Monday, February 25, 2013

Down by the Sea: Part 1

Our God and Creator is truly awesome, breathtakingly beautiful, mind-boggling, inscrutable, and good. That opening sentence is probably the granddaddy understatement of all time.

Think about it.  God creates us.  Therefore, we as with all life forms are contingent beings: we fully depend on God for life.  Yet, unlike all other lifeforms, God endowed human beings with the capability to enter into a personal relationship with God.  By personal I mean when God dwells with us and us with God at the level of intimacy known for all eternity within the God-head, shared between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  God didn't create us in just the basal sense of contingency, but with a nature able to share God's nature, and also comprehend what such a relationship means--eventually, anyway.  God created us for the possibility of us calling God, Abba, Father--Daddy.

But God doesn't fabricate such a relationship between God and us--although God could--because then it would be only a mere facsimile of what God is seeking.  One could aspire to riding horses one day.  But if one decided to make good one's dream by purchasing a hobby-horse--and it might be a very excellent 3-D printing of a real horse--and took to riding it, one would still be only dreaming.  No, for the relationship God wants, both parties must freely choose to enter into it.

The force binding together the three persons of the Trinity in relationship is the same that must bind us in relationship with God, for the relationship to be genuine.  The binding force is love.  And for love to be genuine it must be freely given and received, and received to be freely given back again.  I particularly like the above hobby-horse analogy because executing good and genuine horseback riding necessarily involves a relationship between the rider and the horse.  True love always entails a translation between the lovers, not a transaction.  One might program the hobby-horse to respond a certain way to each stimulus from the rider, but the response would be the same every time--that's how transactions work.  A real horse may not always respond the same to stimuli from the rider--sometimes its because the horse sees something the rider doesn't--that's how translations work.

If we don't engage in the relationship with God in the purity of God's love, we will never engage in the relationships God intended for us to have between each other, because the same love is required.  This is why there are so many destructive relationships in the world, because so few of us enjoy the necessary relationship with God.  We spend our lives attempting to wing it, treating love as if it were a transaction, rather than something much deeper, powerful, and selfless.  Only God can teach us such love because only God is love.

What is critical, then, for the relationships God seeks first between Himself and us, and then consequentially between you and me, to blossom, grow, and become intrinsic to us is for us to walk with God in the tension of God's sovereignty and Human Responsibility (GS/HR).

Next week we'll venture down by the sea, and unpack this perhaps startling claim.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Valentine for my girl...

My Dearest, Sara,

In an ever darkening world that seems to be closing in on itself with every turn of the gravure, a few beacons are found guiding the lost, tormented, angry, marginalized, confused, sad, and weary to the port of safety and comfort of truth.  Some who spot these lights on the distant shore as they fearfully attempt to navigate the tempest, choose to flee farther into the darkness above the deep waters, where distinctions blur beyond recognition; believing their security lies in the vast tumultuous desert; only to discover--and often too late--the solitude to be mean consolation, exacting an astronomical price.

Some will go towards the light.  And while the journey is arduous, fraught with the terrors of rocks, shallows, wind, and undertow, they come to their peaceful haven: a secluded cove far exceeding their expectations in hope.  And like a mother who holds her newborn for the first time, the pain of their flight is soon forgotten.  Such voyagers cannot express their gratitude for the chance to bask in the warm light; nor can they express the wonder of it, except to say it is there they want to stay.

You are such a light, my darling.  Because you love Jesus and strive to do His will, His light radiates out of you--brilliant and manifest.  You don't notice it, and so it shines even brighter.  Others see it, and long to enter your nimbus, and rest in the love so elusive in this grim world.

From the moment I first met you, I've noticed this aura of splendor adorning your loveliness.  And no matter how troubled I might be, I always find solace in your presence.  Why God should love me so much to allow me to share in your life, I cannot know.  I love you, deeply, my beautiful girl.  And I will as long as I draw breath both here and from the rarefied atmosphere past west.

Love always and forever, even into the age.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Sports are a Window to Us

It has always been a love/hate relationship between me and sports.  In the early days, I think my father secretly wanted athletic sons.  Mainly because he is such a good athlete.  Alas, he had to be content having sons who are artists and thinkers, instead.  Actually, he has always been proud of what his sons have become, even though they never lettered in any sport.

I used to enjoy playing B-ball until in grad school it went from a nice friendly game for fellowship and exercise to an excuse to beat each other up.  Later, I joined the church league, thinking things would be different.  Even though there was less physical aggression, I felt the constant need to apologize for every error I made.  So even in the weekly informal venue under the auspices of the church, the name of the game was still win at all cost.  I get that.  Of course, when one plays a game, one wants to win.  But certainly a situation of friendly competition for the sole purpose of affording a bunch of middle aged men a fun way to get some exercise, shouldn't become a crucible of humiliation.  Yet it always seems to go there.  I guess there are enough guys in these games secretly trying to fulfill some sports fantasy, so any impediment to their glory is summarily put down.

I have since left all team sports and stayed with tennis.  I ain't any good at that, either, but no one seems to care much.

At this point, I could easily wax philosophical about sports, but I shall restrain myself.  I will say this: team sports such as baseball, B-ball, football, and hockey--to name a few--are microcosms of human society; sports are a window to us.  And I suspect this is one of the main reasons sports thoroughly captivate us, even to the tune of billions of dollars, annually.

I recently witnessed two events illustrating what I mean by sports being a window to us.

The first case was during the end of the initial playoff game between the Packers and Vikings.  The Pack was five yards from the goal and victory.  But one of the Green Bay players responded in an unsportsmanlike manner to some trash talk and more than likely physical intimidation by his opponent, resulting in a fifteen yard penalty for the Pack and the lose of the game.

The second case occurred during a recent pairing of the Detroit Red-wings and the Calgary Flames.  No doubt precipitated by trash talk and "spirited" checking, the Red-wings player threw off his gloves and started pummeling his opponent, who, I might add, gladly and predictably returned the favor.  Despite a cooling off period in the sin-bin, the aggression persisted--although perhaps more subtly--leaving the Red-wings frequently out-manned on the ice, and at least from my perspective, enabling The Flames to defeat them, 4 to 1.

Okay, so what's the point?  After all, brawling in professional team sports is part of the entertainment factor, isn't it?  I won't go there.  The point is it is us; it is all of us.  Whether in our work place, our home, on the street, or even in our churches, if someone insults us in some way--it doesn't matter how--our first inclination is to retaliate.  We may not haul off and belt the person, but invariably we look for some way to get even.  More often than not we do it through passive-aggression, where we carefully create alliances by promulgating our own brand of trash talk.  Rarely do we actually confront the person in question; even rarer do we perhaps consider if anything they had said to us--irrespective of how poorly it had been delivered--actually might be true, or at least partially so.  No, we are hell-bent on getting our pound of flesh, with the result of escalating disunity, suspicions, mistrust, cliques, bad-feelings, and in some cases, outright violence.  Warring has been the preferred way to peace in human society for eons.  Hasn't anyone noticed the promised peace has never materialized?

Perhaps it is time to learn from our beloved sporting events that the eye-for-an-eye approach to resolving conflicts fails every time.  Jesus teaches us that the only way to peace is through the very counter-intuitive response of loving our enemies.  Such is the way of His kingdom; such is the only way to the lasting peace we all claim we want.  Yet we don't believe Jesus because His way is too strange, too foreign to our sensibilities.  Our way of doing things always fails, but no matter, it somehow feels right.  Loving our enemies seems the coward's way out.  I agree the energy barrier to doing it Jesus' way feels pretty insurmountable, but the few times I have witnessed the outcome of following Jesus' lead, the promised peace is there and it lasts.

The two players I mentioned earlier didn't need to hug and kiss their opponents in response to their insults.  No, but they could have shaken off the insults, and responded instead by playing all the better. Their opponents might continue in their taunting, but in the end they will go away feeling pretty small--especially when they see how superior skill and execution ultimately wins the game, not intimidation.

All of us on nearly a daily basis are confronted by unpleasant people.  It does no good to argue with Jesus on the basis of the very rare situation of someone putting a gun to our head.  We are far more likely to face betrayal, character assassination, and snubbing than life and death confrontations.  And as counter-intuitive as it is, we need to love the perpetrators instead of responding in kind.  We need to step back and ask ourselves what might be causing the person to act the way he or she does, and then look for an opportunity to lovingly address the real issue.  Often times the result will be life-long friendships.  And such success stories are infectious.  Others who are on the side watching these encounters unfold--and rest assured, people are always watching--will likely try it our for themselves when the situation arises.  And peace and solidarity will began to multiply.  There are no guarantees, of course, some people are just plain mean.  But if we continue to answer their evil with more evil, I guarantee the outcome will be intensified hostilities instead of peace.

You might be thinking at this point, can't you sit back and enjoy a good ball-game with the rest of us; must you be so dour?   Take heart, I definitely get into watching sports of all flavors.  I jump up and down, stomp, scream, shout, and pout with the best of them.  And I even sometimes secretly want to be a sports hero.  I'm definitely human.  But it doesn't hurt on occasion to ponder the many object lessons afforded us through sports. Because sports are a window to us.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Catch the Beauty

If you have been a parent of teenagers you'll understand what I am taliking about.  Your son or daughter--it isn't a gender issue--would go one way, when you want them to go the other.  They would text friends, play games, watch movies, and sleep, when you want them to focus on school work, volunteer to clean their rooms, or even the bathrooms--we have perhaps lost all sense of proportion--and begin to aspire to a future where they have some significant place--to begin to show some ambition.  But they won't have it--at least not without boatloads of resistance.

From your point of view, their disinterest defies all logic and reason, especially in the face of such a fast paced, competitive world.  You might find yourself admonishing them about the pointlessness of endless textual prattle over the cyber airwaves, and how they cannot expect to survive into adulthood on a regimen of starch and cola.

You have forgotten how it was when you were their age.  The technology was different, but not the carefree, distracted, and wreakless abandon of giggly youth.  Then again, perhaps you remember your misspent youth all too well, and are desperate to save them from the same tortured path.

So you craft rules and consequences to guide their way towards the golden ring, and hold them to the straight and narrow road.  You find yourself constantly and tirelessly reminding them to attend to a litany of details critical to a safe and effective launch into the outer space of adulthood.  And they, with equal fervor and resolve, counter your every move with a roll of the eyes and judiciously executed patronizing.

In final desparation you might sit them down and appeal to them.  You might start by explaining how much you want them to enjoy an adult life replete with opportunity and personal satisfaction--where they will soar like an eagle--powerful, majestic, confident, independent, and free.  You might even confess that the rules you have imposed are probably exasperating and maybe even somewhat arbitrary, and definitely not always fun--okay, never fun.  But you urge them to try to see where it is you are leading them.  You ask them to trust you because you see clearly what is ahead of them, even though they cannot.  Someday they will look back and discover all the hassle has been worth it, and it is a joy to be on the otherside and to have arrived there the best way.

I was talking with a couple of friends on different occassions, recently, who both voiced frustration with themselves in failing to do what God would want them to do.  I could relate.  Then it came to me.  God is not so interested in us obsessing on the rules--although they are important--and He certainly finds no pleasure in seeing us suffer the consequences of our disobedience.  No, God wants us to see this beautiful thing He has created and is now restoring.  He wants to capture our imaginations and show us a truly lovely, awesomely (in its truest meaning) beautiful reality we can join Him in, forever.  God is appealing to us to see His rules as guideposts to a place and state we are still too young to totally comprehend.

"Listen, my son and my daughter," He implores, "as I let you in on my thoughts and purposes.  See how wonderous and beautiful they are.  Know that behind the curtain is not a pretense, but an infinitely vast beauty.  I am infinite and what I have for you to share with me is necessarily infinite; we must walk together forever for you to apprenhend it.  Indeed, that is a part of the wonder of it: where we are going will always burst ahead of you with new vistas of endless potential and purpose. I know it's difficult; I fully understand your frustrations;  I see how easily failure can overwhelm you; it seems to be one step forward and two steps backward.  But,try to see what we are attempting to accomplish; try to glimpse the incredible beauty I have created for us to dwell together.  Yes, you will need to endure growing pains, but know I have provided for everything you will need for the arduous journey ahead.  Trust Me.  Keep looking to Me for your strength.  Seek Me to dress the wounds you will incur on yourself; I will forgive you.  Ask me to salve the injuries others shall inflict on you.  Forgive them as I have forgiven you. Depend on Me to protect you from what is really harmful.  And one day you will awaken to the most glorious, breathtaking, inexpressible beauty of all: when you perfectly share My very nature.  Think about what I am doing.  Catch the beauty!"

The hike in God's kingdom is long and daunting, as God's kingdom light slowly quenches the darkness of the current world kingdom and turns its ugliness of blacks and greys into a beuaty of vibrant colors.  See what a beautiful new world God has recreated at great cost.  Gasp in utter awe as God's kingdom beauty unfolds before you like the most colorful, resplendent flower before a dawning sun.  Catch the beauty!