Is anything more annoying than a young person complaining about age? I promise to control myself.
Growing up, I read a lot of Bill James, the bearded baseball wizard who revitalized baseball in the 80s and 90s through his unique statistical approach. One of the nuggets of information he uncovered was that baseball players tend to peak at age 27.
Statistics gradually improve from 18 to 24, until somewhere between 25 and 29 (often 27), a player will have his best season, his career year. From then on, skills and stats regress. This is good to know: a team that understands this general trend of player performance should be less likely to overpay someone about to enter the twilight of his career.
Now obviously this analysis is rather specific to sports, dependent as they are on strength and quickness. In most (though not all) fields, years, even decades, of experience are an asset.
But remember, at the time, I was a 12-year-old ninth grader, averse to aging and used to being the youngest person in the room. So 27 — distant 27 — became internalized for me as the peak year, on the back end of a series of numerical waystations:
16 — graduate from high school
18 — gain right to vote
20 — graduate from college
27 — reach my apex
35 — gain Presidential eligibility
100 — die, preferably after eating pizza
Before 27, you see, I could not be old — even when it seemed unimaginably far-off — because age 27 was when baseball players were at their best. But now, today, the very minute this article went up, I turned 28. So let the long slide into obsolescence begin. Or, perhaps more correctly, continue.
In defending the celebration of Christmas, Samuel Johnson pointed out that “there is danger that what may be done on any day, will be neglected.” Birthdays are a peculiarly perfect time to consider the events of a year, of a life. And since what I do at work all day is confidential, most of what I can show you from the last two years of my life is right here.
Now I don’t think I peaked in much of anything at 27, with the likely exception of Wii tennis. And I know from experience that I will look back at this year and rue my foolishness and error, think of all the things that should have turned out differently. But I also know that for the rest of my life, I will think fondly of these last two years for the experience we have shared here.
It has been a profound honor and an actual privilege to serve among this entertaining and talented group of writers, and to be read by such a kind and discerning audience. Thank you all. I certainly have not loved every minute of it, but I have loved most. And trust me, that’s worth a lot.
And so we will say goodbye this weekend, after two years, 89 clashes, 76 Bible discussions, 70-some Councils, about 60 Chick tracts, countless articles, jokes, and quotes, and — above all — immense and honest gratitude for any time you have spent with us. Everything here will remain, but for the foreseeable future, nothing new will be added. For a while, I’ll be satisfied re-reading it.
I don’t know what will come next, but I’m sure that — before too long — you’ll be able to hear from me again. Of course that assumes that you want to! If you were here for David, or Job, or Connie, or Chloe, or Josh, or Djere, or Kaitlin, or Tom, or Mike, or MCB, or Erin, I don’t blame you! Honestly, I was too.
But yes, I’ll be around, somewhere.
After all, I’ve got another 72 years before I finish that pizza.
“They said among themselves, ‘No doubt this man is a murderer…,’ but after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.” –Acts 28:4-6
How often are our opinions of others based on the outward circumstances of their lives? Paul was a prisoner; he escaped a shipwreck, washed up on a strange shore, and was bitten by a poisonous snake. For these people, that was enough evidence to issue a judgment: “Surely he is a murderer whom, although he has escaped the sea, yet justice will not allow to live.” Case closed.
But wait! After further review — when a long time passes and he doesn’t keel over dead — the same crowd decides he is obviously a god! And all based on the external appearance of his life.
I wish this were confined to 1st-century Malta, but this kind of thinking was an integral part of Old Testament theology too. Why else would Job’s comforters be unable to believe that he wasn’t hiding some secret sins to account for his misfortunes. This explains why Isaiah’s prophesies described Jesus as “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief,” whose contemporaries would “esteem him stricken of God.” And it continued: when Jesus told the disciples it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, he found them “astonished beyond measure.” It completely flipped their theology. After all, riches were blessings from God, while the poor were clearly cursed.
Matthew Henry has written that the sign of God\’s blessing in the Old Testament was prosperity, but in the New Testament, it was adversity. Why has our thinking not transformed to line up? Why do we still judge people, and ministries, by the whims of fortune rather than by their Biblical fruit?
We see TV ministries or megachurches that abandon the Bible or embrace what Rich Mullins called “trendy religion that makes cheap clichÃ©s out of timeless truths” and we say, “God can\’t bless that!” But then they grow a church of thousands, and we buy their book, touting them as the men of the hour! Theirs is the new plan of God for the church! Question that and you hear, “They’re reaching millions of people for Jesus every Sunday — what are you doing?”
Well, what I am doing is trying to live my life in obedience to the Holy Spirit, which is all the success there is in the Kingdom of God. To figure out which church, or man, or woman, is doing it “right,” may require us to read our Bibles and pray, rather than watching the outward circumstances to level judgments about what is or isn\’t of God.
But — if anything — I\’d bet on those facing adversity. It\’s a new testament and a new theology that demands a vigilance to see the truth.
— Welcome to This Is Why You’re Fat: a gastronomic gallimaufry of “food porn.” Close-up, glossy pictures of such delicacies as a Krispy Kreme sloppy joe, a deep-fried peanut butter-covered brownie wrapped in cookie dough, and the truly frightening “double bacon hamburger fatty melt.”
Right now the front page even includes Rochester’s claim to culinary fame: the aptly named but undeniably delicious “garbage plate.”
— And on that gluttonous note, this essay about shifting attitudes toward food and sex is perhaps the most interesting thing I’ve read all year. Mary Eberstadt argues that our society has developed distinctive and universalized moral hangups about food, at least in part due to its abandonment of such longstanding stigmas against indiscriminate sex.
It’s a little too cute to call this modern man’s “own act of transubstantiation,” but it’s a fascinating observation — and, as Eberstadt points out, both junk food and junk sex have undeniable consequences.
— But if all of this is too base and mundane for your ethereal mind, I’ve something for you too: a brief and surprisingly understandable lecture on the concept of physics’ string theory. As a theory, it’s quite likely nonsense. Sure is cool nonsense, though.
Next in the series of reflections on songs written and performed by Bweinh!tributors is “How Great” (Â© 2005 Dj. Maxon), as recorded live by the band Maxon.
Listen to or download the song here (for a limited time)!
“How Great” is a song I wrote in college, and it’s one of the better songs I’ve written. I’m not a big fan of the song, but other people seem to like it — so I don’t know what to say to them. I’m okay with the chorus, but there’s something about the verses I can’t put my finger on… I just don’t like them.
Looking through an old clipboard, I just found the original blue scrap of paper I wrote the song on, stuffed into the pages of an aging yellow legal pad. A pad, might I add, that’s just full of terrible, terrible songs. Terrible. If you were to look at it, which you never will (because the songs are just embarrassingly terrible and I won’t let you), you could open to just about any page and find the first verse of an unfinished song, or hastily scribbled chords that, by now, make little to no sense.
Ahhhh, the halcyon days of my youth, when scribbling chords and penning songs not fit for human consumption was how I passed the time. I wrote this song in the basement of the music building, Tyler Hall, pretty much in one take. I spent a lot of time down in those cramped, tiny practice rooms. Thank goodness now I have Left 4 Dead.
Anyway, as I said before, other people like the song more than I do, but I do like the chorus a fair amount.
Enjoy, I guess….
Its first point is more relational than directional: it’s in the exhortation to “present your bodies a living sacrifice.” Right relationship with God rests on this “presentation.” We are independent, free-thinking humans, and God will not exercise lordship over us without our consent. Being born again, being saved, becoming a Christian — whatever language you are comfortable with — it all begins when we surrender our lives to God through Jesus Christ. We accept His sacrifice for our sins, and in return, we sacrifice ourselves to Him. But we are not like the sacrifices of old that died on the altar — we continue to live for him. Believing in God and belonging to God are not the same thing.
The second and third lessons from the chapter are in the words “conform” and “transform” (KJV). We are told not to conform to the world, but rather to allow ourselves to be transformed, by the renewing of our minds.
There\’s a great cartoon in January\’s Reader’s Digest: a psychiatrist is advising his patient to visualize an Applications folder in his mind. “Okay, do you see the file labeled Suicidal Thoughts?” he asks. “Just click on that and drag it over to the trash icon…”
It really is similar to that. We live in a fallen world, a fallen system, and it must be purged from our minds and replaced with the Gospel. We have to learn to tell the difference between what God values and what the world values — and realize why they aren’t the same. Why do we have to do this? The first reason, of course, is to place us in right relationship with God, but the text goes on to describe a secondary reason: “so that we might prove what is that good and acceptable will of God.”
Prove to whom? The rest of the world; we are to be examples of what God expects from people. My whole life belongs to Him and He wants to use me as an example. This is the root of Paul’s teaching that we must live not by our own conscience, but by another\’s. What I do in my life is always examined by its effect on others. How well does it reflect God\’s will?
Once this “presentation” is done and we have begun to actively reject the world, replacing it with God\’s plan, we can move on to more specific things. In verse three, we are told to cultivate humility, then Paul begins to teach on what is perhaps the most important aspect of how to live: the Body of Christ.
When Paul looked for the best analogy to explain a Christian’s place in this world, he found the human body. Christianity was never meant to be a solitary experience, and when you become a Christian, you must come into contact with other believers to fulfill the purposes of your life. In the same way that a human body could not function with a torso in Georgia, a head somewhere in California, and the arms and legs scattered around the Midwest, neither can the Body — nor its individual parts — function properly when detached from each other. They soon wither and die. So your first task as a Christian is to seek fellowship with other Christians. After that, the things Paul taught in the next few verses will largely happen by themselves.
Are you called to preach? Then you will begin to develop a desire and an ability to preach. Are you called to administrate? You will. Are you called to teach? You will. Are you called to serve? Serve. Called to give? Give.
Let the Holy Spirit work to develop the gifts God has placed within you, so that you can function in His Body. You need to do this, not only for yourself, but for others, as they too are drawn into the body to receive and give. You have what they need. You need what they have.
I really enjoyed this book. I picked it up after a hearty recommendation from my pastor — which was both surprising and intriguing. After two of my sons reported that they both liked it, I was able to catch up with it after the busy holidays.
It has been a bit misrepresented to the public at large, though. I\’ve seen it at Target, in Wal-Mart, and on airport shelves, and every time it looks just like any other creepy novel that I’d pass over. And so I fear that those who pick it up may not be equipped to deal with the issues it uncovers. Maybe its uber-hip interpretations of the Trinity are absolutely spot on, but some of the philosophies that came along for the ride made my head spin. I can\’t imagine what they\’d do to a non-Christian — which is why I passed my copy along to a co-worker, with whom I’ll be eager to discuss it.
It’s a story about a Christian man who faces unforeseen tragedy while camping with his family, and a fruitless search that eventually leads him to an abandoned, dilapidated shack in the wilderness. Despair, a ‘Great Sadness’ in his words, settles on his sleepwalking soul for many years, until one day he gets a note, asking him to meet someone at that shack. Is it the killer? Could it be God? And would he really want to go either way?
I\’ve worked in deliverance ministry for over 10 years now, and I can tell you: there is nothing better than seeing people set free from old wounds. It\’s absolutely wonderful. My hope is that enough groundwork is laid in the book to draw people to Jesus, so that they can come to understand His deliverance. I wish that more churches went directly from salvation to deliverance ministry — in our church we\’re trying. This book is an excellent catalyst to get people thinking about the lingering chains from their past.
So overall, I heartily recommend The Shack. The bottom line isn\’t the presentation of the Trinity, or all that fluffy fill. The lesson is forgiveness, serious forgiveness. In order to be forgiven, we must forgive, even forgive the hardest person in the world. God will take care of the judgment; all we need to do is release the one who harmed us, and let Christ’s blood come and cleanse us. Glory! There’s no feeling like walking free of the Great Sadness. We weren\’t made to walk around like that.
It is 1964, and inside the most packed Catholic church I have ever seen, Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is delivering a homily on the virtues of doubt. In the faces of the unrealistically attentive parishioners, we see just how relevant the topic is. Here a lonely man, there a sick woman, all around a community of people who remember all too well that earthshaking day, less than a year before, when they witnessed the murder of their beloved president. “Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty,” the priest tells them. “When you are lost, you are not alone.”
A peculiar conclusion to a sermon, I thought — and so did Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), the rock-ribbed battleship of a school principal, who views ballpoint pens as tools of Satan, casts aside cough drops (“candy by another name”), and unironically refers to Frosty the Snowman as “disturbing and heretical.” She views herself as a guardian who foresees and prevents evil, and soon the unease she felt at Flynn’s sermon of doubt is fanned into a flame of full-blown suspicion. “Every easy choice today comes with a consequence tomorrow,” she tells the innocent, young Sister James (Amy Adams), whose observations quickened the fire. Aloysius, we can see, is not afraid of the hard choice.
A cinematic adaptation of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning parable of a play, Doubt is at its most powerful in the adroitly written interplay between its major characters; all four performers have been justly nominated for Academy Awards. Between those scenes of brisk dialogue, the symbolism is laid on a trifle thick — wind, okay, we get it — and the juxtaposition of the sisters’ timid, sedate dinners with the rollicking, smoke-filled bacchanalia of the priest and monsignor is comically blunt. But once the movie gets down to what it’s really about, it is spellbinding.
What do we believe, and why? What evidence do we demand of ourselves to support the conclusions at the heart of our unspoken philosophies? Aloysius is a woman of unshakable conviction, a fevered faith in, above all, the certainty of her own stern judgment. “I know. I am right,” she tells Flynn. “And nothing I can say will change that,” he not-quite-asks. She ponders, frowns. “That’s right.”
But this faith, blind or otherwise, does not make her wrong, not necessarily — and therein is the genius of the script. Like a liberal arts education, this film is about questions, not answers, about how we arrive at a conclusion. I left with an opinion about the movie’s pivotal issue, but the answer is ultimately unknowable, left undefined even by the powerful scene where Flynn and Aloysius engage in anguished, high-stakes psychological combat. Why did I conclude as I did; how could I conclude at all? Is it ever possible to make peace with discomfiting uncertainty, or will we choose to believe certain things just because it’s easier that way?
“You just want things resolved so you can have simplicity back,” Aloysius tells James early on. By the time the film ends, we discover that she was speaking to herself as well. Thank God that He calls us all beyond the mere simplistic — and gives us strength to stand.
I give this film a “Bweinh” out of “Bweinh!” (6 out of 7).
Several years ago there was a lot of buzz about a must-read book by Francis Schaeffer, entitled How Should We Then Live? People seemed captivated by the prospect of getting an answer on how a Christian should live and they used the book — or at least its title — as a springboard for their own thoughts and sermons on the subject. Charles Colson even followed up with a book, which I have not read, called How Should We Now Live?
After I finished the book, I had the distinct impression that someone — either them or me — had misunderstood the book. The Bible verse it referenced (Ezekiel 33:10) actually translates, “How can we hope to survive?,” after the Jews had turned their backs on God. It had nothing to do with the very important question, “How should a Christian live?,” but rather, “How can we hope to survive if we turn our backs on God?” The book seemed to pursue the textual question, as Schaeffer examines “the rise and decline of Western thought and culture,” so I imagine there were some disappointed purchasers who had expected some kind of Walking With God for Dummies.
It was a thick book, filled with a very long and intricate examination of Western culture; I remember it chiefly for two things. The first thing is the assertion that the Renaissance and the Reformation were two arms of the same movement, carried out by people who reacted differently to the repression of the Catholic Church in the realms of art, literature, music, and other fields. The men and women of the Reformation rejected the authority of the church and turned to the Bible instead. Those in the world did the same, but looked to classical learning for a replacement.
(The second was the art, including a drawing of Leonardo da Vinci\’s “David.” Our grandkids were visiting while I was reading it, and I heard my grandson yell from behind my back to his parents: “Grandpa\’s reading a book with naked men in it!”)
Then and now, there remains a tremendous hunger to have the Christian life simplified for us. We know we are Christians. We have learned the doctrines and idiosyncrasies of our religious traditions. We know where we\’re going when it\’s all over. But don\’t we all, at times, grope blindly in the dark, doubting not the facts of the Christian life, but whether our interpretations of those facts are valid? Life is filled with victories and defeats; we sometimes consider victories an affirmation of our path, and defeats as a sure sign of our error. In fact, neither one is necessarily true.
So the hunger remains. I think that is why The Purpose-Driven Life was so successful. People want to know the point: enough guessing! What is my life supposed to look like? What am I supposed to do? What is God\’s will?
But of course the only book that explains that has already been written. It’s funny how so many people will read a shelf full of books to figure out Christianity, while leaving untouched the one book given to us directly from heaven. This was quite a long introduction, but over the next two weeks, I want to share some things from Romans chapter 12, which I think answer the question “How should I live?” better than anything else I have ever found.
Originally published January 2008.
Perhaps you’ve heard of Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley, a Vermont farmer, turned amateur photographer, turned amateur scientist, turned mild sensation. In the early 1900s, Bentley used his 5,000+ collection of snowflake photographs to prove in a series of articles in National Geographic that no two snowflakes are exactly the same.
This sparked a romantic intrigue in readers and scientists alike, and his assertion was later proven true — that no matter how hard storms may precipitate, blanketing the vast acres of land in Siberia, Alaska, Tibet or Vermont, no snowflake will ever have an exact duplicate.
This is a compelling idea to consider as we step on, shovel through and wipe from our windshield the relentless number of snowflakes that visit us each year. I was recently indulging in this mind-expanding exercise while I watched it snow steadily, in weather warm enough that it was also melting and dripping off the roof in a reflection-inducing rhythm. Once perfectly unique crystals, now joined with others in a similar globular fate, speeding their melted way to form a drop falling off an eave. Never documented, never looked at, and never to be seen again.
The intricacy of a snowflake’s formation is too intense to ever truly comprehend, but its fragility pounded home to a level this human could master. I thought of a fetus — how at its very conception, it is immediately distinct, unique, exclusive and unrepeatable. But unlike a snowflake, it is not made by the chance encounter of high and low pressure systems, but rather the massive chemistry of human biology, emotion and decision.
And unlike a snowflake a fetus is not meant to quickly melt but rather grow, breathe, emote, possess fingerprints, and wrinkle. Despite its small size, a fetus — like a seed — carries the complexity to burst out, to mature into something astonishingly more. In fact, this is its very design, inexorable and compulsory.
But perhaps a fetus is most unlike a snowflake because one snowflake doesn’t require others to see it through to maturation.
And perhaps they are most similar in that all snowflakes — and all fetuses — have the same end together, in the ground.
Shafts of late afternoon sunlight fall upon the winter forest, bringing a dazzling glow to the fresh snow scattered on the ground, ringing the shaggy heads of ancient trees. At a crossroads near an inn, surrounded by a few squalid hovels, a messenger appears, riding a white horse. He blows a silver trumpet, and as the wretched inhabitants warily assemble, he unravels a parchment and begins to read.
“Hear ye! Hear ye! Good Sir Obama, that fearless knight and champion of the people, hath deposed the great and evil foe of mankind and nature! George W. Bush — killer of polar bears; destroyer of dolphins; slaughterer of seals; torturer of both terrorists and tortoises — hath fallen! This is that same evil man who descended into the deep places of the earth and brought forth the plague of oil wherewith he enslaved and exploited his fellow citizens for filthy lucre\’s sake; this is he who delved too deeply, awakening the fires of the dark place, warming the planet and melting the polar caps of ice! He who hath been known to rob from the poor and give to the rich!”
“Yes, citizens, this is that same George W. Bush who strode upon the fields of nations, killing, devouring, and pillaging among not just our enemies but our friends; it is he who hath caused a stench to arise, filling the nostrils of even our staunchest allies. He it was also who brought upon us the wrath of nature, stirring up that race of hardy water-borne malevolent sprites, known as the Hurricane-beasts. How many times in recent years have they invaded with impunity these hallowed shores, decimating the ranks of the poor and downtrodden, leaving the rich and privileged to their life of ease?”
“This same George Bush hath, in fact, estranged us from our allies in the animal kingdom, and senselessly slaughtered our brothers and sisters, the trees! Red oaks, white oaks, majestic sequoias, all hath been slain in their sleep, and in the presence of those dear saplings that were being raised up at their feet! But hark now! For this same vile beast, bane of all existence, hath been vanquished, and Good Sir Obama hath ascended to the throne and now inhabits the White Citadel!”
“How often would his people, the Democrats, have ridden to your succor with wagons of food and bags of gold, only to be thwarted time and time again by the vile Republican army of George W. Bush. ‘Tis these same Democrats which have spent eight years groveling at the foot of the White Citadel, dressed in rags, subsisting on dry beans and moldy bread, while the Republicans feasted inside, on the fat of the land! Obama and these Democratic heroes refused to partake in the feasting until they could reign with you: the poor, the downtrodden, and the broken!”
“So now today, Good Sir Obama, bids you — rejoice! And join him to reign in prosperity and justice!”
To be continued…
“As for the peace that we would preserve, I wonder who among us would like to approach the wife or mother whose husband or son has died in South Vietnam and ask them if they think this is a peace that should be maintained indefinitely. Do they mean peace, or do they mean we just want to be left in peace? There can be no real peace while one American is dying some place in the world for the rest of us. We’re at war with the most dangerous enemy that has ever faced mankind in his long climb from the swamp to the stars, and it’s been said if we lose that war, and in so doing lose this way of freedom of ours, history will record with the greatest astonishment that those who had the most to lose did the least to prevent its happening. Well I think it’s time we ask ourselves if we still know the freedoms that were intended for us by the Founding Fathers.” — Ronald W. Reagan, October 27, 1964
Replace the words “South Vietnam” with “Iraq” or “Afghanistan” and the Gipper speaks truth to us 44 years later.
Clicking the picture will take you to American Rhetoric, a site I highly recommend if you’re interested in American politics.
Read the full text, listen to the 29-minute speech in its entirety.
In the midst of uncertain times, a global war with no (good) end in sight, and a liberal government in Washington, remember: it takes a Carter to get a Reagan.
Sixteen years ago today, I was sitting at a lab bench, half-listening to a chemistry lecture as I watched the clock. At the stroke of noon, I dramatically lowered my head to my desk in a gesture of resignation. For the first time in my brief life, we had a Democratic president — and while a few of my more liberal friends tittered at my open, campy despair, there was a part of me that truly mourned.
Now, for only the second time in my less-brief life, another Democrat will be sworn in, the first winner I have ever voted against. His supporters are infinitely more optimistic than Clinton’s ever were. They have written some of the worst poetry in human history to honor the historic inauguration. They have lined up for miles around to catch a glimpse, as the train of Obama’s robe fills the temple. They make me want to mute CNN.
It seems that some of my friends are as shaken as I was at 11, worrying about the survival of the republic, making plans to move out West in a pre-emptive attempt to protect themselves from their new government. But as I watch the scene on the Mall and think about the four years to come, I don’t feel the way I did in 1992. I did not vote for this man, and I worry about the effect of some of his policies — but with the benefit of perspective, I remain supremely confident in the future of our country.
I am happy that Obama’s election has made the poor and the outcast feel welcome and included. I am pleased that our nation has, at least in some small way, overcome the terrible stain of its institutional racism. I am eager to watch President Bush’s reputation rise over the rest of my life. And frankly, I am thrilled to have the chance to watch my ideological opponents be disappointed by one of their own for a while. You know I feel more at home with low expectations anyway.
On my way to work today, I took a step off the sidewalk and felt my right foot slide on some hidden ice. Instantly, my left arm flew into the air to maintain my equilibrium; I didn’t have to think about it. It just happened. And I kept moving forward.
GodÊ¼s provision is as faithful as the sunrise, and just as predictable. We know so well that the sun will rise each day, that we actually print the time in the newspaper the day before. We know that seedtime and harvest will continue; we’re so sure of just when they will happen that the Farmer’s Almanac lists the dates for each region of the country — exactly when spring will arrive, and when we can plan on a harvest. GodÊ¼s provision is just as measurable and visible in our lives.
Last week, out of the blue, my boss paid me on Thursday, instead of Friday. I suspected something must be up. What happened next? An unexpected expense that had to be paid Friday morning. After paying that, writing a tithe check, and putting a tank of gas in our car, I informed my wife that we had $60 left for the whole week. Groceries alone run $225. Gasoline is $75.
God’s provision is so constant that I actually enjoyed sitting back to see what would happen next. A $10 check in my wallet that I had forgotten about. A $10 check in the mail. A $70 rebate for a Christmas phone arrives on Saturday. $150 in cash set aside last week by my wife. A $58 check we did not expect.
IÊ¼m not saying that I never worry — itÊ¼s hard not to. But some days itÊ¼s like reading the paper, knowing when the sun will rise so you can sit out on the hill and watch it happen.
Originally printed January 10, 2008.
I like a lot more people than I trust.
Part of this is because I know myself. I’m aware of what I think about and what I have thought about. I remember the things that I have done, wanted to do, could be capable of doing.
Much of it is because I know other people, generally. How they lie. Why they lie. What motivates them. People, in the flesh, in the mind, are not really very different from one another; it’s just a matter of which flaws they possess. One woman can handle huge sums of money faithfully, yet fly into a violent rage when angry at her children. One man might remain untempted to stray from his wife, but struggle with the desire for mind-altering substances.
I get paid to read about people now, sometimes, and the terrible things they have done, to help determine whether their punishment was fair. It would be nice to imagine, as Solzhenitsyn wished, that the solution to evil is simply finding all the bad people and destroying them. Unfortunately, that won’t work — or better put, it works only if done most thoroughly. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
And so I find it can be true that a man guilty of heinous crimes against some children can nonetheless be beloved by others, can be hailed, perhaps rightfully, as a pillar of his church and community. It seems incongruent, it seems wrong. How can a person do both? How can, for instance, a successful and married evangelical pastor purchase (at least) methamphetamine and, in all likelihood, carry on a homosexual affair?
Life is easier and less threatening for us if we can divide people into well-defined, recognizable groups — the inhuman monsters who rape and murder, the unwashed dissolute who “live in sin,” and then the nice people, whether Christians or not, who pretty much get along with everyone and try to do their best.
But by pretending that what drives the ‘worst’ among us is somehow different from the evil that still exists in our own heart, we set ourselves up for a grand disappointment — by ourselves, and by our heroes. And when this self-deception leads us to marginalize our own sinfulness (after all, we’re not beating children or taking meth, right?), we skip happily down the path of slow and steady compromise, the broad way that leads to destruction, an evil anesthesia that scars the heart and leaves us less and less convicted with every sin we rationalize.
New Year’s Day has never been a very cheerful time for me. I still remember New Year’s Day 1980. I was at a skating party with my college friends while a song played on the radio: “Are You Ready for The ’80s?” A flirtatious girl was skating with me; she batted her eyes and asked, coyly, “Are you ready for the ’80s?”
“No,” I said. “I wasn\’t done with the 70\’s yet.”
And I meant it: there were too many unresolved issues and disappointments. I wasn\’t ready to move on.
“Is this the new year, or just another night?
Is this the new fear, or just another fright?
Is this the new tear, or just another desperation?”
But I can\’t remember a New Year quite like this one. Everywhere I look I see despair. The headlines are dominated by economic collapse, here and around the world. At home my wife has received word that her school’s paychecks are safe only through May, while the company I work for is suffering through the worst time I have seen in my 15 years there. The last two weeks of the year I literally sold nothing; everything we sell is financed, but we have no one to do the financing.
Short-term, this means a 60% drop in pay. Long-term, it means no job.
Everyone hopes things will change with the New Year, but I can\’t see the difference between 11:59:59 on December 31, 2008 and 12:00:00 on January 1, 2009. Maybe I\’m just a pessimist.
“It\’ll be a day like this one when the world caves in,
when the world caves in,
when the world caves in.”
There has never been another time in my life when we were fighting simultaneous wars on two fronts. At least being hated by half the world for being who we are is familiar. Sadly, so is seeing our troops die for far-off people who don\’t always seem to appreciate it. And then there\’s the Middle East erupting in violence again.
“Is this the Kingdom or just a hit and miss?
I miss direction most in all this desperation.”
After all these years, I still obsess over these disappointments, these unresolved issues. I feel like a man who can\’t run anymore, so I\’ve slowed to a crawl — too burdened down; too encumbered; too confused about which way to go, even on spiritual issues, including church.
We have a daughter, our older one, who has always been a master at twisting words. I remember catching her in a lie once as a teen, and she told us it was “faith” — she was simply “speaking things that were not as though they were.”
Sometimes I struggle with which is faith and which is the lie. Is it faith to pretend things are not the way they are? Or is that the lie?
“Does justice ever find you? Do the wicked never lose?
Is there any honest song to sing besides these blues?”
I\’ve had many good pastors over the years. I remember one of them, Pastor Larkin, preaching that David didn\’t close his eyes and pretend Goliath was a dwarf. He looked him up and down — took his full measure — then said, “Who are you to defy the armies of the Living God?”
So I have no fear of the future, just a dislike for the depressing atmosphere of the present. And I will always prefer the honest song — even if it is the blues.
(All lyrics from “The Blues” by Switchfoot, from Nothing is Sound)