Nov 10 2011
Memo to Ourselves: Don't Idolize People

Don't idolize people.

Ever.

No one. Not football coaches. Not politicians. Not TV personalities. Not athletes. Not movie stars.  Not musicians.

Shoot, let's name names:  Don't worship Joe Paterno. And don't idolize Tim Tebow. Or Billy Graham. Or Bono. Or Chris Tomlin, or Steve Jobs, or Mercy Me, or Albert Pujols or Kirk Cameron or Stephen Hawking or Casting Crowns or John MacArthur or Francis Chan or Joel Osteen or Barack Obama or Whoever the Republican Nominee Will Be.

Don't worship dead humans, either.  Don't idolize Mother Teresa or Ronald Reagan or C.S. Lewis.

Don't idolize your preacher. Ever. Or your cool worship leader. They're sinners, they tend toward self-centeredness, and your idolatry will destroy them.  

Don't worship your spouse. Ever. Or your mom or dad.  

This is because they are humans. Humans are not to be made into idols.  Idolatry first blinds people, then leaves a wake of victims, wondering why no one seemed to see what was so obviously there.

You don't have to be a freak to engage in this. Normal people do it. And when idols are toppled, we deny, we lash out, and sadly, we wind up looking like the fools we have become.

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Nov 02 2011
Here's to Nothing

Nothing is counter-cultural.

We figured this out not long after moving to trendy Palm Beach County, Florida, where we rented a little condo in a development that forms a ring around a pond.  Thing was, everyone could pretty much see everyone else, all the time.  Everyone's sliding-glass back doors face everyone else's.  We started getting comments from neighbors.

One evening, standing by the pond, a tipsy Finnish guy (he and his wife were drinking while moving out, tired of the inhospitable hood) told me -- I swear I'm not making this up:  "When I look at your family, I think about God."

I'd never talked to him before.

"I watch you outside, and your wife, and your boy, and when you walk with your girl, and I see how your wife makes people feel -- very welcome," he said.  "It makes me think about God.  I know that's strange."

Once, a single man, a Jewish guy named Steve, stopped by with his dog as Carolyn and I sat on our little back patio.  Carolyn had talked with him some.  Me, not so much.  I have a long history of being shy...and selfish.  I'm getting better.

"You guys ought to be in a museum!"

Uh...what?

"Seriously.  You got the mom, the dad, the kids, hanging out.  When it gets dark, I can see you inside, eating dinner around the table and stuff.  You ought to be in a museum somewhere!  I love it!"

In our society's terms, what we do is a lot of "nothing".  For one, we don't send our kids to school.  (Forgive us, culture, for we have sinned.)  Carolyn's a brilliant teacher, and home-schooling fits nicely into the rhythm of our home.  I've heard the objections.  One of the more awkward, I think, is this:  "What about being 'salt and light'?  What about sending your kids into the dark places to redeem them?  What about the schools?"

Yes.  What about them?  And -- while we're at it -- what about our neighborhoods?  What about not just getting mail there, but actually living where you live?  Kids leave schools and change classes.  People change churches and never see each other again.  But where you live?  Now, there's a bit more there there.

A famous study of Chicago neighborhoods in the 50s and 60s concluded there is one thing, more than any other, that made for the "glue" of a neighborhood:  Women.  At home.  (Again, forgive me, etc.)

Turns out, when you have time to do what, culturally-speaking, is "nothing" (like walking the baby around, chatting with neighbors, letting the kids play together) neighbors get to know each other.  It doesn't happen when everyone's at breakneck speed and, when home, exhausted.

Nothing is quite something -- a very attractive something.  People long for it;  even admire it.  (One lawyer friend told me over coffee, "I hear what you're saying, about not working like crazy to buy stuff, and I want to live like that.  But -- forgive me -- you're the only one I know who actually does that.")

In this culture, "nothing" sticks out like crazy, like a...light...on a hill, or...something.  It wasn't just those two guys.  Our neighborhood knew we were odd.  The dad's home a lot, walking around with his daughter, catching lizards?  The mom is home a lot, too, talking outdoors with us about the ducks?  They waste time together.  They waste time with us.  Something's odd, here...

So:  Nothing made a man think about God.  In the U.S., right now, maybe that's not hard to explain.  We did nothing, and nothing is shockingly out of place.  Nothing means not everything, not running around infernally, not getting our kids this-lesson-and-that, not trying to sustain a lifestyle we "want" -- but not deep down.

Maybe Jesus's offer of "rest" is not an "after your dead, rest in peace"-type rest.  Maybe it's a lifestyle, now, that invites other people out of the maelstrom.

Here's to nothing.  I don't want to sound cocky about it, but I can do nothing pretty well.

Oct 11 2011
Blessed are the Spiritually Bankrupt

You know that feeling, when God is right there, thisclose, and you can just feel His loving arms around you, and you can literally hear His voice, whispering in your ear, telling you how much He loves you? 

I don't. 

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Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven."  I'm not sure what that means.  But I think Dallas Willard was the one writing about how "Blessed are the poor in spirit" really means, "Good news!  In MY Kingdom, even the spiritually bankrupt get invites!" 

Oh, man, I hope he's right.  That would be great news for me.  Because I'm not very spiritual.  Never have been.  I've tried.  And I'll keep trying.  But I'm just not.  I don't feel much of anything a lot of the time.  I'm sorry. 

I know;  I probably won't be writing old-school hymns:  "And He walks with me, I'm pretty sure, and He talks with me, in some ways, and He tells me I am His own, but generally not through an audible voice that I hear, at least in a non-metaphorical sense, and none other has ever known just how awkward it even is for me to talk about my faith, personally, and I know I should feel bad about that, too, but I keep trying."

Not a very good hymn.

Maybe I'm still doing something wrong.  I've never come by faith easily.  I don't get swept up in swirling "powerful worship".  Shoot, I'm not even comfy in it.  I don't take easily to praying out loud, even among friends.  I keep trying.

Could Jesus have been talking to people like me, the spiritually dry, when He was talking about how great the Kingdom is?  Maybe Jesus was saying, "Guess what?  When I'm in charge, it's good news even for the people who aren't all spiritual-y."

It means even I can participate!  I can get on this Gospel ride, even if I'm not as spiritually tall as this cut-out stand-up of Third Day.

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I'm thankful for my brothers and sisters who are so different from me, who've had profound, undeniable experiences.  A woman called yesterday, a woman whose husband committed suicide and left her with her kids.  And she was lonely, and helpless, and despairing... and God showed up.  And He put His arms around her, and she felt it, and knew she was not alone. 

I don't doubt God is like that.  In fact, it's why I love Him.  I know He's a father to the fatherless, and a champion of widows, and a lover for the scorned.  But...

...there is no "but".  He's just good.  So good that people like me, maybe like you, are invited to the party, too.  Oh, we might limp in, but we're totally there.

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The truth of Jesus is a two-edged sword, of course.  "Happy are the spiritually bankrupt" -- if that's the correct interpretation -- would sure bug some religious people, some people who really think they're spiritually rich.   But, hey, everything Jesus said bothers them.

And that, alone, makes me suspect Willard is on to something.