Sunday, January 27, 2008

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

I love my church. Sometimes that is a healthy thing, sometimes it isn’t.

I’ve been attending over 16 years. They have helped me through some tough times. They have rejoiced with me and grieved with me. They have helped in tight spots, and permitted me to be a part of their lives.

When I am there I feel like I am a part of a family. Every Sunday is a family reunion without the hot dogs and softball game. There are folks there I admire greatly, and folks I don’t know as well as I should, and folks who think differently than I do. But odd or normal, young or old, these people mean a lot to me.

There has been times when I put too much of my energy into that place. I’ve put hours and hours into crafting a four or five minute video when I should have been paying more attention to my family, to my marriage.

There are many things I love about that church.

I love worship. I shut my eyes and lift my voice with others, coaxing my heart to hold the lyrics as prayers, offerings to Him.

I love the Prayer Room. It is a retreat from the world where I can go to pray without interruptions. I can read my Bible, pray silently or aloud, write or draw my prayers on the walls, sometimes I even take a solitary communion there, just me and God. Kind of a strange idea, isn’t it? Communion outside of community, except for the trinity that is.

I’ve a strange idea about church that has been growing in my mind and heart lately. As much as church helps me to connect ot God, might it not also interfere with developing a closer relationship to Him?

Church provides the stability to my beliefs, helping me not stray too far (who knows where this odd mind of mine would end up if I only listened to my own thoughts?!), it keeps doctrines straight and healthy. In church, in the company of men and women I trust, my faith is strengthened and kept true.

But perhaps I rely on them too much.

In church I am a part of a human social network, perhaps a little too similar to other human social networks such as Kiwanis, or Rotary, or The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. In church I wear my best clothes, mostly so those in attendance can see me wearing my best clothes (well, actually, I don’t wear a tie there, which I do at work, but you know what I mean).

In church I carefully keep a good face on, keeping up appearances. Of course lately, I have to paste on a plastic face so my pain doesn’t show. I don’t want too much scrutiny from those who aren’t very, very close.

But I’ve been thinking about Jesus. In church I hold Him up in reverence, keeping His holiness in the forefront of my thoughts because it is there I am most reminded of His sacrifice for me. The cross is a symbol of such great love, purchased at such great cost, that I am humbled, and there that symbol is everywhere I look.


Is that really how Jesus wants me to connect to Him?

What if I stripped away the blinders church puts on me? What if I set aside my trembling righteous fear of the Almighty Living Word? What if I simply invited Him to take part in the day to day pain and drudgery and, well, crap, of living as a human being?

He would get that, wouldn’t He?

He knows what it’s like to eat and sweat and get dirty, to need sleep and defecate and do all the tedious parts of living as a mortal.

Isn’t He the Eternal Mortal? Isn’t He carrying the wounds of His sacrifice into Eternity? Isn’t He the Living Word who not only did the big scary stuff, like create the universe, but went through being a baby, and a toddler? Didn't He stumble while learning to walk, got scrapes and bruises and the pimples of adolescence?

If I lived in Judea two thousand years ago and met Him before He began His ministry, before He gathered the twelve, wouldn’t He have been the kind of guy I could sit beside and listen as He talked about the best way to smooth a piece of dogwood? Wouldn’t He have given me a friendly hug if I told Him that I hurt because my child died? Wouldn’t He have walked with me through a grove of fig trees so I could spend a little time unburdening my heart over my confusion about my marriage?

So what makes that relationship so hard to grasp now?

Isn’t the whole idea about inviting Him into my heart really an echo of the idea that He is by nature an intimate internal relationship, The Trinity? Isn’t that the sort of relationship He wants with me?

What if I set aside the terror I feel when I think about Him from my knowledge about the vastness, complexity, and beauty of the universe? What if I paused in my trembling over the wonder of beauty and joy and all the good which I know flows like sunshine from Him?

What if I simply said, Jesus, my Lord, Big Brother, Savior, and Creator, could You sit beside me a little while and just be my friend? Isn’t that something He knows how to do?

I’ve several good friends who will do that with me. I’ve written about them from time to time. Recently I wrote about one who took me out for coffee and simply listened to me as I spoke about things he already knew. As most of you know, someone who simply listens is always considered a great conversationalist and this friend is such.

This friend of mine rarely offers advice. And half of the times he does it is in joke.

What if I tried that relationship with Jesus? What if I really let myself share who I am, everything I am? What if instead of just offering Him my praises and worship and reverence and prayers, I also acknowledge that I want Him to carry some of my pain, just exactly the same way He carried that cross after allowing mortals to spit, whip, and beat Him?

What if I added the rough texture of my friendship to the polished surface of my church worship? What might happen to my faith then?

Just a thought.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


(Slightly edited version)

I think everyone wonders about the nature of God sometimes. How could a good God allow so much hurt to happen, especially to the innocent?

That question is why I started my first blog, Job’s Tale. The book of Job is about a man who has the most horrific things happen, and he did nothing, absolutely nothing, to deserve them.

So, how could a good God...

How is it that my wife and I were denied children, though we ached for them, prayed for them, we were not going to get them, unless we adopted.

Our first child was born on Brenda’s birthday and taken home the second day of his life. He went to sleep at 10:30 the morning of December 15th, 1992, and drifted off into eternity. No accident. No disease. No poison or storm or pool of water, he went to sleep and I sat a few feet away as he whimpered to be picked up, and never awoke again.

How could a good God...

Brenda has had trauma. Evil crept toward her, touched her, hurt her.

How could a good God...

Setting aside the specifics of poor Job, of my own sorrows, let’s look at the big picture.

First, we can’t really talk about God. Words themselves are symbols of things and can never reflect the full truth of what they describe. But beyond that, we cannot truly describe a being that is so beyond us. We are tiny souls trapped in mortal bodies, scratching about in four dimensions. How can we describe an eternal being, one in three separate yet completely unified beings, existing in at least a dozen dimensions, and holding the universe itself, from beginning to end, the way we might hold a paper weight?

So, having said we can’t really talk about God, let’s talk about God.

My mom wished to me once that “they” could invent a macrowave that beamed coolness at food as a microwave beams heat. I explained to her microwaves are really a form of energy, a type of light, and that the box on her kitchen counter just pumps energy in. There isn’t any such thing as pumping in cold. Cold is the absence of heat, the lessening of energy, not a force in itself. There isn’t any place in the universe that is truly, purely, cold, what we term absolute zero, or 0 Kelvin. It is theoretical, it does not exist in the universe. All matter contains some energy, even if it is only the packet of photons trapped within the energy shell of a single electron.

God is like heat. He pumps His energy into the universe. We can shield ourselves from that energy, run away from God, choose our own paths that lead as far from Him as we can get, like a man hiding on the dark side of the moon.

It isn’t easy to avoid His power. He is everywhere. Even Hitler saw rainbows, Idi Amin breathed fresh air.

Light is another good metaphor for Him (though heat and light really are much the same thing).

Light pours over all the Earth. There may be deep caves one could find that would not have the light which streams upon us, but we would have to seek them out. I suppose evil does that. Evil seeks darkness, shields itself from beauty and joy and love.

Caves are a good metaphor in that they are natural parts of the world. Like caves, there is suffering that happens through nature. The shrug of tectonic plates sometimes flings water which might wash away villages and islands. A week spot in the mantle, gnawed from below for millenia, suddenly opens up and spews ash and molten rock onto a surface teeming with life. It is hurtful for us, it causes much sorrow. There is a price paid for living and for some it seems more than what is fair.

(My mind turns to that infant of mine, his blue face reflected in my panicked eyes...)

But because there is sorrow, because there is evil, this does not mean God is cruel.

We cannot fully understand His relationship with Himself... Creator, Comforter, eternally mortal carpenter, a single being and a community, sharing, giving, sacrificing, creating, comforting, binding all things together, gathering... we cannot fully understand this sort of love.

We understand it was great enough for Him to create powerful beings to share in His love: cherubim, seraphim, powers and dominions. We understand that He wanted to share His love even further, opening His heart, His eternity, to creatures who sweat and consume and breathe and die carrying tiny eternal souls in mortal, suffering bodies.

We understand He loves enough to set us free from returning that love. He has cut the puppet strings and let us totter about on shaky legs, so we can stand and watch Him in wonder if we choose, or stagger away into the dark caves of our hearts.

And that is where evil comes into the world. In order to permit us the freedom to choose to look back at Him, to offer our wayward hearts, He permits the freedom for us to run from the light, to crawl into darkness, into the cold, and put the distance of our sins between He (them) and us.

It is hurtful.

It is evil.

But it is not God’s. It is ours.

Even so, even as painful as life can be, it doesn’t last very long. A hundred years at most. An infinitely tiny fragment in the infinitely long existence of eternity.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


Last year my boss, the principal of our school, nominated me for an award as an outstanding teacher.

There was a dinner I was to attend. Nominees from schools throughout our district would be there, the award announced, but I didn’t go.

I didn’t believe I was anyone special.

A few weeks later he insisted I go to a school board meeting. I thought he wanted me to talk about one of the programs at our school, but it was so he could tell the board and local cable access he nominated me for that award, and he handed me a certificate of some sort.

I had a great year last year. I went to work early, stayed late. I had a bounce in my step, and I repeatedly told everyone: “I can’t believe I get paid for this!”

I believe it pleases God for me to do well, and enjoy, the work He has given me.

It is easy to get off track. It is easy to let things in life affect a person and get discouraged about many things. I sometimes do that, get off track.

But when one is really doing one’s job, really working, it can be an act of worship.

Last year I felt joy in my work that was a lot like the feeling I get when I see something especially beautiful. I’m sure you know the feeling. It also feels like love, and, well, gladness. Feelings like that are a God thing.

I think we were designed to work.

Adam was.

When God created Adam He didn’t go straight on to create Eve. He put Adam to work.

How long did Adam look at this world of the Creator’s? How long did it take him to explore and study and name all there was?

God even put work ahead of creating a mate for the first man.

God Himself worked (Genesis 1). Jesus worked (Mark 6:3).

I think that when we do less than we should at our work, we are missing out on the opportunity to worship God with our hands, with our lives.

Just a thought.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Christian Stuff

Note: this is an edited version
Full version is elsewhere

Ever get tired of Christian stuff?

Sometimes I do.

Saw a commercial a little while ago. It was from Time-Life Publications for a series of Country Worship CDs. A whole series.

The songs they sampled were many I enjoy singing myself. There were smooth camera zooms of singers on stage and in studios singing joyfully, worshipfully.

I wondered how much they were really feeling about God as they sang into a studio microphone or to a cheering audience.

Now, I know it is possible to worship on a stage, to tune out one’s surroundings and open my heart to my Lord. But the commercialism of seeing folks who paid for concert tickets tied to a series of music CDs turned me off a little.

I guess it was the rapturous expression on some of their faces which felt a little forced, a little too much like acting. Sometimes I get tired of the Christian stuff.

There is a Christian bookstore on Division in Portland which is simply huge. It is filled with Christian self-help sections (quite the irony there), Christian jewelry, Christian bookmarks, Christian videos, Christian games, and a Bible for every type of person in nearly any circumstance.

Christianity is big business.

Once upon a time people only learned about our faith through word of mouth.

And when it was put into book form, it was a rare and precious thing, often chained to large tables to prevent theft.

When my Lord walked the dusty roads of Judea under the watchful eyes of roman occupiers he spoke gently, earnestly to those He met. He never published scrolls to appear in the self-help section of the temple.

When I think about how the world often equates western culture, especially the U.S., as “Christian” I wince. I love my country, but I know that the Lord God is not a U.S. citizen.

So, as I watched that ad for country worship music I felt a little like someone was spraying gold paint on glory.

Instead of a Christian, I’d rather be a Christ-follower. Even that term seems a little grandiose, as if my path is true and clear, that I am always steady behind my Lord.

I think it would be more accurate to call me "Jesus’ adopted little brother who is always needing to be bailed out of some fix he has gotten himself into."

Too often I write stuff on this blog which examines some particular view or idea I have of my faith in pithy phrases gauged with an eye to rhetoric; I’m just a clever primate.

What I want to say is I love God and it really isn’t about the popular sentiments of my culture as shown via those concerts and commercials.

I love God. For real.

I’m a big screw up, and I know it.

I also know that I have a personal relationship with the Creator of all things. I don’t care if I can’t look like those folks on TV worshipping God so fervently that Time-Life Publications wants a piece of it.

All I care is that I feel that way.