Friday, October 18, 2013

Spiritual Consumerism

Years ago I read the book The Wild Man’s Journey by Richard Rohr. Rohr is a Catholic and the Wild Man’s Journey may be likened to Promise Keepers with a Catholic twist. This devotional article, which was shared with me by a good friend, was put on Rohr’s devotional web site. It immediately grabbed my attention.

For those of you reading this post who are Protestants, I’d ask that you set aside your preconceived notions about Catholics for a bit and consider this short article by Rohr. I want to remind you that it’s arrogant to believe that you can’t learn something from those who are of a different Christian tradition. I understand the Protestant reaction to much of Catholicism, but not everything that’s Catholic is bad. 

For my Catholic readers, consider what Rohr is saying to you! For many Catholics, faith in Christ is taking the sacraments and showing up to services twice a year. That’s not Christianity! Christianity is changing your mind about your sin (It’s ugly and damnable) and changing your mind about God (he’s glorious, loving, and beautiful) and accepting Christ’s free gift of salvation for nothing more than your faith (which is a reflection of your change of mind). Christ absorbs Gods just wrath for our sin, thus demonstrating Gods deep love for us. We are both saved by faith and grow spiritually by faith. 

For my secular friends, or for my friends who just don’t care about spiritual things, maybe its time to care. Consider taking what Jesus says seriously. It’s not as foolish as you may think. Ask yourself, is this true?! Because frankly, much of western culture is wrapped in consumer clothes, and Rohr sees through that! Enjoy!

Spiritual Capitalism by Richard Rohr

The phrase “spirituality of subtraction” was inspired by Meister Eckhart (c. 1260-1327), the medieval Dominican mystic. He said that the spiritual life has much more to do with subtraction than it does with addition. Yet I think most Christians today are involved in great part in a spirituality of addition, and in that, they are not really very traditional or conservative at all. 

The capitalist worldview is the only one most of us have ever known. We see reality, experiences, events, other people, and things—in fact, everything—as objects for our personal consumption. Even religion, Scripture, sacraments, worship services, and meritorious deeds become ways to advance ourselves—not necessarily ways to love God or neighbor.

The nature of the capitalist mind is that things (and often people!) are there for me. Finally, even God becomes an object for my consumption. Religion looks good on my resume, and anything deemed “spiritual” is a check on my private worthiness list. Some call it spiritual consumerism. It is not the Gospel.

Adapted from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations, p. 114

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Picture of Dorian Gray--A Review

I read this book in 2010 and wrote a blog on it that I never posted. I referred to it in a recent post and then realized I'd never put it on my blog. So here it is--three years late!   

I recently read the book The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. It’s a book set in 19th century England about a handsome young man whose good looks and persona inspire others to desire to be like him. For this reason, he can get whatever he wants, and he centers his existence around himself and his own pleasures. But in an odd twist of fate, Dorian Gray’s life takes a unique twist after an artist’s portrait captures his soul. So while on the outside, things look great: He’s energetic, creative, and appears youthful even as he ages; on the inside Dorian Gray’s soul begins to shrivel. And somehow little by little the painting mysteriously changes, revealing his self-absorbed and self-centered ugliness.

Fearful of being discovered for what he really is, Dorian Gray hides the painting in a room in his home to which he alone carries the key. Over the years he regularly visits the room and watches in horror as the painting, revealing the real Dorian Gray, becomes despicable, hideous, even grotesque. His withered soul was hidden from all but Dorian Gray himself, and it tormented him. The possibility that he would be revealed for what he really was, terrified him.

The Picture of Dorian Gray examines human nature through a modernistic lense. Several of the characters, including Dorian Gray himself, appear to take an objective view of life. Their perspective and emotion is tempered by their even keeled scientific method. But the sheer emotionally vacuous analysis of life events that, in the end, should pierce their souls does not. In the end, Dorian Gray lives out the Hedonism that his friends all wish they could but don’t or can’t. Ironically, those whose lives intersect closely with Dorian Gray end up devastated or destroyed. But none are as twisted and destroyed as Dorian himself. Without even knowing, it he destroys himself.

The book is worthwhile reading and made me wonder what realities there are about myself that can’t even be conveyed or even called blind spots because they are so hidden--not just from me but from others as well!  The moral seems to be: face what’s real, don’t hide it or it will destroy you. It did to Dorian Gray. 

Oscar Wildes must have been an interesting man. What secrets was he keeping about himself that he never revealed, yet in the end, destroyed him?

Philosophy and Culture

I’ve been reading philosophy lately. One of my physicians suggested I read a book by Jim Holt, Why Does theWorld Exist. Before you pick up a copy be warned. This is a tough read. I find reading Jonathan Edwards easier! (For those who don’t know, Edwards was an 18th century Puritan whose English is—shall we say—tough to understand) At any rate, Holt does a good job of addressing, in story form, a variety of philosophical themes including the existence of God, the meaning of moral virtue, the reason for existence (the key theme in the book), and perhaps even a smattering here and there of epistomology.

I’m not a philosopher but I’ve been struck during my sabbatical by the extent to which philosophy and culture effect our thinking. In some cases, without us even knowing it, much of what we thoughtlessly accept as common sense in society, from both Christian and distinctly non-Christian world views, are inextricably connected to philosophy and thought in our culture. We are simply parroting what our culture believes and may even do so while uncritically validating it (in some cases this seems to happen in some Christian psychology).

I’ve also finished reading the newest biography on Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas and was struck by the same thing. Barth and Bonhoeffer were both independent thinkers who fought the liberalism of the 19th century German theologian Schliermacher, etc. but who never got to the same thoeological orthodoxy that some in modern Evangelical America embrace. I’ve also read a short bio of Nietzche, as well which detailed all the ways his philosophy has entered a variety of disciplines in modern thought, to the extent that its become cultural wisdom. For example, the author suggested the idea that, The highest virtue is to be true to oneself as well as You can’t love someone else if you don’t love yourself both come out of Nietzche’s thought. [Of course, one must always be careful with these things. Because even though Nietzche disdained Christianity, when Nietzche and Jesus agree on anything, its probably true! But that’s a different post topic.]

Francis Schaeffer in his book Escape from Reason, describes how this seems to have happened by explaining this as a shift from Grace (The belief that the central theme of our western cultural worldview has to do with faith, God, the heavenlies, the invisible, etc) to Nature (The belief that the central theme of our cultural worldview has to do with the created, earth, the visible, etc). Our current national preoccupation with separating church from state is a product of this. At any rate, its been thought provoking and stimulating.

I think for me, the critical “take away” is awareness and responsibility. Will I be aware of what I’m automatically buying into and believing and search for its roots. And will I take responsibility to be as honest as I can with what I believe to be truth—especially when I preach, teach, or write. I’m writing all this to say that I think that we—that is all of us who are alive right now— are more influenced by our culture than we think. And for that reason, its critical to step back and ask, “Why do I think this way? Why do I  believe this way?” I for one believe that truth is certainly found in reason and science but that complete truth has its roots in revelation—all truth is Gods truth—that goes beyond reason and science. There is simply too much “truth” for even the greatest of minds to assimilate or discover. We need revelation and all of us, even those who disbelieve in God, seek that revelation from somewhere. I, for one, get mine from the Bible. I think that makes sense, more sense than from other sacred writings. Obviously a lot of people, maybe even most, will disagree with me, but I stand on the authority of the Hebrew and Greek scriptures. Otherwise solutions to our greatest problems become arbitrary.

Those are my musings now. More later.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

You Gotta Get Along

People just don’t know how to get along. I mean, really! People don’t know how to talk to each other, don’t know how to be civil. Take, for example, the most recent tool for contlict—email. Some of the email messages people send out in the name of "caring" are horrific. I can’t imagine what they are thinking when they send them. But they do. Here’s a list of things to do to learn to get along. I’ll admit this is somewhat moralistic and doesn’t connect to the reason behind the reason for the list, but that’s for another post. You do the following, you’ll be better able to get along—with anybody!

Don’t send complaints to people via email—EVER! You’ll be more likely to be nice in a phone conversation or face to face and you’ll probably get better results too.

When you find yourself upset, ask, “How did I contribute to this?” If you are really brave, ask someone who knows you well to help you understand. But count the cost. If you are married, your spouse will be more than happy to tell you. I guarantee it.

Listen well. Don’t assume you know whats going on. You probably don’t. In fact, repeat back to others what you hear them saying. Most of us love to talk and we’re lousy at listening. More often than not people need to be cared for, empathized with, and heard. This takes a lot of maturity because some of the conflict we experience has little to do with our actions towards another and a lot to do with their perspective.

Realize that your perspective is your perspective and that’s it. You have only a part of the truth of what happened. This is hard to communicate to those who think that “they are right.”

People really do bad things. You do bad things. So be careful to not be overly judgmental. Another thought along these lines would be that people do what they do for reason. Try to figure it out and you'll often solve the conflict. 

Hang on to yourself. By that I mean that even people of faith, who believe that they are created in the image of God, have a uniqueness to them that reflects that image differently from anyone else. Some conflict has to do with differences with reference to that uniqueness, that others cannot reconcile with, and will invariably attach moral attributes to. Be careful here. And don’t read behind the lines. I'm not trying to hide anything in this sentence. Keep this in mind: sameness doesn’t equal intimacy. Think about that for a while. It could change your life. The conflicts I’ve often seen in church are not so much over issues of morality, as issues of culture or difference or preference.

Submission doesn’t mean subservience. By that I mean that being submissive to authority doesn’t mean you’ll do what those in authority tell you to do all the time. For example, the boss or your husband or your wife doesn’t have the right to tell you to do something wrong. Its not submission, biblical or otherwise, to do evil in the name of resolving conflict. For that reason, sometimes truly solving a conflict feels like conflict. Which leads to another thought….

Disrupt the false peace. You read it right. There is a peace that is a false peace. That peace isn’t peace at all but conflict disquised as peace. Disrupt it. If you are at a restaurant with a group of people and you order $20 worth of food and others order $40 worth of food and someone comes up with the bright idea to “split the tabe equally” then say, “Nope. I’ll pay $20 and that’s that.” You’ll have disrupted the false peace and maybe even created an argument but you’ve resolved a conflict. There are miriads of these kinds of examples.

If you are uptight with someone, go talk to them. Don’t go talk to someone else unless that person is needed to help you gain perspective. To bring someone else into the conflict is called Triangulation and its death. Run from it.

When talking to others say something like this, “Help me to understand the reason you….” Then listen. Nine out of ten times the conflict will be resolved.

If that doesn’t resolve it then say, “I notice….. and I feel…..I’d prefer….. Then you let them respond. By putting things in the “I” you’ve taken away much of the ugly attack that comes when people say, “You did….” This is tough to do and demands maturity. Good luck.

If they won’t negotiate a solution, or even acknowledge a problem, and you are in authority, then you use your authority to address the issue. If you have no authority to address the issue further, avoid escalation by holding firm to the scerenity prayer, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Lots of conflict is rooted so deep in people’s lives and cannot be resolved apart from an act of God. I’ve come to accept this in recent years.

Much of this comes straight out of the Bible. But there is a lot of common sense things that people can do to make relationships work. The bottom line is this, because Jesus resolved our deepest conflict—the conflict we have with a holy God--those of us who are Christians can too. That’s the bottom line. But for everyone else, these simple guidelines (which are coming off the top of my head at this writing and which I’ll update on occasion) can work quite nicely. Peace!

The Mirror

I looked in the mirror the other day. It’s something I do pretty much every day. I’d run six miles and was pretty sweaty. Hair all over the place, sweat dripping down my forehead, shirt discolored around the neck and armpits; you know the look. You’ve had it too. But then I looked again--I looked old! Yeah! I mean, real old. “If this is what running is doing to me, maybe I should stop,” I thought.

My mind went back to the book by Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray. If you remember the story, Dorian Gray was a handsome young man who somehow found himself painted in a picture that captured not only his outer attractiveness, but his inner soul. Over time, while he retained his good looks, the picture became increasingly distorted. He kept it locked in a room to which there was only one key—a key he went to great lengths to guard. He didn’t want anyone to see the picture. On the outside, he seemed to never age regardless of the abuse he put his body through. The picture, on the other hand, not only aged but over time, grew grotesque. With each passing year, and each degrading action, the picture of Dorian Gray grew more and more ugly. I’ll not tell you the end of the story. But its really interesting.

Aging is a fact of life. So while my physique shrinks and becomes eventually becomes infirm, I hope my soul grows stronger. In fact, is it possible that in a room in some far off place there is a picture of Dave Miles under lock and key, that grows ever more handsome, ever more beautiful, ever more debonair as I become more and more like the One who is most beautiful? It’s the opposite of Dorian Gray! It’s described in some ancient literature, “…though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day…So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Song for Lya--A Review

Just finished reading A Song for Lya by George R. R. Martin. It’s a 1973 Sci-Fi book about a couple of para normals (I think that’s what we call them today) who can read others thoughts, feelings, and past histories. They are not “normal” to use their vocabulary and they know it. They are registered Talents. As such, they have the capacity for deeper relational intimacy than a Normal. That’s a key part of the book. Relational intimacy is a huge theme in this book. It was given to me by a friend.

The book’s plot is about a group of humans on the planet of Shkeen somewhere in the universe. The Shkeen’s however, have a unique feature to their culture. They all commit suicide before they are fifty by means of a religion the humans called The Cult of the Union. Every Shkeen is a member of it. There are no heretics. They are Joined to the religion at forty and go to Final Union before age fifty. Missing out on Final Union is considered tragic. Final Union is consummated by submitting oneself to a parasite like creature called The Greeshka which, in the end, consumes the willing participant. The consummation completed, the Shkeen are in union with each other and with the universe in general and receive a universal feeling of love, good will, and understanding. The human authorities don’t mind Shkeen religion but some of the humans on the planet are now joining the religion and passing into Final Union. They call in the Talents to figure out why. That’s when things get interesting. I’ll not tell you how the book ends.

The book is fascinating. Their definition of morality is particularly interesting as their sense of righteousness insists that they love everyone. But, as the author states, “…they can’t do it, they’re too human…They wind up [for example] in monogamous relationships, because a really deep sex-sharing with one person is better than a million shallow physical things, in their culture. The ideal Shkeen would sex-share with everyone, with each of the unions being just as deep, but they can’t achieve that ideal.” The book is also a study on sex, and frankly, its shallowness as viewed by the west (my interpretation).

This book tugs at what we all want—intimacy, love, being understood and understanding, caring for one another, being happy for what fulfills ourselves and “the other”. It’s a pretty good book. It taps deep into human desire. But like all other religions, the Shkeen religion (and the one I think the author is advocating) is radically different from Christianity. Even in its Sci-Fi backdrop, the author couldn’t create something uniquely different from religion in general. For one thing, in the end, Final Union leads only to pantheism, where you are simply part of a greater whole—a body of nothingness which is something dream like, and relational, and loving, and caring. Its awful is to miss out on that. It is dark, lonely, unfulfilling—almost like hell without the punishment and fire parts. Interestingly enough, hell is described as outer darkness in the New Testament (Jude 6).

There’s also no resolution for their “immorality” however they define it. There is no atonement, no forgiveness, no resolution for the problem of evil, no judgment of evil, no righting of wrongs done. They become what they want to become through the Greeshka—the parasitic organism with no ability to think or feel—but apart from being consumed by it, that union, and the freedom and love that comes with it, doesn’t occur. It’s submitting to the Greeshka’s consumption and parasitic growth—it gets bigger as it consumes Shkeens—that brings relational wholeness and love.

I liked the book. But here is where Christianity and Shkeen religion diverge. In Christianity sin is dealt with by someone else. Sin is what keeps us from being everything we can be. Sin robs us of the our freedom—in fact it enslaves. In the Shkeen religion sin is present but frankly, never really addressed. There is no final judgment or escape from sin, there is no righting of all wrongs by a just and fair judge, there is just deep darkness and loneliness when Final Union is missed. Again, as in any other religion, its dependent on what you do to gain Final Union, whereas in Christianity, our union with God isn’t accomplished by something we do but by what Christ has done for us on the cross. Instead of consuming us, God in the person of Jesus comes to be consumed. Instead of becoming part of God, we enter what theologians call union with Christ through Gods Spirit, and worship a God who is much bigger than we are. Instead of something we do to gain great joy the joy comes from something God does for us, and from who he is. The celebration isn’t rooted in us joining to each other in some great Union—the Greeshka doesn’t think or live or interact, it just eats. But in Christianity, we are joined relationally to a God who at his root is love. Ironically, that union in Christianity is celebrated by eating and drinking of Jesus flesh and blood—also known as the Lords Supper, the Eucharist, or Communion (1 Cor 11:23-26).

I found the book intriguing. But there was no solution to the universal problem of evil, no recognition of the Holiness of God, and no sense that God is anything personal. But the idea that we can know, be known, and loved beyond our wildest imagination is compelling which is why the author wrote the book. Isn’t that what we want? To be fully known and fully loved and to do so with others. Only through the person of Jesus Christ will that actually take place. There is a great article in the NY Times August 21, 2013 entitled A Pact to Make the Heart Grow Fonder in the Fashion and Style section. Its about a couple that spent a year testing their love for one another. The relationship ended for a variety of reasons but it was a compelling compliment to the book.

For the record, sex played a big part in the authors attempt to explain intimacy. And interestingly enough, it proved faulty and incomplete. It makes me sad because there is so much more to love than sex. By the way, this is not an erotic book!

Sabbatical--A Reflection

I’m on sabbatical. It’s a time of reflection, a time to rest and change the way I work. Its not a vacation. I hear people say to me, “Gee, I wish I had a sabbatical.” Maybe, perhaps, but maybe not. Sabbatical is work, but it’s not a vacation. I just work differently. It would be like transferring from one department to another for a short period of time or going back to school on paid leave for a while.  

At any rate, its an investment in my ministry, myself, and in my marriage. Fatigue, stress, and struggle can add up and create a cumulative effect of exhaustion. That’s where I’m at--tired. The kind of work and ministry I’m in has an edge to it. Typically in an interim situation, people don’t want you there. They are often glad you are there, but then they don’t really want you there. What they want is to get through the transition and back to the routine as quickly as possible. Transition, change, conflict, etc equals pain and we don’t like pain. That’s American Christianity for you! It’s a little unsettling but that is what it is. Today in the newspaper there was an article about the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt destroying churches in response to the military take over of the government. (See NY Times, August 21, 2013). Interim work in a place like Egypt would never work. The Coptic church is just glad to be alive and in existence. They deal with life and ministry at a totally different level. The pastors there will get their sabbatical and their reward in heaven! But for us in the west, to adequately do what is needed, Sabbatical is important.
I’m using my sabbatical to accomplish three things: (1) Rest and rejuvenate. My sabbatical adviser suggested I work five, six hour days a week and spend the evening relaxing and doing recreational activities—running, surfing, reading, hanging out with my wife and kids. Anything fun. (2) Personal formation—I have a coach and a study plan to grow in areas I want and need to grow in academically. I’m using the time to read a lot on the gospel, moralism, ministries of mercy, and biographies. I’m also reading some books for fun—just plain fun stuff. A little George MacDonald and others. (3) Spiritual formation—just being with God. I do this through silence and the plan is to spend a half day just in silent reflection every couple of weeks.
This is a good discipline. Today I go on vacation. Part of my sabbatical is to surf the hurricanes coming up the east coast—something I’ve not done for about three years. Part of it is to read some books that are more difficult like Jonathan Edwards Religious Affections or The History of Redemption. I’m enjoying that.
Meanwhile, my other team members are working at other churches or working at getting into other churches and covering for me while I’m on break. It’s all good.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Microphones I've Met

I do a lot of public speaking so I’ve spent a considerable amount of time getting wired for sound. Over the years I’ve had my share of wrestling matches with micro-phones. Some of the more memorable ones include:
Microphones that you need a Ph.D in to turn on. They hide the “on” button and the goal is to figure out where the blessed thing is. That’s why you see public speakers looking at the microphone like some inquisitive scientist. It tests your observational skills.
Microphones that the battery stops working-- regularly. There is no warning. They just stop working, usually when you need them to work the most. They go on, then off, then on, then off.
Microphones that go around the ear and around the front of your head. They are the size of a tooth pick and usually the cord goes down the “back” of your shirt with a clip to the collar. They always fall off me. One turn of the head and it’s off the ear and dangling down my back or shirt. Irritating!
Microphones that dangle around your neck like a noose, then you drag a cord behind you. My kids still talk about the day I had one of those on and inadvertantly stepped on the cord, tightening the noose around my neck, and choking me mid-sentence while trying to soberly make a deep theological point. Not good!
Microphones that just clip onto your shirt like a tie clip. Very simple and my favorite!
And the newest one, it goes around the back of your head and clips over the front of your ears and the microphone sticks down in front of your face sort of like a football helmet. My latest experience with that one warranted this post.
“We have a new kind of mic for you.” The sound guy told me. “Oh great,” I thought. “Here we go again.”

“New kinds of mic’s never work for me,” I said, “I’d prefer to use a clip on—like a tie clip,” I responded. The fact is, I have a small head, small ears, glasses, and not a ton of hair right there to hold them in place. One turn of the head and it inevitably falls off. But he was not to be outdone. “Dude (he was from the west coast), I know what you mean. But this one’s fool proof. You’ll love it. It slips behind your head and around the front of your ears.” He was maybe thirty-one and experienced. “Why not?!” I thought. “Lets give it a try.” The week before, I’d managed to get my clip on mic—after the service had started! But I got it. This week I would not have the same luck. 
Fifteen minutes before the worship service I tried it on. Just getting the cord down the back, not front, of my shirt was a five-ten minute ordeal—alone in the bathroom. It was a wrestling match with the battery pack dangling down like a plumb line. By that time, I was longing for my clip on, but it was not to be found. The service was ready to start by the time I’d come from wrestling with the Mic so there was no sound check and my spiritual life was a bit frayed but I was cool.

Things went from not so good to just plain not good when I got up to preach. After I started speaking, the head gear (which goes behind your head and then over the front of your ears like a reverse face mask on a football helmet) was too big so it slid down the back of my head, then the cord leading to the battery pack got stuck in my shirt—that was the issue that went unresolved in the bathroom—so when I turned my head the crazy thing jacked up and pushed on my glasses, so that the actual mic itself was closer to my eyes than my mouth and my glasses were closer to my eyebrows not my eyes. I speak out of my mouth—not my eyes. During the sermon I was repeatedly pulling the thing out of my shirt—which must have looked really professional—and it would just slip back down again, feel weird, jack up my glasses, then I’d go through the whole giration again. By the third service I finally figured out how it worked and then understood why the guy in charge of sound said I’d love it. But it was a journey.
I still prefer a clip on!!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

I Turned One Today

On March 27 our third grandchild, Aurelia, turned 1. Check out the video. She had two extravagant parties that weekend, one on Saturday, the other on Sunday which was a family affair. She was dressed in a lady bug costume and seemed to revel in all the attention being paid to her. Honestly, the party wasn’t for her. She was clueless. It was for adults, for parents of young children who will soon have their child’s first birthday—and who may compete for a better “1st birthday” party with other parents—or for young couples without children who naively say to themselves, “Awww, isn’t she cute?! I want a baby.” Then they get pregnant, and if you have kids you know the rest of the story. They are easy to acquire but expensive and exhausting to raise. At any rate, it made me think about aging. Richard Rohr, in a book entitled The Wild Man’s Journey, comments on aging when he wisely challenges young men to remember the following scenario when considering their lives:

Life is hard
You are going to die
You are not all that important
You are not in control
Your life is not about you

Pretty blunt stuff, eh?! The prevailing wisdom of the day is different. Life is ascent. You must climb higher and higher, make more money, achieve greater success, stay at the top, win. But the hard realities of time can create aged cynics, bitter old men and women, who refuse to accept life’s paradoxes and mysteries. Rohr challenges his readers to consider becoming what he calls wise fools. I think he calls it a spirituality of descent. You grow wise not by ascending to the heights of human achievement but by embracing and descending into the low realities of life.

These are sobering thoughts. As I reflect on being 1 its reminded me of the sobriety of life and even the reality of death. Aurelia’s just starting. My mom’s 90 and close to the finish line. I’m 56 at this posting. I’d rather be a wise fool than a cynic any day!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

You Have a Torn Labrum

2009 Boston Marathon--Time: 2:57:06
“You have a torn labram. The MRI says you have a torn labrum in your right hip." 

 “Spell it,” I said cryptically. The voice on the other end of the phone was my friend and physician. I trust him but the connection was bad and I wanted to get it right. “L-a-b-r-u-m. Labrum.” He said. “It’s called a labral tear.” I paused, thanked him for the news and ran up to my computer to Google “labrum.” It’s the cartilage in the hip. Somehow I ripped mine. Its not an irreparable injury. Frankly, physical therapy and maybe easy surgery will correct it. Its not badly torn—at least I don’t think so. But its torn and it took me out of the Boston Marathon. It would have been my 9th in a row. My friends shake their heads and say, “Overuse! You train too hard.” Maybe. Or maybe not. I like to be focused and running hard—and surfing in the winter—forces me to do that. I want to read a lot and work my body hard because it forces me to have physical and mental integrity—something people seem to lose as they get older. But its disappointing. Truth is, I’ll probably trot the first 3.1 miles and, after crossing the 5K line, stop. Jan will pick me up. We’ll drive to mile 21 and I will watch the rest of the race with her as a spectator. A family friend from Seattle will be with us. Her son is trying to break 2:30! He’s one fast dude.

I enjoy running the Boston Marathon more than any other race. In fact, if I could just run one race a year, I’d choose Boston. The leaves aren’t out yet and there is a freshness in the air that’s unusual. Running through beautiful New England towns is exhilarating. Its honestly delightful. For me, it brings me into the presence of God. Beauty and loveliness should do that. They are pointers to God. “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty” (Ps 84:1) says the Psalmist. He’s referring to the temple described in the Hebrew Scriptures, but as a follower of Jesus, that loveliness is seen in Gods common grace reflected in sights and smells of nature, people, and activity. An ocean wave that crashes, wind that blows the trees, a good meal, laughter, fun, even running 26.2 miles can be worship when centered on a creative God who gives hints of his glory in the joy of living. More than that, it even points to the sacrifice of Christ in the cross—a very ugly thing in a very beautiful world.

I’m grieving the loss of this race. But the disappointment is a reminder that life’s short, we are broken, and yet God is good. He does what he does for his glory and our good. "No good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless" (Ps 84:11). Hard to accept that isn’t it?! Hard to understand, isn’t it?! Think about it. What's it mean?

A torn labrum is a minor inconvenience, that I suppose could turn into a major problem. But that’s a very temporal problem. I’ll probably heal up and I’ve already qualified for the 2014 Boston Marathon thanks to running Yonkers and Athens in the fall of 2012. If you think about poverty, racism, school shootings, and war—all major reminders of a broken world—an injury that’s unintentionally self inflicted is pretty minor. But it sure can seem big when life in the greater scheme of things is forgotten. Sin is ugly. Life is short. People are small. God is big! There is a solution to the evil in this world. If you mix that all up and are either forgetful, or incognizant, of the solution, life becomes very dark."No good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless!" Whose walk is blameless? How do we become blameless? Think about it!

Addendum: I ran the first four miles then dropped out. The issue seems to be more an abdominal hernia than a torn labrum. At any rate, it has all paled when considering what happened at the finish line with the bombings. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Les Miserables--the Movie

I went to see Les Miserables New Year’s eve night with Jan. Great movie. It was riveting. I’ve seen the play twice but the visuals that are available in the realm of film were powerful. The singing was pretty good. Even Russell Crowe sang fairly well.

The whole theme of redemption was very evident in the movie. I’m not saying that this was a theologically accurate film. I’m not saying the writers and musicians were making a theological statement. But the contrast between legalism (Inspecter Javert) and license (those manning the barricades and others in the culture) and the balance of Jean Valjean who experienced grace and forgiveness is striking. At one point he notes, that the life prior to his conversion was dead. It’s a great movie. Go see it.

Newtown—The Anatomy of Response

Mike Hucabee may have been smarter to say nothing after the masacres at Newtown, CT a few weeks ago. The former Governor of Arkansas was asked, “Where’s God? in all this.” His response: “…for fifty years we’ve systematically attempted to have God removed from our schools and public activities but the moment we have a calamity we wonder where he was.” Apparently some of the responses to his comments were less than kind, particularly by those from the left.

In response to the responses Huckabee said something to the effect that we’ve escorted God out of our culture and marched him off the public square, then we express our surprise that a culture without him, actually reflects what its become. Honest truth, in his response to the responses he actually made a pretty good case for some of the social ills of our society. There are certainly natural consequences for turning our backs on God. St. Paul says essentially the same thing in Romans 1. But the timing of his comments, and the way they were made, were probably unhelpful. James Dobson did essentially the same thing not long after, but his were even more severe. There’s a great post called The Callous Theology of James Dobson by Peter Wehner that does an excellent job of exposing some of the problems with what some Conservative Christians do when they attempt to find some deep theological explanation for the evil we witness in places like Newtown. Maybe I’ll include it in another post subsequent to this one. But this is very real to me because the church I’m currently pastoring as in interim is twenty minutes from Newtown, CT. Some of our congregants knew one of the victims—a little boy. It breaks my heart.

Here’s a thought: Maybe Huckabee and Dobson should just not say anything when things like the tragedy in Newtown happen. I think that probably would be a good idea. Scripture says, “Weep with those who weep…” (Rom 12:15). In other words, there is a time to weep and when its time to do that, you do that. Throwing peoples problems or pain back in their face in the middle of their grief, even if the problem is their own (which in the case of Newtown, you can’t say that it is) doesn’t usually help. Its like smacking your head on a short doorway because you didn’t duck—something I’ve done far too often in my life in spite of my limited stature. It’s my fault for not ducking, but in the middle of my pain I don’t need someone saying to me, “You idiot! Why didn’t you duck?!” I need, “Wow, that hurts. Sorry.”

Furthermore, the Mike Huckabee’s and the James Dobson’s of the world are in danger of being just like Job’s three friends. Job experiences great tragedy and his three friends, if you want to call them that, jump to the conclusion that he’s not right with God. In fact, the opposite was true and in the end, they were rebuked by God himself for their poor theology. Read the story! Job never found out why he suffered. Then again in Luke 13 a tower falls and kills eighteen people. Some people ask Jesus about it. He says, “Do you think these guys are worse sinners because of this? I say, no. But unless you repent, you too will perish.” In other words, there is an evil in our world that will touch every one of us. We can’t get away from it. It’s original sin and the problem of the curse. You can’t blame this entirely on a culture that has turned its back on God. You can’t connect the dots like that.

To blame the Newtown killings, Hurricane Sandy, the 9/11 attacks or any other tragedy on our national sin can’t be validated. This is particularly true since it assumes certain sins are far worse than others: homosexuality and abortion are the sins of choice today for those of us on the religious right (which I guess would include me). We don’t seem to think that the racism and slavery that plagued the south for hundreds of years, and other national attrocities committed over the life of this country seem to matter. Given the reasoning of some today, maybe we should say the attacks on Pearl Harbor were retribution for centuries of racism or something else. Hey, why not? There’s enough evil in our national treasure chest of history to warrant that explanation.

I’m not saying that the trajectory of our country is the way I’d like it. It bugs me that God is not welcomed in the public square. But I’m equally bugged that people on the right and also on the left seem to so effortlessly connect the dots and provide us the definitive reasons why these things happen. I realize that the social commentators of the day feel the need to respond and explain things. I know that they are bugged, perplexed, and saddened so they are trying to make sense of it all. But its curious to me that in this case they seem to blame either the social inadequacies of current gun control legislation (usually those on the left) or the personal moral failure of individuals, or the nation (usually those on the right). And while both make a good point--government exists to protect its citizens so we need legislation that protects us and its citizens must act virtuously in order for society to function well--neither of these responses solves the real issue. Neither of them seem to adequately consider original sin or the darkness of the human heart. My point is that the problems not going to be resolved simply by legislating or moralizing!

Christmas is about Gods solution: God comes in the person of Jesus Christ, innocent and small as an act of divine love only to grow up still innocent, and yet be nailed to a cross as an act of divine justice. The empty tomb is the proof that love and justice have met and been reconciled. The incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the demonstration that God is infintely loving and infinitely just.

The Newtown massacre is heartbreaking. But as a member of the Christian community, I wish those from the right would stop feeling the need to explain things by blaming these kinds of tragedies on our national sin. I really don’t see how that can be proven and I don’t see that its even biblical. It just makes people mad and solidifies the caricature that Christians are moral snobs out of touch with reality.

Screw Tape Letters—The Play

I went and saw CS Lewis play The Screw Tape Letters Friday (Nov 18) with some friends. It was in Manhattan for a short showing. The play, a recreation in dramatic form of Lewis’s classic book written in 1941, was well presented.

Lewis book, and consequently the play, draws out several key things: the focus on pleasure, the little sins like pride, that actually send us to hell. The book is not intending to produce a theology of hell or the demonic. But it causes one to think about ones own behavior and how easily it is to fall into that.

The actor—Max McClean—became a Christian in college. He is now working on a play from one of my all time favorite books, The Great Divorce, which is about a bus ride to heaven from hell. Lewis isn’t trying to create a theology of hell. So if you read the book, remember it’s a story. But I’d suggest reading both books and if its ever back again, go see the play.

Athens Marathon

“Nike!” he yelled. He then dropped dead.

The legend of Phidippedes has it that after victory in the plains of Marathon, the said runner ran approximately 25 miles to Athens to announce the victory. His announcement was his last.

Last week (Nov 11) I ran the Athens marathon with several friends. There is a book on WW2 called The Longest Day. Its on the D-Day invasion of Europe. At the Athens marathon I ran into The Longest Hill. At the top, my legs died. They totally rebelled and said, “Uh, you are not doing this to us any longer.” The legs gave way at mile 20—something unusual for me. But the experience was great. I’d do it again. I got food poisoning before the trip to Europe. Ate at the wrong place at Kennedy Airport!

I fell in love with the Greeks. I think I’ll adopt the Greek family I stayed with as my own. They were wonderful. 

(I write these posts then forget or just fail to put them up so I'm doing it all on one day)