Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Dairy Queen God

Good means delightful, pleasant, favorable, beautiful and valuable.

Imagined you ordered a Reese’s blizzard but they gave you an Oreo blizzard. It is not that the Oreo blizzard is bad. It’s that you did not order it. Life is like that. We have good things in our lives that are not necessarily what we ordered.

We have thoughts about what we want in our lives and how we want our life to go. Maybe we wanted to marry a runner, rancher, or rich person. Maybe we wanted to live in the city, the country, or Thailand. I thought we would have children with brown hair like me. We did not. But, that does not mean they are not good in every sense of the word. (They tell me their hair color can change.)

Instead of Reese’s we have Oreo blizzards. We can complain to the clerk, the Giver, or sit at the picnic bench outside Dairy Queen, watch the sunset and relish our good blizzard.

“God satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.” –Psalm 107:9

I love that verse. It does not say, “God gives us exactly what we want.” Even better than what we want, God gives us delightful, pleasant, favorable and beautiful things. I wonder if the things we often want most are detrimental to us.

Amazingly, the scriptures depict God as our Dad who spares not even Himself in order that we can have Him and more. Our Heavenly Father is good and fills the hungry- us- with a myriad of good things, like sleep and sunshine.

I am not a photojournalist for National Geographic on assignment in New Zealand. Our lives may not be exactly like we ordered, but they are good and full of beautiful things from the Giver. We should be satisfied.

Heavenly Father, we lack understanding and faith that you are good. Help us see and value your favors, kindnesses and activity. Make us lie down in green pastures and savor our Oreo blizzards. Amen.

Saturday, May 20, 2017


Have you ever noticed how inconsequential the aspirations of others can seem? I was talking to a man who restored a 1957 Chevy. He spent hours turning screws and playing with fenders. In the big picture I wonder if that is more meaningful than a toddler playing mechanic. But, consider how important it seemed to him.

I told that man I liked to write. He might have thought spending hours in front of a computer moving my fingers was as meaningless as a toddler playing a xylophone. But, it seems dramatically important to me.

My wife and I dream of building a house in the country. In my mind it is monumental and essential. I could spend five hours a day looking at pictures of houses and floor plans. Imagine a NASA engineer who cannot pull themselves away from their work, or figure skater who makes their routine their life.

Our work and aspirations probably seem more important to us than they are in reality. This is not to say they are meaningless. Since we were created by God, what we do cannot be without meaning and consequence.

God made us to strive, progress, survive and produce. God does give us aspirations and tell us not to aspire. God gives us important and sacred work. Yet, God did not make so our work and aspirations are so critical they make or break our lives. This is good news for the figure skater who falls and the NASA engineer who has their lifework blow up on Mars. God's works stand untouched if the figure skater falls and the spacecraft explodes.

Jesus talked a lot about being consumed by aspirations and having too much zeal for trivial materials and matters, like floor plans and ’57 Chevys. He said being fixated on those things- as if they make or break us- is stupid. Why? Because 1) Building our life on them is as impractical and foolish as a person who built a house on sand, and 2) Even at the pinnacle of human achievement we do not come close to what God has accomplished for us in Jesus.

Jesus has something direct to say to me about aspiring to build a house, to the engineer, the obsessed ’57 Chevy restorer and the anxious ice skater. He says, “Tone it down. Look to me. I carry the load. Be thankful. I am your rest and salvation. Everything but me in moderation. Your work and aspirations can be insatiable. I alone satiate. Humans shall not live by their aspirations and accomplishments alone.”  



Monday, May 15, 2017

Mama will fix it!

I was reading a book to Makara and a page fell out of the binding. She confidently said, “Its OK. Mama will fix it!” (Asha is usually handier than me.) Makara is learning things fall apart, but has faith her Mama can fix anything.

There is a trail on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. The trail ambles by a creek through a lush meadow and climbs to five alpine lakes. I did that hike four years ago, and vividly remember thinking, “Everything is decaying,” as I looked at the trees, mountains, fish and moose.

Nature and humanity are not progressing toward physical and social perfectibility. If things carry on without a miraculous aberration, you and I no more than "a senseless contortion upon the idiotic face of infinite matter," as C.S. Lewis put it.

Since we have had kids I am more conscious, no paranoid, of the fleetingness of life and certainty of death. I hate that our kids are under their tyrannous rule and subject to their whims. They didn’t sign up for it. If we had rallies against the brevity of life and tyranny of death I would march on their steps. The fact we do not protest them displays our futility against them. I guess cryogenics are a form of protest.

I am convinced of the Christian narrative on the state of humanity and creation. It says death is a fact of life because it is result of being separated from Life. It says although there is beauty and productivity, we are captive and diminished, and yearn for liberation, which we will get. I find the Christian hope, 1) that God partook in and overcame creation’s bondage to decay and death and 2) that God works liberation for the oppressed, better than cryogenics.

Let’s be open, if everything will give way to an unnamable force which kills it off, if the Creator does not have the desire to overturn attrition, we have no reason to hope or live. The promise of God’s restoration means God does not want to our lives and creation to come to nothing. They mean Jesus protested death and deterioration, marched on their steps and won.

Our hope is like Makara’s. When Makara believes Asha can fix anything she relies on Asha’s capabilities and assumes her desire to make it better. When we hope in God to fix things we trust in His capabilities and assume His desire to make it better.

Makara’s faith is not unfounded. Asha has taped pages in books, repaired toys and mended clothes. If we have experienced glimmers of redemption we know faith in God is not unfounded. Those glimmers are microcosms of the macro-redemption we, and creation, are longing for.

“Abba” is Aramaic for Father. When we cry out against transience and death and cry out for redemption and restoration, we do not cry out to a distant God. Like Makara, we cry out to our parent who hears us and is capable of putting death in its grave.

*Painting is "West Wind" by George Bellows


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Manufacturing Injustice

I usually side with those who cry injustice. I recently met a woman who has me thinking. I saw her intentionally bump into someone, blow the incident out of proportion, then act like a victim of an atrocity. I have seen her do this twice. I sense it is her perpetual posture. Injustice was not there but she created it and then blamed the innocent.

Legit injustice is common, terrible and to be fought. But I wonder if always sympathizing with “victims” out of hand, some of whom manufacture injustice, is the same as committing injustice. If I automatically sided with the woman who intentionally bumped into someone I would be accusing the innocent, which is unjust.

People who cry injustice do not always manufacture injustice. It's probably legit most of the time. But, some of us generalize those who cry injustice. Some of us cannot muster sympathy for those who cry injustice because we presume it is always manufactured. If we do that we do not recognize real injustice, inequity and oppression because we have dug in so far into our position.

Here is our predicament: We are not capable to scrutinize each situation when someone cries injustice, yet some discernment is required since we do not want to side with manufactured injustice or overlook real injustice.

There are times when injustice is overt and wicked. There are times when the strong exploit the weak. Then it is clear who we should support and oppose. It might not seem as clear, or unjust, when the weak exploit the strong. But it is just as unjust to manufacture injustice under the guise of victim.

*Painting is "Freeing of the Slaves by John Steuart Curry.




Sunday, May 7, 2017

Verse Pluckers, Context Tyrants

I was talking to a man one day about health and wellness and I said, “Since our bodies are temples we should take care of them.” (I was referring to 1 Corinthians 6:19.) He said, “That is taking that verse out of context."

Though my conversations with this man about God and the scriptures drove me mad- because he had no imagination- there is silver lining to his approach.

He was pushing back against those who take liberty interpreting the scriptures or pluck verses and ignore their context. He was interested in how the scriptures were understood at the time, the history and origin of the text, literary genres, grammatical features and cross referencing.

If someone said, “John 3:16 does not mean to me what it means to you,” he would pull his hair out. If someone said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) in reference to athletics, he would say, “Ok. Run 40 meters in one second.” He valued context. We should too.

Trying to understand the scriptures apart from their context is like trying to understand a person apart from how, when and where they were born and raised. In a biography those elements are key. Were they born into a poor family in Athens in 2500 BC? Were they raised in a suburban Chicago in the 1960s? Knowing the context and backdrop of a person offers real and valuable insights to help understand them.

If giving no credence to a person’s historical backdrop in a biography would not be acceptable, why would it be acceptable to give no credence to the scripture’s historical backdrop? Without context, and some subsequent rigidity, the scriptures can mean anything, at any time to anyone. That is another way of saying they mean nothing, and everything.

So, a contextual approach of the scriptures offers real and valuable insight into what they mean. But, if we are context Nazis we negate the pliability of the scriptures. A perfect example is the man above. (Of course the fact that our bodies are “temples” impacts how we should treat them.)

If the scriptures are not taken out of their context we cannot access them, because we do not live in the Middle East in AD 43. It’s unrealistic to think we cannot, or should not, read in our context. God knows the only way for us to access the scriptures today is for us to go there in our modern context, with awareness of the original context.

The man’s view taken to extreme does not let the scriptures breathe. It treats them as flat data and static information. There is more to the scriptures than context and data. A person’s context alone does not define or contain them. Who a person is, is more than context. What the scriptures are, are more than their context too.

We can be committed to the rigidity and pliability of the scriptures. Saying they are pliable in some areas does not exclude a commitment to their rigidity. Saying they are rigid in some areas does not mean we deny their pliability.

The scriptures will always mean certain things and can never mean certain things, yet they speak to us here and now as we are in our various contexts.

*Painting is "The Promised Land" by John Steuart Curry.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Everyone has Faith

I am fascinated by the fact no one’s beliefs can be empirically proven, yet we are wired to consider them objective. (Empirical means provable or verifiable by experience or experiment.) No matter what we believe, we rely on certain things being true that cannot be proven or disproven.

The atheist presumes there is no God. The monotheist presumes there is one God. The polytheist presumes there are many gods. Everyone’s beliefs are presumptuous. It is amiss to proclaim our beliefs are irrefutable because we leap to conclusions that cannot be irrefutably verified. None of us- even those who do not consider themselves people of faith- are immune from having faith.

A Christian might say, “God can be proven and the scriptures are verifiably authentic, reliable, historical documents."

But I wonder if Christians sometimes put too much emphasis on proof and certainty- maybe out of insecurity or doubt. I do not think Christians believe because what they believe can be proved true. Christians are less like crime scene investigators poring over data and more like oft-confused people convinced of certain things which are mysterious as to how or why they believe them.

This does not mean Christianity is opposed to evidence, reason, logic, history, and science. (I think all those favor Christianity.) It means Christians do not arrive at their beliefs solely by investigation and reason. This does not preclude the usefulness of investigation and reason, but acclaims the essential and supernatural intervention of God, who we believe persuades us with groans beyond words that transcend, and yet contain, reason, logic and reality.

In short, we do not believe in Jesus because we have seen Him with our own eyes, but because the Holy Spirit graciously convinces us of the substance of our faith. (This is a gift so no one can boast in the supremacy of their investigation. Especially since we cannot investigate Jesus' resurrection by talking to the first century people who saw Him.)

In light of Christian teachings on our dependence on faith, why the dire need for evidence? After all, “Hope that is seen is no hope” (Romans 8:24) and “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” (John 20:29) Without the absence of evidence there is no need for the faith that justifies us.

Someone might say the reason we can be held responsible for disbelief in God is because there is ample evidence in creation that proves God. Evidence seems to be in the eye of the beholder. We see what we are looking for. Someone can look right at evidence for God, but not see it. Others can’t not see evidence for God everywhere. The point is that we cannot prove there are 330 million gods as Hindus believe, or that God is triune, through a petri dish experiment on a big screen for the world to see. Even if we did, some of us would reject the irrefutable evidence.

Here's to everyone who has ever lived who has counted on something being true that could not be proven true.

(*Painting is "Blue Morning" by George Bellows.)