Monday, July 20, 2009

Welcome Baby Christopher

Baby Christopher, grandchild # 2, came July 3 at 3:09 a.m. He was a bit of a surprise—about four weeks early. But we are thrilled that he’s with us and more than happy to have him around. He stopped breathing for a bit when he was first born. This was tough for the parents as a phalanx of medical professionals circled this little 6 pound boy and rushed the parents out of the room. Terrifying!

But he began breathing again and with that precious gift of breath he has filled our hearts with joy—and noise (which for now is more like a squeak). Forever, Christopher will be associated with breath and voice and words and glorious noise! I’m all for silence, but it is no accident that Jesus is called The Word (words that are seen and heard and not just read). It’s no accident that God spoke and creation erupted—out of nothing. Its not accident that the Spirit of God is described as a rushing wind in the book of Acts. There’s power in voice and breath and wind and air and words.

Baby Christopher reminds me of that power. He’s a gift from God and we celebrate his new life.

Book Review—Man Alive by G. K. Chesterton

I just finished reading the book, Man Alive. What a great book. The book is about one man, a guy named Innocent Smith, whose love for life prompts him to shoot at people (he’s an expert marksman and always seems to miss), remarry his wife over and over again, break into his own house, and pretty much shake up everyone he comes in contact with by his often bizarre behavior.

Smith’s unique journey to live life for all its worth begins in a college class where he is introduced to a nihilistic worldview. Coming to the end of himself, he would rather die than live a meaningless life. In a confrontation with his college professor he discovers, and to his amazement so does his professor, that life has meaning. It is worth living. He desires to be fully alive—thus the title of the book, “Man Alive.” Smith also helps others either embrace life or die. At one point, when confronting the reality that some people who live are, in fact, dead, Chesterton has one of his characters note, “We’ve been sitting with a ghost. ‘Blank’ (fill in the name by reading the story) died years ago.”

Chesterton is a Catholic and is known for his pithy sayings. Apparently years ago when a local newspaper posed the question, “What is wrong with the world?” Chesterton wrote a brief letter in response: “Dear Sirs: I am. Sincerely yours. G. K. Chesterton.” I can read a book written by a guy like that! The book has many of these kinds of sayings in it. At one point he has one of his characters note, “Marriage is a duel to the death which no man of honour should decline.” I have found this to be often true! Another Chesterton quote from the book, "I refuse to die while I am still alive."

The story unpacks Chesterton’s worldview but it’s not a religious work. A thoughtful reading of the book will challenge one’s thinking. Are any of us really desperately alive or do we just go through the motions of living, going to school, going to work, getting married, having kids, etc? The end of the book explains Smith’s often bizarre behavior with a humorous twist. I highly recommend it but it’s written in the early 20th century and Chesterton is British so his English is a bit tough but its worth it.

Why I Don’t Like Religion Part 2

I recently read Tim Kellers book, The Prodigal God. It came out last November. I got it then and read it in a little more than an hour. Keller is a master Christian apologist. He’s really amazing. In my mind, he’s the C.S. Lewis of the 21st century.

The book is a practical explanation of the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32. Actually, the story should be called the parable of the prodigal brothers. The younger son is highlighted by most of those who read it but it’s really about two brothers who are equally lost and one brother, the younger one, who is eventually found and ends up home celebrating with his family. The story ends without climax. No one really knows what happens to the older brother because the older brother (Mr. Grumpy) won’t go to the party and celebrate his brother’s return.

The purpose of this post is not to explain the parable or even comment on it but rather to share a quote from Keller’s book that highlights why I don’t like religion. In the parable the older brother represents the religious people and yet he is grumpy, blaming, disrespectful, unhappy, self-absorbed, self-righteous, and frankly, not a lot of fun. Keller, commenting on this virtually captures my thinking when he notes, “There are many people today who have abandoned any kind of religious faith because they see clearly that the major religions are simply full of elder brothers. They have come to the conclusion that religion is one of the greatest sources of misery and strife in the world. And guess what? Jesus says through this parable—they are right. The anger and superiority of elder brothers, all growing out of insecurity, fear, and inner emptiness, can create a huge body of guilt-ridden, spiritually blind people, which is one of the greatest sources of social injustice, war, and violence. (pg. 67)

I hate to admit this, but I think that there have been times in my life when I was an “older brother.” I didn’t want to be but didn’t know anything different at the time because that’s the way things were. But I am different now--I hope. Last Saturday I had a conversation with a self described atheist who essentially said the same thing as Keller. Religion is ugly. Really! But the gospel is very different from religion. Maybe in a future post I’ll explain why.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Stop (or at least temper) the Outrage

The letter was colorful, well done, and poignant. “Stop the Madness” it read boldly on the front. A picture of one of our elected officials—the one whose policies they wanted to stop—was artfully drawn on the outside of the envelope. I must admit, while I’ll not expose the source of the letter or its content, it got my attention. But there’s one thing more I’d like to stop, and that is the obnoxious tendency of pundits, government officials, left and right wing politicians, radio talk show hosts, the religious and non religions right, the non-religious and religious left, and general American Citizenry all over from using bombastic terminology to describe everything they don’t like other people doing or believing or saying or supporting. It’s nauseating.

We have dumbed down the term and made it meaningless. I’ve considered collecting a list of those things people are outraged at. It’s taken what’s truly outrageous and made it what? Outrageous? I don’t know anymore. But in our attempt to promote our opinions on everything from high cholesterol in MacDonald’s food to Abortion, we’ve labeled anything, or anybody, we don’t like as outrageous or insane or catastrophic or whatever.

Get over it. There are some things that are truly outrageous. Really!! I mean that. But when we use the term to describe anything we don’t like someone else doing or believing then we’ve lost the meaning of the word and with it, the emotional energy and personal will to actually do something about it.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Slowing Down and Creating Space

I ran across this at a conference I recently attended. Slowing down, creating space for God, friends, life, leisure, is always a challenge. The poem is metaphor for the need we all have to create that sacred space.

By Sam Intrator and Megan Scribner in
Teaching with Fire: Poetry That Sustains Courage to Teach

What makes a fire burn
is space between the logs
a breathing space,
too much of a good thing,
too many logs
packed in too tight
can douse the flames
almost as surely
as a pail of water

So building fires
requires attention
to the spaces in between
as much as to the wood

When we are able
to build open spaces
in the same way
we have learned
to pile on logs
then we come to see how
it is fuel, and the absence of fuel
together, that makes fire possible

we only need to lay a log
lightly from time to time
a fire
simply because the space is there
with opening
in which the flames
that know just how it wants to burn
can find its way

Friday, April 10, 2009

Easter as First Degree Murder

This week, Christians all over the world will celebrate a murder. As a matter of fact, if you want to get specific, it was a murder, a betrayal, and pretty much a lynching fueled by a bunch of self-righteous religious prigs. Thomas Merton, writing about this lynching, says that Jesus was put to death on the cross because he did not measure up to man’s conception of his holiness. I think that’s profound. Most people in my tradition will be quick to note that it was we, humankind, who really murdered Jesus. The religious and political leaders were really accessories to the crime, a crime that was first committed in a park years earlier by the first man and woman. But the murder, with its corresponding resurrection, after a short stint in the morgue, was way more than a simple homicide. It was one act in the drama of redemption where God rescues and restores his creation after things go terribly wrong.

Why did Jesus have to die? Why couldn’t God just forgive? Why the big deal about the cross? It’s really not that complex. Lets say I wreck your car. You can force me to pay for it or you can forgive me, which means you end up paying for it. Any way you cut it, someone pays! That’s life. Now, in Christianity, our offenses against God are of horrific proportions. They are way more than just wrecking his car—though I suspect he’d not like that either. These sins, as they are called, are so offensive that we are considered “hostiles” or “enemies.” In fact, by our actions, we’ve declared war on God and God declares it back! Therefore, someone is going to have to pay. Either God pays or we pay!

And because God is both infinitely loving and infinitely just, he chooses to pay for us. (He can’t be loving without being just because it would be unloving to be unjust.) So God enters our world in the person of Jesus and by his exemplary life and sacrificial death, he shows us both how to live and saves us from how we lived. Because he pays the cost of our indiscretions we don’t have to. And by his resurrection he proves that he is God and promises us what’s to come. This payment is received by faith as it would be if I wrecked your car and you chose to pay the damages. He saves us from our self-condemnation and from our self-righteousness. This has profound implications too broad for this post.

I realize that this message is not popular today. I also realize that there is an entire segment of “Christianity” that pays little attention to the propitiatory (Oooo—big word!) element of this and focuses primarily on Jesus as a good example. But that misses the point. Ghandi was a good example. Jesus claimed to be God. At any rate, it’s the reason a significant segment of the worlds population will celebrate a murder. I start celebrating Sunday.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Burp Castle--a review

I visited a local pub with my daughter not long ago. It’s called the Burp Castle. It’s in the East Village so just going down there is like going to a circus. It claims to be the Temple of Beer worship. Now, I’m not a big beer guy but this place is fun. The tenor of the place is quiet so you can actually talk. When it gets too loud the bar dude (or dudette) says, “SHHHHHHH” and the place actually quiets down. There’s a picture of Jesus on the wall with grains and hops in his right hand instead of the Word of God or a sword like he’s described with in the New Testament. I’m not sure I like that, but I understand what they are trying to do.

Frankly, it’s the kind of place I think Jesus would have spent some time in, though I’m not sure he would have appreciated the way they pictured him on the wall. He looks kind of wimpy and way too religious with angel sort of things around him celebrating the grain and all. But it is sort of normal to bring Jesus down to our level these days. He’s easier to manage that way! People want to manage Jesus instead of letting him manage and take leadership over their lives. But there I go—getting all spiritual and stuff. I can only imagine how the New Testament writers would have written about this image, “And out of his mouth came grain and…” Not an overpowering picture of the guy who claimed to be God! Instead of riding on a horse, like it says in the Bible, he’d have to be riding on a combine! That kind of Jesus is a little too small for me and certainly not in line with what the New Testament says. Matter of fact, its that kind of wimpy Jesus that turns me off to religion. That’s not the real Jesus. You can’t control the real Jesus. But that’s another story.

It’s a fun experience if you want to be with people. If you don’t like people, don’t go there. The place is always crowded!!! They don’t serve food just high quality Ales and a good atmosphere. It’s small and you can easily walk by it. The address is 41 East 7th St., New York, New York. Enjoy! It may even be a good place to talk about Jesus!