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!!