I thought it would be fun to see if anyone wanted to read along with me. We’ll try it this month and see how it goes. The choices for May are:
[fiction] G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare. Chesterton has entranced Miska as of late. I’m jumping on the bandwagon too. You probably know Chesterton best for his classic Orthodoxy or from the fact that he was a major influence on C.S. Lewis. Chesterton called this piece of his work “a very melodramatic sort of moonshine.” I’ve never tasted moonshine; I’m in.
[theological] N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection and the Mission of the Church. Right now, Wright is a fellow making a deep impact on my mind and soul. I was able to have a long chat with him last week (more on that to come). This book will bend some categories, I think. However, it pushes us back to Scripture and expands our vision of the radical restoration God is doing in his world. This is no cold, theological meandering on the theoretical state of heaven. This is gritty, real-world, hopeful stuff.
So, we’ll convene in a month to reflect on the works. I’d love to know if you are joining me – shoot me an email or a comment to let me know you’re in on the fun. Or not. You can just surprise me.
Most every Tuesday morning, Nathan Elmore (my pastor-partner @ dcf) and I take a stroll on Clemson’s campus. We make sure everyone is getting to class on time, and we count how many orange t-shirts we see.
Since we are pastors, we also try to do Jesus-kinds of stuff on our walks. As we make our way across Bowman Field and weave our way among the bricked buildings of learning, we pause here and there to heal the sick, cast out demons and give alms to the poor. It’s our Tuesday routine.
Today was particularly beautiful. Crisp air. Bright Sunshine. There were a few more grimacing faces than usual – it’s finals week. But the conversation with Nathan was good, stimulating, genuine.
I am struck by how much I am going to miss these walks, this friend.
That’s right. Watch out, umpires. I am now the official assistant coach of the Central-Clemson Rec League’s Fightin’ Tarheels.
Wyatt and Seth are playing their first year of t-ball, and they landed on the same team. At the first practice, I joined up with management.
I had thought most of my duties would be spent teaching the artful slide into home, demonstrating for aspiring pitchers the wizardry of the spit ball and tweaking that elusive perfect batting order (do we want to keep the clean up hitter in the 4 slot even though he can switch hit and we might could mess with the opposing pitcher’s psyche better elsewhere?).
However, to date, most of my coaching has included encouraging batters to actually face the pitcher, cajoling fielders to stand up and stop digging tunnels in the dirt, tying shoes and opening snacks. You gotta start somewhere.
I do plan to work a scene so I get tossed from a game. What kind of coach would I be if I didn’t have that under my belt?
However, I could more easily foresee a scenario where a small mob of parents toss me. In this league, before we place the ball on the tee, the coach actually pitches (it’s a soft underarm loft, from like 10 feet away) three balls for each batter to attempt to hit. In the first two games, between me and the head coach, we’ve beaned five players. It’s harder than you think pitching to tikes whose reflexes are…well, developing.
I didn’t know it was coming today, but I knew it would soon. Each year, about this time, I receive a large box of goodies, a cornucopia of marketing kitsch, from a high octane Christian ministry conference. I can appreciate novelty as much as the next guy, but I have to tell you that this annual overload has begun to annoy me.
In past years, we received slinkys and rubix cubes and playing cards and the “world’s largest conference brochure,” just to name a few of the many curios. And all of this arrives via the United States Postal Service in a rather large box, with impressive, slick packaging. The cardboard alone will make a sizable dent in our recycle container, not to mention all the wrappers and paper inserts and mounds of packing peanuts (which would actually be quite nifty if they were real peanuts and provided a snack) and assorted plastic toys.
Irony: this package arrives on Earth Day, of all days. Today, our local paper (in rural South Carolina, mind you) unveils it’s slimmed down, environmentally friendly format, a nod to sustainability, while my Christian friends send me trinkets by the pound.
The materials, the postage, the glitz. I’m no sourpuss, truly. But, somehow, I just find myself opening up their hefty package intended to entice me to register for their event and asking myself, really?
Now what would snag my attention is if one year they sent me a well-designed info packet (and they could even throw in a (one) comic book or a (one) pair of X-ray glasses if they wanted) and told me that the $5 per box they were saving would be spent on HIV meds in Africa or elementary school books in El Salvador or even to pay the way for other pastors to join the fun. Then – I might consider registering. That might be a conference that would speak to the questions I’m asking. That might be a conference where I would think I might find encouragement for the life I sense God urging me toward: simplicity.
All that said, these people are very smart and care ever bit as much as me (probably more) about truth and the gospel and have obviously fielded these sniping questions a million times (sorry). Certainly, I am not implying that they don’t care about issues of justice – quite the opposite, this conference has a fantastic reputation for leveraging its influence for such causes. And, of course, I contribute to excess myself in a thousand ways, all the time. Any charge of hypocrisy could be easily supported, I’m sure. I’m certainly not arguing for squelching creativity or arguing against lavish expressions of grace and faith. I guess I’m just reflecting on how this particular campaign strikes me (it is my blog after all) – and I’m hoping at least that in their marketing brainstorming sessions, they are asking more (better?) questions than:  Can we afford it?  Does it work?
Anything done in the name of Jesus deserves better questions than that.
Other good questions might be: What is actually communicated through this medium of marketing? What tone does this set for the way we envision the gospel when we gather for our conference? What kind of aesthetic does this build?
You know, I assume they have asked more (better) questions, I really do. Maybe they have simply arrived at different conclusion than I would have. Good enough for me. This is simply my opportunity to ask the questions myself. In my writing and my loving, in the way I promote my art and in the way I talk about God’s kingdom, what am I communicating in the way I approach it? what tone am I setting for how I envision the gospel? how does my action join God’s intent to make his world beautiful?
Excuse me, now, I’m going to make another run with the slinky down the stairs – it’s quite a kick.
This, my friends, is an exciting day. Today, I’m giddy because I am able to unveil to you the cover for my new book, Holy Curiosity: Encountering Jesus’ Provocative Questions. I’m excited about this book. Though it follows a different style, it is in some respects a sequel to Restless Faith. In Restless, I allowed myself space for brutal honesty about some of my questions for God. In Holy Curiosity, I interact with the strange sensation I met when I discovered that God had a few questions for me.
Touring Jesus’ many conversations, I was intrigued with how many times, rather than offering answers or launching instructions, Jesus posed a friend or a stranger a question. Often, too, the question was not merely some rhetorical device but it was asked because Jesus was genuinely curious what was in someone’s soul.
Jesus with questions? God in the flesh – curious?
I’ll be sharing more about the book along the way. Baker won’t release it until the Fall, and so you might actually get tired of hearing about it. I’ll have some plans for how to purchase it so we can get the most impact on its release day. Stay tuned.
Recently, I met Jake Dockter. He’s an artist, and he’s researching for a book project on art and faith. Recently, we had a conversation where he asked a number of thought provoking questions around that topic. I posted some of the conversation over on Relevant, if you are interested.
We drove into Memphis, Tennessee last night, this old south city where some of our family live. Memphis is always bristling with activity and life. Blues clubs on Beale Street. World famous BBQ. Tonight, Memphis plays UCLA in the Final Four, so that adds to the mix.
However, this weekend, Memphis (and the nation) mourns one of our darkest and most tragic days. Forty years ago, yesterday, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was gunned down by a sniper as he stood on the third floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel. About two years ago, I spent a morning in downtown Atlanta visiting the house where King grew up and sitting in the sanctuary of Ebenezer Baptist Church listening to recorded sermons King preached. The day spent in King’s world profoundly moved me. It moved me because I realized how disconnected I had been from this violent scar in our nation’s history. I knew the story. I was ashamed of our racist past – but I hadn’t really allowed the evil of it all to truly weigh on me.
The experience also moved me because I was inspired and honored to be immersed in the life and memory of a man who deeply believed in human dignity and justice and who had the courage to stand against the Powers in order to speak out for the oppressed. I was haunted by this question: What side would I have been on if I had been alive during the Civil Rights struggle?
I don’t the answer. I pray to God I would have been on the side of those who resisted both the visible and subtle ways that our culture demeaned and subjected fellow human beings created in God’s image. But, truthfully, I don’t know.
I don’t know, in part, because the whole affair raises the memory of one of my deep regrets. In college, I had an African American roommate (a fabulous soccer player by the way) who began to allow me into his world, sharing parts of his story, little bits of what it was like to grow up black in a very white culture. During one of our conversations, we got into a disagreement about MLK. Much to my embarrassment now, I remember throwing out lines about King being a communist and a womanizer, using these liable accusations as wholesale dismissals of King’s life, conviction and legacy.
King was not Jesus. King was not perfect. However, my lines were merely a reaction, blindly parroting rhetoric I had heard growing up. I hadn’t dug into the facts. I hadn’t asked how my white upbringing had colored my historical perspective. Worse, I didn’t stop to listen to my friend who was offering me a piece of his heritage, one of his (rightful) heroes. Truthfully, I was an ignorant white kid spouting trash. And I am so sorry.
I never had a chance to apologize. I wish I could find my friend and tell him how sorry I am. Sorry that I was still trapped in my subculture. Sorry I hadn’t gotten enough of the story yet. Sorry I hadn’t seen enough of the world. Sorry I hadn’t realized that the man whose character I assaulted truly is a hero.
In recent conversations, I’ve realized how some of us who are white still think of Dr. King as “their hero.” There are multiple distressful realties to such a posture. However, as a starting point, Martin Luther King, Jr. should be a hero of every person (particularly every Christian) who decries evil and oppression, who believes that the Kingdom of God announces freedom in every human sphere, who marvels at the mystery and beauty of every single human.
The Scriptures forcefully declare that every man and women bare in our body and soul the glory of the image of God Almighty. Dr. King believed this. Preached it. Lived it. Died for it. We ought rejoice in his message and deeply mourn his death.
I have a friend who describes himself as a “planner.” Me, not so much. We both had to create similar strategic documents mapping out future plans and projections. His was 64 pages plus a bibliography. I stretched mine to 5 (and it might not have made it past two if I hadn’t cut and pasted info I already had from other places).
If I could banish one word from the English language, it would be systematic. Too much emphasis on calendars or protocol or uniformity often makes me feel stifled, trapped, locked-in. Last time Miska was away, I let the boys wear the same clothes (maybe even underwear – I don’t really remember) multiple days. I mean, why change out clothes just because of a little stink? If Seth loves his batman t-shirt, then what’s an extra day or two or three going to hurt?
Usually, if you tell me something has to be done a certain way, I’m almost certain to immediately consider that a challenge to be swiftly contradicted. In arguments with Miska (hypothetical, of course), I at times find myself in emotionally and intellectually untenable positions simply because I’ve played the devil’s advocate to the point of absurdity. But, really, who says that Spring has to follow Winter, hmmm? Who? Often, it isn’t until I find myself alone in the room with no one to argue with because Miska simply gave me that wow-you-just-did-it-again-and- in-a-half-hour-or-so-you-are-going-to-feel-really-stupid-when-you- apologize-for-this-one look and walked out.
As I’ve said, I don’t like having much of anything laid on me. Not that this is good (in fact, it often isn’t) – it’s just the truth.
However, I have grown to appreciate the imposition of the Christian calendar. Every year, in almost monotonous cycles, we move from Advent to Christmas to Epiphany to Lent to Easter to Pentecost, all the way back to Advent again. Every year. Like clockwork, literally. We don’t make it up. We don’t push it forward. The seasons come when they come. We just wait and receive them, live them (or don’t), and then watch them pass.
We can make much of the seasons, or we can make little. We can celebrate them, or we can ignore them. No matter, they come. And they go. The question for us is simply whether or not we will allow them to waken our heart, to pull us into The Grand and Mysterious Story.
Yesterday, Palm Sunday, we embarked on the journey through Holy Week. This week, we walk (if we choose to) with Jesus through his week of Passion. This week is happening, all around us. Grace and mercy and hope and repentance are happening, all around us. We may not feel it. We may barely remember amid projects or diapers or broken down cars or broken down hearts. Our sin or our confusion or our fear may gobble up every ounce of mental energy.
But all you have to do is sit down. Sit your body down. Sit your mind down. And look around you. Look with your ears. Listen with your heart.
Holy Week is happening. Jesus is marching toward his cross. The Resurrection is only days away. It is coming whether we pay attention or not. This imposition is a grace. It isn’t up to you. Or me. We have little say in the matter.
Jesus moves. Redemption comes. Whether we notice or not – that is the only piece left to us.
We are nearing the homestretch of Lent. This has been a significant journey. Forty days – it isn’t exactly eternal, but in our instant society, forty days of anything tests our will and discipline. Really, for me, I think Lent simply tests our attention. Can I pay attention to God’s ongoing work for a stretch of days? Must I always be moving on to the next thing, the next truth, the rush, the next idea? Can I just sit and wait and hope and listen and receive?
And this is not all sour stuff. As I read this morning, one writer pointed out how the Taize Book of Common Prayer refers to Lent’s forty days as “a celebration of the joy of God’s forgiveness.” I like that.
Hear are a few things this stretch of Lent is telling me (reminds me, really):
+I am too tied to technology, particularly email. I want to shut it down more often.
+Food is intended for joy and pleasure (as well as nourishment, of course), but it can also be a way of hiding. In my youth, food (and lots of it) was one of our few acceptable vices. Now, I often run to food when I’m bored or anxious or angry or afraid. I’d rather run to God.
+God wants to heal my broken places; he really does.
+I love my wife and boys … (in the words of Dick Cheney) big time.
+Something’s up. God is stirring. God is moving. Risk and joy and life ahead.