Tuesday, March 23, 2010

pleasured by whom

"There is a pleasure in philosophy, and a lure even in the mirages of metaphysics, which every student feels until the coarse necessities of physical existence drag him from the heights of thought into the mart of economic strife and gain. Most of us have known some golden days in the June of life when philosophy was in fact what Plato calls it, 'that dear delight'; when the love of modestly elusive Truth seemed more glorious, incomparably, than the lust for the ways of the flesh and the dross of the world. And there is always some wistful remnant in us of that early wooing of wisdom. 'life has meaning,' we feel with Browning--'to find its meaning is my meat and drink.' So much of our lives is meaningless, a self-cancelling vacillation and futility; we strive with the chaos about us and within; but we would believe all the while that there is something vital and significant in us, could we but decipher our own souls. We want to understand; 'life means for us constantly to transform into light and flame all that we are or meet with'; we are like Mitya in The Brother Karamazov--'one of those who don't want millions, but an answer to their questions'; we want to seize the value and perspective of passing things, and so to pull ourselves up out of the maelstrom of daily circumstance. We want to know the little things are little, and the big things big, before it is too late; we want to see things now as they will seem forever--'in the light of eternity.' We want to learn to laugh in the face of the inevitable, to smile even at the looming of death. We want to be whole, to coordinate our energies by criticizing and harmonizing our desires; for coordinated energy is the last word in ethics and politics, and perhaps in logic and metaphysics too. 'To be a philosopher,' said Thoreau, 'is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live, according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust.' We may be sure that if we can but find wisdom, all things else will be added unto us. 'Seek ye first the good things of the mind,' Bacon admonishes us, 'and the rest will either be supplied or its loss will not be felt.' Truth will not make us rich, but it will make us free." - Will Durant in The Story of Philosophy

"I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened... What people don't realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is a cross... You arrive at enough certainty to be able to make your way, but it is making it in darkness. Don't expect faith to clear things up for you. It is trust, not certainty." - Flannery O'Connor

Both these paragraph are quoted in full to hopefully splash more than a little water from the ocean of truth onto you. I do not quote them to endorse everything written in them. Both of these writers wanted to point at something that they saw from afar. Jesus said that even Abraham "rejoiced to see [his] day," though he saw it only by way of a hopeful excitement that comes from understanding a clear promise. Will Durant writes in another place: "when genius speaks to us we feel a ghostly reminiscence of having ourselves, in our distant youth, had vaguely this self-same thought which genius now speaks, but which we had not art or courage to clothe with form and utterance." This is the beginning of healthy admiration. It is the far from verbal feeling you might have when you see a elderly couple walk hand-in-hand under the quiet repose of a spreading spring sky. I believe it is their bravery we admire. Seeing their "togetherness" we admire it because of the sure assumption that they have through enduring love and faithfulness won the ability to understand and appreciate each other. What keeps us so long only testing the waters of truth with our toes? Why do we not jump in and be immersed in everything true, feeling the press of pure reality on every part of our being? Durant, Bacon, and the others quoted are helpful travel guides, but are limited where everyone, without exception, is limited in understanding the "infinity within and the infinity without" (Pascal). It is revealed in the text that both Durant and Bacon misquote, Matthew 6:33, "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." Durant and Bacon are still playing the philosophers game of Marco Polo when the text speaks clearly concerning not just the "what" but "WHOM" we must seek. We hide behind the most beautiful words and courageous expressions. You may think that this is limiting. Perhaps you are at the point of thinking the whole blasted thing is limiting--philosophy, the mind, Christianity, me, yourself. If I where to tell you that the whole law and prophets could be summed up in two commands, loving God and man, then you would be skeptical. It is the answer that a child could give. Where is the wisdom and genius in that? The game of mocking begins. "if you are the Christ, then come down from the cross," was the favorite of those who watched a defeated man perish. Under the current pressure of health care reform, economic depression, and the coming of spring how can how is it not pithy or limiting to say "Seek first God." How is this important when you may be jobless, heartless, homeless, hurting? On top of that Flannery O'Connor adds that you should by no means "expect faith to clear things up for you." There is a yes and no to her statement. It is correct that faith will not give what the self-absorbed individual what they want, which is complete control of the present and understanding of future events. If this is what you are expecting than faith will most certainly seem narrow and uneventful to you. I say, narrow me down and confine me to the love of Christ! I love wisdom--that fleet fox chased through the ages by the ever pursuing hounds of philosophy--in all her proverbial glory. But understand that all men alike have great unexplainable deafness to her constant call (Proverbs says that she "calls aloud in the streets"). The limit of mind is not due to build-up of greenhouse gases or the way we were treated in our childhood, but because our spirits are blind and have lost all attachment to Home. We are in the sad place that we do not understand our own longings. The philosopher and scientist apart from grace will always distrust God because of this, like a lost child distrusts every approach. We are trained in the art of distrust. The most wonderful arguments that are beating back the ranks of militant "New Atheist" of our day will never substitute for the handful of dirt and spittle that Jesus used to open the eyes of the blind man. Even while we can point to a miraculous, singular beginning to the universe that produced strategic and irreplaceable natural laws allowing life to thrive on planet earth, we can never by these same means explain the wonder, excellence, and vulnerability of tender love. Confine me to Christ! Faith in the Father, seeking His kingdom first, feeds our sense of wonder, because we are not just discovering more about a "what" or an "it" but the knowable WHOM who sits enthroned above it all; through whom, for whom, and by whom all things were created and find the meaning for their existence. Jump in!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

may you be made to wonder

"It was a marvelous night, the sort of night one only experiences when one is young. The sky was so bright, and there were so many stars that, gazing upward, one couldn't help wondering how so many whimsical, wicked people could live under such a sky. This too is a question that would only occur to the young, to the very young; but may God make you wonder like that as often as possible." - Dostoyevsky in White Nights

Please pray for fresh, true, excited thinking this week as I lead and teach a group of college students during their spring break vacation.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

"Why I Write"

"I am not able, and I do not want, completely to abandon the world view that I acquired in chiildhood. So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take a pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information. It is no use trying to suppress that side of myself." - George Orwell, "Why I Write"

Sunday, March 14, 2010

titus is two and a following church

Titus's second birthday today! He can now identify by name all the train and freight cars on Thomas the Tank Engine. Because of a whooping cough none of his small friends were invited so it was only the family that enjoyed the milestone event.

Preached on Colossians 2:8-15 today. If I could pause time I would. Not for selfish reasons, mind you. I would like to stand in front of the church at the Coffee Oasis and see all the people without speaking or singing (what I usually do when I am in front of them). The last several weeks we have had a growing number of kids from teen night coming to church. We also have a growing number of young professionals that come from healthy homes. I would estimate that 75% of the women in the church are single moms--most of which have gone through painful divorce. We also have healthy young marriages as well as aging ones that have not stopped blooming. It almost goes without saying that we are a group that needs each other--in a very healthy way. On days like today I feel like I am more affirmed and supported in my calling as a minister of the gospel than I am able to encourage. A day does not go by that I am not learning, but I also do not doubt that I am loved along the way. Someone might come in and ask how this happens, what is our "church model"? I could probably not explain it better than Paul could in Acts, Titus, or Timothy. This is not to say that we are THE Biblical model. I believe that a people led by God can take on many forms. It could be the hip church down the road that has as many televisions and "helpers" as the local Best Buy; the Spirit could be found in the Church with a steeple and bells who look like they are waiting for Paul Revere to ride again while they go on singing the same hymns that warmed the souls of those stepping off the Mayflower; I do not doubt that the Spirit can inspire the group of 10+ who gather for Christ-centered teaching in a cozy home where the women have risen early to bake bread and the sons memorize verses while milking the cows. Yes! The world is greater than my experience and the Holy Spirit more active than my imagination. Ha! Does that surprise you? It should not. I believe God was only getting started when He created the world. His creating does not stop there, He goes on to create praise in His people--people from every nation, tribe, and tongue. What is not optional is Christ being preached and taught in a way that honors and glorifies Him. If you were to marry a girl (ha! I am obliged to speak from theory at this point) my best guess in knowing how to honor her would be to seek to understand her. Being close to her would give me an idea of what she likes and dislikes. I would hear what she said and think of loving ways to respond to it (to be sure it is that easy, ha!). For example: if she liked chocolate you might think of surprising her with a spur-of-the-moment trip to Switzerland to try their exquisite dark chocolate (or you could just take her to Poulsbo). There is much in the Bible that concerns the pleasure of God. I find that instead of doing the obvious, we, like Cain, offer whatever we desire and then get grumpy because it was not accepted as worthy praise. Did we forget that our hearts are viewed. This is not to say you can go to your local bookstore and find a book on making your church purpose driven and then "wallah!" God gave a beautiful variety of personalities and I believe he can redeem them in different and peculiar ways (hence the difference in appearance between a godly Quaker and a godly emo kid). It reminds me of Jesus' last words with Peter in the book of John, after Jesus had explicitly told Peter the way his life would be used: "Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. When Peter saw him, he asked, 'Lord, what about him?' Jesus answered, 'If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me'" (John 21:20-22).

“My idea of God is [a limited idea.] It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of his presence? The incarnation is the supreme example; it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins. And most are ‘offended’ by the iconoclasm; and blessed are those who are not.”- Lewis in A Grief Observed

Thursday, March 11, 2010

and he wept

I will not give you his name. It is a short two letter name. Easy to remember, but few remember him. He moves to often. Today he pulled me aside, asking me to talk for a couple minutes. So we walked down the only hallway in the coffee shop, leaned against the wall, and talked. I knew only a little bit of his story. The truth is that he only has a history that looks like a thrift store puzzle. He asked to talk because just today a little more of that story was taken from him. "In the last year I have lived at 5 different homes." He is only 18 years old. Registering that my face was drawn in disbelief he elaborated, "Oh that is nothing, by the time I was 13 I had lived in 28 different foster homes." 28 homes! And he was being honest. After years of working at the Coffee Oasis I can tell the difference between a gloating tale, the knotch-in-the-belt type, and a tragedy. This was the second kind of story. "Today I found out that the last guy who had the house I last stayed at burned my stuff. About a thousand dollars worth of stuff. I can get that back, but not the two pictures of my mom. I have never seen her before, and I only had two pictures." So he told me his story and I listened. The man who burned his belongings was once his foster-parent. After this man abused him physical and emotional my friend was again moved, but since he was taken at school he was unable to retrieve his belongings. He is taking two extra years to finish school because he has never been at one school for a whole year. "I know my mother's name," He continued to tell me, "but the place for my father to sign on the birth certificate was left blank. I know what it is like for a guy to need a father figure. I just don't know what it is like to have a man in my life." I will not try to make my friend look impressive. He is small and has a quirky personality. Sometimes at school, he say, kids taunt him calling him gay because of the way that he acts. I asked him if we could pray together. So in that one hall in the lower-level of the coffee shop, with people periodically passing us to use the toilets, we prayed. I would like to say I cried, but I did'nt. He cried. While his heart was a little mended after talking I left thinking that I want my heart to heal a little more by breaking a little more for guys and girls like him. If you have not read the last post, take in the quote by Lewis. It is easier for me to keep from hurting if I do not care. I want to notice and to care.

Jesus wept.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

easy for the doer

A friend of C.S. Lewis's was once asked, "is it easy to love God?" and he replied, "It is easy to those who do it."

"Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket--safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation." - Lewis

with joy, with fear and trembling, love. It is both the "greatest of these" and the divine calling of humanity.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

enjoying it all

I will try to make Sunday evening posts a tradition for as long as I live (or as long as the internet is the primary means of communication, though it would be my desire to be a better correspondent with paper letters). From between the parenthesis to now I had a short conversation with my roommates and decided to title this post "enjoying it all." None of the letters in the titles to my posts are in caps for good reason. We expect things to be a certain way and when they are not it sometimes makes us wonder. I desire, like every person should, to live a full life. I did not say a long life, but rather a full life. Let God not merely be our witness, but our guide in a life that is lived fully in this world. We are bound for another world, but are very purposefully in this one right now. Why? Off-handedly one could arrive at an assortment of options; perhaps the most predictable (and perhaps concisely true, with a small addition) is: we are here to love God by glorifying Him and enjoying Him forever. If you have understood this, then get to it. You may be stuck in a state of paralysis, this one goal may vex you; even if the first question in your mind is not, "is it worth it?" but rather, "how do I honor such an enduring, perfect, and limitless being with my few days, limited understanding, and weak will?" Your heart may want--one might say "dream"--of enjoying fulfilling a beautiful request, but find your own actions or desires to be shortlived and unfulfilled. I would even further suspect that many of us do not live faithfully right now not because of what is present, but because of what is unknown and future. What I mean by this is that because we do not have hope, we do not have faith. Romans 5 reads like a heroic speech to us before battle, "We exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." Paul is not a writer of romance though. Read him and ask if anyone looked so honestly within himself. Romans 7 continue, "For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate."

Perhaps this post sounds redundant: first purpose, sin, grace, hope.

This news of Christ's faithfulness--the story of Romans 8--is new every morning. I do not appreciate it every morning like I should, but the fact that I do not enjoy it every morning does not nullify the fact that it IS THERE. This past week I was told of two suicides and spent two night at locations were the police were called, because of the place God has put me in Bremerton. I am not romanced by the world those dark evenings. But a Saturday with 15 men "redeeming manhood" (the second monthly event!) trail running, jumping in the salt water, drying off by a bonfire and sharing testimonies of grace; yes, that speaks to me of something great. Being a man is not merely being physical (I should add that being a woman does not reduce to beauty and charm too), it is the ability to receive and give love to God and man. This fulfills the law. One question I asked of the men, it came from a Bible study that I did with some of them on Friday at Olympic College: what is graces desire for you? So many view their salvation like some sort of will-neutralizer. As though it does not make you good or bad, but merely gives you a clear perspective to choose whether you are going to serve God or not (the classic "free will" fallback). It would follow from this would be that grace did the work and now we do the work--separate and distinct. The fact of God's desire in the Gospel is much more relational than that impoverished view of God's desire. God desired you for a purpose, or we might say, "grace has a desire for you." "Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you. for you are not under law but under grace" (Romans 6:12-14). It desires that you no longer be bound. The saving grace of Jesus is not morally neutral and did not merely release you from your old life and wish you the best on the rest of your life's journey. Stay close to grace and by doing so you will never leave the side of Christ.

I will end my post here. Enjoy your days! Smell spring, sit in grass, frolic--see what the desire of Grace is for you this day.

I would also encourage you to listen to this talk by Ravi Zacharias titled "Is Faith Delusional?":


I have never heard such a convincing and reasonable defense of the Christian faith against atheism (and I have heard many!). He is a genuine man and a original thinker, not your typical parrot of ideas. You can tell that even in his old age he has never failed to see and marvel at the beauty, complexity, and meaning in the world. I value that in a person.