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I know that my Redeemer lives,
And ever prays for me;

I know eternal life He gives,
From sin and sorrow free.

Uncertainty hit like a train. It wasn’t exactly a particular moment in my life, but slowly I began to realize that I could not say the same things about God as those around me. I could not affirm what they said.

I know that unto sinful men
His saving grace is nigh;
I know that He will come again
To take me home on high.

They were so certain of everything. How did they know these things? They spoke of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, salvation, atonement, sin, death, heaven, hell, angels, demons, saints, and everything with such conviction. I was left feeling like a failure.

I know that over yonder stands
A place prepared for me;
A home, a house not made with hands,
Most wonderful to see.

But I saw myself in Jacob (soon to be Israel) wrestling with God. I heard my voice in a desperate father’s shouting, “I believe! Help my unbelief!” I felt in my chest the heart of Thomas, a disciple willing to die for a savior he saw but believing an unseen savior to be dead.

I know, I know that my Redeemer lives,
I know, I know eternal life He gives;
I know, I know that my Redeemer lives.

This knowing that I heard from sermons, songs, and testimonies did not ring true for me. Yesterday I read these words and the comfort and slight exhilaration that comes from someone else speaking your own experience washed over me:

“When people say they believe in the existence of God, it has never impressed me in the least. Either I know a thing and then I don’t need to believe it; or I believe it because I’m not sure that I know it.” -Carl Jung

I do not know that my Redeemer lives.
I believe it.
I do not know God exists.
I believe it.

I do not believe that everyone ought to be like me. Some people are certain that God exists. Others are certain God does not exist.

As for me, I know nothing of God’s existence.
But I believe.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

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Poetic Interlude: Musings on a Hearse

Beep, beep, beep
Shower, dress, drive
Grind, drip, pour
Steam, pull, pump
Gulp down coffee
Cup, lid, sleeve
Cup, lid, straw
Cash or credit
Need a receipt?
Sneak more coffee
Wash the dishes
Run the trash
Make whipped cream
Move, move, move
Chitchat, small talk
Grind more beans
Clock out, leave
Walk, door, ignition
Seat belt, drive
Flashing lights…funeral procession
And suddenly, time
Slows down a bit,
little by little
until it
stops.

Idling on the side of the road as the caravan passes
I am struck by the sad commentary on American life
that is this funeral procession
(and really all of them).
We race around our entire lives,
constantly moving from point A to B to C to D…
Yet, once we’re dead, no longer vulnerable,
no longer seeing, hearing, feeling,
living,
we slow down
for one last leisurely drive down 10th.
As the cars creep past I cannot help but wonder
what I miss each day,
what sights, sounds, smells,
souls.
In rushing through life are we passing it by?

The last car passes and I slowly pull away from the curb.
I notice the clouds, the trees, the people,
the world.
I take in life, somehow knowing I will need this lesson again.

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Harlotry, Heresy, or a False Dichotomy?

Many of us have heard (possibly even shared) this quote that is often attributed to St. Augustine:

“The Church is a whore, but she is our Mother.”

In a post on similar ideas, Richard Beck traced this quote back to Dorothy Day’s 1967 article in The Catholic Worker:

“As to the Church, where else shall we go, except to the Bride of Christ, one flesh with Christ? Though she is a harlot at times, she is our Mother. We should read the book of Hosea, which is a picture of God’s steadfast love not only for the Jews, His chosen people, but for His Church, of which we are every one of us members or potential members.”

This idea that the Church is unfaithful is tied to the infidelity of Israel that is portrayed in the Old Testament. However, another view of the Church became important to the early Christians. Cyprian, a bishop of Carthage in the 3rd century AD, was an important leader, thinker, and eventual martyr in the ancient Church.

“The spouse of Christ cannot be adulterous; she is uncorrupted and pure. She knows one home; she guards with chaste modesty the sanctity of one couch. She keeps us for God. She appoints the sons whom she has born for the kingdom. Whoever is separated from the Church and is joined to an adulteress, is separated from the promises of the Church; nor can he who forsakes the Church of Christ attain to the rewards of Christ. He is a stranger; he is profane; he is an enemy. He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother.” – Cyprian, Treatise on the Unity of the Church 6

For Cyprian, to call the Church a whore would be tantamount to blasphemy. The Church cannot be broken in any sense, otherwise it would be impossible to be the body of Christ. The logic is there, but perhaps that is the issue. While we exist in a world of logic and reason, some of the most important things in life simply do not make sense.

What sense can be made of grace?
What logic is there in love?
What reason is there in sacrifice?

We do not serve a logical God. In all of my doubt and skepticism, there is one thing that always rings true: God is love.

God is a love that makes no sense, a love that hurts in its intensity, a love that pursues a bride who simply will not stay faithful.

Yet, this harlotry is not the Church’s.

To push our own failings onto the abstract concept of the Church, the universal and eternal “bride of Christ”, is to distance ourselves from the guilt of our own infidelity. It is not the Church who has forsaken God in the past. It is me. It is not the Church who has been apathetic and stagnant in faith. It is me.

If we actually face our own infidelity, we might have less to criticize in the Church.
We might see the Church for what it is. She is no whore. She is no spouse. She is the collaboration of broken, beautiful people trying to love God and each other.

Derek Webb sums it up pretty well:

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The Nip, the Sip, and the Tip

The title of this post is an old joke I heard long enough ago that I do not remember who told it to me. I am almost certain I heard it from a member of my church back in Waco when I was a kid. It’s both funny and sad in its accurate portrayal of what the Lord’s Supper has come to be in most low-church congregations today.

The Nip:
Never take a piece that is too substantial. That’s pretty simple. The key is to get enough without the entire piece simply being pulverized by your fingers on the way to your mouth. The last thing you want is a light, stale dusting all over your Sunday best. Wiping those “this is my body” crumbs onto the floor can seem a bit contrary to the solemnity of the dimmed auditorium and hushed atmosphere.

The Sip:
The key here is to avoid sitting behind light-sippers. You know them. They leave too much juice in the cup so it becomes nigh impossible to tell the difference between a fresh cup and some friendly backwash.

The Tip:
As with any dining out experience, it’s polite to tip your server. Be sure the drop into the plate is discreet enough not to be thought showy, but make sure everyone near you can see it. Nobody likes a cheapskate.

Are we offended yet?
Ought we be?
Do we deserve to be?

To be honest, I debated toning down the above sections. The Lord’s Supper is meant to be sacramental and a defining feature of the Christian community. In some ways, the early Christians took it much more seriously.

“The faithful shall be careful to partake of the eucharist before eating anything else.
For if they eat with faith, even though some deadly poison is given to them, after this it will
not be able to harm them.” – Hippolytus, The Apostolic Tradition 36

Hippolytus was a presbyter of the Roman Church and wrote around 215 AD. It is so easy for us to read his work and think, “Well, that’s just silly.”

Is it sillier than some of the ways in which we have degraded the Lord’s Supper? It used to mean something to break bread with one another. The sharing of such a meal defined a community, served as a sign that those partaking of the bread and the wine were family.

We may think that by removing the more mystical legends surrounding the eucharist from our traditions that we have advanced far beyond the pitifully primitive views of our ancestors in the faith.

We haven’t.

All of the suggestions I gave facetiously above stem from actual attitudes and thoughts that I have heard, observed, and even thought for myself concerning communion.

And I can’t remember a time that I truly connected with someone in it.
I have never communed,
never broken bread with the broken
never drunk the cup with the thirsty
never done any of this in such a way that might honor the love, life, torment, and victory of Jesus that we claim during the same services.

We should probably still avoid poison even after the trays have all come and gone.
But what if we stopped avoiding each other?
What if we truly shared the bread, the wine, the love, and the abundant life that we have received?

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Hyenas, Cuttlefish, and Obsessive Application

Sidebar: In an attempt to maintain some regularity in posting during the semester and to take advantage more fully of my studies, I have decided to create this series in which I will reflect on course readings.
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There are entire websites devoted to the meaning of songs. The comment sections on these websites are full of users arguing vehemently (as happens on the interwebs occasionally) for their particular interpretation over the others.

Discussion boards about various TV shows are populated by the raging voices of fans who have found THE answer to what is going on in the plot.

We rant and rave, bend and twist, assert and demand. We long to make the world around us significant.

The Epistle of Barnabas was a fairly popular Christian document late in the first century. One of the aims of this letter was to reinterpret the Hebrew Scriptures to maintain significance for the Christian community. The most entertaining section concerns the dietary restrictions in the Mosaic Law.

“‘And thou shalt not eat,’ he says, ‘the lamprey, or the polypus, or the cuttlefish.’ He means, ‘Thou shalt not join thyself or be like to such men as are ungodly to the end, and are condemned to death.’ In like manner as those fishes, above accursed, float in the deep, not swimming like the rest, but make their abode in the mud which lies at the bottom.”

(By the way, this is a cuttlefish:)

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Hyenas are adulterers, birds of prey are thieves, and so on.

Such laws could not simply be about food, because such restrictions no longer applied to believers. Scripture could not possibly stop being applicable to the lives of those who followed it.

What drives this need to apply everything? Why must every chapter, verse, line, and word impart some truth or wisdom to our lives?

We read ancient writers and often scoff at their reasoning. We cannot fathom how a human could possibly think that way. Yet, we (who are so advanced and know much better) find ourselves using the Bible, worship music, prayers, and the like in similar ways.

We want it all to apply to us. We want God’s attention on our lives.

Maybe there are greater truths at work in the text than allegorical animal insults. Maybe what we have is a rolling landscape of valleys of morally offensive historical activities, plains of neutral banality, and peaks of breathtaking truth and beauty.

And just maybe if we focused more on the beautiful truths, we could quiet down our ranting and raving, love God, and love each other. After all, as a pretty good guy once said, that about sums it all up.

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To the Google machine!

John (my roommate) and I recently undertook a cinematic journey through the Harry Potter movies. Throughout the movies, we made ample use of Google and Wikipedia to check our knowledge of the books against the movies. We weren’t being those annoying people who complain about the differences (you know who you are); we simply wanted to confirm.

During one of the movies, Dumbledore pulls a memory out of his head and drops it in the Pensieve (magical memory storage). The basic point behind the Pensieve is to hold memories that you want to revisit but do not necessarily wish to carry them in your head all the time. Shortly after this scene, we went searching for another tidbit and I said,

“Google is my Pensieve.”

We chuckled and John thought it worthy of posting to Facebook. I started thinking about it later. How much information do I not bother to keep in my head because it exists elsewhere for me to find when I need it?

The title of this post also came from a John-and-me interaction. (Apparently, we Google things a lot in our apartment.) One day I exclaimed, “To the Google machine!” as I grabbed my computer. Now, I say it too much. So much that several of my classmates have also begun to say it anytime we look something up during class when the professor cannot remember a certain fact.

I am often astounded by the recall of my professors. The moments that they have to resort to the all-powerful Google machine are few and usually involve a very specific detail that is not necessarily key to the overall topic of the day.

How much of my generation’s memory is being relegated to these online sources. Our ancestors millennia ago passed down stories from generation to generation to preserve knowledge and history. Now, we have Wikipedia. My parents, my sisters, and I used to sit down with photo albums together and reminisce. Now, we have Facebook. 

Our world is advancing in leaps and bounds, but are we losing ourselves in the pursuit? Without our technology, without the internet, without social media is there anything left to call a person. Have we uploaded our lives?

I hope not.

But some days I have to wonder.

 

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Faith, Hope, and Hate

A recent conversation with a friend and my fellow (but superior) amateur blogologian Seth’s post have got me thinking about how we talk about God’s anger in our dealings with people.

Let’s face it, there are people we simply do not like. There are people who make us angry, sad, frustrated, and confused. Do we hate anyone? No! Of course not! What a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad thought! Hating is something that Christians never do.

Ha!

Just listen to the things that people say. Christians (including myself) are very much in the business of hatred. We constantly find reasons to alienate others, to avoid relationship, and even to deny hope, grace, and love. But rarely do we say, “I hate ____.”

We let God do it for us.

We pull out our Bibles and find God hating and abhorring and abominating. This is not an activity for the Westboro Baptist Church alone. It seems that Christians are all, to some extent, participating in  God’s hatred. What removes the average Christian from the extremism of the Westboro folks? We don’t own the hatred ourselves.

The comment that was made by and friend came up in a discussion of sexual orientation and Christianity. We were talking about the disconnect between what people believe about life and love and what people believe about God. At one point in the conversation he said, “How can I have more love for gay people than God?”

This question ought to be asked more often about many things.

How can I have more love for divorcees than God?
How can I have more love for atheists than God?
How can I have more love for other religions than God?
How can I have more love for ______ than God?

The answer is: I can’t.

We have misrepresented and offended God. We look down our noses in self-righteous judgment, but, at the same time, we do not want to commit the deadly sin of offending others. Our culture teaches us that being politically incorrect or offensive in any way is one of the gravest evils a person can commit.

But how can it be offensive if God said it?

So we take all of our hatred, malice, and oppression and attribute it to God while we drive with our “Coexist” bumper stickers and change our profile pictures to equal signs. God hates, we love. God abhors, we accept. God abominates, we support.

What if we stopped putting faith in a God who stands far from our experience? What if we owned our feelings and dealt with our own hatred? What if we stopped painting God as the cosmic “bad cop” to our “good cop”?

Maybe we will see the need to love our neighbor more actively when we realize just how much hate there is in our hearts hidden behind a picture of an angry God.

There is no grave danger in loving truly and deeply. There is no grave danger in seeking the heart of God. There is, however, grave danger in forcing God to play scapegoat for our failings in loving our neighbors.

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