Thursday, December 29, 2005

Do You Believe in the Tooth Fairy?

I swallowed my tooth. I was in the first grade and I swallowed my tooth. It was a front tooth and I was looking forward to putting it under my pillow for the Tooth Fairy and I was eating a peanut butter sandwich and I swallowed it. Very traumatic.

My mom was sweet about it. She said that the Tooth Fairy would understand if I wrote her a letter. So I did. It went something like this:

Deer TOOTH FAiRY I Ate MY TooTH. Sorry. CAN I STill geT Money? What do YOU dO WiTH all the TEETH?

The next morning there was a nickel under my pillow and a note in very beautiful, flowing tooth fairyish script:

Dear Will
Thank you for your letter. I know you take good care of your teeth and I am sorry you swallowed the tooth. Here is a little money for being a good boy. I collect the teeth and my tooth elves turn them into billiard balls.
the Tooth Fairy.

I loved the Tooth Fairy. She was so nice to me. I also loved the Easter Bunny, and the Sand Man, and Uncle Sam, and Santa Claus, and Jesus. Just because I had never seen any of them didn’t mean they didn’t exist. I knew they were real. (I even had a letter!)

The Sand Man was the first to go. Mom said if I pretended to be sleepy I could catch him. Never happened. I realized it was like the time she told me that I could catch birds by sprinkling salt on their tails. It kept me busy. It didn’t take long to figure out that Uncle Sam was a symbol, an Abe Lincoln in a colorful suit. Then the Easter Bunny hopped off to join him since I helped color the eggs, Mom hid them, and I saw her buy the baskets... Reluctantly, Santa was next. I didn’t want to give him up. But the elaborate evidence had too many holes in the logic. I was afraid to admit my parents played his role; then they would be off the hook for presents. Kids can be very practical sometimes.

At some point I began to wonder about Jesus. Perhaps the Holy Spirit was first, then Jesus. I hadn’t seen either of them as a speaker at school or on tv (except in movies where it was obvious that someone was just playing the part).

There were conversion events in my life. At thirteen. A renewal at fifteen. But there were periods when I wondered. After all, there are a lot of precedents that not all things magical truly exist.

This isn’t true in nonwestern cultures. In India there is a strong belief in the supernatural to the point where the pantheon of hindu deities is enormous. My two year stint in a yogic ashram taught me about Ganesha, and Hanuman, and Shiva, and especially Kali (she still makes me shudder... I’d rather not talk about it).

In indigenous peoples all over the world there is a strong belief in animism, reality is interwoven with the supernatural as a part of daily life.

Not so in western society. We are too sophisticated. We like things orderly and if we dabble in mysticism it is usually the trendy sort. You know, Madonna studies the Kabbala, or those who read Mother Earth News and eat only organic foods and buy lots of crystals and talk endlessly about Gaia. Trendy. Like smoking cigars a few years ago, or driving a Hummer. There is a political correctness view of mysticism that says that it’s all good and that if you want to worship something, anything, then you have the right to it (while at the same time it is a little skeptical of anything promoted by the male-oriented, male-dominated socieities of the past, such as chrisitanity).

But in general, we don’t want to believe in things that are supernatural, especially if it is serious and not very trendy.

I am a Christ Follower. I prefer that term to Christian as the label Christian is thrown at everything from Santa Claus to western society. Being a Christian for many folks is no more challenging that being a member of the Rotary Club. And for many it serves the same purpose. I am a Christ Follower. That means it costs me something. Something I gladly pay. It costs me... everything. All I have I give to Him.

It isn’t trendy. It means that I believe in the Word of God. If it is in the Bible, I have to accept it. That isn’t always a comfortable thing. But I want my faith to be bigger than me, to challenge me. Otherwise I may as well worship a Chia Pet.

According to the Bible the world is filled with the supernatural. (I don’t really like that word because it implies that there are things outside of nature, and if God made it, it is part of reality, it is natural.)

Take the Book of Job. It is filled with things that cannot be proven by science. Things that cannot be tested in a lab, or photographed by the Hubble telescope. In Job there are two scenes that take place in Heaven, a realm that is not to be found anywhere on the 197,000,000 square miles of our planet.

In Job there are heavenly beings. There is the Lord God almighty. There are angels. There is Satan. We are told that Satan roams the earth (like some sort of predator). Later the Lord speaks to Job, and to Eliphaz (Job’s best friend).

So why don’t we hear much about Satan anymore?

I think the answer is simple. We have turned him into Santa Claus. Satan doesn’t need to do much in our society. We do it for him, in this place where everything goes and it is all good. Now and then I think he (or one of his minions) simply whispers that the idea of the embodiment of evil, of a malevolent supernatural force that opposes all that is good, is absurd. That we don’t really believe in that stuff. No, as a society we swallow all sorts of pap that has to do with God within all things and that whether we worship Gaia or Ganesha or the image of Elvis in a Graham Cracker it is all good.

But there is a malevolent force to the universe and if we want to pretend it doesn’t exist, that is just fine with him. Just as surely as there is a negative as well as a positive charge to the flow of electricity, just as certainly as there are north and south magnetic poles, just as reliably as there are opposing atomic forces, there is a light and darkness that has nothing to do with photons.

I’ve seen it.

I have had experiences that make this dark reality clear to me. I have had experiences in my home that frightened me (though it wasn’t as bad to face as I had feared). But even without the experiences, the same part of me that recognizes the reality of the Lord tells me that there is something lurking in the dark.

I have had conversations with my kids about Santa Claus. I have talked about the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny. I explained their histories and why parents say that stuff to kids. And I have talked to them about God the Father, the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and Satan.

So the two points I want to make are this: First, as parents we need to be certain that the amusing little fables we tell our children do not lead them away from truth. Secondly, we need to accept all of the truth as well. That includes the acceptance of darkness in the world as well as light and what it costs to believe.

Monday, December 26, 2005

What's the Point?!

What is the point of the Book of Job? That the innocent suffer? That the Lord simply picks on people? That sometimes friends and wives are wrong or that Satan is on the prowl?

I think a simple answer to that complex question is that the Book of Job simply shows us how to endure.

A couple of months after my first child died I was walking our dog in a large state park. I met a man. A man grieving.

He was sitting on a rock, gazing at the Willamette river. There were furrows in his brow, and a pain in his eyes that had been there a long time. His was the kind of internal pain that one sometimes sees in people that says that they are hurting, that they are tired of talking about it, but would still like some company... someone to sit beside them and provide a connection to the rest of the human race.

I let my German short hair, Elvis, frolic while I struck up a gentle conversation.

Though he was obviously tired of grieving, he couldn’t help sharing his story once again.

Therefore I will not keep silent;
I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit,
I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.
--Job 7:11

His wife and son had died. Car accident. He had been attending a church for years when it happened. He questioned... everything.

Does it please you to oppress me,
to spurn the work of your hands,
while you smile on the schemes of the wicked?
--Job 7:3

So this man, sitting above the winter-swollen river in the third year of his grief, told me, a man in his second month of grief, that he had not walked into a church again.

I came away from that conversation wondering many things. I thought about 1 Corinthians 10:13:

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

Was this man given more than he could bear? What of my own fresh grief? Should I walk away from the Lord? I had just found my way back into a church after almost ten years and this is how I am rewarded? With my hopes and dreams shattered? This man’s abandoning of God seemed to say that I would be justified to curse the Lord.

“His wife said to him, "Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!"
--Job 2:9

Is that what I should do? I told the man about my son Willy, and that I was still going to church. He looked at me sadly, like I was a fool.

Since that day I have met many others who are grieving. Each one approaches their hurt uniquely.

I never tell anyone that I understand what they are going through. We are all different. Even identical events will feel different for each of us.

I remember another man I had met in the same park the week before the gentleman mentioned above. He told me that he understood what I was going through. He explained that a couple of months before a dog he loved died. I was astounded he would make such a comparison. I made some sort of small sympathetic reply and walked on.

No, we don’t know how anyone else really feels, really experiences their lives... but we can see what they do in those dark times.

Some walk away. Some stand and hold firm to the Lord.

That is what Job did. He stood his ground.

As surely as God lives, who has denied me justice, the Almighty, who has made me taste bitterness of soul, as long as I have life within me, the breath of God in my nostrils, my lips will not speak wickedness, and my tongue will utter no deceit.
Job 27:2-4

And that is the point of the Book of Job. It isn’t about the why’s and the how’s. It is about standing true. Job was a good man. The Lord was pointing out that He could rely on His servant Job to stand firm in his faith regardless of what happens. Satan believes that the things of the earth are what make people what they are. His point is that how many employees a man has, how much livestock he owns, the blessings of children, his health, those are the things that make a man what he is. The Lord holds that it is something deeper, something intrinsic to the man himself.

The Book of Job is about how to suffer.

This life is a brief gig. The whole thing runs its course in less than a century. But what we learn here, and what we do here, is far more important than what we buy here, or what we drive here, or who we know, or how many times our names have appeared in the paper.

The whole point is how well we follow these two basic laws:

He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind' ; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' "
--Luke 10:27

Stand firm. Stand true. That is the point of the Book of Job.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

New Job Blog

I have created a blog to help folks understand the structure of the Book of Job. If any of you are interested, you can find it here.

Also, you can read this blog (Job's Tale) from the start by going here.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Christmas Gift

Poor Job. How frustrating to have lived in a time when all that was shared with mankind was the law of the Lord. Grace was yet to come.

All he had was the law and it didn’t make sense. No one could obey every law (though Job did far better than most). What happened to him seemed an unclear punishment for an unclear crime.

Very confusing.

We still get confused. We want everything to make sense. We want the events of our lives to be part of a balanced universe, everything clear, everything fair. The good are to be rewarded and the unjust are to be punished.

Sometimes things just don't seem fair.

For many it gets a little harder during this time of the year.

Donald Miller shares in Searching For God Knows What the idea that we are wired for a relationship with God, and since that is screwed up we seek our identity in each other. He argues that we need to understand who we are by what people think of us, by what we own, what we wear, what we drive. We find our value and honor in how we are treated, especially by those who know us. We place higher personal stock in those close to us, and when they fail us, it costs us more.

We are all so needy (and generally we need much more than we give). That is why there is an inherent imbalance in human relationships. We demand recognition of who we are without giving that recognition to others.

There is an infinite source of affirmation through God. But our selfishness shoves Him aside, and we feel the lack.

There are other reasons people feel blue during Christmas. It is such a big emotional investment. We build up expectations for ourselves, for others, for a sense of peace and love and belonging. We set ourselves up for failure because we aren't creatures where such things come naturally. Additionally, the length of the season creates huge expectations. From Thanksgiving to New Year's is a very long time to bank on the universe playing fair.

When we are hurt during this extended season, especially by the loss of someone close to us, the memory of that loss taints the future seasons as well.

I cannot get a Christmas tree without remembering the first tree I got for my first child... on the morning he died. The sight of that tree leaning on the front porch while police and medics and friends came and went is still clear in my mind's eye.

Many people experience a Christmas when someone close is suddenly not there (Father, bless the Cryders and the Sawyers, may they feel You near). It leaves reminders for years to come. Old wounds throb to the beat of "Jingle Bells" and "Silent Night".

We are simple yet complex creatures. We are not ruled by our minds. We are ruled by our desires, our hearts, our animal natures, our selfishness...

It is in setting ourselves aside that we are elevated. It is in being a servant to others that we are exalted. The greatest servant of all time was the incarnation of God who made Himself nothing so that He could love all.

What an amazing thought! A being of pure love who wanted to share His love with others so much He permitted His own creation to spit on Him, to beat Him, to torture Him, to murder Him.

It is a bluish Christmas for many because humanity has an empty spot. Not just an empty spot where a loved one was, but the empty spot that lies within each human being, even the ones surrounded by adoring sycophants.

As long as we stare at that empty spot we will feel empty. But when we turn away from ourselves, we are filled.

What care He must have for us, what love, that He would set aside His omniscience, His relationship with the trinity, so that he might crawl into creation through the womb of a young woman, learn to walk, go through growing pains and acne and feet that are suddenly too large and voice changes and rejection from those He loved, so that He might bring us into that relationship with our creator.

We tend to think about gifts at Christmas. What a wonder that Christmas began with the greatest gift of all! The gift of a love relationship that is always true, always faithful, always there.

If you have stumbled onto this blog and haven’t accepted that gift, if you don’t feel it or understand what I’m talking about, leave me a comment so that you and I can find another way to chat. Let me share with you personally what He wants you to have this Christmas. He wants you to be loved... f o r e v e r.

Merry Christmas, all of you!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Dancing in the Wind

He answered, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, 'Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.' But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me."
--2 Samuel 12:22-23

It’s cold. The wind is whipping around my coat’s hood and it makes my eyes water. (It’s only the wind doing that.)

There is a Civil War vet buried here at Zion Memorial Cemetery, not so common in the Pacific Northwest. The old section of the graveyard has ornate, sometimes tall, stones. The moss and lichen worked at them for over a hundred years, making it difficult reading. There aren’t a lot of things around that old. Native American petraglyphs, some trees, this cemetery.

The stones tell stories. There is the row of five stones by the sexton’s house. The three children dying within two weeks. The father two weeks after they were buried. The mother, 25 years later. She had caught tuberculosis and went to live in a tent while he,
in an attempt to keep their children safe, burned their belongings. It didn’t help. They became sick. They died. He died. And she lived on another quarter century in an empty house.

There is the story behind the stone I always stop to read.

William David Greenleaf
Our Treasure
August 30 -December 15, 1992

That was a difficult day.

Man, it’s cold out!

I’ve been thinking about this blog. I’ve been thinking about suffering. About disease and hurricanes and wars and earthquakes and tsunamis. I’ve been thinking about parents holding their dead children. I’ve been thinking about Job.

Life is hard.

Sometimes life sucks.

I always feel a little blue this time of year. I shove it aside and work at being all that is right about Christmas for my children. But I feel a little blue.

That is OK.

The Book of Job is about suffering and I continue to grow in my understanding of the book and its message.

Sometimes pain and grief is a throbbing sharp spiky thing that one doesn’t know how to hold. Other times it is a wind that blows across great distances, over mountains and snow and whips around the edge of your tightly drawn hood to sting your eyes.

I’m turning 50 this spring. Once I thought that was old. But it doesn’t seem so old anymore. It isn’t as old as it used to be.

I don’t mind the salt and pepper beard or the wrinkles (more laughter wrinkles than anything else). I actually like some things about this whole process. I like growing up.

It seems to me that I am beginning to see what I am becoming. Within 20 or 30 years I will finally get what I need from this life. I will have matured in my faith to the point where I will be ready for eternity.

Isn’t that amazing?! By the time my life is spent I will reach the point where I am most able to understand what it is all about. (I need to listen to those elders who still find joy in life and learn from them.)

This past year was another watershed year for me. I grew.

And I learned to dance. Not anything fancy, nothing that involves a mortal partner. But inside I feel giddy. I love the Lord my God so much! I love to sing to Him, to pray to Him, to read of Him. I find my heart dancing.

The events of the fire were difficult. And the passing of some wonderful people (Tom S. and Bob C. and others...) was sad. There were physical problems (my back, my skin, etc.).

I have had some difficulties in my life. Some I haven't shared, many I have. But I look at them and I see how I have changed and grown and I love my Lord so much. Sorrow, grief, struggles, are all part of the arrangement that comes with free will. We need to accept the consequences of the freedom to choose our way over the Lord's. A fascinating side effect is that through such difficult times we grow.

I have a long way to go, but I am comfortable with my age and I can see that by the time I am old I will have finally gotten the hang of what this life is all about. I will be ready for eternity. And I think that is the key to understanding all of this. This life is a preparatory experience. It is simply a warm up lap for eternity.

I'm going to finish this lap dancing.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Dear Lord...

My Lord...
Do not listen to my bravado...
Do not let me glory in things that are small...
Like who I am and what I have done.
Do not leave me with myself,

For I am a speck of self-important dust.

My Lord...
Hear my prayers begging to serve...
Let me glory in things that are great...
Like who You are and what You have done.
Press me close to You,

For You made Yourself small to tell me I am loved.

Thursday, December 15, 2005


His sons used to take turns holding feasts in their homes, and they would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would send and have them purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, "Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts." This was Job's regular custom.

Job really loved his kids. He went before the Lord for them regularly, and he certainly saw after their welfare. I think, at least I hope, most parents feel the same way.

But not all. Not all.

I’m a middle school teacher and I have seen some pretty bad parents. Actually I have surmised more than I have seen of the really bad ones because those parents usually don’t show up anywhere near school.

I could share stories, skirting and hiding identities to avoid losing my job, but there are plenty of examples appearing in the news all too regularly.

Aside from the tangible wreckage these people leave in their children’s lives their actions affect the relationships those growing hearts will have with God. God the Father. If an earthly father is absent, or neglectful, or apathetic, or abusive, it is very difficult for people to believe in the real thing.

Not impossible. Just difficult.

For those who have experienced that difficulty it is easy to understand the importance of doing the job right.

I was afraid of my father... but I still love him. I love my heavenly father, The Father. But sitting here pecking at these keys I realize I also fear my heavenly father. The idea of meeting Him quickens my heart.

I was speaking with a friend this morning about a story Bob Cryder had told about the Palestinians discovering the Ark of the Covenant under the temple mount (the story tells it was quickly sealed back up). Just the idea of being near that sacred object makes my heart race. It was on that container that God almighty dwelt. He was there as a pillar of fire, and a pillar of smoke. Within that golden chest lies Moses’s staff and the tablets carved by the finger of the almighty God.

The idea of looking upon The Ark makes me tremble.

Do I fear God because I feared my father? Probably. But I would probably fear God anyway.

When I worship on Sunday morns I do so with my eyes tightly shut, knowing that He is listening, that He is accepting my small token of heartfelt vocal offering (as awful as it sounds to human ears). I haven’t had my eyes open during worship for a dozen years. How can I think about anything else when the creator of all things is listening to what I am singing? If singing before your maker doesn’t make you nervous you aren’t thinking it through. (People get nervous before ordinary auditions!)

Why do I fear my father? Actually, feared, past tense, is more accurate as I live a 1,000 miles from him and I am all grown up now. I feared him because he beat me with a belt, sometimes for things I didn’t do. I feared him because he is untrustworthy. I feared him because more than once he thought about... well...

Allow me to share.

My mom and he split up when I was in the third grade.

When we moved away I missed him. I dreamt he and I shared a bath. He was washing my hair and laughing. It felt so good to be close to him. His loving eyes were set in a strangely red triangular face, framed with a goatee and horns. His barbed tail waved in the background before the doorway to the screened-in balcony were we slept one summer night as a family, overlooking the yard where my brothers and I were cowboys and Indians, pirates and Tarzan and Zorro.

He was a powerful man. Strong, quick, and he knew so much. He smelled of diesel, grease, grain, and sweat. He was a mysterious giant, a god, and they told me I looked so much like him. I leaned in doorways with my arms folded the way he did, and tried to swagger. And I tried to be powerful, strong, and quick.

It would probably have been best if that is where my relationship with him ended. As I became a teen I learned how far short of his expectations I fell.

I couldn’t do anything right. Not for him. I poured too much oil in the truck. I couldn’t pick up a hubcap stuck in a pile of dirt with the track loader racing over it at full throttle. I couldn’t find a date (“I think the kid’s a fawking homosexual!”). I couldn’t even pick up sticks and debris right (“Get back to work! I want to see nothing but azzholes and elbows!”).

My father loved me. I think he was just disappointed. I read too much for him. Or talked too much. Or thought too much. Perhaps the first-born should be different. Mike was agile enough, mechanical enough, more libido-driven.

In our teens Dad did share a dream of his with us, and so we built, Dad and us three boys, the Gxxxxxxxf Ranch. Too bad we lost it to Mom and my stepfather for back child support.

There were a couple of strange incidents after we moved under his roof. Once, in San Clemente, an old tall house was coming down so that a new tall house could stand on long stilt-like toes on the cliff’s edge, to better peer at the crashing surf below.

Dad made a living crushing things with big yellow machines while we kept the dust down with fire hoses. Between loading trucks with debris we horsed around.

Mike and I played with the fire hoses to keep cool while my dad mixed screwdrivers. I was taking a nap when a shaft of water from the three inch line woke me, pushed me, and finally knocked me off my feet. We laughed and I plotted revenge.

After lunch Dad started the loader and yelled for us to grab the bucket. Mike and I jumped to catch the edge of the dinosaur-like machine, its neck stretched out level, its jaws closed. It raised up; our bodies swung against its cool metal chin while the ground dropped away. I had grabbed the sharp cutting edge and shifted quickly to a rounded metal tooth. Gently the bucket rolled downward until we could see him at the controls, laughing, cheering us for our strength.

The machine clanked slowly forward; he was watching us carefully to see if we were weakening. He looked proud of us. We watched the ground roll beneath our feet, then the rocky cliff edge, and suddenly, the vertical slope embracing open space, the surf fifty feet below. Under us sea gulls were dancing on foaming water.

Dad had a thin, hard smile. Mike and I glanced at each other. This was hard!

Slowly the bucket tipped forward, its front edge lowering to dump. The bucket’s interior turned from a shelf to a downward slope. When the level was greater than 45 degrees dirt slid out, dusting Mike and me as we clung to the metal teeth of the steel-jawed monster. Dad was no longer smiling.

There was a quick up and down shake; we held on. The cramping in my fingers throbbed to the silent screaming in my mind. Neither Mike nor I yelled. Abruptly the bucket tipped back up, and the mechanical dragon retreated to the pile of crushed house waiting for the truck to return from the dump.

So I tremble when I think of God.

But I love Him with all of my heart.

And I love my children gently.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Word

People sometimes look at the Bible as something that got magically placed on the kitchen table when no one was looking. They kind of see it as if God slipped in and just sort of left it there. Some look at this amazing work, the Word of God, and give it an importance that sets it above, outside of their lives; as if it is so sacred we can’t even discuss it... as if to say: “Human beings do all sorts of disgusting things and we shouldn’t taint what is holy by wrestling with it.”

Too late.

God created something holy and it didn’t stay that way long. He created us. We were set apart from all of creation as the only beings worthy of walking along side Him and discussing what we think of His creation. He gave us the job of naming His creation. He gave us the directive to husband the Earth. He has given us so many things, and we are so very good at mucking it all up, and the first thing we ruined was that relationship.

So, when it comes to The Word there are those who feel we shouldn’t look too closely at it for fear of mucking that up too.

Well folks, it can’t be done. Oh sure, we can corrupt it and warp it and market it and do all sorts of things we shouldn’t. But in the end, it is already out there and it is too late for us to really change anything about it. Done deal. (Thank you Gutenberg!)

That's not to say there aren't Bibles out there that shouldn’t exist. There are politically correct Bibles, and Bibles that always refer to God in a gender neutral fashion, and Bibles that are careful to tell us that we should never spank our children, and Bibles that replace the word for God with something that suits our particular world view. But there are a lot of good versions out there that are simple, careful translations and that bell can’t be unrung.

Personally, I feel that there are three testaments to the reality of God. The first (my favorite) is His Word. He gave us the Bible to let us know where things are with Him, and where we stand in relationship to it. The second is His creation. God created this universe and there is nothing in nature that contradicts Him. If we feel that science has discovered something that is in conflict with The Word, then we are mistaken about what The Word is saying, what creation is showing us, or both. The third and final testament is the trickiest. It is the Holy Spirit. Specifically the indwelling of God within the heart of each person who has accepted that Jesus Christ is The LORD God incarnate. This is an area that is to be most suspect because we are so very good at corrupting things and something as close to us as our own heart can be easily swayed.

But back to the main point: The Bible. I have met folks who feel that the only Bible version worthy of being read is the King James version. I would readily agree that this version is the most beautiful of the English translations, but that has more to do with the state of the English language at the time it was written than about the accuracy of its linguists.

Case in point (now keep in mind two things: 1, this is highly speculative, but it does provide an interesting place to begin a discussion, and 2, I am frequently wrong about all sorts of things.): When the King James version was underway William Shakespeare was winding down his career. He only wrote one more play. He was getting on in years (in that era reaching 46 was above the average life span). Now, in the 46th year of the bard’s life there is the project going on under the blessings of good King James. A handy connection to Shakespeare and the court already existed (Shakespeare’s troop was sponsored by the king). Take a look at the 46th psalm. The 46th word from the beginning is the word “Shake." Now if one discounts the word “selah” (which is considered a probable liturgical musical direction and not a part of the actual poetry) the 46th word from the end is “spear." Coincidence? Perhaps. But compare the placement of those words to other translations and you will begin to feel that there was a little pushing to make those words fall into those particular spots. Does this make the King James suspect? Not at all. Perhaps one reason this translation is so beautiful is because people such as Shakespeare worked on it.

This isn’t any sort of proof at all, but it is interesting. I like wrestling with ideas and I find that it makes me stronger. The Bible always wins, but I come out with firmer biblical muscles.

In modern times we like words to be very specific. The English language is HUGE compared to most other languages, particularly Hebrew. We like things very tidy, very specific, very concrete. This paradigm reflects the love affair of modern culture with science. We want everything well measured, well stated. Look at how much scrutiny a president’s speech undergoes. Every word is examined for its nuances (ad nauseum). We choose words so carefully that we are forgetting how to be poets.

I don’t feel that the Bible was intended to be placed in the context of bullet points and blueprints of a metaphysical sort. For the most part the Bible is about relationships. It is filled with stories, not mission statements.

We like things complex, but it doesn’t need to be that way. I like how Jesus put it. He pretty much said “Love God with everything you’ve got, and do that for people too.” It’s simple.

Now back to how we look at scripture. We often look at that book that appeared miraculously on the kitchen table and think that it was dropped from Heaven with a loud thud that shook the house. But it didn’t.

Much of it was shared around campfires for a long time before folks (Moses, et al) put pen to paper (or feather to parchment, or stylus to clay, or chisel to stone...). That is the reason there are passages that echo. Folks spoke those words together with the storyteller while the warm light of a campfire danced beneath a starry sky.

“...and God saw that the _____ was good...” everyone said together.

“...and there was evening and morning...” everyone called out.

Stories that are most clearly descended from these campfire tales have such patterns throughout them.

In the book of Job the two encounters of God and Satan are nearly identical, exhibiting another common storytelling technique.

“...One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. The LORD said to Satan, ‘Where have you come from?’

Satan answered the LORD, ‘From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.’

Then the LORD said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.’

‘Does Job fear God for nothing?’ Satan replied. ‘Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.’

The LORD said to Satan, ‘Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.’

Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.”
--Job 1:6-12

And then:

“On another day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him. And the LORD said to Satan, ‘Where have you come from?’

Satan answered the LORD, ‘From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.’

Then the LORD said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.’

‘Skin for skin!’ Satan replied. ‘A man will give all he has for his own life. But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.’

The LORD said to Satan, ‘Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.’

So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD...”
--Job 2:1-7

This is not a responsive part but a simple storytelling technique that gives rhythm and is used by humans in every culture with an oral tradition (you might notice my own fondness for parallelism, which I picked up from listening carefully to J.F.K. and M.L.K. Jr.).

I think it is important to remember that scripture comes from stories. I think it is important because western culture is so wrapped up in outlines, blueprints, schematics, bullet points, mission statements, step by step instructions, and business plans that we sometimes forget something very important: Relationships.

We were created to be in a relationship with God. We survive only because of our relationships with each other. Our happiness is often measured by how well we relate to each, and most importantly with our creator.

I look at the Word of God as something that has meaning for me today. I enjoy reading it critically and wondering about how it was made, what it says and what it doesn’t say. (Who was Lamech and what is the story behind the fragment of the song we see in Genesis 4:23-24? Who inserted verses 18 & 19 in Psalm 51? Which came first, Job 7:17-19 or Psalm 8:3-4?)

The Bible can seem to be a difficult read for those who are looking for those bullet points and mission statements. But it might be better to look at it as a love story. It is about this amazing being who is the essence of pure love. He creates creatures to share that essence, to experience that relationship. And to make it all fair, and honest, and voluntary, He gives those creatures the ability to say “no.” He gives those creatures chances to sulk and gripe and whine and be selfish. In other words, to experience the incredible joy of love because we choose to love, not because we are constructed to do so.

The Bible is about this being who creates creatures who reject Him and then He goes to all sorts of lengths to guide them into a position where they can witness just how much He is willing to love, to sacrifice, to restore.

If we leave the Bible as just something that landed on the kitchen table and we bow to it and debate how it is worded, but miss the message of the relationship it shares, then we are missing the whole point.

The book of Job is about how much a man is willing to suffer when he knows, I mean really knows that there is a creator who is goodness and love and that things aren’t making sense but he is going to hang in there anyway (this chokes me up. Oh Job! Thank you for hanging in there so I could see how it is done!). The book of Job is about trusting that it is all going to work out because there is a testament in our heart that verifies what The Word says is true, that God is love and that He is turning that powerful gaze upon his creation and yearns that we simply look back and say, “Daddy, I know I’ve been pretty naughty, but I really do love you. Will you just hold me for a little while?”

The magical mystery of life, at least in my experience, is that He always does.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


"After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.'

"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!' "

--Matthew 25:19-21

Dedicated. Bob was a dedicated man. He didn’t do anything in half measures. When he restored a car, it was done, it was restored. Pristine. It purred. He raised (with Jenny of course) his children, making it clear that they were the most important task he would do in his life. As a husband he made certain that when he was with her, he was with her. When they were standing side by side it wasn’t Bob and Jenny. It was BobandJenny. And when he talked about the christian life it was based on solid scripture, not vague references, but exact passages.

His work was all about the Lord. He traveled all over the nation, all over our world, and I believe every task he put his hand to was about how it may glorify God.

One lenten season he got us together to walk the surrounding neighborhoods of our church just to leave a little gift and tell folks they were loved.

Another time he stepped before our congregation and told us we needed to show the people of our community love; that the first step in that direction was to make sure no one
in our town is hungry. So we started a food pantry in our church. And though the fire shut it down for several months, it recently started up again. That ministry did not fall away. In a way, every sack of groceries carried out to a car from our church is an echo of those challenging words from Bob.

He taught classes, he spoke with neighbors, and friends, and strangers about the Lord constantly. I was at his house once, shortly after he began his first round of chemo (he looked so different without hair!); he was out in his garage working on a car. There was a rather tall, rather rough looking fellow helping Bob with something. After a while the guy left and Bob told me about this man. This
embittered widower told Bob he had learned new things about christianity, just by working on cars. Bob had shown him love and companionship. Bob lived the christian life.

Bob was dedicated.

Bob knew the Bible. I’m a rather strange sort of guy. My ideas don’t always fall within the box. (A friend once introduced me as a guy who has trouble finding the box.) So it is no surprise that a few times Bob told me he thought I had gotten off track scripturally. I never felt attacked. I felt that he had good reasons to talk to me, and almost every time I changed my point of view because he was so grounded in the Word.

Once he invited me onto his radio talk show. We did a show on the intersection of faith and science (I am a real science buff). I felt like an honored guest. And during that chat I was impressed at how quickly he saw the implications of things I said. He had a sharp mind.

During that show he told the listeners he had a sore throat and that is why his voice was a little raspy. He'd had the sore throat for over a week and maybe he would go to the doctor in the next day or so and get it checked. That was the first indication of the cancer.

Bob’s cancer did not deter him from doing everything he could in working for our Lord. He kept up all of his projects. My favorite "Bob project" was the Classic Car Show at our annual General Canby Days. He and his wife opened their craftsman style house to the public and the street in front (and around each corner) was filled with the coolest cars. BobandJenny showed the love of Christ by being good neighbors. One year he even let me take his '55 Chevy pick up out of the line up so I could use it in the parade.

On “Fat Tuesday” 2003, as New Orleans was hitting its frenzied peak of Mardi Gras, Bob and his family were a few seats away from me while we watched The Passion of the Christ. I remember their reactions clearly. There wasn’t any conversation in the theater afterwards, but I think we all walked out into the cool Portland evening with the sense that we had shared a significant experience.

Those are just a few of the things that come to mind when I think about Bob. I wish I could tell you everything about him. About his dogs (bassetts and later a daschund) and the cat he befriended despite his allergies and his love of God-centered worship and the church camping trips and his love of John Wayne movies and his Bible classes and his sermons...

I prayed a lot that last week of Bob’s life. And to be honest I felt frustration when he died. Didn’t my prayers count? I know, I know, that isn’t how it works. God is not at my beck and call. But it seems that if I pray earnestly, if I am living as a Christ follower, then He should bend the rules now and then if I really, really, really ask. I know this reveals a little immaturity.

I’m reminded of Job 37 (Job is whining to God and then for the next four chapters the Lord sets him straight). I wanted Bob to be around for a while. I told my Lord (respectfully) that I thought that Bob could still do a lot of good if he were given a few more years. I was trying to make some sort of bargain with what I thought Bob could yet do for God.

Isn’t that like us? I don’t think God is offended by such requests. Probably more amused. When Abraham is pleading for the cities of Sodom and Gomorra in Genesis 18 there is a sense of playfulness in God’s replies. And that same amusement is echoed when the Lord tells Jonah to lighten up.

So perhaps I’m a little stubborn. But, in my defense, Bob was a powerful servant of our Lord. And I love his family. I taught his youngest for a year in my language arts class (she just graduated last year). I didn’t want them hurt.

Well, I'll be honest, I didn't want to hurt. I don’t want to put off any conversations with Bob until the afterlife.

Perhaps I’m just plain selfish. I loved listening to Bob teach. He had such a great voice, one of those “radio” voices. And he had a way of interacting with people that made them feel close to him.

The Lord gave him four people, his wife and three children. And he gave the Lord thousands. I know folks usually need many encounters before accepting the Lord, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Bob helped place thousands of names into the Book of Life.

So, in terms of the parable of talents excerpted at the top of this post, Bob gave back far more than the four (his family) he was given.

I have no doubt that among the first words Bob heard when he opened his eyes to glory on Tuesday are “well done good and faithful servant.”

See you later, Bob.

Friday, December 02, 2005


A dear friend, a powerful servant of the Lord, and an all around great guy is in need of prayer NOW.

Bob C. has had cancer and it has been a long battle. He finally got a donor (from Germany!) and has gotten a T cell transplant. Well, I will just let this email tell the current chapter:

Bob is still stable, although he is fighting big battles. A CAT scan of his brain showed a spot that is most probably infection in his brain. This is most likely the same infection that he is fighting in his lungs. Please pray for healing of this infection. Medicine can be less effective when dealing with the brain as it is somewhat protected. They will need to use stronger medication to fight the infection in the brain.

In addition, they will be backing off the medication that helps protect his liver so they may fight the infection. Please pray for protection of Bob's liver. There will be a backing off of transplant medicine and an upping of medicine to boost his immunity. Please pray that his immune system will begin fighting the infection as well.

His heart is beating as it should and has stabilized.

The next 48-72 hours is of critical importance in fighting this infection. Jenny and family are okay. Please continue to pray for Jenny, Josh, Carrie and Laura.

Remember, "prayer is the only thing that moves the hand of God."

Could you, would you?

Thank you.

For those of you who came because of a comment I left on your blog, I apologize for the blatant request to come here. Please feel free to clean up your comments by deleting that comment of mine. I just wanted to get as many folks praying for my friend as possible.

email Friday:

Bob Cryder update: I don't know how else to say this, but just received word that Bob Cryder is slipping away. Tim and Heather, family and close friends are with Bob, Jenny and family. Please pray for all of them. Jenny shared that they have made him comfortable. We need to remember that the Lord is in control, even when we don't understand.

Update, Noon Sunday:

The doctors say that while the cancer is gone, Bob's body can not fight the infection he has in his lungs and brain. The only thing that can save him is a miracle.

While he was in stable condition this morning, there is hope only in God.

I have a post half written, and I would finish it an d post it now... but I want to put my energy into praying for Bob right now.

I want those who visit this site to know a little bit about Bob.

He has had a ministry for some time, Bob Cryder Team Ministries. This web page is worth looking at just to get to know what he does. his connections to the evangelical church reads as a Who's Who of the modern church.

But I've known him as one heck of a great guy, someone who would drop everything to lend a hand.

He is a car buff (the cherry red '55 chevy pick up, and the 57 nomad are pristine, and he hosted a car show in our town every General Canby Day (that's the 4th of July for those out of towners).

Bob has ministries all of the world, and especially strong connections to christian organizations in Israel.

He was recently hired on as the senior pastor of the Arcade Church, which is hosting updates about his current status.

Please, please continue to pray for Bob. His gifts are enormous and his work has won thousands to the Lord.

I'll get back to posting soon enough.

p.s. It is 5:20 a.m. and I have just gotten back from the hospital. Been there praying. The medications have him unconscious, and his breathing is a little rapid. The respiration therapist says he is really trying hard, working hard, at breathing. He has a slight fever from the infections in his lungs and brain. He is just holding steady right now. It is unclear if he is getting better or worse, but it cannot stay this way long. Soon he will gradually start to get better, or the reverse.

Please continue to pray!

Update, Monday

My friend Bob went home today at 1:00 p.m.