How About: Evolution…Maybe?

March 24, 2010

Today I want to come at this from a slightly different angle. Judging by the responses I got on Facebook and via email, many folks are willing to say the Earth is old but they’re still not cool with evolution. And that’s not even my main point. So how about this for a starting point:

If the book of Genesis had never been written, how would you believe the Earth and all that is in it were made?

As a theist, a person who believes in God, you would believe God made it. All this stuff had to come from somewhere, right? So God made it. But how did he make it? What did the creation process look like? How long did it take? Did he do it instantaneously, or did he do it gradually, over a really long period of time? And did he make our human race from scratch? Or did he mold us out of a previous species and develop us into something more aptly fitted for what he wanted to do with us?

If the Genesis creation account had never been written, you would not naturally conclude that God chose to do it in a matter of a few short hours. Not in this day and age, anyway. Nothing else in nature happens so quickly, and since nature is his handiwork, we learn much about how he works by simply observing how nature actually works, right? Things happen very gradually in nature, and big changes take a really long time to develop.

Before the dawn of a more scientific era, ancient people used to ascribe things like thunder and lightning to the gods. They didn’t know meteorological reasons for changes in the weather, nor astronomical reasons for changes in the seasons, so they blamed the gods. Monotheistic people just disagreed on the number of gods to blame, but they still saw things the same way in the end. Storms and tides and droughts and harvests were the work of God. Nothing else needed to be known.

Today we understand scientific reasons for all of these things that happen, but that doesn’t mean our faith is invalidated. Just because we understand now how a tree reproduces and grows, or how a mother’s body weaves together and nourishes the intricate parts of a fetus doesn’t mean we can’t give God credit for these incredible occurrences. On the contrary, we look, we marvel, and we worship. We say, “Look how elegantly God does his work!” You don’t have to discount the mechanics in order to honor the One Behind It All.

So why not conclude that God made our world very slowly over millions of years, as our science seems to clearly indicate?

The answer is that Genesis puts it differently. And many of us inherited a tradition of biblical interpretation which says that you should read those first few chapters very simplistically and forget anything else the rest of our scientific disciplines tell us.

My contention is that there are other ways to understand those first few chapters. They began as stories told by grandparents to their grandchildren in Mesopotamia many centuries ago. They are beautiful stories and they assert things about God and about his handiwork which distinguished those people from all the other people groups around them. Let’s celebrate that and receive it as inspired by God himself. But let us not insist that these stories overrule any other information we find in God’s creation, using the scientific lenses we’ve developed over the years. I don’t think that really does justice to the complexity of God’s handiwork, and it just makes us look a little dumb. I don’t think that honors him.

Does that mean we have to accept macroevolution? Must we accept that we came from monkeys? Well, I’m willing to suspend my judgment on that, but not on how long things seemed to have taken. I’m willing to concede that our fossil records are far from conclusive on the many transitions that this view assumes. But aside from trying to use Genesis 1-3 as a source of scientific information, would you naturally conclude something else? If you hadn’t been told that humans were made from scratch, would you feel so compelled to disbelieve the Darwinian outlook on biological development?

People addressing these questions generally fall into three broad categories. Young Earth creationists say it had to be six literal days, and it all happened a few thousand years ago. The flood buried a bunch of stuff deep in the earth and that’s why so much stuff seems to be older. Old Earth creationists still keep the framework of Genesis 1 and interpret the word “day” more figuratively, arguing instead that these may indicate really long phases of time. Thus the cosmos could be billions of years old but we’re still using Genesis as our guidebook for how it all happened.

Theistic evolutionists, among whom I guess I am now numbered, say that this is still trying to use Genesis as a science book. It still makes us do funny things with our scientific method. It’s like when certain middle eastern countries hold “elections” to determine the will of the people, but the outcome is so predetermined that everybody knows it’s not really an election. I think we fudge on the science way too much in order to preserve a way of interpreting Genesis which God simply is not demanding from us. I do not think he means for us to be so divided between our study of his creation and our study of scripture. I long for the day when we can just say, “Okay, so the world is really really old. Now let’s get on with understanding what he means to make of it all in the end.”

Now that‘s a question worth debating.

Why I’m no longer “Young Earth”

March 23, 2010

Today I will try to explain why I believe in evolution. You have to realize, though, that saying I believe in evolution is for me like saying I believe in orbits or reproduction. Whether or not I believe it doesn’t make much difference. These are things that I’m pretty sure just are.

I should probably begin by saying that I used to be a “Young Earth” creationist. The approach to the Bible that I learned taught me to read the first chapters of Genesis and take them at face value. If they say God made everything in six days, then by golly that’s what he did. God said it; I believe it; that settles it. Considering the genealogies of the chapters which follow, it would then appear that humankind has only been around for a few thousand years. One guy even calculated quite confidently that the earth was created on October 23rd, 4004 BC, and it stuck. So the Earth is only about 6,000 years old. Alright, if that’s what the Bible says, then I’ll believe it.

But then I look around and consider a few things. Stars, for example, shine their light down on us from a very, very long distance away. We know how fast light travels, and we use the term “light year” to indicate the distance light travels in a year. We know that many of those stars and galaxies are hundreds of thousands of light years away. Some are millions of light years away (we now know the universe is very, very big). That means their light is only now arriving after traveling for millions of years. Our stars are snapshots of the past–the very distant past. And they prove the world is older than that guy said.

That didn’t use to mean much to me. God could create a universe already “in maturity,” right? I mean, Adam wasn’t born a baby, was he? He was created already a grown man. If he were to cut down a tree in the garden, it would probably have rings, right? How old would they be? You see my point. The Genesis creation account seems to indicate that the world was created already old, in a sense. The stars that Adam saw even then were not as old as they looked. I can buy that.

But then there’s more. Looking for other evidences of age, I see things like our Grand Canyon, which is a mile deep and up to 18 miles wide. It’s got this river at the bottom of it, and it obviously was cut slowly by that river over a very long time. Estimates for that time period range from 5 million years to 17 million years. Besides things like this, we also have devised dating techniques that measure the steady decay of certain isotopes and other things that, frankly, are out of my pay grade. There’s a bunch more things like this, but you get the picture. Appearances can be deceiving, but if our world is only a few thousand years old, then this is starting to look like a really massive trick.

Besides this, we keep digging up bones which paint a picture of a gradual development of the many species of living things around us (including our own species). Judging from their depth in the ground, many of these species appear to have predated us humans by quite a bit. The point is, however, that every branch of science we have indicates the earth is billions of years old, and that the human race developed from more primitive species over millions of years.

That’s not what the Bible says. I know that. And I could go along with the “created in maturity” concept up until a certain point. I could believe that the world just looks older than it is because God made it to look older than it really is. Much, much older. But if that’s the case, then people should be forgiven for studying the Earth and the cosmos and deciding that they are as old as they seem. They should be forgiven for seeing evidences of gradual development of all living things, including ourselves (What the heck is an appendix for, anyway? Or a tailbone?).

But they are not forgiven, are they? At times, in fact, they are angrily chastised for not believing the clear Word of God in these matters. They are shamed and excluded from our schools and churches because they contradict the biblical testimony, choosing instead to cling to their ungodly scientific beliefs. We don’t want them poisoning our children with their spurious logic and their anti-Christian worldviews.

Only now there are believers as well, like myself, who are starting to see the world as old. Many of them are way more qualified than I am to study these things and they don’t see what the big deal is. They’re starting to say, “Hey, we believe the Bible. We love it. We just don’t think it was intended by God to be used as a textbook for astronomy, geology, or biology. It wasn’t written in a scientific context and we shouldn’t superimpose our very modern scientific mentality into it. That does violence to the text.”

I’m with those guys at this point. I think you can be quite faithful to the Bible and yet not use it as a science textbook. Some people in the medieval times tried to do that when someone suggested the earth revolves around the sun, rather than the other way around. They tried to do it when someone suggested the earth is flat and stationary. Both times they were wrong, and both times they were certain they were being faithful to the text. But they weren’t. They were treating the Bible like it’s a different kind of book than it really is. N.T. Wright said some good stuff about that once.

Well this raises plenty of questions, of course, like “How do we accept Paul’s typology and his view of the fall of mankind if we don’t believe in a literal Adam and Eve?”

Those are good questions. I’m still working on that. Anybody got any good ideas about that?

I’ve got more to say, so keep checking back.

Thinking about Creation

March 18, 2010

As I often do with Scot McKnight’s blog posts, I will be closely following one of his current threads pertaining to evolution and its relationship to the Christian faith.

This question is very close to my heart at the moment, as I have run up against it a number of times over the last few years. Personally, I have become convinced that the cosmos is as old as our scientists tell us it is. And I see consistently logical reasons to believe what paleontologists and geologists and astronomers have been telling us about the age of the earth and about the gradual development of our species over hundreds of thousands of years. But as a Bible-believing Christian, I have some wrestling to do with the creation account of Genesis 1-3 (really even through chapter 11). How can I decide that these chapters are not to be taken as historical (even if some of the biblical writers may have thought it was, given their historical context) and yet accept Paul’s discussion in Romans 5 of the fall of Adam and our fate as his descendants? How would it affect my understanding of the accomplishment of the Second Adam, Christ, on my behalf?

I have plenty to write about this, but right now I’ve got to go corral a classroom full of teenagers (most of whom have criminal records), so maybe watch this space and pitch in your thoughts when you have time.

What is a Cross?

February 18, 2010

Not all suffering is meant to be embraced.

I know that may seem like an odd declaration to make. But I’ve recently come from a tradition which looks at things pretty differently from most corners of Christendom. In the circles I’ve been running in the last few years, suffering is seen as a doorway to a deeper relationship with God. Those who have influenced me most make much of the daily work of the cross in the life of a believer. For what it’s worth, I’m convinced there are clear scriptural reasons for seeing suffering as a way to grow faith and dependence on God.

HOWEVER…

I must also say that you can easily go overboard with this idea. There are those among us, in fact, who naturally gravitate towards dark expectations. Some of us slip easily into fear and dread of God’s next move in our lives, and that’s not the way he wants us to relate to him. I’m fairly sure of that.

Some people, of course, don’t have to deal with this at all. If your theology has God in a reactionary position toward history/world events, then he’s never to blame for anything bad that happens. The world just does what it does and God takes what happens and makes good stuff happen out of it. Even then, of course, you have to grapple with the idea that God allows certain things to happen while he prevents some other things from happening. One way or another you still have to reckon with God’s level of involvement in the hard times.

But a funny thing happens once you’ve decided you believe in a totally sovereign God: You feel the need to make sense out of everything that happens, because everything ultimately is in his control. For the record, I think the sovereign view matches the views of the key players in the Bible better than the reactionary view. Those people had astounding things to say about God’s absolute power over even the littlest details of our lives. But then you have to reconcile a belief in a good and loving God with all the terrible things that happen in life. Thus we have the age-old problem of evil, and I’m not gonna try to resolve that one, thank you.

There is, however, an additional problem that develops once you’ve embraced Jesus’ call to take up your cross and suffer for his name’s sake. You start to think all suffering is somehow for his name’s sake. You think every hardship is “the cross.” But it’s not. Some suffering is just wrong and needs to be resisted or overcome. Or maybe it’s not wrong — maybe it’s just more fallout from the world being the way it is. Either way, nothing says you have to just shrug your shoulders and say, “God wills it.” When you get a headache, you take something for it, don’t you? When you get an infection, you take antibiotics. That doesn’t mean you don’t have faith. It just means you intend to use the good sense that God gave you to solve a problem. I trust that’s exactly what God wills for you to do.

Now let me repeat a question that was once posed to me:

What does it mean to take up your cross and follow Jesus?

Well, like most questions of biblical interpretation, your best bet is to start by asking what it meant in its original context. What did that sentence mean to the people who first heard it? Once we answer that question, then we can start to figure out what it means to us today.

The answer is that Jesus wanted his followers to know that following him meant they would encounter the same response from the world that he would encounter. In fact, many of those original followers met with an untimely death at the hands of the very same people who rejected Jesus. His warning proved true. Beyond that, many who followed him came to sacrifice other things for his name as well: food, shelter, warmth, safety, financial stability, family loyalties, you name it. For example, Paul spent most of his later life traveling the Empire, preaching the gospel and getting beaten for it. For him, the cross meant a really hard life.

But it was purposive. These people who were suffering knew that what they were doing was serving the cause of Christ. That’s what enabled them to press on through their hardships. They endured their trials because they knew it was accomplishing something redemptive. It was constructive suffering. When you look at it that way, a cross makes much more sense. It’s not just any random hardship. It’s suffering for someone else’s sake.

It was for the joy set before him that Jesus endured the cross. There was a goal. There was a redemptive end to his pain and suffering. And there was a resurrection on the other side of his dying.

Now don’t get me wrong: That knowledge doesn’t remove the pain. Jesus asked that this cup pass from him because it was still more than any mortal could bear. But he ultimately embraced it because there was something waiting for him on the other side.

That something was us. That boggles my mind. But that’s what the New Testament says.

But that’s not my point right now. My point is that not all dying results in resurrection. And some suffering is not purposive. Sometimes difficult times come and you’re not supposed to just lie down and let it roll over you, saying “God wills it.” In our attempt to embrace the work of our own personal crosses in our daily lives we must not slip into that crazy place where every bad thing is called good, or every wrong thing is called right.

The cross is about enduring the shame of being rejected by a world that rejected Jesus, too. It’s about enduring hardship whenever it serves a redemptive end for the sake of the gospel. And sure, a whole lotta things can fall into that category, but some of us go a little crazy with this. We take everything anyone does to us, including the dumb things we do to our own selves, and we say that anything bad that happens is just the cross.

No, it’s not. That was never Jesus’ intention when he called us to follow him and take up our cross. The cross is a purposeful embracing of hardship for the sake of loving God and loving one another. It’s ultimately productive. It bears fruit. It brings life, in the end.

So let THAT be your yardstick from now on. Does it produce life in someone else for you to embrace whatever it is that you’re trying to embrace? Or does it just make you an even more difficult person to be around? Does it make you feel like you’re a pitiable victim, a doomed scapegoat for other people’s faults? Chances are, if that’s how it affects you, it’s not accomplishing what you think it’s accomplishing. If it just makes you a cranky, dismal person, please just say “NO.” That’s not a cross.

But if it communicates love to God’s people, and if it produces fruit in their lives, then isn’t it suddenly more worth it? Just stop and think for a second. Take a second look at what you’re up against, and act accordingly.

Growing Up

January 12, 2010

“Obsession is a young man’s game”

–Michael Caine in The Prestige

It’s funny how you can age ten years in the space of just one, while at other times you can go ten years and hardly age a year. It’s a variable process, it turns out. It’s all about what you learn — what you experience in the space of a year. Having said that, I feel I’ve aged more years than I know how to count just in the last 12 months. Little of it is blogworthy, unfortunately, thus the occasional hiatus in posts. Well, some of it may be perfectly appropriate for sharing with the general public, but I just haven’t always had the time or the nerve.

In another movie, Michael Caine calls Idealism “youth’s final luxury.” I don’t know why both of these quotable quotes came from the same actor’s mouth, but they’ve both been in my mind lately. Idealism has always been a close companion of mine, but over the last year or so I’ve had to bid farewell to this dear friend. Life just hasn’t afforded me the room to keep him around.

Take the decision to baptize my third daughter, for example. Several months ago my six-year-old began asking to be baptized because she professes faith in Christ and could see no reason not to make that public. A couple of years ago I baptized my two older daughters in a swimming pool on New Year’s Eve. Back then, we were still meeting with the same house church that we called home for the last decade, and a swimming pool was the most logical location. Now, however, my family and I have joined ourselves to a (very) traditional Baptist church, and the question of baptism has become more complicated.

I wanted to baptize my third daughter myself, just as I had baptized my two older daughters a couple of years before. As her father, and as one of the two people who introduced her to a relationship with God in the first place, it just made sense. But now that we attend a church with more than a thousand members, I have had to come to grips with how things work in that world. In this world, only the ministers do the baptizing. If I want to do it myself, it’s back to the swimming pool — only now, we’re no longer meeting with our house church, so whom do we invite to witness this event?

A month ago I spoke about this with the ministers of the Baptist church we joined. The preacher was gracious enough to agree to let me do the baptizing, right there in the baptistry, despite their usual tradition of “ministers only.” I guess he trusted me and we have some mutual friends, so I’ve got credibility with him. But a week before the baptism I learned that two other fathers spoke with one of the other ministers and were denied this same request after my conversation with the preacher, unbeknownst to him. This was a dilemma. In order to stay true to his word, he was willing to take the heat for letting me do the baptism. But I couldn’t do that to him. In the end I thanked him for his willingness to accommodate but told him I’d just let the guy who usually does it baptize my daughter. That was a very difficult thing for me to do, but I knew I had to do it.

That’s called growing up. Like obsession, idealism is a young man’s game, I think. Lately here alot of my decisions have been about choosing to do what makes sense under the circumstances rather than doing what fits my ideals. Does that mean I’m compromising my values, my beliefs? I dunno. I still believe the same things, still have the same values. I just realize now that I can’t always have things the way I think they should be, not when they affect other people negatively. In the end, the right thing to do in a given situation is whatever demonstrates love. That may or may not coincide with what I think should be done. But that’s where I’m at these days.

Growing up is scary. It involves changing into somebody you weren’t before. It requires putting away the toys of your youth and handling things that weigh more, that can do more damage to more people. I only hope I handle them wisely.

The baptism was yesterday, and it went great, by the way. Both sets of grandparents drove across two frozen states to celebrate this occasion with us, and one friend from our house church even came with two of her children to be a part of the event as well. That meant a great deal to my family, of course. My wife made a couple of great meals for everyone and they all had a good time together. My daughter Catie felt genuinely honored by the whole thing, and she’ll never forget it. Things turned out great, after all.

Ten Honest Things

December 8, 2009

Alright, sis, I got your tag…I’m supposed to write an Honest Scrap post, telling 10 honest things about me… You know, I think the older I get, the more things I feel like I can’t be completely transparent about. I know it shouldn’t be that way, but the more people I get connected with, the more people my words can affect, and so I just can’t share everything. But here goes my best shot:

1. I read the Twilight books and liked them. Well, I still haven’t read the last one, so don’t tell me what happens. But I think they’re pretty good. I don’t get what irks people so much about popular novels. It’s almost like some people presuppose that if it’s popular, then it must not be worth much. Then even when they read something genuinely good, they can’t appreciate it because they were already primed to dislike it. I also don’t get how some of us Christians get worked up about anything that smacks of magic or witchcraft or whatever. I know what the Bible says about practicing those things, but that’s not what folks are doing here. They’re just reading a story. And I think it’s really well written. Didn’t like the first movie. Thought the second one was much better.

2. I really don’t like country music. How I grew up in Mississippi without liking country music, I don’t know. But I just don’t like it. It’s too twangy for my tastes, and often it’s really cliche. Of course, so is most jazz, hip-hop, and rock music, but I like the sound of all of that better. Most of the time I listen to whatever plays on the top 40 stations. I’m sure that makes me uncool to not have more definite preferences in music, but maybe I’m just uncool.

3. I am determined to regain the six pack abs of my high school days. Growing up in affluence tends to make you vain, and just like you don’t have to be rich to be greedy, you don’t have to be gorgeous to be vain. It’s wired into me at this point. Having admitted that, I’m still going for it. I’m eating broccoli and carrots and salads and drinking lots of water and protein drinks and running and swimming…you get the picture. I’ll probably get close to the shape I want and then quit because it’s just too much work to keep it up long term. But it’s fun to be in good shape for at least a little while.

4. I like to lay out and get a tan during the summer. This one’s an extension of number three. I can rationalize and justify it with comments about how vitamin D is good for your heart, your bones, and your mood, but then I also know skin cancer’s not good for any of those things, so I’ll have to watch that. But I still think there’s nothing more relaxing than going out in the middle of a summer’s day and just soaking up as much of that light and heat as I can. It’s more relaxing than a hot tub or a massage, I think.

5. I haven’t been able to read my Bible much for several months. That’s a big deal for me, because studying the Bible has been like an occupation for me since I was 16. But nowadays, reading the Bible just reminds me how much my spiritual journey has led me to view so many things differently from how others around me see things. Every page of the New Testament stirs my desire to see things done differently than how things are done, yet I feel powerless to effect the change that I want to see.

6. I’d like to teach more white kids again. I know I shouldn’t admit something like that because it’s just so noble to work with underprivileged, “at-risk” kids like I do every day. But I don’t really think I’m making much of a difference. These kids come from such a messed up culture, replete with broken families and dysfunctional home situations, that I don’t think my time with them is making much of a dent in their world. In fact, I think I seem totally irrelevant to most of my students, because why would they internalize stuff they learn from a guy who is so completely different from them? On the other hand, I see them sit enraptured listening to a black co-worker of mine as he talks about…whatever! And they hang on his every word. I feel like his opinion on stuff sinks in for them like mine never will. So I think I need a little more diversity in my classroom. Right now it’s almost all black, with a few imports from Mexico thrown in for good measure (they’re the best behaved ones of them all).

7. I still wish I had a super power. If I could stop time, I could get tons done while everything else in the world just stands still. Or if I could read people’s minds, I could get so many questions answered so easily. Then again, I can think of quite a few downsides to that gift. Super strength would be nice, or super speed. Invisibility from time to time would be useful. And of course there’s flying. Who wouldn’t love to be able to fly? No matter how old I get, I still wish I had a super power, with or without the cape.

8. Music moves me to tears when nothing else can. Although I am a very sensitive person, more sensitive than most straight men that I know, I find it difficult to allow the emotions of something get to the surface until I can be alone, and even then I may not be able to do it. It takes me time to process things that are important, so my emotions usually lag behind a bit. But when I get inside some really good music, almost any kind, everything comes oozing to the surface and I feel it all. It could be an orchestral piece, it could be just a song on the radio, or even a Publix commercial (man, those things will getchya!)…as long as there are some stringed instruments in there somewhere marking the emotion of the moment, it’ll probably find it’s way inside.

9. I wish I had theme music. This is an extension of both numbers 7 and 8. When I was a kid I wanted to be Indiana Jones. Then I wanted to be Superman. Then I wanted to be Luke Skywalker. Then one day I came to realize what all three of them had in common: Theme music by John Williams. Finally it dawned on me that what I really want is for John Williams to write me some theme music, and just have a full orchestra follow me around and play it at the right moments. Better yet, let them play a score for my entire life, so I can feel all the right things at the right times. I can cry when something sad happens, get excited when something cool’s gonna happen, and even become alarmed when something bad is getting ready to happen. How convenient would THAT be?!

10. I love being married, and having kids. No matter how unimpressive your career choices may be, and no matter how inconsequential you may feel to the rest of the world, you know there are a few people at home for whom you are the world. You set the tone of life for a handful of people, and that’s a powerful job to have. It’s very fulfilling, and I pray that God will entrust me with a very long time to enjoy it all.

Alright, Cat. There you go. Ten honest (if not entirely rosy) things about me. I’ll have to give some thought to whom I will bless with this honor. Thanks for thinking of me.

Vacations are good.

December 1, 2009

Holidays are great. I’m learning to appreciate them more and more. I’ve never been a “special occasion” person. I’ve always been more of an every day kind of guy. But the harder work gets, and the more responsibilities I get, the more I get what vacations are about. I guess I vacationed from blogging for a bit, too. Too busy livin’.

First, the swim team that I coach hosted a swim meet comprised entirely of other small teams like our own. It’s a fun meet, and very little pressure. While last year was a bit hiccupy because I didn’t know what I was doing, this year went great. I even got to sing the national anthem in front of a couple hundred people (well, they were turned around looking at the flag, so that made it easier). We didn’t win the meet–didn’t even come close, actually, but we had a good time anyway.

Next, the fam and I packed up and headed to Mississippi for Thanksgiving. April and I got to see New Moon, which, having read and enjoyed the books, was way better to me than the first movie. And the audience participation made it really fun. The first time Taylor Lautner pulled his shirt off, girls all over the room gasped and one whispered “There it is!” The whole movie flowed better and the effects did a good job of translating some stuff onto the screen from the book. I am told I HAVE to see The Blind Side as soon as I can, too, so that’s next on my list. I always get a kick watching Sandra Bullock because I know my dad fixed her teeth once.

Next I got to go to the Big Easy for a meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, an organization which probably requires no explanation. A good friend of mine is working to establish himself in the field of Biblical Studies, and he wanted a wingman for the conference to help him navigate the lingo and the nuances of that world. Turns out, he’s got his way figured out pretty well already. So I just sat in on a few readings of papers (most of which were snoozers, honestly) and shopped for souvenirs for my girls.

My morning runs were great! Since our hotel was a few blocks from the river, I got to run down Canal Street, then along the Mississippi River for a mile or so, then back through the French Quarter, past dozens of fun-looking shops and famous restaurants, then back to the hotel. I picked up some authentic Mardi Gras masks for my girls (who subsequently kept them on for several days after I got home!) and a cute Saints shirt for April.

New Orleans has got Saints fever this year like you wouldn’t believe! As soon as I pulled into town, just as I was passing the Superdome, I heard “WHO DAT? WHO DAT? WHO DAT SAY THEY GONNA BEAT THEM SAINTS? WHO DAT?” and then of course a rendition of “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In.” That was alot of fun. In fact, in one half hour period I heard local radio stations play three songs which mentioned the Saints, including one called “I Believe in the Power of Love,” which features a line about the Saints going to the Super Bowl. Growing up in Mississippi, the Saints were our closest team, so they were our team. Plus, my folks went to school with Archie Manning and his wife, so we root for his team. Bill made sure I had a good Cajun meal at Mother’s before we left. The Crawfish Etouffe was fantastic!

The rest of the week was hangout time with family. My baby sister Catherine (who is almost done with Dental school now) hosted the extended family at her new place for Thanksgiving. The food was excellent, as it is every year, and like always I ate so much that there was no room for dessert. The kids had a blast playing with cousins (so did I) and the weather was great. Hanging out with cousins is another one of those things that you appreciate more as time goes on. It somehow gets more meaningful every time. There’s something about being with people who knew you when you were just a kid and so goofy all the time. Once you’re grown up, getting together with them reminds you of what it was like when life was simpler, less stressful. Sigh.

Well, we had some good hangout time with April’s folks and with mine, plus we threw in some shopping and a second showing of New Moon, so it really felt like a vacation by the time we were done. Funny how it takes three or four days to fall into vacation mode, and it’s too bad that you don’t get to start the trip at that point. But I’m still glad it comes when it does.

Now it’s back to work and juggling schedules…but only three weeks before we get to go back again! Looking forward to more R & R. Vacations are good.

Oh yeah, and the Saints beat the Patriots. Where I’m from, that’s beginning to look like one of the signs of the apocalypse. We may not have to wait until 2012 :-)

All Your Base Are Belong to Us

November 10, 2009

Alright.  Enough downers for now.  How about something to make you smile?

From time to time I like to check a website called Engrish.com for a good laugh.  This site is devoted to snapshots from Asian signposts, labels, warnings, etc which mistranslate the English in funny ways.   Some of the funniest would probably offend some of my readers (whoever they are), so I won’t post them.  But here are a few samples of some that crack me up.

engrish02b

That’s all you have to do.  Isn’t that comforting?

 


 

 

engrish01a

People in Japan seem so polite.  I should visit there some day.

 


 

 

engrish02

Well, somebody has to connoct our poopie.

 


 

 

engrish02a

Not gonna do it.  Wouldn’t be prudent.

 


 

 

engrish03

Well, I suppose that’s a logical name…

 


 

 

engrish04

For people with really stubborn nails…

 


 

 

engrish05

It’s clean and blue!

 


 

 

engrish06

That’s why you gotta keep off the grass!

 


 

 

engrish07

I don’t know which to start with… the chicken-brown fungus or the fungus of old people’s head?

 


 

 

engrish08

I like number 9.  I think some of my students have “stupid disease.”

My Place in this World

November 7, 2009

now-whatMy blog posts are not often intensely personal. That’s as it should be, I believe, because cyberspace is no place to broadcast your deepest struggles. People get hurt that way. But I want to share something very current that I’m struggling with because someone out there might identify with it. Plus, at some level, it helps to put it into words.

I have a calling of some kind, but I don’t know what to call it — how to label it. I can describe one aspect of it his way: Something drives me to ask hard questions, think deeply, and do my best to get to the bottom of things in order to understand them. Along the way I also feel compelled to verbalize what I am discovering. Back before I learned to pathologically distrust myself, I would have told you that I have a knack for taking what I find and expressing it to other people. I also discovered early on that I can pretty comfortably address a large group of people, even numbering in the thousands. It came very natural to me and I was told that I was pretty good at it.

So I should be a preacher, right? Well, not so fast. As I look around, I find that what we call being a preacher doesn’t work for me at all. The popular version of the pastoral office flies right in the face of many of my most deeply held convictions about the priesthood of all believers, and about the need for the whole Body of Christ learning to function rather than a handful of specially certified people.

For another thing, I never got officially ordained. My childhood pastor, Frank Pollard, didn’t believe in ordaining people for ministry. He considered it the Holy Spirit’s job to do that, and it was the job of the local church to recognize it. Since he had been a seminary president and a mainstay on the Baptist Radio Hour, I figured I was on safe doctrinal ground listening to him about that. I’m comfortable not having a piece of paper to prove my calling (although I do have a seminary degree–does that count?).

All that aside, a calling remains. I have things wired into me that could be of great benefit to the Body of Christ. But I see no place in most churches where my gifting fits. Most places, it turns out, don’t respond very well to people “thinking deeply” about stuff. On the contrary, if you question enough things, you just disturb the status quo. Folks don’t appreciate that, it seems. It doesn’t matter how gently you do it, how nicely you put it, or how articulately you express what’s on your heart. Most seem to prefer what Brian McLaren once called “the massage of familiar words.”

Well-meaning people often advise that you should pick your passion and pursue it. They say you should find work that you would do for free and find a way to get paid for it. That’s a fine idea, really. I’d love to actually get paid for what I’m good at. But there’s hardly a place for what I’m good at in most churches, let alone an actual paycheck. I reconciled myself to that reality a long time ago, but I still have to make a living. So I teach high school. I don’t teach what I love because my real expertise is in Bible, and you can’t teach that in most public school settings. I have to support a family of six, and I can’t get by with a private school teacher’s salary. So I’ve had to learn to teach Math, History, English, and Science–four subjects about which I know just enough to “fake it.” As a school teacher, I’m mediocre because my passion lies in teaching stuff that nobody pays you for, or at least not enough to pay the bills.

In the end I feel ill-fitted for the kind of work I do. It probably doesn’t help that I’m also teaching a population of students whose cultural world doesn’t value school for anything other than providing social connections. In fact, many of the kids I teach only come to school in order to stay connected to their drug supply chain.

I could live with professional mediocrity a whole lot better if that were it. But it really eats at you after a while if your passion is the church, yet your church environment doesn’t value your gifting, either. Before long you, too, learn to devalue your gifting. That leaves you pretty deflated. It’s no wonder I’ve become so bad at accepting praise from other people (see my last post). I’ve fallen into the habit of thinking that people could only approve of me or my actions if they are either misinformed or delusional. That sounds more like an insecure teenager than a grown child of the King of Kings.

True happiness comes from being a blessing to other people, benefiting others by serving them according to your unique gifting. My problem these days is that I’m having a hard time finding, as Michael W. Smith once sang, “my place in this world.” I’m starving from a lack of opportunity to function in the Body of Christ according to the shape of my particular calling. There once was a time that I felt I was heading toward a fulfillment of my calling, but circumstances changed. It’s a long story, one that will have to wait for probably a long time. All you really need to know is that either God closed some doors on me really slowly, or else I just didn’t notice they were already closed until recently. Ultimately, I know that his hand is behind it, and now it falls to me to trust him in what he is doing. I hope I can hold on to that one responsibility.

All this introspection is meant to serve a useful purpose. As long as I can remind myself that God has his own reasons for putting me in all these circumstances which are so incongruous with how he wired me, then I can find comfort. I can try to take a deep breath and trust that God hasn’t shelved me permanently. Maybe I’ll be like a wine that gets better only after it’s had time to collect dust in a dark cellar somewhere for a long time. I only hope he sees fit to pop the cork and let me breathe once in a while :-)

Hide It Under a Bushel? NO!

November 5, 2009

diggingI’ve discovered that I have an addiction. I am addicted to self-criticism. As is often the case with addictions, it was not obvious to me, the addict. It became apparent first to someone close to me, and it didn’t demand my full attention until I discovered it was hurting someone else.

Some people think more highly of themselves than they should. I’ve never understood those people. I suffer from the opposite problem. I look at things God has put in me and I downplay them like they are of no value at all. My insightful wife explained to me yesterday how that dishonors God and ultimately robs others of the benefits that could have been theirs if not for this compulsive commitment to self-deprecation.

If you have ever tried to compliment me (or the book I wrote), you probably have no idea how quickly I dismantled your praise in my own mind moments later. Without your knowing it, I found multiple reasons to discount what you said, almost as fast as you could put it into words yourself. That’s sick, isn’t it? I’ve been doing this for a long time, but somehow I had never seen a legitimate reason to curb this compulsion because it seemed to serve a useful purpose for me. I figured it can’t be a bad thing for someone to keep their ego in check. And how embarrassing it is for someone to have his bubble burst after thinking he was “all that” only to discover he’s not! I’ll explain in the next post how this came to be, in case it could be helpful to someone else. But here’s what my wife helped me realize yesterday:

It does a kind of violence to God’s creation when you excessively disparage the good things about who you are and what you do. It dishonors him because it implies that he has done a bad job in making you who you are. I suppose that’s a failure to follow the first of the two greatest commandments: Love the Lord your God. Then again, it fails on the second one, too: Love your neighbor as yourself. When someone gives you something, it is rude and uncaring to immediately throw it away like it isn’t worth anything. I suppose a compliment is no different.

And maybe it goes deeper than that. When you repeatedly discount some skill a person has (including you yourself), he or she learns to bury it like the money that guy buried in the parable of the “talents.” That gifting could have brought life to people, but instead you stuck it in the ground. I think I’m in danger of doing the same thing myself.

To some degree, my circumstances have led me to this point. But I don’t imagine I’m free from responsibility here. There’s a strange self-gratification in being down on yourself. It ultimately keeps your attention on yourself, when you could be asking how you could be spending yourself and your gifts to benefit others. You prefer the safety of burial. If your gifts were to see the light of day, then you would risk the exposure of your all-too-sensitive ego. Someone could find a flaw in you that you missed yourself (how awful!). Or maybe you could become susceptible to pride, which, let’s face it, would totally ruin your perfect state of humility, wouldn’t it? I suppose even humility carries with it a kind of pride in being so humble. “At least I’m not like all those other cats who think they’re something.” Whoops.

Well anyway…For the next little while it looks as if I will need to take on a new discipline. I will be attempting to check my own tendency to dismantle the praise of others. I am going to try to see me the way other people are seeing me, even if that means admitting to myself that I did something right. How else will the good things ever be reinforced? If I denied my students all positive reinforcement, then how could I ever expect them to keep doing it right? I’ll have to learn to think the same way about myself. I’m no super human after all.

Perhaps God will be honored more by that, after all. So I’ll give it a shot.


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