Return of The Cachinnator

Well, after a great deal of deliberation I have decided to remake my website and change the direction of my blog to better reflect the realities, interests, and projects in my life.

Soon, I’ll redirect this website to the new one, but until then, please navigate over to The Cachinnator.

See you after the jump!

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Sermon Deux

As I mentioned before, I was quite caught up with the new job transition recently.  So much so that I didn’t write about what I was up to.  Typically, while I’m working on a Sunday School series, a lecture, or what not, I work through some of my thoughts here.  But I preached twice last month and failed to do so.  Anyway, I just put up some thoughts about the first sermon I preached, and here is a bit about the second sermon that I preached.

The passage for this sermon was Romans 8:26-39.  This is one of those towering peaks of Biblical literature.  So much so that when I was reviewing the lectionary for this Sunday, I immediately decided that I wasn’t ready to do this text.  But I kept coming back to it and ultimately decided that it was too important for me to allow my insecurities to get in the way.  Here’s the text:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.  And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.  And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?  He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?  Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.  Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I know, great text, right?  Anyway, some main ideas with regard to this sermon are first, that this passage has a tendency to scare people away because of its mention of predestination.  But there’s no reason to be scared.  Read the passage.  If that was all you knew about predestination, if you hadn’t been messed up by people badly interpreting certain theologians, would it seem like anything but a source of hope?  Should not the entire audience of this letter assume themselves to be predestined to hope?  I think the problem is that we assume that predestination means that God is a puppet-master who pulls the strings of life to make all things happen.  And we know intuitively, (and Scripturally), that such an idea is nonsense.  And we’re right to say so because the doctrine of predestination has solely to do with the issue of salvation.  It’s about ultimate destination, not the journey along the way.  Now, the issue of what salvation is, and who it’s for is beyond the scope of this passage.  Paul didn’t address it here, so I didn’t.  Another time, perhaps.

The next main idea is that at first blush our world may not seem like one in which God works everything for good, or in which God is for us, or in which nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  I certainly get that.  But we have to understand that much of the confusion between what we think this passage says and what we experience is because we experience so much pain and suffering in this world.  And Paul is not saying here that we are to view those things as good because our ultimate destination is good.  There is legitimate evil, pain, and suffering here.  And they are not good.  But they do not change the destination.  And the destination is in hope.

Anyway, here’s a link to the sermon.

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A Bit Late

So I’ve had a busy couple of months.  Between my most recent post yesterday and the one before it I had a baby, left my job, and began a new job.  The new job?  Ministry Associate with Trinity Presbyterian Church here in Nashville.  My first week on the job I was filling the pulpit because the pastor was out of town.  I did it again two weeks later.  Like I said, busy.

In the past, I’ve posted some of my thoughts as I’ve been teaching Sunday School classes or lecturing, but I completely missed posting anything about my sermons.  I intend to make up for that.

My sermon on July 10th was based on the lectionary text for the day, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23.  It’s a familiar parable known as the Parable of the Sower.  Here’s the text:

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach.  And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.  Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.  Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.  Let anyone with ears listen!”  Then the disciples came and asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?”  He answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.  For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.  The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’  With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: ‘You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive.  For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn— and I would heal them.’  But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.  Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it. “Hear then the parable of the sower.  When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path.  As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away.  As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.  But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

My main ideas with this text are twofold.  The first idea is that a fatalistic interpretation of this passage would be misplaced.  It is often misread as having Jesus say that each of us is one kind of soil which is deterministic of our eternal fate.  But a plain reading of the text doesn’t yield that interpretation at all.  In fact, I know that in my life I have been each kind of soil at different times in different ways.  So we should understand that it’s a parable about how we receive the Word, not who we are in eternity.

The second main idea is that Jesus calls this “The Parable of the Sower” for a reason.  It’s not about us.  It’s about a God who is willing to be profligate with his love, spreading it even where it has little hope of taking root.

There’s always hope.  Cultivation is the extraordinary work of God.  The soil of our lives can be cultivated, and will be.  Hope abides.

You can listen to audio of the sermon here.

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Prayer

Well, I tried to ignore this:

But it keeps coming back.  On YouTube, on Twitter, on Facebook, and today on Shaun Groves’ blog.  Shaun posted it without comment, a sly and savvy move, and the reaction was predictably mixed.

I find this “prayer” deeply troubling and offensive.  Here’s what I said over on Shaun’s blog:

It was funny in the context of Rickey Bobby because it was a deliberate offense. This doesn’t even have originality going for it. Line this up with the Psalms. With how Jesus taught us to pray. Any similarities? No? Probably because the idea of hawking corporate sponsors and celebrating the shallowest impulses of our lives in the context of communion with our God is a complete non sequitur. That’s precisely what makes it funny in the movie and offensive in real life. The pretext is bad enough: a supposed prayer for safety before deliberately doing something dangerous and unnecessary. The execution is a mockery.

This is not about God not having a sense of humor, nor about me or other people duly offended by this self-indulgent tripe needing to lighten up. This is on par with “Jesus is my Homeboy” t-shirts. It’s not our place to reduce our Creator and Redeemer to a punch line or a signpost directing attention to our own cleverness.

I’m reminded of that uber popular video from a year ago or so where that wedding party danced into the church.  The problem isn’t necessarily content, but context.  The wedding dance thing was awful and offensive because it was in a sanctuary in the context of a worship service.  (We do know that’s what a wedding ceremony is, right?  It’s a worship service.)  That video was ass-shaking and look-at-me-I’m-so-clever solipsism in front of and on the alter of the sanctuary of a church.  That’s not what a sanctuary or worship service is for.  That very same dance entrance at the reception?  Hilarious.  But it wasn’t at the reception; it was at the service.

Similarly with this “prayer,” the substance isn’t the problem.  It was hilarious in Rickey Bobby.  It was hilarious there because it was a movie.  Situational irony, folks.  But in the context of a prayer in real life?  It begs the question, “What is prayer?”

Rather than answer that question myself explicitly here, I invite you to think about it.  And ponder this: if you were this instant brought into the presence of God, do you think the Rickey Bobby “prayer” is what you’d say?  Because prayer is supposed to be just that: being in the presence of God.

So what is prayer?  What is it for?  And if you can offer up a definition of prayer that squares with what this pastor did, I’d love to hear a defense of it offered from Scripture or Church tradition.

Similarly, I’d love to hear what you think about my assertion that the pre-race prayer is a bad pretext.  What is our understanding of prayer that we see the need to offer it up before indulging in an entertainment that is deliberately dangerous under the guise of asking for safety?  Are we unaware of the risks of driving that fast with all those other cars?  What is our understanding of prayer that we should willingly engage in that but at the same time ask God to protect us from our behavior?  Isn’t that like asking a blessing over a fast food meal?  Why should God bless our bad decisions?

UPDATE:

Predictably, the discussion devolved into ad hominem and adventures in missing the point, as it invariably does on the interwebs.  To my comment above, the following was posted:

Scott, as a Christian and a NASCAR fan, I can’t describe how offensive I’m finding your comments in this thread. You obviously harbor ill will toward the people who follow this sport and also those of us who feel our relationship with Christ is secure enough that He would actually laugh and enjoy with us a situation that was not aimed at you, intended to be aimed at you and from your comments appears to have you thinking it’s beneath you.

If I was asked to lead a prayer before a race, I’d probably do the same thing. Why? Because God would see my heart, He would know my motives and a prayer like that would be an outpouring of the loving relationship between the two of us where I can thank Him for providing something I really enjoy like a night at the races.

“It’s not our place to reduce our Creator and Redeemer to a punch line or a signpost directing attention to our own cleverness.”

I would say it’s not our place to reduce our Creator to a humorless, cold, harsh judge who sits on high waiting to slap us down if we say or do something that might possibly be considered irreverent. This prayer wasn’t in a church during a service. It was at a NASCAR race. It was bringing our Father into a night of our fun and festivities.

Honestly, Scott, attitudes like you’re showing here are part of the reason I didn’t accept Christ until I was 24. I didn’t want to have anything to do with a Savior that didn’t want us to laugh or enjoy our lives with Him. I had to get past the people standing on high condemning anyone who dared to step outside of a heavily lined and very tiny box.

So, to recap: I harbor ill will towards NASCAR fans; I think it’s beneath me; I think God is humorless, cold, and a harsh judge, etc.; I’m the reason people don’t want to be Christians; and I keep God in a box.  Wow.

I think the commenter is more upset that he thinks I’m not a NASCAR fan, (which he couldn’t possibly know based on my words), than that I assert that what the pastor in the video did is neither how Jesus taught us to pray nor can it be found modeled anywhere in Scripture or in the history of the Church.

I say again: the issue here is not whether or not God has a sense of humor, nor if Talladega Nights was funny, nor if NASCAR is great or not.  The issue here is prayer.

What is prayer?

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Toby Keith Did Not Write Romans

Somehow it appears that the thought that Christians should not take pleasure in the killing of a fellow human being is controversial.  Indeed, it seems that many Christians are eager to draw lines in the sand between “us” and “them,” between those of us who are “good” and those of them who are “evil.”  This is an interesting thought in light of scripture which plainly teaches over and over again, though never more directly than in Romans 3:23, that we are all sinners.  Were we to draw such a line in the sand between those of us who are “good” and those who are “evil” we would all be on the side marked “evil.”  You and I would stand shoulder to shoulder with Adolph Hitler, Osama Bin Laden, Martin Luther King Jr., and Mother Teresa.  We may fight amongst ourselves over who is more evil, but that fight cannot move us across the line into “good.”

Recently on my Facebook page and in other threads of discussion across the internet I have seen Romans 13:3-4 used as a proof that we Americans are the good guys doing the good thing and therefore we can dance in the streets, play our vuvuzelas, and chant “USA! USA! USA!” in triumph over the killing of Osama Bin Laden.  I find this particular selection of scripture curious, but then I find any use of scripture to justify violence and killing curious.  (That’s not to say that I disagree with the killing of Bin Laden necessarily, but more on that later.)  So let’s take a look at the passage in context and see if it works the way its proponents want to use it.  Romans 13:3-4 says:

“For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.  Do you wish to have no fear of the authority?  Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good.  But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain!  It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.”

Taken on its own, it could almost be Toby Keith lyrics… which should be the first red flag that the context might be important.  Let’s start by backing up a bit to what Paul said just seven verses before he wrote this.  Take a look at Romans 12:17-21:

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’  No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Right before the passage that is being used to say that America was the good guy in an act of vengeance, Paul says “never avenge yourselves.”  And right before the passage being used to say that we are justified in placing a proverbial “boot in yer ass,” Paul says “do not repay anyone evil for evil.”  I think we can safely say that Paul does not then, just two verses later, completely contradict himself.

So what is Paul saying?  First, let’s remember to whom he is speaking.  He is addressing the Christian community in Rome.  At that time they were a subset of Judaism and generally regarded as the lowest members of society.  It wouldn’t be too many years later before the emperor at the time, Nero, would look for a convenient scapegoat for a fire he was most likely responsible for setting, and he found the Christians.  This set off the first major persecution whereby Christians were set ablaze in the Coliseum and tossed to the lions.

Which leads to the second point: Rome isn’t exactly a friend to Christians.  So is Paul saying that Roman authority was a good thing?  Not exactly.  Chapter 13 is part of a larger discussion on how the Christian community is supposed to get along and thrive in the shadow of the empire.  Paul’s instructions here are to help the Christians not attract any further undo attention to themselves so that their work spreading the gospel could continue.  N.T. Wright says this about the passage, “Paul is anxious, precisely because he believes that Jesus is the true Lord of the world, that his followers should not pick unnecessary quarrels with the lesser lords.  They are indeed a revolutionary community, but if they go for the normal type of violent revolution they will will just be playing the empire back at its own game.  They will almost certainly lose, and, much worse, the gospel itself will lose with them.”  Rather than advocate for anarchy and a might-makes-right world, Paul is saying here that order and governance of society are God-ordained.

But further than this, rather than merely isolate this passage to 13:3-4, (as must be done if it is to be twisted into some kind of defense of a triumphing strong-armed government), let’s also look at verses 1-2.  They read:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.  Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”

These verses obviously support what is said above about an ordered and governed society being God’s design.  It does not, notably, say that particular governments are extensions of God’s authority.  Rather it says that governmental authority is God’s institution.  And more to the point, for anyone who might be tempted to think that this places government on a rather high pedestal, to a world in which government was universally some form of monarchical autocracy, the idea that government was subject to the authority of God would have been seen as a demotion.  The Caesars following Caligula, (which included Claudius, under whom Paul’s ministry was active, and Nero, who was emperor at the time of this writing), were all worshiped as gods on Earth during their lives.  To be told that they were under any authority would have been an affront, not a glorious promotion.  We would be wise to read it the same way – not that our government is good and must take action to smite the evildoer, but that it is under authority and should act like it.

It is also worth noting that since Paul was speaking about a form of government that was autocratic and ours is democratic, we might expect some nuanced differences.  I would argue that our government is even more accountable to the standards of authority and moral behavior since it is elected by us to be led by those among us.  But that’s not the major thrust of the passage.

When taken as a whole, from earlier instructions about how to live a Christian life in the capitol of the empire beginning in chapter 12 through the first part of chapter 15, we can see that the isolated verses of 13:3-4 do not constitute any kind of blanket divine approval on the acts of government.  Nor do they imply that acts of government in the name of justice are always good and are therefore to be celebrated.  Truthfully, they do not speak to government at all but rather to the governed.  And they fall right in line with the earlier instructions in chapter 12 to abstain from seeking vengeance and to bless our enemies.

But back to what I said earlier about this not necessarily meaning that I disagree with the killing of Bin Laden, I don’t know how I could possibly be any clearer.  I believe that killing Bin Laden was the just and necessary thing to do.  But ends do not justify means.  Simply because the result of his death may be good if fewer people in the future die as a result of his words or actions, that does not make the act of killing him a good act.  Killing is not a good act.  Nor is his killing justice in the sense of vengeance since we as Christians are told time and again not to take vengeance.  It is not Christian justice.  But when allowing him to live would be a worse act, then the just thing to do is to kill him.  This is a case of a choice between “bad” and “worse.”  Just because we are forced to do “bad,” and it is better by comparison than “worse,” does not mean that we can call a “bad” act a “good” one any more than we could jump from our side of the line dividing “evil” and “good” from my example before.  True, in this instance, as referenced in Romans, the government was God’s servant for our good.  It did not do a good act, but the results will be for our good.  But before we go marching up and down the streets celebrating that government, we should also remember the 100,000+ Iraqis, 8,000+ Afghani civilians, and 6,000+ American soldiers that died due to orders from that same government.  Such a reality must prevent us from citing Romans 13:3-4 entirely out of context in order to paint the American government and its actions as wholly “good.”

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Cheering in the Streets

I doubt that any of us has forgotten where we were on September 11th, 2001.  I was working as a telemarketer.  Our boss told us to keep making phone calls even after the second plane hit.  Maybe I’ll tell more of that story later.

I remember getting home and being glued to the news.  I remember seeing footage of Palestinians cheering in the streets.  I called my father, himself raised an Arab, very angry and confused.  He told me, “Scott, they don’t know any better.  They’re not to blame.  They’ve only ever been told that the reason their lives are hard and bitter are because of Israel and the United States.  They are kept ignorant by their leaders.  They are not to blame.”  That conversation made all the difference for me and enabled me to love those people even more.

Tonight I turn on the television again.  Ten years later.  After non-stop debate, discussion, education, and observance of all of the issues surrounding Al Qaeda and the “war on terror.”  And now I see Americans cheering in the streets over ever more death.

I forgave and excused the Palestinian people for their ignorance.  For what reason should I extend the same understanding to triumphing Americans?

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Method Acting and Doubt

“You are what you repeatedly do.” - Aristotle

“Imagination taking shape.” – Play Doh

I often have the opportunity to work with young actors.  Sometimes I’m their director, sometimes I’m their friend, sometimes I’m their teacher.  I always run into the same issue with them.  As an example, one time I was directing a show and a very emotional and difficult scene came up and the rehearsal got rough.  The scene was awkward, strained, and uncomfortable.  When I talked with the actor who was having the trouble with the scene afterward, the conversation went something like this:

Me: So tell me about that scene.

Actor: I don’t know… I just wasn’t feeling it.

Me: What do you mean, “feeling it?”

Actor: I mean I just couldn’t get inside the character’s head.  I couldn’t feel things the way he felt.

Me: And why do you think you have to feel things the way the character feels them?

Actor: Because it won’t be true otherwise.

Me: What do you mean by, “true?”

Actor: Well I can’t act emotions that I’m not feeling onstage.

Me: So you’re trying to feel what the character feels and you can’t?

Actor: Right.

Me: Hm.  What are you doing in the scene?

Actor: I don’t understand.

Me: Physically.  What are you doing?

Actor: Arguing?

Me: No, with your body, and your hands, and your voice.

Actor: Uh… I’m being angry with them?

Me: No.  See, “being angry” isn’t something you can do anything about.  In this scene you’re raising your voice, you’re pacing around, you’re squeezing everything you touch, you’re clutching at your clothes, you’re raking your hair.  These are the things you’re doing.  Because that’s what you do when you’re angry and arguing.

Actor: But I can’t do those things if I’m not feeling angry.

Me: Of course you can.  You can do all of those things that I listed regardless of what you’re currently feeling.  Here’s what I want you to do: imagine that you’re angry.  Don’t try to feel something that isn’t there.  Imagine it.  And go through the physical motions that I described above.  Do it today.  Then do it tomorrow.  Then do it in every rehearsal.  I assure you, in time, by nurturing your imagination and practicing the right actions, your “feelings” will be there.

Actor: Okay… I’ll give it a shot.

What was the result?  Of course it was a great performance given.  The poor young actor had been afflicted by what is known as “Method” acting, a technique popularized by Lee Strasberg and inflicted upon countless actors ever since.  It is a way of acting that does nothing so well as produce crazy people.  (Please note authorial bias.)  This technique that the young actor was trying to reproduce was faking a real psychotic episode or realizing a fake psychotic episode depending on how you look at it.  The young actor thought that if he could just conjure up the right feelings, the actions would take care of themselves and if he didn’t feel the right things, the scene would be condemned to failure.

Enough about stagecraft.  Let’s talk about acting.  I’m in the midst of a Sunday School series about the role of doubt in the life of the Christian.  I’ve been making a case that doubt is not antithetical to faith, but rather it is a vital part of the life of faith.  Faith is not a synonym for certainty; rather, by its very nature it implies some uncertainty.  And I’ve said that we need to make room in the Christian community for doubts of even the most basic and foundational kind without breaking fellowship or making people feel that their doubts are unwelcome.  So what now?  What do we actually do with that idea?

I am here to propose that the answer is in acting.  No, not on stage, in our actions.  Aristotle said that we are what we repeatedly do.  That’s a sobering thought.  For the Christian, that would mean that our identity is only found in what we do rather than what we say we believe.  Orthodoxy takes a back seat to orthopraxy.  As I quoted before, David Dark said is his book, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, “Show me a transcript of the words you’ve spoken, typed, or texted in the course of a day, an account of your doings, and a record of your transactions, and I’ll show you your religion.”  How many of us would like to have someone define our religion only by examining what we’ve purchased?  But why shouldn’t that say everything about what we value?

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:12-13: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.  And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”  This idea, that we will be always faced with uncertainty while here on Earth, must not paralyze us.  Even in the face of that doubt, Paul says that faith, hope, and love remain.  Love is the greatest.  And love is not a passive sentiment, as Paul described in the first part of the chapter.  Love wasn’t passive to Jesus either.  ”Love your neighbor” was not a theological position; it was a call to action.

At the beginning of the series I promised not to try to soothe everyone’s doubts and answer everyone’s questions.  I hold to that promise.  What I hoped for us to gain was a framework by which to process and understand our doubts better.  But at the end of the day, we’ve got to have a direction in which to go.  We’ve got to know what to do with our doubts.  My suggestion is that if we want to understand God better, we must act as if we already do.  If we want to know if Jesus is really both God and man, we’ve got to love our neighbors as ourselves.  If we want to know if God really exists, we’ve got to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned.  If we want to know if it’s all true, we’ve got to put to others before ourselves time after time after time.

Ultimately, what I suggest is that in repeatedly doing what a Christian does, we will be a Christian whether or not we have theology sorted out in our heads and our hearts.

Posted in Sunday School | 3 Comments

A Recent Conversation with my Wife

Beeki: Can you fix my windshield wipers?

Me: Yes.  I’ll take care of them.

Beeki: Do they need to be replaced, or fixed, or do you just need to add fluid?

Me: I won’t know until I try adding fluid first.

Beeki: Well good.  Can you take care of that before I leave on my trip?  Because I don’t want something to… you know… splatter all over my windshield and cause me to crash and die.

Me: … Umm… What are you planning on hitting?

Beeki: Nothing!  Can you just do it?

Me: Yes, but seriously, what would you hit that would cover your entire windshield that you would be able to address by using your windshield wipers?

Beeki: You better just hope that I don’t crash and die because of them.  Because I will haunt your ass.

Me: I’ll take care of them.

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A Recent Conversation with my Wife

Beeki: (to herself)  I knew I wasn’t crazy!

Me: Beeki?  Were you just talking to yourself?

Beeki: Yes.

Me: And what was it that you were saying?

Beeki: That I wasn’t crazy.

Me: Okay, sweetie.

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Both/And

For a few weeks now I’ve been leading a Sunday School series on the subject of “doubt.”  My task, as I’ve undertaken it, is to convince those in the class that doubt is not the opposite of faith, rather it is a component of faith.  I feel pretty good about this idea so far.  The foundational idea beneath this is from 1 Corinthians 13:12.  To begin by acknowledging that we know only in part, and that we perceive the world as if we were looking in a tarnished mirror, implies that faithfulness demands a healthy skepticism about our own rightness.  This, of course, creates a conundrum for the Christian who seeks to be faithful to God in truth while not being able to clearly and fully perceive that truth.  To be sure, my call is not so much to doubt God or God’s truth, but to doubt myself and my own ability to perceive and articulate that truth.  That’s a pretty big shift!

Okay, now please allow me a digression before returning to 1 Corinthians.  In Mark 9:14-28 we read a story of a father whose son is demon possessed.  He begs Jesus to help the boy and Jesus tells him that “all things can be done for the one who believes.”  And immediately the father replies, “I believe; help my unbelief!”  Rather than drawing a rebuke from Jesus, at this confession Jesus casts the demon out and the boy is healed.  It seems that this confessed mixture of belief and doubt was sufficient faith for Jesus.  I contend that it is so today as well.

Sarah’s doubts didn’t prevent her from conceiving a child.  Moses’ doubts didn’t prevent him from leading the people out of Egypt.  Jeremiah’s doubts didn’t prevent him from prophesying the hard and sad truth.  Zechariah’s doubts didn’t prevent him from having a son.  Peter’s doubts didn’t prevent him from leading the church.  Thomas’ doubts didn’t prevent him from being accepted as a part of the community of Christ.

Okay, so what now?  Let’s say that we finally let down our guard and our false barriers and admit our doubts to God and each other.  Let’s say we finally accept that we can give thought and voice to these doubts without fear of rejection.  What now?  Don’t mistake me; doubt is not a goal.  It’s not the finish line.  Doubt is a catalyst for change!  Continued growth, insight, understanding, learning, and revelation are our goals through doubt.

When Homer flips through the Bible and pronounces that, “This book doesn’t have any answers!” we laugh because we recognize the feeling.  Or at least we recognize the sickeningly familiarity with people who proclaim that the Bible has ALL of the answers for EVERY question and situation and detail that occur in life.  We’ve been told that the Bible is a “user’s manual” for life.  I would say that such a metaphor is completely useless, except that I’ve been assembling a lot of baby furniture lately.  The instructions for baby furniture actually do feel eerily similar to the Bible at times… But of course, while the Bible isn’t merely an answer book, it does have some answers.  And it has some great questions.  And it has some stories that are Truth.  And it has some really confusing parts.  And it has contradictions.  And it bears witness.

So this takes us back to 1 Corinthians.  It is tempting and easy to allow doubt to become paralysis.  If we’re unsure of what to do, where to go, what to believe, it can seem possible or obvious to do nothing.  But if doubt is a catalyst for change, then it doesn’t allow that option.  Neither does Paul.  Paul says that in the face of uncertainty and doubt these three remain: faith, hope, and love.  And we all know what he says next, that the greatest of these is love.  We can’t just stew and hope to be any more mature or any closer to having some answers.  We’ve got some loving to do!

In his book, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, David Dark issues the following challenge: “Show me a transcript of the words you’ve spoken, typed, or texted in the course of a day, an account of your doings, and a record of your transactions, and I’ll show you your religion.”  Whew.  To what extent do our actions exemplify our beliefs?  Our doubts?  Our convictions?  I would contend that they exemplify them precisely.  Let your doubts affect your actions and let’s see if there’s any change in you!  Let your faith affect your actions and let’s see if there’s any truth in you!

How would you live differently if you were honest about your doubts?  If you agreed to test Paul’s word and know only love, and act only love, what are the chances that your doubts would lead you closer to God?  Do you listen to the same people on the radio every day?  The same people on television?  The same magazines?  The same websites?  The same same same?  I’ll assume you do so because you think they’re good and right.  But what if you decide that they don’t have Truth in a headlock?  I propose that if you inject a bit of healthy doubt into the notion that you and the people like you are “right” that you’ll find the witness to God richer, deeper, wider, broader, and more expansive than you had ever previously imagined.

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