Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Tusen Tuck (I have no idea how to spell that)

Everyday I have to drive to Littleton to drop off Lydia and go to the seminary for work and to a coffee shop* for my thesis. This means that I see SUVs galore. Billions of SUVs. The only people who don't drive SUVs are some people who appear to be my age and high schoolers. I hate SUVs so bad. Times a hundred. So bad X a hundred = more than most things. I especially hate the giant long ones. Chevy Suburbans are probably my number one. Arg.

In the midst of all these houses on wheels, it got me thinking, we should only be allowed to have reasonable cars. That then led me to think, we are allowed to get these "cars" because of freedom. This then led to thinking about the free will God gives us. He is really nice and trusting, because SUVs show that when we are allowed to make a free choice, we almost always botch it up. We make the worst decisions. With the array of vehicles out there we pick giant beasts that destroy the environment and give us an invicibility complex (in case you're wondering, yes I am speaking metaphorically now, but also literally). We could be responsible, but we waste our money and the earth's resources to have an ugly piece of garbage larger than the first space shuttles. So thousand thanks to God for free will, because I'm pretty sure you knew we would abuse it and make stupid self-destructive decisions. That is not meant to be sarcastic. I'm saying God is amazing to love and trust us so much for the possibility of us making good decisions, even though he "knows" we won't.

This also made me think of a classic I keep coming back to. I get super-judgmental of SUV-owners and think, I'm glad I don't use all the gas they use. But then, my car does still use gas. And, not often, but sometimes I drive at higher rpms to get better acceleration, which is a major gas-burner. This points to the bigger issue of me constantly comparing myself to other people. Like with my thesis, I have slacked off too much, but I have a friend who has slacked off more, so I feel alright about it. But I have another friend who was dedicated and is graduating on time. Then I feel not alright about myself. This is sort of a silly example, but I do this with all kinds of stuff. I feel a burden to help the marginalized in my city, so I do a little to help. But I feel good about it when I compare myself to a bunch of my friends who don't do anything. But then I feel bad when I compare myself to my friends who do way more than me. So I think my canon should be Jesus, but then I get to feel bad 100% of the time. I guess that's why grace is so excellent. And I guess this means I just need to buy a trailer for my bike so Lydia can ride in there and I can start biking again. There's a good american solution...buy something to fix the problem.

*Side note - While I was typing this, I accidentally typed coffee ship. That would be awesome. Not a boat, because we already have those. But a coffee space ship. You could fly up and hang out with coffee and other people who like coffee. Bring along a few books to read. My favorite coffee shop days are rainy, but maybe I would like space days better. I don't know, actually I would probably take rain over space.

Time to Bed Down

Because Trevor is leaving in less than a week, we are trying to hang out as much as humanly possible. The factors that effect this include but are not limited to, Trevor has to pack, our children, our wives, our jobs (well, my job. Trevor doesn't have to work to get paid anymore), my thesis, sleep, both of us being sick.

Regardless, last night we managed to squeeze about 1.5 hours in. In this time, we got in two games of the Settlers of Catan. Here I do not mean to gloat. Rather, I think it is very important to make the results known for the sake of information sharing. Having said that...

I Dominated Catan. Catan was settled twice by me. The first game was a pretty straightforward, methodical destruction of Trevor's hopes and dreams of being able to lay down roots for the generations to come in Catan. Instead, they will have to work as hired hands under the reign of Count Ryan. Fortunately for them, I still believe in the Kingdom of God's current presence on earth, so I will serve them as their master. That's how it works. So really, I guess it's better for Trevor's descendants than mine. But mine will find themselves becoming more whole as they submit themselves to Trevor's offspring. And all of this does not negate the land I dominated. I will keep that. But I will be happy to let Trevor and his family travel along my longest road.

The second game was quite different. On every six, Trevor got a brick and a wood, i.e. a road. Needless to say, I did not even attempt the longest road. Plus, he got the road building d. card. As much as it hurt my soul, I was set up to buy many D. card, 5 out of 6 of which were soldiers. This made me uncomfortable, but I decided that as the leader of the soldiers, I could train them to convince the thief to leave by serving him and talking to him in a loving manner, leading him to the recognition that Trevor's part of Catan was a better place for him to live. In this way, I had the largest army, but we were the first non-violent army in Catan. In the midst of Trevor's crazy road building, I lay in wait like a tree viper, keeping perfectly still for three days in order to lay waste to an unsuspecting otter. And Trevor the Otter was laid waste. However, I snuck up and only won by one point.

All in all, a good time was had and everyone is welcome to come visit Catan whenever they like. Since I own most of it, you can stay wherever you like. I recommend sheep-land, because it reminds me of New Zealand, which is a nice place. The only down side is, you'll have to get your own transportation to the island, because I do not have the Seafarers expansion pack.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut

Yesterday, one of the greatest literary minds of our time died. I don't know what I can say that would possibly give appropriate tribute to Kurt Vonnegut. That is why this post is largely fragmented thoughts in no particular order (I think Vonnegut would have liked it that way). I am glad that he was able to enjoy some of the recognition he deserved in his lifetime, an experience many of the greatest authors do not get to have. Perhaps it is wishful thinking, but I think that we grasp only a fraction of the power and influence Vonnegut will have that will trickle down through the generations. As part of a literary movement that redeemed the 20th century, Vonnegut's voice was truly unique. Even though we will miss him, he's probably in heaven right now, finally getting the answers he needed his whole life to the savagery of war and life on this planet that gave him what he needed to become a genius. And once he gets those answers, I'm sure he'll give God a hard time about the platypus. It is amazing that he lived as long as he did, given his insane amount of smoking. For this reason, I believe God sustained him to continue writing. 84 years are a lot for a man with his habits and suicidal depression. In his honor, I have made an exception to my rule of the blog image being unrelated to the content. Please share your favorite work of his and why.

Mine is Player Piano. Chuck Palahniuk has said that no author's first work is worth reading (a rule he is also the exception to). Vonnegut slides past such a maxim with ease and grace. Player Piano sets the foundation of themes that Vonnegut returned to his whole life. Yet he was never sedentary or redundant. He did break his own rule of writing (no suspense), but he can hardly be blamed with the resultant Player Piano.

I seriously will miss you, Kurt. But you live on in our hearts, and your works make you an immortal voice in our world. Thank you, and God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut.

Strawberry Jam

Lately I've been praying a little more, which is by no means bragging. I'm talking about praying once a day instead of once a week. I really suck at prayer, which is sad because my theology makes prayer insanely important. Regardless, this has led to a few thoughts on prayer that I will now share.

1. It is hard to pray when you're really into theology. I find myself all the time when I'm praying thinking things like, "wait, I just prayed for something that I don't believe God would do" or things like that. Half the time I find myself analyzing anything I am going to say to make sure it lines up with what I believe about God. I think this is something I am going to try to stop doing. I don't want to pray in ignorance, but I also want my praying to be more natural. This leads to the next thought.

2. I have been taking Lydia to the people who take care of her during the day (our pals Angie and Chris, Big Up Yourselves). I hear it's good to talk to babies, so I often carry on conversations with Lydia in the car. I realized the other day that the feeling I have while I am talking to Lydia is the same as when I am talking to God...namely that I am carrying on a conversation with myself because I am talking to a being that can't respond to me. Let me be clear, I DO NOT believe that this is how it actually is with God. Instead, this is how it feels. These are the only two relationships in my life where I do not hear any audible response from the person I am talking to. I think that's why prayer is so hard for me. I'm not very ethereal.

3. A few weeks ago we were praying (Erika, Lydia and I) and many times I feel like I systematically think through what I need to thank God for and what I need to ask Him for and all that (the asking part is about other people, I'm not sure how I feel about praying for ourselves, at least about certain things, see number 1) and then I wrap it up and call it a night. Erika was praying and at the time she was feeling overwhelmed by life and feeling some ground-level aspects of depression. As she was asking God for help with this she started weeping. Then I started crying because I thought, here is God's daughter crying desperately before Him for comfort while I emotionlessly go through my list of stuff to talk to God about. I want to be more like Erika, laying bare my heart and soul before the God who loves me more than I know. I had this amazing image of God telling Erika that his heart was broken for her.

Those are my thoughts. Read it and weep.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

What a Weird Forest

Approximately one month ago, I read a book entitled God's Rivals by Gerals McDermott. This was a great time, because in many ways McDermott eloquently and researchfully (yeah I made it up...do something about it) explained what I think I have believed for a long time about other religions. In brief, he argues that there is truth in other religions, but it is only a part of the whole truth that we find in Christ. While the subtitle (Why has God allowed other religions?) betrays his Calvinism, the content of the book is extremely worthwhile.

All of that is to say that I have been thinking more about the presence of some truth in other religions over the last month. Consequently, I wonder if sometimes our poor interpretation of truth in Christianity leads to other religions having contributions to Christianity from time to time. In the midst of all this thinking, I am doing research on the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. Let me paint a little picture for you.

In the average Jewish mind, probably because of the success of the Macabbean Revolt and the subsequent "Pax Romana," the Messiah had come to take on an extremely political bent. The pharisees (who represented the masses) typically hoped for a Messiah who would come overthrow Rome and take over the world in a glorious age for the Israelites. This did not characterize all pharisees, as there was about as much diversity of belief as there currently is among evangelicals. However, this was popular opinion.

In the average Samaritan mind, there was a very different Messianic expectation. Please remember that to most Jews, Samaritans were worse than normal Gentiles because they were half-breeds worshipping a perverted version of Yahweh conflated with other regional from Northern Assyria. The Samaritans only accepted the Pentateuch as Scripture, so here is their expectation. The Samaritans expected a Messiah called Taheb. Taheb was not a political Messiah, but a teacher. This is why the Samaritan woman says "I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will proclaim (or explain) all things to us." In addition, their expectation was that Taheb would be like Moses, leading them to redemption.

Which version of Messiah sounds more like Jesus? Yet this is not meant to throw Judaism out the window. The author of John has Jesus saying (probably not authentic), "salvation is from the Jews." So Israel is still great and chosen here, but they got their Messianic hopes wrong. Therefore, the Samaritans had a picture of Messiah that was closer to the truth, even the truth still came through God's chosen people, the Jews.

Now fast forward approximately 1910 years (from the writing of John, not from Jesus' encounter with the woman), and what does this tell us? Perhaps we have sweet things to learn from other religions. This is not to say that other religions contain more truth. Instead, when people from other cultures (including religions) approach similar things to Christianity, perhaps we can learn from their perspective on it. For example, research has shown that the meditation practices of some buddhist monks make them more compassionate and empathetic than people from any other religion (I don't know how you research this...Giles believes the researchers went and punched each other and they calculated how many tears the poll participants shed). That research may be bunk and ridiculous, but they notion of meditation that leads to greater compassion for the Other is something we should learn from. There are probably a lot more examples, but I need to get back to work. Thus...in summary...Don't just talk, listen.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Good Friday

Below is something I posted on my blog last year on Good Friday. This has become a very meaningful day for me each year. This weekend is the most important in the Christian calendar and truly engaging Christ's death makes me more ready to truly engage his resurrection.

Today is Good Friday.

For those who followed Jesus, their hopes died with him. And as we enter into this day and experience it again, our hopes die with him today. There is no true salvation. The kingdom of God will not come. We have invested our hearts with him and he is gone. There is nothing to live for and no hope in death either. There is only despair, hurt, anguish, and pain. Everything we have believed and hoped for is dead.

Today is Good Friday.