksgiving food and seeing a Sonic on every corner. I like the smell of pine trees and the way I can actually see the starts at night.

For the first time, my immediate family (with in-laws) was too big to stay in someone else's house. So, we rented a cabin in Lake D'Arbonne State park. The cabins were really nice, and the view off of the pier into Lake D'Abonne was beatiful.

Aside from spending time with both my Father's side and my Mother's side of the family (which I see not nearly often enough), I visited my old college stomping grounds. Ruston, as a whole hasn't changed that much, though it does seem like Ruston is getting a bit more comercial. There are lots of new hotels, a Chili's and other chain restaurants, a new movie theater is going in, etc, etc.

Some of the best things about Ruston haven't changed, though, and every time I go back to visit Tech, I'm reminded of how wonderful a place it was to go to college. Good education, good friends, good times. "O Tech thy halls so beatiful, thy spacious hall, thy noble trees..."

But as I wondered around the campus, and gawked at so
me of the new buildings, I noticed a gaping hole where Kidd used to be.

You'll have to click on the picture to see the blow-up, but that grav
el parking lot used to be an 8-story women's dorm. In fact, if memory serves, that SUV is parked just about where Amy and Alethia's balcony used to be. After all the good memories I have from in and around that dorm, it was sad and shocking to see it gone. I think I remember a picture of a bunch of my BSU friends standing outside that dorm, all dolled up and ready to go to some "function". Does anyone have a copy of that picture they can scan for me?

Not to seem too sappy, but after all the nostalgia of seeing the old campus again, I was looking forward to seeing a couple of college friends in Monroe. We were going to meet at the PeGe, which has some of the best greasy-spoon type food on the planet. Sure, it's a bit of a dive, but there is just something about the PeGe that keeps me coming back. I keep telling myself it's the ice cream, but I suspect deep down that it's how cool the sign is.

Now, I don't want to name any names, but I was supposed to meet two good friends at the PeGe. Well, at least two people whom I thought were my good friends. Keep in mind that I flew all the way from Minnesota, drove from Dallas into Ruston, then instead of staying warm and snug at Lake D'arbonne, I drove out to Monroe just to see these two people. My math is fuzzy, but I think I ended up traveling somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000 miles just to make it to our meeting at the PeGe.

Come to find out, only one shining face showed up. From what I understand, the other one didn't want to drive the 30 miles to see me. (Guess which one is getting a Christmas card this year?). In my gratitude, I let her hold my only son, whom had also traveled light-years to visit the PeGe.

Now, one might be tempted to think that my eyes are half-closed because a.) I'm really tired from life with a newborn, b.) I'm being blinded by the flash from the camera, or c.) I'm on crack (a little inside joke between myself and Stacy).

In fact, it's merely that I'm overcome by grief due to the lack of love shown me by a certain redhead.

Not that seeing Stacy didn't rock, 'cuz it did. My eyes were open almost the entire time. And we didn't talk about theology once, which is quite a feat for me. To be honest, I wasn't sure what to talk about, so I wasn't much of a conversationalist (am I ever?). But Stacy kept me entertained by stories of life as an MD, and stories of her family over Thanksgiving. She also told me how to pronounce DeSha's name, which I had TOTALLY wrong.

So, there you have it, my Thanksgiving Vacation. How was yours?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Future Thoughts / Son Sounds

On Halloween (of all days!), Melissa and I welcomed Greyson Alan into the world.




He was nine days overdue. An induction was scheduled, and we deliberately scheduled the induction for a day that was NOT Halloween because we thought that was just too creepy.



Wouldn't you know it, the little twirp decided to come that day anyway. Sigh - kids are rebelling younger and younger these days.







Or, maybe he just really wanted to see his big sister's costume. Here is a pic of her at the day care Halloween party. She's a hula girl. We really wanted her to be a princess, but she wouldn't wear the costume. I guess something about an orange cellophane skirt appeals to her Halloween fashion sense. I just get a kick out of the way she's wearing it like a middle-aged man wears his trousers. (BTW, you can click on any of these pictures to make them bigger.)










In any case, Mom and baby are doing just fine. Madelyn has adjusted to the new addition very well so far. We, of course, have taken way too many pictures to post. Below is one of my favorites. Everytime I see it, I put a different caption on it - like, "I swear, that fish was this big." -or- "Next time, let's make the canal a little bigger." I'm thinking of putting this picture in my cube at work, but I need a better caption than my tired mind can come up with. Any ideas?

On another note, I'm consistently surprised how loud newborns are. Sure, there's the crying, but that's to be expected. But the grunting, the groaning, the smacking, the constanst rustle of limbs flailing is totally out of control. In my experience, parents exhaustion isn't so much from the baby crying as it is from the parents waking up every 15 mins when the baby makes a giant, house-shaking lip-smack.


But the other day as I looked at him sleeping, I got to thinking about the future. What will my children look like when they're adults? What will they look like when they're old? What will their children or grandchildren look like? In the future, what will they know that we don't know now? What will a Christian worldview look like in three generations?

It is with that last question that I camped out for a while. Ultimately, as evangelicals, we believe in a cataclysmic end things as we know them, followed by consumation with Christ. But it seems to me that the Biblical authors thought it would come in their lifetime. It didn't. Neither did it happen in their children's life time, nor their grandchildren's lifetime. It hasn't happened for 2000 years.

Nevertheless, all my life I've heard people say, "I just hope Jesus come back before that happens." or "I hope Jesus comes back soon." People have been saying that for 2000 years. What if it is another 2000 years before his return? What if it is 10,000, or a million, or a billion years? What if our sun is burned out and our solar system destroyed by the ravages of time before Christ returns? What then?

Does such a thought change the way that we, as Christians, live our life and approach the world? Should it?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The curse of Folk Theology

I almost entitled this post "Surviving the Church", but that wouldn't have been entirely accurate. I also thought about entitling it "Christianity for Grown-ups", but that's a title I want to save for another time.

Over the past 6 years, and especially over the past year, I've felt more and more strongly about getting people to actually think about their Christian lives. To actually think through what they believe and why. To be honest with themselves about how silly sounding some of our sayings as Christians are. To be more thoughtful and reflective about things like Love, and Forgiveness, and Grace. When things get confusing or tough I want people to not throw up their hands and say "The Bible says it, so it must be true", and instead say "What exactly is the Bible saying here? Somehow, this has to make sense."

So, over the past year I've been trying things in my church to get people started. To put it mildly, it hasn't gone too well. And, quite frankly, I feel pretty beat up about it.

The problem is something I (and others) call Folk Theology. Folk theology is the kind of theology practiced by people who think that 'real' theology is anti-spiritual, that theology muddies the clear water of Christian truth, that it is a purely philosophical pusuit that has nothing to do with reality. Folk theology is what happens when people reject loving God with their minds, and instead blindly believe because they think that's what faith is. Folk theology is what happens when people love their stories about Christianity more than they love God.

Here's an example. Last week, I was talking to a group of Christians about some stuff, and as part of this conversation, I gave an example of something that Christians frequently believe, but that isn't in the Bible. They didn't believe me, so we looked at scripture, and I walked them through the issue. At the end, of of them said, "Yeah, yeah, but my old way of thinking about it COULD be true, right? Well, there you go."

This is the curse of Folk Theology. Instead of having scripture form how we should think about a certain thing, those who practice Folk Theology let how they think about things form scripture. And when that happens, people can find justification for everything. They can find justification for slavery, for domestic abuse, for the lower status of women, for hate and anger under the guise of "justice". If people chose their own stories and THEN go to Christian scripture, they can find anything they want. The Bible COULD be saying anything. (But it isn't.)

The curse of Folk Theology goes deeper, though. It's one thing to be caught in the curse of Folk Theology and not know it. That's the fault of the teachers, pastors, and leaders within the church. It's quite another thing to have the error of your Folk Theology pointed out to you, and to choose it anyway. When that happens, people are choosing to believe whatever they want. They're not choosing to follow the story of God's activity through human history, they're instead choosing a story of their own and calling it Christianity. And when they cling to these so-called "Christian" stories, even though they're wrong, they're showing that they love their stories about Christianity more than they love God's story about humanity.

Whatever happened to the scriptural encouragement to love God with all of your mind?
Whatever happened to the proverb, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another"?
Whatever happend to "Come, let us reason together"?
Whatever happened to the Christian intuition that we should do everything for the glory of God?
Where are the people who pant for God the same way the deer pants for water?

My fear, week after week, is that there is no one like this in our churches anymore - that they've all drown under the sea of Folk Theology.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Greatest Story Ever Told

Some people might call me an idealist or a fool, others might call me misguided or brainwashed, but I believe the Christian story is the greatest story ever told.

I mean, think about it. The revelation of God throughout history is a wonderful story. God didn't just wind up creation like a giant clock and then let it tick away. Instead, he participated in it. He didn't just let humanity wallow in its violence and hate, but He has worked throughout history to break the cycle. God doesn't lord over us the fact that we need forgiveness, but instead we are forgiven in such a way that we are freed to participate in God's work of redemption. We deserved karma, but got Grace. As Christians, this is the story we find ourselves in - God's story.

But, like any story, its effectiveness is directly related to its ability to have psychological impact. No one sits around a campfire and tells a scary story by saying:
"This guy one time had a hook for a hand and killed people. No one knows what happened to him. The End."
Instead, they say:
"It was a night, much like tonight. After eating smores and singing songs around the campfire, everyone went off to sleep. Two minutes before midnight, a boy named John woke up and needed to use the bathroom. He wondered out into the bushes to relieve himself when he heard a sound off in the woods. A sound like cold sharp metal scraping against the bark of trees..."

Somehow as Christians we've forgotten how to tell a good story. We've forgotten how to tell a story about the God we serve in a way that viscerally connects with people. We've forgotten how to paint a picture through words and actions that capture the minds of people looking for a place to belong - a story to find themselves in. In short, we've allowed the Greatest Story Ever Told to become worn out and boring.

As a Christian, I'm appalled by this; I'm ashamed by this. And I'm genuinely surprised that the majority of evangelical Christianity isn't outraged by it as well. Instead, what I hear increasingly is that evangelical Christianity needs to have a renewed focus on its Biblical roots, and on its old theology. As if those stories are any different or more effective than the ones we've been using.

Why, I wonder, is there such resistance to change? Why is there such resitance to finding stories about our infinite God that can grip us, that can hold us in their sway, mesmerized by the very thought of a God who encompasses more than creation? Why is there such a tendancy to cling to static formulations of God when, as one of my good friends recently remarked, the most stable things in creation are things that move? Things like electrons, planets, galaxies, seasons, a kid on a bicycle, the ocean. These things are dynamic - they are moving, just like our God. Our God is constantly doing a "new thing" (Isaiah 42-43), constantly revealing himself to us through the Spirit. He is constantly bringing into contact with His infinity and revealing to us the harmonious ways in which He holds together wonderful contradictions - such as losing our lives to save it. Contradictions that tell us the first have to be last. That God became man not to BE served, but TO serve.

Yet our stories are no longer able to convey this in such a way that our culture gets it. We are no longer able to tell this story and have it be good news. We've lost our ability to be salt and light, not because we stopped believing, but because we've stopped understanding what it takes to be healing agents.

This is my quest. My quest is to understand the hurts and frustrations of postmodern life, and meet people there. My quest is to learn how to become salt and light, not by repeating the same old tired stories, but by finding new stories that speak of God in exciting ways. Stories that paint forgiveness as something that frees us for right living, not just something that gets us off the hook. I'm looking for stories that invite us in to explore the infinite God in such a way that we meet with the need for salvation within the very core of our being. This is my quest.

But it takes bravery to do it. Bravery to to teach stories in Sunday School people have never heard before. Bravery enough to be labeled a liberal because of it. It takes the courage to say that some things about the Bible only make sense after you become a Christian. It takes a willingness to talk to people about Christ without *gasp* only quoting scripture. It takes enough maturity to see God as someone who doesn't need us to run to His defense every time someone feels God has mistreated them or not lived up to the hype.

So, as I think about whether or not it matters where you come from, I've come to the conclusion that it does matter. Not because I've come from somewhere (e.g., from point B to C to D in my Christian walk), but it matters because I'm coming from a place where I will do just about anything to make the evangelion - the good news - actually good news. It doesn't matter that I came from a particular church, or came from a particular school of thought - that's old news. It matters that my actions today come from the place God has put me today.

To me, this realization has made the words "Give us this day our daily bread" all the more meaningful and special. No one wants stale bread.

What we want and what we need is to have the greatest story ever, told.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Marathon Runner

On Sunday of last week we had the Twin Cities Marathon. Somewhere around 10,000 people ran in the marathon. It was a huge event.

My coworker and friend, Joe, came in 89th place overall with a time of 2:50:52. He came in 70th in the mens. Not bad for a 26.2 mile run. I was reading about the results in the paper, and looking for Joe's name when I came across an article about this nut:

His name is Dean Karnazes, and he has committed to running 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days. Yup, you heard me right, a marathon a day for 50 days.

Why would he do such a thing? you might ask. According to the paper, it is to "promote fitness among children".

Dude, did that guy just say he was doing it to get kids to exercise more? Cuz, I gotta be honest with you, just thinking about running a marathon every day makes we want to sit on the couch and eat a pack of candy bars. You know, for energy.

This makes me glad I'm an engineer. I'm pleasantly plump, reasonably intellegent, and sorta healthy. I have no delusions that doing what I do is going to inspire kids get into shape.

Plus, after he runs his 50, then what? Me, I'll still be able to sit here and make fun of him for a looooong time.

In any case, congrats, Joe.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Does it matter where you come from?

I've been wrestling with some theological stuff lately, and I would like to get some feedback on it. The stuff I've been wrestling with isn't the content of my theological thought, but is instead how to teach said theological thought, if it should be taught at all.

At some point in recent memory, my friend Amy - you can see her blog here - commented on the ways her fellow BSU-ers theology has changed over the years. I said something about how it would have been better if we would have known then what we know now. She replied by saying that that spiritual stage was good for us.

I'm torn on this. Was it really good for us to be borderline legalistic? Was it really good for us to be so foundationalist that we thought we grasped all the truth? Was it really good for us to be ignorant of the very complicated issues surrounding Biblical inerrancy?

Now, there were good things, too, about our faith back then. It was incorrigible in the sense that we would not abandon it despite the ambiguity life threw at us. It kept us safe and sane. It made us respectable. And it delivered us to the place we are today. It wasn't all bad.

But as I teach people in my church, especially the youth, I wonder how far to go. When they ask questions about the origin and interpretation of scripture, I wonder how far to go into textual criticism and hermeneutics. When they ask about the character of God, I wonder how far to go into theological concepts like Futurity, robust infinity, and God's relationship to evil. When they ask about Satan, I wonder if I should tell them that the Bible doesn't ever tell us that Satan is a fallen angel and that we really don't know what the heck he is or where he came from.

In short, I wonder if I tell them all the things I've learned through hard research and soul-searching if it would make them better Christians. In the Christian life, does it make a difference how you get to where you are? Does it matter where you come from?

In the now defunct Bonhoeffer book study, I came across an idea that stuck with me. Bonhoeffer says that a professor can assert after many years of work that knowledge is meaningless, but a freshman in college cannot make the same assertion. Is the same true for Christian spiritual maturity? If it is, why can't discipleship just be a workbook?

I don't know. I just don't know. On the one hand, part of me wants to teach all of the things that make me excited about Christianity. The scary part is that what makes me excited is seeing a new way of thinking about God that was different from what I was taught as a youth. On the other hand, another part of me wants to teach the same things I was taught - even though those things are borderline wrong and unscriptural - because that's where I came from.

So here's the question I wrestle with: Does it matter that I went from fundamentalist to post-conservative, or (with the proper teacher) could I have gone directly to post-conservative and saved myself 15 years?

What do you think?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Blogging in Beta - somehow I expected more

Well, I took the plunge and transferred my blog from Blogger to Blogger Beta. I figured that everyone would have to do it eventually, so I decided I would take the plunge and be one of the early adopters. Plus, one of the features they touted was being able to put labels on the posts. This is one of the features I've lusted after ever since I saw it on Wordpress.

After making the switch, though, I'm not actually that impressed. Or, maybe I should say I'm impressed beta.

The reality is that not much seems to have changed that I'm interested in. For instance, they changed how the sidebar is handled. No longer do you have to modify the (non-standard) HTML to add links and stuff to the sidebar, nor do you have to copy and paste blocks of code to arrange everything on the blog. Instead, there is a pretty cool interface that allow you to drag and drop elements of the blog around:

The problem is you can't do anything truly interesting. Sure, now you can have an archive that is actually easy to navigate, but what about adding in picture-streaming content from things like flickr or webshots? In that case, you're out of luck unless you want to import HTML code from another site.

Something else I'm less than enthused about is the way they still force you to use the standard dozen or so templates they have in Blogger. That's right, no new templates. I would have been okay with that if they would have provided tools to build your own templates from scratch, but they leave you to futz with the same old HTML code you had in Blogger. It would be truly phenominal if they allowed you to upload pictures to use as backgrounds, rather than making you host them in a place other than Blogger.

For instance, I really want to have a template that evokes a little more feel of fear and trembling than the pastel dots Blogger selected. So, I messed with the HTML code for hours, trying to get everything to look right while hosting all of the images off-site. Ultimately what I ended up with looked more like "Calm and Comfort" than "Fear and Trembling". It's not Blogger's fault I can't pick good enough backgrouds, but it is their fault that I couldn't try out my ideas in 3 minutes rather than 3 hours. (Though you can change fonts and font colors VERY easily.) I guess for now I'm stuck with my pastel dots evoking spiritual Fear and Trembling in my readers.

All in all, I suppose I'm not truly disappointed, because there are a couple of new features that I like, such as being able to label posts, and having a useful archiving tool, but I felt Blogger Beta could have been so much more. Course, it is still in Beta, so I'm waiting to be wow'd.

Oh, by the way, the other day I was cleaning out some old stuff, and I found a video tape of a BSU Chapel Service that included Joe and Amy's Family group playing "Welcome Back Cotter". I wonder what I should do with it?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Hi. My name is Ben, and I love music.


"Let me whisper things

You've never heard before"


Sometimes I feel like I need to go to a support group for people who love music. In my daydreams, this group wouldn't try to encourage me to quit music, but would encourage me to get more and more into it. Someone would bring a new album every week, and we would listen to it, groove to it, and deeply contemplate the lyrics. And we would be so good at it that we could make money. That way my title would be: Benjamin Rhodes, Music Lover.

"I read bad poetry
into your machine.
I save your messages
just to hear your voice.
You always listen carefully
to awkward rhymes.
You always say your name
like I wouldn't know its you..."

Melissa and I were talking the other day, and I mentioned that I love music for the lyrics - I love the message of the song. The music simply give the lyrics motion. Unless, of course it is classical music (think Bach), or an overpowering guitar solo, then it's all about the music. (Sigh...where is the philosphical-conceptual space for music?)

"But every now and then I'd swear I'd see
you standing
On a sidewalk,
In a restaurant,
From a taxi passing by."


Music to me whispers message about people I've met. It whispers things about places long in my past that I want to keep connected to. It reminds me of situations that made me laugh or cry or feel alive. Music speaks to me of God, and his connection to me. It speaks to me of myself, and my connection to God. Certain music becomes a soundtrack for a place and time. This doesn't happen because I sit down and listen to the song, it happens because my soul sings these lyrics to me - it whispers them when I think of people and places from long ago. Truth is, I sing about almost every person I have a meaningful relationship with in words that aren't mine, but have become mine. Sometimes I feel bad that I think most Christian music is technically and lyrically inferior to secular music. Then, I just pop in a new CD and all my worries fade as the music sweeps me away.

"He used to do surgeries
On girls in the eighties,
But gravity always wins."


Sometimes, lyrics frame how I think about things. When people analyze where they are in life, how they've fallen into particular patterns and situations, I think of music. I think of the way lyrics turn a certain phrase. I think of how creatively and descriptively and subjectively these lyrics describe life. They hold me hostage to ways of thinking about the world. Hostage in a good way.

"I stood on the edge
Tied to a noose
But you came along
and you cut me loose"


Music releases my inner muse. Music makes me more creative than I would otherwise be. I live in the lyrics. I find my space between the notes and words. I create whole worlds there and derive stories out of those worlds. I find meaning and purpose there. When everything about my bourgeoisie life seems droll and dull, music reminds me that there are ways of thinking about things that are full excitement and life. Music pulls me from crisis to creative.

Here are some of my favorite lyric snippets. (Can anyone identify where they come from?)

What are some of yours?

"Tears Stream
Down your face
When you lose something you cannot replace"


"Oh Simple thing
Where have you gone?
I'm getting old
I need something to rely on."


"Are the streets you're walking on
A thousand houses long?
Well that's where I belong
And you belong with me,
Not swallowed in the sea."


"Sundays were made for this..."

"On a platform I'm gonna stand and say,
That I'm nothing on my own..."


"The more skin you shared
The more that the air in your thoat would linger
when you'd call him your friend."


"I was waiting as you drove away.

The sunlight was falling
you were writing backwards
on a dusty window pane."

Monday, September 18, 2006

I'm not dead

Despite the break I've taken from blogging, I'm not dead. I've simply been busy.

Busy with what? you might ask. Well, for one, I've been trying out this new blogger beta thing, so there are some changes to my blog. I'll post on how I like Blogger Beta sometime soon, but not today.

For another, I've been working on my house. Mel and I bought a bit of a fixer-upper last year, and I've been furiously working on that while the weather is nice. That way my southern and northern friends (that's you, Alethia!) can come and visit anytime they like and not be grossed out by the 40 year old carpet in the kitchen. Or the grand canyon plastered across our dining room wall. Or the black-and-pink bathroom.

I know, I know, the post is useless without pics. So, here they are.

First, the kitchen. Here is before:
Notice, if you will, the grand canyon in the background. Notice the carpet in the kitchen. Notice the cooktop that is literally 50 years old and ready to burst into a white-hot grease fire at any moment. Notice the knobs on the cabinet doors that went out of style with the Apollo project.


Here is the middle of the kitchen remodel. This picture was taken from the opposite direction.


Notice, if you will, the exposed studs, the wiring hanging from the ceiling. Notice me doubled-over because I've probably just dropped something heavy and/or sharp on my foot for the 100th time.



And, here is the finale:
Now, it's not entirely done, but for the most part it is. Just a little touch-up here and there and I'll be done. Notice the tile floor, the modern cooking surface. Notice the track lighting for the pantry. Notice the plastic purple shoes on the floor. This kitchen really has it all.


But wait, that's not all! We also prepped Madelyn's room and promoted her to a big-girl bed!

Before:

After:



Madelyn's Grandmomma made the acoutriments, which have little fairies all over them. This picture doesn't do it justice. The room really looks nice.





To my delightful surprise, Madelyn has made the transition from crib to bed without any real problems. Good breeding and all.


And, not that anyone cares, but I also painted all the walls in the upstairs. I mention this because it I learned something important: use oil-based primer when covering old paint. I know, I know, they tell you that the latex based stuff is just as good, but I'm living proof that it isn't. If the paint you wish to cover looks like the chalky white paint in your grandmother's hall, use oil-based primer on it. For the love of God, use oil-based primer. That's all I'm gonna say about that.

But, after learning that hard lesson, I was able to finally work on the living room.
Before:


Notice, if you will the people having a good time even though the place is a mess. That could be you.

Also notice the chalky white paint that crawled out of the deepest pits of Hell.





After:





















And, while I think that the place looks nice, it takes it's toll.

Here is me before:



























After:



Yes, the fumes from oil-based primer are so strong they willl knock out your teeth and turn you into an old chinese man.


But it is soooo worth it.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Everybody likes change.

I'm taking the plunge and switching to the new Blogger Beta to see what I think. You'll see some changes to the site, and after I get everything worked out, I'll put some posts up.

They might even be interesting.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

That's what I've been saying!

To quote Doug Padgitt, "That's what I've been saying!"

Except the way I say it is not as funny, and more confusing. This isn't for the easily offended, but it's not too bad.

http://www.jhuger.com/kisshankbutt.php

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The other side of the narrow way

After I got to thinking about my last post on the narrow way, I got to thinking that it was incomplete. Without a doubt, I believe that finding the narrow way is more about finding the path that, for you, leads to balance, though not in the yin-yang sense. But the Christian life isn't just about a single individual finding the narrow way. The Christian life is also about communities of hope, healing, and salvation.

As I think about the interaction between the two - being a single individual and being in community - I find myself thinking a lot about the writings of Soren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard lived in the mid 1800's and said (among lots of other things) that truth is only helpful if it is internalized in such a way that it becomes an integral part of the living and thinking of the single individual. In this way, truth is subjectivity. Truth must be turned inward and made your own.

This has special implications for the narrow way, and it's other side. The narrow way is what happens when the truth of the infinite God starts to color our days and become internalized into the single individual. The narrow way happens when we try to figure out how to make truth mean something to us, rather than it just being something we are taught, or something "Baptists believe" (instead of "I believe"). But the other side of the narrow way has to do with the teleological purpose of embarking upon the narrow way. (Teleological means end goal or end purpose. It's a cool word - you should look it up if you don't already know what it means.)

We don't just travel the narrow way for our own benefit, as single individuals who are searching
for truth. That might be why we start on the narrow way, but at some point we look around and realize that we need support through the ambiguity and pain we experience as we internalize truth. We look around and realize that other people are on a journey, too, and that our experience might be able to help them on their way.

At some point, we gather together to take care of each other. We come together, realizing that we have all been wounded as we've walked upon this razor's edge called the narrow way, and want to help each other. We want to reach out to those who have fallen off of the path, on one side or the other. We do it because we understand the hardships of the narrow way - we know how easy it is to get off track and end up in a place where you don't want to be. And even though some of us are in a place we hate, we aren't able to admit it, but instead desperately wish someone would break in with a message of hope to guide us onto the path of real life.

Some of us have never been on that path before. Others of us have been on the path before, but have forgotten how to get back on it. The other side of the narrow way is something I can't describe. It's not community - that's actually part of the narrow way. The other side of the narrow way is not a "way" at all. The other side of the narrow way is what happens when people go anywhere and everywhere precisely because they're not really going anywhere at all. It's what happens when people try things just to feel alive, or try to fit in, or try to be something that we're not all for the sake of finally becoming something. But the more people follow this road to nowhere, the more we realize how far into despair we are, the more we realize that everwhere we go we are a visitor, in search of a home. We realize that we might never reach a place where we're satisified, never reach a place where we are loved in such a way that we don't constantly have to seek out more love, never reach a place where we can let go and be ourselves in our pursuit of good things because the truth of the infinite God has never started to become OURS, a part of us.

Teleologically, we, as Christians, embark upon this narrow way so that we can offer up some hope against the other side of the narrow way. We come together and form communities of believers in order to help each other on the journey, and in order to show others how to let the journey begin. These communities are sacrimental - they are something that brings others to a point where they are willing to start internalizing truth in such a way that it can actually make a difference in their life. As outsiders look upon the sacrimental community they should see the difference the narrow way has made in our lives - how internalizing truth has changed everything, and as a result want to try it for themselves. They're not going anywhere anyway. And as the truth hits them, as it becomes their own, one piece at a time, they begin to understand the value of the narrow way.

Why do we do it? Why do I do it? I do it because it was done for me. I do it because there was a dark time in my life - not so long ago - when I found myself in a place I couldn't get out of, a place that I didn't want to be. No one was there to help me - no one was there to discover the pain I kept hidden. But instead as I screamed at God in bitterness I realized that there was someone who came to show me how to get out of the quagmire. He came and gave everything he had - he allowed himself to be crushed for my "transgressions" - for the way I've wondered off the path. And as he hung on a tree as the reward for showing us all the narrow way, he screamed out in despair to his God, too. I do it because somewhere inside me I think I understand part of the pain he experienced while traveling the narrow way. I do it because I want to reach out and help that savior of the world as he cries out in despair. I do it because as I have internalized the truth of the infinite God, I have come to understand he wants me to look into the face of people at church, at work, at school, in the mall, and see the face of despair looking for a savior. They're not looking for the exact same path that I am on, but each and every one of them is looking to leave the the other side of the narrow way. They're looking to find the same truths that I've found, and embark upon the narrow way of making those truths their own.

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Narrow Way

About once a year, my church asks me to preach because the pastor is gone. This week is my week. While I usually feel like I have something worthwhile to say (does that make me arrogant?), I'm also stressed out about it. I'm a much better writer than I am speaker, and if I must speak, I do much better if I can interact with people and ask questions while I'm teaching. Maybe I'll give an update on how it went on Monday or something.

In any case, as I've been working on my message the past week, I realized the exact way in which I think of the narrow way. If anyone has been a close reader of my blog, they'll realize I refer to Christianity as the narrow way a lot, and truthfully, as I live each day looking for the face of God, I consciously think about the path I take as the narrow way. To me, following the narrow way and being a Christian are synonymous.

But, what do I mean when I talk about the narrow way?

When most people I have met think of the narrow way, they think of something that is a path through the woods. The entrance to the narrow way is hidden - you have to look and look and look for it, but once you find the trailhead, the path is faint but clear, and it winds through the mountains and valleys of life all the way to God. The path never splits or disappears completely, though sometimes it might be hard to see, but if you are diligent and pay attention, you'll never have a problem staying on the path. Sure, trials will come and sometimes the route the path takes will be difficult and full of stress and pain, but the path itself is clear.

But what if the narrow way isn't like this at all? What if the narrow way isn't a path that someone else has blazed that you get to follow, but is instead a path that you blaze yourself as you try to navigate life? Or, what if the narrow way has nothing to do with paths at all?

Real Christians know that the Christian life is full of ambiguity as we approach a world full of sin, and we all know that the Christian life is full of pain as we slowly learn to take up our cross daily and follow the example of Christ. But the fact of the matter is that every step each one of us takes as single individuals is unique. No one has ever taken the path I've taken before, having my same experiences with ambiguity and pain. The path I take is mine alone, as I try to integrate the experiences I've had with a God who constantly touches me and colors my days. My path (and yours) is unique because I am (and you are) unique.

So if I am to really take full advantage of what God is trying to teach me, I can't just follow someone else's path - I must follow the unique trajectory God creates for me. But this is scary, because as I blaze this trail I could get it wrong and hurt myself or someone else. It's scary because I could easily fall into the trap of just going through the motions that someone else has done, and thereby lose the unique message God has for me.

So, I walk on a razor's edge. On the one hand, I don't want to grieve the Spirit of God as I simply follow the motions of people who've gone before me and ignore the unique opportunities meant entirely for me. And on the other hand, I don't want to descend into chaos as I pursue every heresy in creation looking for something new and cool. It's like I'm walking a fine line on the top of a mountain. There is no path. The going is treacherous and fraught with peril. Falling off the one side means I sell out and take the easy way, which is to simply do the same things people before me did. If I fall off the other side it means that I've descended into chaos and heresy as I blaze a trail that has nothing to do with where God wants me to go.

This is probably why I also think that individuals work out their salvation in fear and trembling. Christians walk this tightrope - this narrow way, and in fear and trembling take each and every step as they navigate the ambiguity and pain of following Christ's example. This is also probably why I find so much meaning when the apostle Paul says in Acts 17:

26From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps grope for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.
God sets us up uniquely in time and place, and did it that we might perhaps grope for him. Not find him as if we started walking upon a path and stumbled upon his cottage, but grope for him.

Interestingly, this means that we lose control of our ability to find God on our own, but we become more and more dependent on Him to reveal Himself to us through Christ, and through the Spirit which indwells us. And it is precisely with this loss of control, in finding our true identity in the uniqueness of our path as we relate to God that we find hope and freedom and life.

I don't know about you, but to me the source of this hope and life seems so strange, so counterintuitive that I can't help but ask as I navigate the narrow way, "What kind of God is this?"

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

What kind of God is this?

I was going through some old clothes the other day, and I found some t-shirts I had as a teenager. A good number of the shirts were just your ordinary t-shirts that said "Hard Rock Cafe" or something on them. Then, there was another kind of shirt in the pile. I'll call this group the Jesus shirts.

As their name indicates, they had something to do with Jesus. Some of them were from my BSU days, and aside from words like "thang" printed on them, most were pretty innocuous. Others, however, made me borderline angry with both myself for buying the shirts, and with marketers of Christian clothing who produced them.

Most of the shirts with any sort of depiction of Jesus or spiritual things showed monster trucks, or a ripped, muscular Jesus wielding a sword. One showed Jesus riding the four horses of the apocalypse in such a way that he was "breaking" them.

As I looked over these Jesus shirts, and I thought of some other ones I had seen recently, I realized that this is the kind of God and Jesus that we want to serve. We want to serve a God who punishes the guilty with everlasting torment. We want to serve a God who seems totally in control at all times, who has all the answers for us. We want a Jesus who is a buff, kung-fu man of combat, who is waging an all-out war against Satan.

We want a God who tears through town like James Dean, driving a pimped-out ride and wearing sunglasses and a faded bomber jacket. We want a God like Neo in The Matrix who bends all the rules of reality in order to destroy the adversary and save those who are good. He's smooth, good looking, cool, and can't be outdone. And when God leaves town in a cloud of dust as his Monster Truck leaves rubber on the pavement, we want the kids to stand around in awe and say, "What kind of God IS that?". And we want to say, "Our God, kid. That's OUR God."

On some level, I know this mentality is true because the names on the tags of some of these shirts are things like "Christian Apparel with an Attitude". Cuz, you know, Jesus can't compete if he's not as cool as Avril Lavigne or Tony Hawk. Anyone who is going to make it big has to have an attitude. I mean, Jesus dying and coming back to life? That was totally rad. I love how he faked out Satan with than one! He was all like, "I'm dead. NOT!" Man, the devil never saw that one coming! That was SO kewl. Kinda like the time Rambo blew up the entire US Army with only a bow and arrow. THAT's how strong OUR God is! He's like Rambo-Jesus, with body piercings.

When I take a step back and try to get the picture of Jesus that non-Christians might get from such portrayals, I see that they ask the question a different way. They see a God who aims to judge people and send them to Hell for eternity. They see a God who seems full of anger at humanity, who can't stand sin, and wishes to demand conformity. They see a Father who sent his Son to be abused by humanity, and is therefore guilty himself. They see a coy Son who says he wants to save them, but never really tells them what they need to be saved from. And at the end of the day, non-Christians reject Christ by saying, "What kind of God is THIS? If this is what the one true God is like, I don't want to serve him."

But real Christians know that God the Father and God the Son are not like that. When the people of Israel went astray, He sent them prophets who acted bizarre (really, really bizarre, if you ask me) and wandered naked through the streets of Jerusalem proclaiming a message of repentance. God the Father is not a person like James Dean who always leaves the women swooning, but instead who finds himself constantly married to a humanity who whores herself to others. But he doesn't leave her or forsake her, but he continues to pursue her and woo her. He gives up dignity in order to do anything to get her back.

And when the Jews looked for a messiah who would rush into the city on the back of a war-horse, clear the temple, and drive the Romans out of Jerusalem in a spectacular coup, they instead found a humble man who entered the city on the back of a donkey, who preached a message of love, and who was crucified, naked and bleeding, for all the public to see. They wanted a shining hero, and instead got a suffering servant.

I believe the narrow way begins when we finally take on the challenge of understanding this tension, and pursue an answer from the God we serve.

We want a savior who will obliterate the things that cause us to sin, but instead get a Jesus who teaches us how to love even though sin exists. We want a healer who will heal all our wounds, but instead find a Jesus who commiserates with us because he suffered, too.

What kind of God is this?

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Coming up to reality

After my descent into talking jibberish on the last post, I thought I would come up to reality.

And what better way to talk about reality than to talk about TV?
Lost is by far my favorite show on TV right now. It has it all - action, intrigue, mystery, spirituality. It's sorta like Lord of the Flies without the kids, and without the flies. Oh, and with women.

While it is in the off-season right now, I look forward to watching it every week. Grade A TV, this one.

I suppose if I could be one character in the cast, I would choose to be Mr. Eko. Yeah, he's a fraud, a murderer, and he's black (all of things I'm not...I don't think), but he's also mystical, enigmatic, and in search of redemption for his past. Even though he seems crazy sometimes, he has clarity of focus. At the end of the season, though, it seems that he might be dead. I guess time will tell.


I also like Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis. Yeah, you can say it - I'm a dork. But really, it is pretty mindless and fun television. The charactes are funny, the situations are preposterous, and the humans always win with guns and grenades even though their enemies have force fields and beam weapons. I guess all that military spending during the cold war paid off after all.

It's not award-winning drama, but it is lighthearted and fun. It takes my mind off of things. Isn't that what TV should be all about?

Speaking of award-winning drama, the new Battlestar Galactica series rocks. You might think you're justified in calling me a double-dork for liking SG-1 AND Battlestar, but you would be wrong. Battlestar Galactica is the West Wing of sci-fi.

The acting is incredible, the special effects are realistic and totally believable, the situations are always credible, and the response of the characters to those situations always make sense. There is no solving the problem with fake technology in this series - the solution is always hard and gritty.

The only thing I don't like about this series is the religious overtones. While almost every character in the series adheres to some form of religion, the way in which the religion is practiced is either apathetic, or radical. I find the presentations of the two extremes to be too polar. Real religion is more subtle.

And last, but not least, is MI-5. This show is produced by the BBC, and is about the British version of the FBI. While the series starts out slow (it picks up after a few episodes) and is rather low budget, I think that it ulitmately satisfies.

The characters are mostly believable, terrorists are caught via good spy work rather than through phone taps and imaging satellites, and the types of issues they address are real and relevant to the current political landscape.

Plus, they're British. Who doesn't like a British spy? The only thing I don't like is that the main character, Tom Quinn, and his boss, Harry Something-or-other, act like they have a case of either piles or heartburn, I can't tell which. But after watching a couple of episodes, you figure out why - the job is high stress. But c'mon, take a Tums (or a bran muffin), why don't you?

What shows do you like?

Monday, June 26, 2006

Evil and the Problem of Good, cnt'd

About 2 months ago, I posted on the problem of evil in a post I called "Evil and the Problem of Good" . As a result of that post, my good friend Alethia put up the comment:

don't you think though that the reason we feel bad when we hear about someone dying of cancer or getting killed in an accident truly is selfish? i don't think it is consciously that way, but if i had to be honest the real reason that makes me sad is i think, wow what if that was my husband who was killed in that accident or my mom who died of cancer and those are really the thoughts that make me sad. what do you think?

What do I think? I think she's right. But this creates a problem if you follow my argument that anything "good" we do is because God breaks into our lives and causes us to care. If I'm doing justice to Alethia's comment, she is pointing out that, within my framework, it might not be the call of God that breaks our selfish tendencies, but that it might very well be that when humans do "good" they're really just being selfish. In their selfishness they hope that if they help someone in their time of need, someone will help them when they need it.

In this view, it wouldn't really be God who causes the problem of good, but rather what we percieve as "good" is only a by-product of our evolution. In essence, Alethia is pointing out that Richard Dawkins' "Selfish Gene" is more complicated (and at times, altruistic) than I give it credit. As a result, I'm in need of repairing (or reframing) my argument.

For secular evolutionists, like Dawkins, things in the universe evolved by chance. The establishments of physical constants, like the strong nuclear force, gravitational force, speed of light, etc were the product of chance, and all of the self-organization of the universe since the beginning were the product of chance as well. From this vantage point, the characteristics of humans to be altruistic is simply a chance development as a result of natural selection. In the secular view, compassion is an instinct brought about by humanity's desire to survive. Compassion is therefore neither good nor evil - it just a neutral characteristic brought about by random chance.

As a gross generalization, secularists believe like Dawkins, that everything in creation is morally neutral. They believe this because they adhere to a philosophy called reductionism, also known as Methodological Naturalism. Essentially, reductionism means that everything is ultimately explainable by scientific principles. But what makes this true? On what basis can one say that everything is explainable by scientific principles? Can a belief in reductionism then be explained via scientific principles? Or, is reductionism perhaps something people take on faith?

Now let me pause here and say two things. First, fleshing all this out involves getting into a lot of philosophy of science stuff, which is WAY to boring to blog about. That means that I'll leave out chunks of the explanation so as to not bore the 4 people kind enough to read my blog. If you want to know more about philosophy of science and where I come up with these ideas, read a book on it. Second, I personally tend to be quite reductionist, though it is a position I take on faith as much as a non-reductionist takes his (or her) position on faith. I believe that things can be explained through scientific principles, and I believe this because that is what time has taught humanity. For almost everything a person can think of, science has found a mechanism to explain it. It only takes a brief glance through history to find examples of how activity previously assigned to God alone is now readily explained through science.

Yet I also believe that some things are beyond our capability to explain. For instance, why are the physical constants in the universe fine-tuned for the development of life? What is the ultimate purpose (or goal) of creation? Why do I feel this continuous need to grope towards an understanding that is just beyond my grasp? Can scientific principles explain this? Currently, at least, they can't. And scientists who are a lot smarter than me (Hawking among them) believe that we will never be able to answer a good chunk of the "why" questions. Some things are just unknowable.

At least, unknowable in the scientific sense.

Which leads me to the real explanation of evil and the problem of good. Whereas the secularist takes reductionism on faith (I'm oversimplifying my point here), I take on faith the idea that the ultimate origin and goal of the universe comes from God. Within that universe I believe a great many things are explainable scientifically, but I also believe things are that way because God has a goal of drawing all creation to him. All of creation is said to "live and move and exist" (Acts 17:28) in God, and creation finds its meaning (which is something unanswerable via reductionism) as we "grope for Him" (Acts 17:27).

So, going back to Alethia's comment, how do we know that altuism isn't just a byproduct of natural selection? We don't. But I would contend that what we, as Christians, do know is that God created in such a way that creation would grope after Him and find Him. And as I look upon the startling complexity of the universe, and how it has gotten more complex over time, I realize that maybe creation actually is groping towards something. Maybe creation has a goal and a purpose that it is organizing towards. Evolution creates and destroys and turns things into chaos, but I see the face of God as things self-organize out of the chaos, as if creation is reaching towards God. THIS is the good that breaks into the evil of chaos. The default state of things is chaos and anarchy, but strangely all of creation doesn't fall into this, but it organizes steadily into something rational and stable - it organizes into something that can call on God and seek Him. The problem isn't that things want to be chaotic - that's their default state. The problem is that good breaks in and organizes out of the chaos, directing us as we live and move and exist towards our ultimate goal, which is an infinitely good God. Sure, altruism might be a result of evolution, but that doesn't mean it isn't a good thing that occured in humanity as creation groped towards God.

Intestestingly enough, all of this has a connection to free will, or the lack thereof. What if, in humans, creation no longer has to blindly and randomly grope towards God, but it can finally reach towards God in a new way - a way in which humans alone, despite all the other things in creation, are said to be in God's image.

What do you think?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Why I have free will. (Or, why free will doesn't exist.)

For some unknown reason, my church lets me teach the youth on Sunday morning about twice a month. This is a little bit of a surprise for me, because, if you've ever read my blog, I border on being really bizarre, and a bit off the beaten path as far as my thoughts about church, the Bible, and spirituality. Still, someone has seen fit to let me teach, and the youth and I generally have a good time.

We happen to be going through Genesis right now, and not too long ago, when we read through chapter 3, which is the Fall, someone asked how mankind can be condemned for sinning if God a.) knew that mankind would sin, b.) created them with the particular nature that would be succeptible to a talking snake, and c.) set them loose, knowing full well what would happen, but d.) chose to do nothing about it. This kid's argument, such as it was, is that there really isn't such a thing as free will, but rather God ordains the ways things are, and there isn't much that can be done about it. If there was something we could do about it, then God's view of the future would be wrong, and he wouldn't be God.

Based on that, here's the question he asked: How can we be said to have free will?

Before I go too much further, let me just make the disclaimer that most of the stuff I'll say is off-the-shelf theology. I didn't come up with this on my own. But, as I've been thinking about the question of free will (especially as it relates to evil and the problem of good), I've come to a better appreciation of this stuff.

How would you answer this youth's question?

The answer I was always taught is that God gave us the ability to make decisions because he didn't want robots. He wanted people who could choose to worship him. It's just a bummer people chose something else. It's not God's fault - he created us perfect. The problem is that humans took what was perfect and perverted it.

But isn't a being who will pervert what is perfect not, in fact, perfect? (Unless, of course, it is perfect in that it is a perfect perverter. Then, you have to wonder what kind of God would create a perfect perverter.) The fact of the matter is that looking at humans as having free will is problematic in almost every way. Note that this will be a gross oversimplification, but either man has free will (the Arminian position), in which case God just sits back and allows things outside His will to happen yet remains blameless, or God is completely sovereign (the Calvinist position), in which case everything that happens is part of God's plan and man should not be held responsible. Isn't there a way to think about free will, or the lack thereof, other than these two options?

Why do we even think of things in terms of free will? I mean, I can't levitate, or walk on the ceiling, or drive my car over the ocean. I can't choose to cure cancer or fly like Superman. Aristotle (I think it was Aristotle) said, "A man is free to throw a stone, but not to recall it." How true that is. Even if I will the stone to stop flying through the air, it won't stop. Even if I will to fly like Superman or drive my car over the ocean, or cure cancer, my will is unable to make that happen. My will is not free to do these things.

So, why do we even think we have free will? I think, personally, we think this because we don't know any better. If push comes to shove, we could come up with a hundred times more things we CAN'T do than things we CAN do. Yet, because we get so used to operating in the arena of stuff we CAN do, we think we have free will because we forget about the stuff we CAN'T do.

So, because there are so many things I can think of that I can't will to do, I don't think we have free will. Our will is definately not free to do whatever we want, instead we are constrained to a very small portion of what is possible. On top of all this, the Bible doesn't even talk about people having free will. It's simply not a topic the Bible addresses. Free will, at least the way most people think about it, is a myth. Free will doesn't exist.

What the Bible does talk about are decisions. One decision can open up the option for more decisions. For instance, making straight A's in school opens up a ton of options for the future. On the other hand, taking drugs (or getting a felony) closes options for the future. The further you travel down either of these paths, the more options the good student has, and the fewer options the addict has. What the Bible teaches is that good decisions breed options for a better future.

The story of the Bible is that people couldn't learn this lesson. So, God called Abraham out of paganism, and created a chosen people and nation to help the world understand how good decisions (good stewardship of resources, the land, taking care of each other, and worshipping God) leads to a better future for everyone. But even the Jews couldn't get this message straight. So, God sent Jesus to show us an example of exactly how to live a life full of good decisions. But humanity couldn't tolerate such a person, so we killed him.

Nevertheless, Christ came to show us how to be free. Ever since Adam and Eve, we've been so mired in selfishness and greed, envy and malice, violence and indifference that we can't make good enough decisions on our own to secure a good future. We are a slave to sin, a slave to the limited options that are the result of our bad decisions. We are the addict who's options are constrained by his choices. But Christ came to break the cycle. He came to show us how to make good decisions, and to choose the things that give us options for the future. He came to show us how to be the good student, and open up a future full of options and hope. Christ came to show us how to gain freedom from what otherwise binds us. Christ came to show us how to be free.

This is why I have free will. I have free will because Christ is showing me every day how to make good decisions that open up my future to have better options. My will is continually becoming free to chose more and more options because the decisions I make are guided by an understanding of what God has revealed in Christ. It's not that I have "free will", but that suddenly my will is free to chose options that were not available before. And even after I die, my choice to follow Christ on the narrow way means that my options become infinite as I get to spend eternity with the God of infinite choices. Now THAT is good news, news that cures people of despair; news that gives hope and a future to those who are slaves to their choices.

This excites me beyond belief. So, why do we never teach this in our Sunday School?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Rubber meets the road

Having gotten that last silly post out of my system, I've been thinking about being a Christian where the rubber meets the road.

You see, deep down, I'm a mystic. In a Christian context, some people might think that I am more of a theologian, but the reality is that me spouting theology is the way I cope with my mystical encounters with God. Theological musings are the way I communicate to others the mystical lessons I learn as God invades my personal space and shows me himself. (For those wondering, the definition of mystic is: "having an import not apparent to the senses nor obvious to the intelligence; beyond ordinary understanding". It's not magic. It's a delving into something beyond normal understanding.)

Interestingly enough, my desire for theological insight started with an intense mystical experience that happened when I was a teenager. Imagine my surprise when I found the opposite was often true - great theologians (Aquinas among them) stopped doing theology in response to a mystical experience. Thomas said that his incredibly influential work, "Suma Theologica", was "mere straw" compared to the reality of God he experienced during a mystical encounter one day during mass. He left his work unfinished, and never wrote again.

Similarly, I wonder how much of my theolgical wanderings (and wonderings) are mere straw. I mean, since when has my post on my Many Colored Days fed the poor? When have my musings on the wrong kind of forgiveness changed lives? Has the fact that I consider myself post-conservative ever caused anyone to feel welcomed in love? I doubt it.

So where does the rubber meet the road? Where does my personal quest to know God lead me to a place where I follow in Christ's footsteps? When does my love of God lead me to a place where I serve in such a capacity that an encounter with me also means an encounter with the very face of God? Not that I would be God, but that I want what He wants so much that I give all I have to be the person who makes God real to others. In my most mystical times with God, I want to bankrupt myself, I literally want to rupture myself to get what God wants. I don't want it so that I can give it to God as a gift, but I want to get what God wants because I want it to. I don't want it selfishly, as if I'm trying to steal from God, but I want precisely because it is the best possible thing to want.

Is it possible for me, a mere man, to convey the presence of the real God? Is it possible for me to follow in the footsteps of my savior, and in the process become a person who is able to point to the infinte God of love? Is it possible for me to ever have my personal experience with salvation meet with the needs of others in such a way that it changes their lives, too? Can the rubber ever meet the road? Can where I've gotten ever get anyone else anywhere?

I look at people, I hear and understand their fears. I watch them as they get happy and sad. I know that if they could just understand what I understand, things would be different. But I don't know how to do it. In all of my inward groaning to show others the narrow way, I struggle with how to make what I know and feel and exerience mean anything to someone else. I look at the prophets and Christ, and the disciples, and I come to the conclusion that even if you have a message directly from God, or are even God himself, people will misunderstand the message. They'll choose to stay who they are and where they are. They'll reject the message to live in the same place they've always been. Instead of seizing the opportunity to start over, they'll choose to stay paralyzed in the despair of their life, hoping something else will heal their wounds.

People go through life, wonder what could have been, wondering why their heart got broken, hoping that if certain things would happen just a certain way, then they'll be saved from the groping after meaning they experience every day. I know this feeling. I've lived this feeling. I know where they are. I've experienced dark times. I'm intimately familiar. But I also know that hoping in chances that will never come is a life of despair. It is the sickness unto death. Real hope comes from another place. I've lived that hope, too. But I don't know how to bring people to understand it. I don't know how to make discples, either under my own power, or with the power of the spirit. Even Christ didn't alter the world. Despair still looks us all in the face even though He was the ultimate answer to despair.

One life at a time. That's what I tell myself. One life at a time. People are driven into despair one life at a time. They kill the part of themselves that make them feel, because it hurts too bad. It happens not because the world reached out and crushed them, but because a person wounded them so deeply they don't think they'll ever feel right again. It happens one life at a time. Just like finding salvation. It happens one life at a time. One life at a time, people discover how having Many Colored Days changes everything. It happens not because Christ came once and for all, but because he comes to each one of us, and hopes we'll give him a chance. It happens one life at a time.

I suppose, even being the Christian mystic that I am, I'm still a man in need of a savior. I'm still a person in need of hope. Hope that I don't get crushed with despair over the task of showing the narrow way. Hope that my life is not only better for me, but makes a difference to others. Hope that the rubber will meet the road.

My Favorite Misspelled Word of All Time

What I think is incredibly fascinating about the world of computers is that misspellings become different animals than hand-written misspellings.

For instance, a person who doesn't know the difference might want to spell "their", but instead spell "there". Or, the might want to spell "pneumonia", and instead spell "newmoanya". Handwritten misspellings, while usually phonetically accurate, are usually not funny because they are the product of ignorance. I mean, who among us hasn't wondered if they are using "effect" and "affect" properly? It's not funny when you use them wrong - it's just that your stoopid.

Typed misspellings, on the other hand, are funny. Spelling 'teh' instead of 'the'? That's funny. I don't know why. It just is. Try pronouncing 'teh'. There's nothing phonetically helpful about it. It's just an absurd word. It's funny that way.

All this leads me to My Favorite Misspelled Word of All Time. Are you ready for this? Here it is:
borken

I'm not going to tell you what it's supposed to spell, though I'm sure you can figure it out. But borken is great, I just love it. I mean, it is simultaneously titillating and exotic-sounding. It sounds mildly authoritative, yet playfully juvenile. It rolls off the tongue easily, but has no meaning whatsoever. It can be sexy or aggressive. And since it has no definition, it can mean whatever you want it to. Borken.

They say in space no one can hear you scream. Well, the same is true in the blogsphere, so I guess I'm safe if no one finds My Favorite Misspelled Word funny. Some of you might be nonplussed enough to want to show me this picture:
For those who would show me that picture, I have one word for you: Borken.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Petit Jean and more.

For the last 23 or so years, my father's parents, his siblings, and all their kids have met for 3 days on top of a "mountain" in Arkasas for a little family reunion. I know that for some people family reunions aren't exactly synonomous with fun, but this one definitely is. This is one of the highlights of my year.

You wouldn't think there would be a whole lot to do on top of a mountain in Arkansas, but in fact, there is. Every year, we hike down to the 'falls', which is about a mile hike down the mountain. Although they tell me it is only a mile hike back up the mountain (since we use the same trail), I think spacetime somehow gets warped and turns the trail into 10 miles. If only that power could be harnessed for good...

There are also lots of other trails, but none of them are quite as interesting to the untrained eye. We also play a lot of games, such as frisby golf, real golf, Monopoly, Risk, and dominos. Here is where it gets interesting. You see, my Dad's side of the family is big into games, such as dominos, but they don't like the traditional stuff. So, every year someone comes to Petit Jean with a new way of playing dominos. Now, I have a big book of domino games, and am familiar with quite a few, and know enough others to be dangerous, and I swear that these new domino games are completely made up. Most of them don't even make any sense. Here is a typical conversation around one of these "new" domino games:
"Okay, Ben just put down a double four. You can now put down anything that adds to that double four to make 12."
"I thought you said earlier that it always had to sum to multiples of 5."
"Yeah, but that's only unless someone puts down the double four, and then the rules change."
"Oh, so after I play the rule goes back to multiples of 5?"
"Uh...yeah."
"What if someone plays on the other side of the double four?"
Long Pause
"Uh...then it is...uh...then it has to sum to 13."

You get the picture. But on games where you can't fudge the rules, like Risk, there is more yelling and shouting than is usually present when Southern Baptist Preachers watch Dallas football. It's unbelievable.

But the really fun part is getting to know family again. It is here that I really begin to understand the tribe mentality - you all belong to each other. Sometimes that's frustrating, but it keeps you honest. You can't hide your history from your family - they've been there all along and know it all. They might not understand it all, and at times they think they know better than you, but I love them anyway. Long after my blog disappears and all my other friends die, that blood will be the thing that takes care of me until I, too, bite it.

And then when we're all resurrected at the end of time, and my uncle comes up with a "new" game of dominos, I'll be there, smiling to myself as the absurdity of it all unfolds.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Why I call myself Post-Conservative

This is hard post for me to write, because I can't do it justice without writing pages and pages. I've already written and then deleted somewhere in the neighborhood of 800 words trying to get this thing right. The reason wording is so important in this case is that I don't want to misrepresent my younger self as being too legalistic and unloving. Likewise, I don't want to represent my current self as if I have either a.) arrived (I haven't), or b.) have completely rejected all evangelical ideals (I haven't). I guess I'll just take a stab at it and sort it all out later.

The short version of my younger Christian story is that while I wanted to be as loving and compassionate as the Christ I read about in the gospels, I just wasn't. Being raised in a conservative and reformed tradition, I believed in the classical definitions of inerrency of scripture, of the incarnation, of the immutable nature of God, of salvation only through Christ, of utter corruption of man. I believed that loving God meant you did this certain thing and didn't do that certain thing. When I encountered non-christians or "liberal" christians, I didn't find myself hating them for disagreeing with me, but rather I found myself secretly looking forward to the punishment they would recieve for being such blasphemers.

But, as I mentioned before, I was conflicted about this. I wanted to feel love and not the longing for revenge, but I just didn't. And with this realization, my real Christian journey began.

The ups and downs of the journey I'll skip for now, but one day not too long ago I was talking to a non-christian about life, death, and spirituality. We disagreed strongly, but when we walked away from each other, I mourned for him. Instead of being indifferent as to his direction in life, I felt the pangs of despair like Christ did when he looked down over Jerusalem and said,
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing." (Matt 23:37)

Though upon reflection I had felt this way many times before, it wasn't until this particular time when I realized my faith had created a change in me that was so Christlike that his very words of mourning were my words. And truth be know, at that point in time, when the mourning was the freshest, I would have paid any price to have that non-christian understand the real point of life, death, and spirituality - I would have even given my life.

After this realization, as I looked back on my Christian journey it occurred to me that I couldn't have experienced this Christlike change without partially abandoning my hyperconserative tradition. Instead, as I asked hard, hard, questions about my faith, about the bible, about theology, and about God, I realized I had to get far off the beaten path to find answers that satisfy. This does NOT mean answers that foward some personal agenda or deep seated need to feel good about myself. It means answers that truly satisfy - answers that are living water to my soul, that cause me to live a life of love because I'm full of love that springs from within; answers that cause me to become more Christlike without even knowing it.

All this would take thousands of words to unpack, but fundamentally this journey through hard questions and hard times caused me to become more centered in the Spirit. My evangelical heritage is so burdened by the fear of the unknown that it replaced the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with the Father, Son, and Holy Scripture. But the fact of the matter is that scripture testifies about Christ (John 5:39-40), who gave us a Spirit to teach us all things (John 14:26). When I finally moved my Bible over six inches, and gave more room for the Spirit, I finally found the narrow way. It is a way that's full of ambiguity and uncertainty and hard questions. It's a way that tears you down, and makes you humble and contrite. It's a way that makes you angry and want to kick over tables when the Church gets it wrong, but also makes you compassionate and loving when the downtrodden are in need. It's a way of messiness and tension, but also a way of hope and life.

When conservatives approach real life in the Spirit, it freaks them out. They think that as Christians they should have the answers about life, but the Spirit teaches them that life is messy and ambiguous. They think that life in the Spirit leads to anarchy and heresy, so they cling to the Bible as if it is a book has any power to save on its own. But the Spirit teaches otherwise - that individuals work out their salvation not through the Roman road, but through fear and trembling. So, conservatives insulate themselves, they cling to theological categories that are no longer relevant, and they worry their lives away about how to protect themselves from Hollywood, or political agendas, or liberal theologians.

It is because of this life in the Spirit that I call myself post-conservative. Because I would rather have a conversation about full life with the dirtiest politician in America, or the most salatious porn star, or the most relativistic philosopher than spend time in a church with its gleaming walls and squeeky clean people. I call myself post-conservative because I would rather risk being a heretic by throwing out all our old theology and making new stuff than let more of my generation get caught in the mire of despair. I call myself post-conservative because I would rather get my hands dirty helping the poor than argue with anyone over whether or not scripture is inerrant. I call myself post-conservative because I believe what the Spirit has revealed is that real life is found outside the bounds of Church and the Bible, and is found instead as we look into the face of the suffering in love, and see not the face of a man or woman, but the face of Christ.

So, as my friend Jessica blogs about what authentic biblical community looks like, I find myself formulating it more as I live in the Spirit, and not as much as I read my Bible, and even less as I look at my tradition. Maybe the key for us evangelicals to create authentic biblical community is, ironically, to move the Bible over six inches, and let in a little more of the Spirit.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Work is work

For the entire population of 4 people who read my blog, I should apologize for not blogging lately. As the title of this post suggests, I've been working.

About once a year at work something urgent comes up. And, like a jungle cat, I spring into action, designing stuff, and eating a lot of potatoe chips. I've spent many an hour the past week and a half or so staring at my computer screen. I'm not really doing anything, I'm just staring at the screen until the wee hours of the morning. I figure that will look good to the higher-ups. Too bad I don't get paid for overtime.

Despite all my sarcasm, I really like what I do. Plus, I actually use calculus in my job, which simultaneously makes me feel cool and look like a dork. I don't think you really ever know that feeling until you solve an incredible Taylor Series on a dry erase board while standing in the hall of a Dilbert-esque cube world. Dang, I rock! (And suck!)

Speaking of how people look and feel, I got a chuckle out of my MD friend's last blog, which can be found here. I especially liked the way she contrasted "TV" attendings and "real-life" attendings. It made me think of the engineering world. Except the difference between the engineering world and TV world is the opposite. For instance, here is the TV version of an engineer:
Reality Engineer:

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Hey, that's not an engineer, that's Bono, and he seems to be in some sort of pain." To which I will respond, "You're right, but I can't find a picture of myself at work." Make of that what you will.

On another note, I'm hoping to get back into the swing of blogging, and terrorizing the blog of others with my comments. See you around.

(Let me know if I get TOO obnoxious...)