Monthly Archives: December 2015

What if you’re wrong about what God wants?

Sometimes you remember what gets said better than who said it. I don’t remember who, but someone once said to me that if you think you know what God’s doing, you’re probably wrong.

As the year ends and a new one is set to begin, I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. It’s a comfortable place to be when God agrees with you. It’s a place of certainty and a place of ease. After all, if God agrees with you, who can be against you? When God agrees with you, why do you need to look deeper or challenge anything? God said it, you believe it, and that settles it.

I would’ve figured Nickelback or Biz Markie…

Unless you’re wrong. Unless God doesn’t agree with you.

A Facebook friend posted something called The Most Dangerous Prayer You Can Pray. I thought the most danger prayer was for patience. I prayed that once. Then I got laid off and was functionally out of work for two years. I’ve never prayed for patience since.

But this prayer was far scarier. It asks God to allow the same things that break his heart to break mine.

Zoinks! Jinkies! Ruh-roh!

This prayer scares the snot out of me. Badly.

For one thing, in case you hadn’t noticed the incessant whining at this URL, it’s not been the best of year this year. I don’t want heartbreak right now. I don’t want pain. I don’t want complication. I want what I want and I want it now!

As my pastor is fond of saying–as he runs his right index finger in a halo-like circle over his head, “Too bad! It’s not all about you!”

So my response to my Facebook friend, who is, by the way, a bastard for posting that, started with, “Awww, crap.”

Aww, crap.

There are certain prayers you know God isn’t going to answer. God, please let me win Powerball. God, please let me eat donuts and not gain weight. God, please let the Mets sign an outfielder who can hit.

Memories, light the corner of my mind…

And then there’s this one. You know God’s gonna answer this.

It’s not that I want to run around heartbroken. I’ve rooted for the Mets and Jets almost all my life. That’s really not a new experience for me.

It’s that the heartbreak will open me to what God really wants. You see, I kind of dig this middle class life I have. I like being able to drink craft beer and eat nice things and not worry about things like crime, war, and all the other crap that they have to worry about. I kind of dig being American and I’m a big fan of a rising tide lifting all boats.

But as much as I’d like God to be simple and easy and safe–to be an American with middle class sensibilities–God’s just not like that. If I think he is–and it makes my life easier to think that–then I’m wr-wr-wr-ng.

God is messy and real and good, but the last thing he is, is safe.

If you open yourself up to the things that break God’s heart, it’s not gonna be safe for you, either. It’ll be messy and real and it’ll hurt like hell, I expect. But it’ll be good.

So here it is–go ahead.

Take this city (me), a city should be shining on a hill.
Take this city, if it be your will.
What no man can own, no man can take.
Take this heart,
Take this heart,
Take this heart,
And make it break.

(Lyrics from the U2 song Yahweh. They aren’t mine.)

Dammit.

 

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What Jesus looked like

According to Shaun King, a columnist for the New York Daily News, a Jesus who looks like a cross between Brad Pitt and Johnny Damon (when he was cool) is a tool of white supremacy.

Sigh.

King is correct when he says that our predominant picture of Jesus is white and European. In reality, he’s less likely to look like, as King says, a California surfer dude, than he is to look like Sayid in LOST.

Jesus didn’t look like me? Bogus.

But where King falls down badly is the reason why. It’s not a plot by the KKK, Republican Party, and Faux News (See what I did there? hahahahaha). If you have to blame someone, blame the apostle Paul who also probably looked more like Sayid than like Jeffrey Hunter or Jim Caviezel.

Jesus* and Mr. Spock

Through is efforts, Paul probably did more than anyone to spread the center of what became Christianity from the Middle East to Europe, where people didn’t look like Sayid.

If Jesus had been on Oceanic flight 815, that might’ve changed some things.

King isn’t even wrong to say that maybe we should start depicting Jesus to look like he probably did. What’s the harm? Nothing. It shouldn’t matter what Jesus looked like. The central idea is that God loved his people–all of them–so much that he decided to come hang with us for a while so we might get the idea that he thought we were worth coming to live with. And that would be true even if Jesus looked like Marty Feldman.

If there’s any doubt it doesn’t matter, how many people are angered by Morgan Freeman playing God. There were people offended by Evan Almighty–mostly because it was an awful movie. But I don’t recall a hue and outcry about Freeman in it.

The central message of Jesus transcends race. His law is based on two simple things–the second of which is to love your neighbor as yourself. I’m not sure if King considers himself Christian, but if he does, he might do better concentrating on that–along with everyone else.

* — Jeffrey Hunter, Captain Christopher Pike in the original Star Trek pilot, also played Jesus in King of Kings.


The problem with faith

House has passed onto into the television afterlife known as Netflix streaming, but for some, its protagonist dispenses wisdom like he dispensed pain killers to himself. For one thing, House wasn’t a fan of religion.

On this point, he’s right, partially.

As I look back on 2015, my views on the year have changed. If you go back to the middle of the year, I thought I was going through some major issues.

In fairness, I was, relative to what I’m used to. On the other hand, a lot of people were far worse off–and I know some of them.

But, here we are, on the cusp of 2016. There are some new scars I didn’t have before. I still need to do work on how exactly to process what happened this year–and the responsibilities that go along with the new knowledge I have.

Part of that new knowledge is faith. Faith in some of the people around me–people I came to understand were there no matter what. And faith, at least in my view, in the One who put them there.

God didn’t need faith to walk on water, but Peter sure did.

You might not have that faith. On the first count, that’s too bad. It’s a lot easier to know there are people who will hang with you when the shit hits the fan.

On the second count, I wouldn’t presume to impose that viewpoint on anyone. I still struggle with it myself.

If I were able to see the future, and if I saw a 2016 that was like 2015, I’d find it hard to continue on. I was so tired and so overmatched. At the time, I figured I got through it because of my own stubbornness and stupidity. Looking back, I think there was more than that and it come from outside me.

I’m not big on “God’s plan.” In most cases, I think people use “God’s plan” to smooth over the rough spots. They want to say something uplifting and appropriate in the worst way. (And they succeed.)

I don’t know what God’s plan is. I don’t have the tools to know. Maybe he engineered everything that happened. Or maybe it just happened and he was there at the end. (That’s my guess–God isn’t Geppetto. He’s not Santa God. He’s our father. That he loves us doesn’t mean that he stops shit from happening.)

I think I know that I didn’t face this year alone–beyond the people who were here for me. I’m not entirely sure. And I’d like to think that if I were to face a repeat of 2015 in 2016, I’d handle it this time with grace, dignity, and faith. But honestly, I don’t know.

Then again, with faith, you’re never entirely sure. Faith isn’t reason. Faith isn’t rational. Faith isn’t something you can measure or touch or even know. It’s faith. It’s being unsure and going on anyway. Faith is getting up and starting in when you know that today’s probably going to be awful. Faith is doing the hard, unreasonable thing and knowing that it could all turn to crap.

A picture of former anchor Faith Daniels, just because.

Just as courage isn’t the absence of fear–it’s going on in spite of fear, faith isn’t the absence of doubt; it’s going on in spite of doubt.

House is right. You can’t reason about faith. Faith is stupid, if you measure it in terms of reason.

Faith is risking it all and understanding how horribly wrong you could be.

On another day, we’ll talk about discernment.


Anti-fundamentalist fundamentalism–it’s a thing

A mosque in Houston was damaged by a fire that appears to have been arson. ATF investigators on the scene have identified multiple points of origin and said that the fire appears suspicious.

Islam in this country is in the crucible. On the one hand, ISIS is real and its leaders have threatened to attack here. They aren’t driven by politics. It doesn’t matter whether Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders or Gandhi is our leader; we don’t bow to Allah and so we have to be dealt with. The people at Charlie Hebdo and at the Eagles of Death Metal concert in Paris didn’t make political moves against Islam.

A group of people are building the means to damage people who don’t view God as they do. Donald Trump didn’t make this up to win the presidency; it’s real.

That said, the guy down the street who wears the head covering–if he isn’t a Sikh–is almost definitely not part of ISIS. Kareem Abdul-Jabaar isn’t plotting to kill people when he goes to a Lakers game. Dr. Oz isn’t stockpiling weapons and explosives to kill Oprah’s audience.

To be fair, people are taking positions about Islam because they’re afraid. It’s not a made-up fear. Fundamentalist Islam (Islamism) doesn’t believe in free society.

Fundamentalism of any stripe, whether it’s Islam or Christianity or even political beliefs, isn’t compatible with freedom. It doesn’t allow for people to disagree.

The problem is, it’s too easy for anti-fundamentalism to become a fundamentalism of its own. It’s too easy to lump everyone who worships Allah in with the people who shot up Paris. It’s too easy, in reaction to the anti-Islam tide in this country to try to conjure a world where Christians are as big a danger (one guy at a Planned Parenthood isn’t the equivalent of what happened in Paris; no credible Christian leader is calling for death to apostates).

Too often fundamentalism is a product of fear or pain. You fear God or Allah and want to win his pleasure by forcing others to see it the way he does. You’ve been hurt by a Christian or Republican and see them as the enemy. You’re convinced that Democrats or going to take your guns and subject the country to authoritarianism.

Fundamentalism falls into the trap of collectivism. It’s political correctness with a slightly different spin. Don’t offend me or my God because I am/He is right. Right makes might. And if you aren’t with me, you’re against us.

When you view a diverse group of people as them, you’re falling into the same trap as the fundamentalists.

People are people. If a group of people share a group name–Christian, Muslim, Republican, Democrat–can’t agree what to get on their pizza, they aren’t going to agree on things they find really important, either.

It’s fallen into disfavor on the left and the right, but in the vast majority of cases, it’s not about the group you identify with. It’s about who you are as a person.

Failure to recognize that is a problem, regardless of who they are.


As for tomorrow…

Yesterday, I copied and pasted the lyrics to Joe Cocker’s I’m so glad (I’m standing here today). If there’s a single song that conveys my personal place right now, it’s that one.

Today, however, is tomorrow. (Work with me; it makes sense. Kind of.)

That’s to say that if you’ve gone through stuff, you know things. (Stuff…things…both technical terms.)

The Bible has a story about a wealthy landowner who gives his workers “talents,” then goes away. There are three workers. One got five talents and invested them and earned five more. The second got two and invested them and earned two more. The last had one. Out of fear, he buried his one talent because he was afraid to do anything else.

The landowner came home and called the workers to account. The first two showed what they had done and were rewarded to enter into the landowner’s pleasure.

The third, because he was afraid, had his one talent, the one he buried, taken from him and given to the worker with ten. Then he was cast out to Cleveland Browns stadium, where is wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Churches like to use this parable to talk about time, talent, and treasure. If you spend more than ten minutes in a church, someone’s going to use alliteration on you.

Personally, I think there are more categories. The one that comes to mind, because of the alliteration thing, is travails. It’s not that hard to write a check, or to pitch in with your time and what you’re good at. It’s another burden in already busy lives, but ultimately, it’s not that hard.

Travails–that’s another thing. There are things that people go through that bring them to their knees. Things that make them wonder if they can make it fifteen minutes more, let alone a day. Things that cause the days ahead to stretch out like an endless gauntlet of agony. Things that make you think that hell surely couldn’t be worse than this.

Those are the places in our lives where risk lies. The things we learn because of the hell we face may never fully heal. They’re the parts where we’re vulnerable and where it’s easy to be hurt again.

But in those times of hell, it’s only through God’s mercy, typically dispensed through the hands, the arms, and the voices of other people, that get us through.

How, then, can you go through hell and not try to provide your hands, arm, and voice to people in similar straits?

I write a good game. If you read this stuff, you might think Now there, there is a man with a soft heart. Unfortunately, interpersonally, sometimes it’s a different experience.

There are a lot of predictable things about the holidays. One of them is that people will open their hearts more than they do the rest of the year. There might be a line, but the people in that line are, generally, a little more forgiving about it. Another predictable thing is people saying they aren’t going to put that away with the Christmas ornaments this year. The third predictable thing is that they fall short of that goal.

I am doing the second predictable thing, knowing full well that I’ll probably fall short far more than I want to.

But knowing what a taste of hell is, and how only other people got me through it, I have to try.

The real test is whether I’ll put this particular talent to work and become a part of my master’s joy, or whether I’ll choose to forego that joy because I’m scared.


One good thing, #48

There’s a group of guys I’ve been meeting with on and off for about seventeen years now. In that time, guys have come and gone (including me, on both counts). There have been children, grandchildren, and deaths. There’s been promotions, job losses, health issues, triumphs, laughter, and even anger sometimes.

There are lots of things I’d rather do on Saturday morning: sleep, write, run, even do nothing. But the time I’ve spent with these guys has been worth all of it.

One good thing today is a group of people you can always count on.


I’m so glad I’m standing here today

There were times I remember
Had to fight just to hold my head up
Those times when even my friends
Tried to make a fool of me
There were things that my heart attacked
That they just couldn’t see

Some said I was hopeless
Tangled in the night
Strong hearts just keep goin’
That is why I’m still standing here today

Come together, raise up your voices
This time my song of love and life won’t go away
I’ll sing forever here in the sunshine
I’ve lived to see the sun break through the storm
And I’m so glad I’m standing here today

If you’re lost in your troubles
And the world just seems to forget you
If you remember sunshine
Even on your darkest day
Just follow what your heart says
And you will find the way

Some said I was hopeless
Tangled in the night
Strong hearts just keep goin’
That is why I’m still standing here today

Come together, raise up your voices
This time my song of love and life won’t go away
I’ll sing forever here in the sunshine
I’ve lived to see the sun break through the storm
And I’m so glad I’m standing here today

Songwriters
JENNINGS, WILL / SAMPLE, JOE

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Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, BMG RIGHTS MANAGEMENT US, LLC