Grad School Musical

A beautiful but aimless poet falls for a boring chemistry research assistant with hot career prospects. Their semi-mutual friends stumble and fake their way through various feats of academic prowess. Featuring such hit songs as “There Must be a Way to Read Three Books a Day,” “Can I Date on this Stipend?” and “Don’t Diss my Dissertation!”

Post-Apocalyptic Eco-Joy

A vision from Isaiah 34

Many times I read parts of the Old Testament without being gripped by the passage.  I take an already fragmentary book like Isaiah and look at its verses in isolation, which makes it even harder to figure out what’s going on.  Today was different.

The first half of the chapter contains a warning of God’s coming judgment.  “The Lord is angry with all nations; his wrath is upon all their armies….  He will give them over to slaughter” (v2).  There are many familiar apocalyptic images: “All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll” (v4).  Then there’s even more blood and gore, even for a Braveheart guy.  “For the Lord has a day of vengeance, a year of retribution to uphold Zion’s cause” (v8).  Then something strange happens.

God gives the desolate land back to the animals.  “The desert owl and screech owl will possess [the land of Edom]; the great owl and the raven will nest there” (v11).  The passage goes on to describe thorns, nettles, and brambles overrunning the old battlements.  Jackals, hyenas, wild goats, and night animals will “find for themselves places of rest” (v14).

Some would look at these animals and, because they were ceremonially unclean (i.e., unfit for sacrifice), see them as symbolic of God’s judgment.  Maybe.  But what if God is simply returning that particular patch of land (Edom), back to its original inhabitants?  The language Isaiah uses is not unlike that used for the people of Israel, for he says of the above animals:

“None of these will be missing, not one will lack her mate.  For it is [God’s] mouth that has given the order, and his Spirit will gather them together.  He allots their portions; his hand distributes them by measure.  They will possess it forever and dwell there from generation to generation” (vv16-17).

Those are some happy animals.  God be praised!

Who is saved?

God only knows.

Sex vs. Batman

Once upon a time there was a man named Batman. He had lots of money, lots of skills, and kicked some major booty. He fought injustice. He ruled minds of many men, young and old. But one thing he lacked: he did not rule their hearts.

Now sex does not equal love, but when a man and a woman do pledge their love to each other in marriage, sex is a physical expression of that love.

Batman is imaginary. Sex is concrete. Batman is about me. Sex is about us. Batman evokes my inner child. Sex evokes my inner and outer man. Batman is an expression of untamed masculine striving. Sex is an expression of my masculinity meeting my wife’s femininity (as we tame each other?).

I might not see the new movie any time soon and that’s okay. Married life is grand.

House-Husband

Newly-married, my wife and I figuring out how to make our household work. Since I am a full-time student and she is a full-time graphic designer, our typical days look very different.

She wakes at 6:30am and works from 9am-5pm.

I wake at 8am, in time to eat breakfast with her, and do “whatever I want” for much of the rest of the day. There are times when I have a lot that I must do… and there is always a lot that I should be doing.

The bottom line is that she has 40 hours of scheduled work each week and I have 10 scheduled hours with 10-60 very flexible, very variable hours. This means that I am the one who is shopping for groceries, washing the dishes, cooking dinner, and doing the laundry much of the time. We attempt to share these duties whenever possible, but it’s more possible for me than it is for her most of the time.

How has this affected me?

It’s not like I’m a stay-at-home Dad and home stuff is all that I’m doing. That would bring with it its own challenges. We dream of the day when — should we be so blessed as to have children — we will have the flexibility to both spend time at home on alternating days, managing childcare/working from home. We’ll see.

The biggest difference I have noticed is that I goof off less than before. If I’m not doing “housework” (can include “fixing” things), I should be doing “schoolwork,” even if that tangentally includes such interfaith-dialog/prose-style-honing pastimes as blogging. No time for free cell or mid-day movies.

At the end of the day, she comes home and I clock out. That’s the best part. This is far from being thankless work.

pickle + mustard + tomato = sanity

I once ate plain sandwiches for the sake of speed and efficiency. But I can barely describe the great delight and peace I now feel because I eat my sandwiches on toasted bread, heating the chicken or other lunch meat, putting on mustard and a slice of tomato, with a pickle on the side. It might cost a few cents more, but it’s even better than I can get in a restaurant.

So often I feel we treat ourselves to second best when, with a little bit of extra effort, we could have the best. I want to eat the best sandwich I can possibly eat given my means (and need to spend/save for other things). I want my sandwich to glorify God, if only by the praises it elicits in me as I eat it.

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31

Published in: on August 6, 2008 at 9:45 am  Comments (2)  
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St. Louis vs. L.A.

On our honeymoon, my wife and I ended up stranded in L.A.  We didn’t see many sights, but we saw the hundreds of miles of sprawl on the way in.  The numbers don’t lie.  There are a lot of people living in L.A.  Roughly 10 million people.  That’s almost 1/4 of the people living in California and 10x as many as live in St. Louis.  A lot of people either choose to live in L.A. or choose not to leave L.A.  But how many are trapped either by circumstance or by ignorance?

It part it was the pushing and shoving, the five-hours stranded in line, but ultimately it was the L.A.P.D. bomb squad evacuating our terminal that forced our conclusion: we hate L.A.  Seeing celebrities and eating expensive food wouldn’t change our minds.  My best friend from 5th grade lives in L.A.  He hates it too.  Yet he stays.  Hollywood has a stranglehold on many innocent lives.  L.A. is big and busy without being the great city that New York is and possessing a certain sun-burnt superficiality that the Big Apple lacks.

And then there’s St. Louis, our some-time home.  It’s the biggest small town in America.  It’s small enough that I’m guaranteed to run into someone I know unexpectedly at most large-scale events.  It’s big enough to have a small, crappy version of whatever you want (as opposed to New York, which has the best version of whatever you want).  This is a great town with hidden glories.  The “City Museum” is an urban playground for grown-ups, with huge slides, a three-story outdoor jungle gym, and two sets of man-made caves.  Forest Park is larger than Central Park in NYC.  The art museum and zoo there are free.  So is the Shakespeare festival and the summer jazz festival.  The Cardinals and the Rams are worth cheering for.  And the gateway arch is the last great man-made monument.  St. Louis is one of America’s best kept secrets.

A friend returned to live in St. Louis after living in California.  He had decent job prospects and great wine, but there were two things that he especially lacked: a community of friends and places to think great thoughts.  Few things are more important in life and St. Louis provides a healthy context for both.

I don’t right this to convince you to leave L.A.  But if you’re already here, love where you are.

Published in: on August 5, 2008 at 9:14 am  Comments (6)  
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The Problem Is… Jesus

Post #2 in direct response to Avant Garde’s comments on All Roads Lead to Heaven? (Newcomers, please join the conversation.)

Avant Garde: “…in the guise of questioning the denominations/churches of christianity, and saying “no religion but God leads to heaven”, you really meant “your” God the Son alone leads to heaven!”

You are correct. I really meant that only Jesus – God the Son – leads to heaven. Can Jesus reach people through religions that aren’t Christianity? I address this specific issue under C* below. Faith comes from God but “religion” and religiosity are human constructs.

Meanwhile, I should tell you why I believe what I believe. Maybe you will write me off. Maybe you will continue reading. I respect your decision and point of view regardless. I do not expect you to change your mind. That would take a miracle. But I do hope that you will understand me.

A. Someone is “wrong” from everyone’s perspective

Everyone assumes that someone is wrong when it comes to religion. There are the obvious examples of Christians saying that Muslims are essentially wrong and vice-versa. But what about “All religions are true”?

Even the claim that “no one is wrong” assumes a group of people who are wrong: those who deny that claim and typically implies “everyone is wrong” about the ultimate realities of eternity.

To claim “I don’t/can’t/shouldn’t make claims” is a non-committal cop-out… and is often, in fact, not true of the one who says it.

Christians make ridiculous claims, but that does not mean that these claims are either untrue or more ridiculous than the claims that everyone else is making.

B. The Bible tells us what Jesus claimed

Not all those who profess to be Christians accept the teachings of the Bible in the same way. There are many issues, such as a six-day creation, which seem to be open to a greater deal of interpretation. But on the issue of Jesus, there is much clarity. The Bible deserves fuller treatment, but I can summarize my basic belief: if God exists and he is good, then he would have used just such a means as the Bible to reveal himself to humanity. (Re: Bible’s self-testimony, “As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless…” Psalm 18:30).

C. This is what Jesus himself claimed

Jesus was crucified for claiming to be God in ways that were true of himself and of himself alone. He spoke with authority over the written scriptures. He healed, loved, served and led others as if he were the ruler of creation.  For example, “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58).  ‘Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:6-7).  His sacrificial death on behalf of humanity could only be done by him, for he alone is fully God and fully human. If humanity needs saving, then we have never had a clearer savior.

D. Jesus saves in mysterious ways

Some churches give the impression that all you have to do is say his name in a prayer. The truth is more personal. We are saved by faith. But this isn’t any sort of will-power that we muster up. It’s a relationship… which God himself initiates. Jesus himself said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Paul, one of the first generation of followers, wrote, “”For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…” (Ephesians 2:8).

*Some have suggested that there are “invisible Christians,” who have a personal relationship with God through Jesus either without publicly professing such faith or without even consciously knowing this. For example, a Buddhist or a Muslim could be a Christian without knowing it by loving God and loving others. Many Buddhists and Muslims find such ideas highly offensive. The idea is convenient those of us who struggle with outreach to members of other religions and with the idea of hell.  The idea has strength in the precedent of Jews before Christ clearly having access to God the Father and being “saved.”

E. Either Jesus saves and he alone, or Jesus does not save at all.

If Jesus died for the sins of the world, then we need him, because we all fall short of deserving to be with God forever. If Jesus did not die for the sins of the world, then no one needs him except as an example of how to die for a fictitious cause. Either Christianity is the truest truth or it is the biggest lie. There is no middle ground. Maybe other religions have the possibility of being partially true, but because of the claims of Jesus, Christianity does not have that option.

F. These issues are a matter of faith.

I can testify but I cannot prove. (See previous post.)

Caution

There are people who profess to be Christians who disagree with virtually everything I have just said (including a particularly nasty group of radical Dispensationalists who do not believe that there has ever been spiritual salvation for the Jewish people).

Conclusion

I don’t know if I have convinced anyone, but I hope that answers the question.  If I have not, or if anyone has further questions, I am, as always, open to your input.

Faith vs. “Knowledge”

Post #1 in response to Avant Garde’s comments on All Roads Lead to Heaven?

“…how did you come to conclusion that jesus is ultimately right – was my question. I am not saying he is not right, all i am asking is how do YOU know that?”

Before I wax philosophical, let me give you the most personal answer I can give (the short version, at least). I came to the conclusion that Jesus was right because he saved me from myself. I was raised in a church-going, though not especially churchy family. During middle school, at the encouragement of the youth pastor, I began reading the Bible on my own. Convinced that, if God exists, he could and would use just such a means of conveying his truth, I became open to Christianity… and to the fact that I was an egotistical bastard (you know the type: the one who looks down on others for getting B’s). During this time, I had a vivid dream in which (abbridged) I was drawn through darkness into the light and warmth of God’s love in Christ. Since then, there have been many cogent moments of experiencing his presence, such as my near-death in a car crash and my one serious, multi-month bout of manic-depression. But, most importantly, he has transformed me into a more compassionate and loving person (though I still have a long way to go).

But that might not be what you’re asking. What I believe, I cannot prove. I can give you my reasons, my doubts, and my areas of relative certainty. Yet these bits of information are of a different quality than the fact that I exist today, depending on how you define “I” and “exist” and “today,” because Descartes can build a pretty-much air-tight case for the existence of me. No one can build an air-tight case for the need for Jesus. Such is the nature of faith. Many have tried. But this looks less like a science experiment, rooted in things tangible, and more like a court case with a preponderance of evidence, much of it circumstantial, from which you, the jury, must arrive at a verdict.

“Faith is the evidence of things unseen.”

People usually believe in Jesus first in a personal way and then grapple intellectually with the implications of this. In light of my personal faith, why have I concluded that Jesus is ultimately right? Because of the faith the he has planted in me. This is a circular argument, no doubt. But I don’t mind that, as long as you don’t. Circular arguments are only a problem if I’m trying to convince you… and I’m not. Only God can do that. But like any decent, anonymous cyber-friend I can shoot back attempted answers and counter-questions to your questions.

I apologize if this raises more questions than it answers. Faith is about the Person more than it is about the ideas of theology. Questions drive us closer to the truth and a good question is better than any half-assed answer.

Now I still need to address the elephant in the room. Avant Garde further exclaimed: “[you write] in the guise of questioning the denominations/churches of christianity, and saying “no religion but God leads to heaven”, you really meant your God the Son alone leads to heaven!” In my next post I will address the exclusive claims of Christianity.

Waiting for the Wedding….

…is like waiting for Christmas as a child plus waiting for the resurrection when I am old.

Published in: on July 16, 2008 at 10:40 am  Leave a Comment  
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