things I don’t know

I really don’t care to watch a football game when I already know who won. How many times have you been somewhere with your TV set to record a game, and someone ruins it for you by mentioning the final score…ugh! So, what is that about? I guess we like the drama, the mystery, the suspense… Or before you can stop them, someone blurts out: “can you believe she got killed?!”…movie ruined.

That may be true of movies and football games, but not so much in life. We want to know how the story ends; even as it is unfolding. We want certainty. We want to know we are right. Years ago, when I was an uncertain, insecure young person, I was introduced to evangelical Christianity. As I look back on that time from the perspective of many years and many experiences, I can see why it became immediately attractive to me. It offered something that was missing in my life at the time. It offered answers.

I had questions. The Bible had answers. Cool. Where do I sign? It also offered a social network that was absent from my life. It offered community. Fellowship. Belonging.  A tight-knit community built upon the foundation of absolute truth and topped off with an everlasting reward…that’s an intoxicating combination. A group of people who all think alike and talk alike and live alike…what could be better? Just figure out what is required for membership in this elite club, learn the language, and get onboard. Once you learn how things operate, you don’t even have to think for yourself. Just do what everyone else is doing. Do as you’re told…by the Bible, the pastor…both…either. It’s easy. I’m not saying that people in these communities are disingenuous, they’re not. It’s a genuine life commitment for most of them.

I have lived my whole adult life within that kind of community.

Certainty sells. We long to know that we are right. Certainty also divides. If I am right, and you disagree…then…well, um…you are wrong. Too bad. Being certain of what you believe; how you think, it’s great. You don’t have to wonder. It’s settled; all questions answered. And that is truly a great feeling. Problems arise, however, when someone comes along who thinks differently. And maybe he has as many valid reasons for his viewpoint as you do. But you’re already invested in your mindset. You’ve committed. You’re all in. Maybe your whole life is invested in your certainty.

So what do you do, then, with this alternate view? This differing opinion. You reject it. You offer your substantive reasons why it must be wrong. The two views cannot both be right. One must be wrong. And if you are both convinced of your respective positions, you will of course inevitably be divided. And you may even become enemies. And one may even try to kill the other one. Your holy book may tell you that you will be rewarded with 17 virgins in paradise; or 21; or however many virgins one needs…and that may be all the motivation you need to fly an airplane into a building…

Certainty sells. Certainty divides. Certainty kills.

That may seem like a harsh observation. It is. It’s difficult to consider. But those guys were as certain as anyone on the planet that their particular view on life and god and religion…was the correct one. All the other ideas, viewpoints, dogmas, etc…are wrong. I’m right. You’re wrong. Divisive language. None of us want our position challenged. We want to know we are right. We have to.

Or do we? Is it really that hard to say, “I don’t know”? I may think I am right about my view, but I could be wrong. I may be mistaken. Many years ago…people- the religious leaders of the day…said, with certainty: The earth is flat; and the sun revolves around the earth; and physical and mental illnesses are caused by demons. Not too many years ago the Bible was used to justify burning “witches” and human slavery and the repression of women (uh, that’s still happening in some church circles). We’ve learned that’s not right.

There have been many people throughout history who were very very certain about many things, only to have science or societal mores or simple common sense…offer a more compelling idea. Certainty can be challenged. I think it must be. And oftentimes it’s more noble- and maybe even wiser, to change your mind, or to say you might be wrong, than to cling stubbornly to your position. Even if you have invested a great deal. Even if you have invested your life.

The truth is, the more fragile a position, the less it can be challenged. And the more I defend my position, the less confident I am in it.

If I am comfortable with who I am, what I believe, how I live, what I think…why can’t I allow you the same freedom? Why do I need for you to agree with me?

Why do we have to be certain? Why do we have to be right? Why can’t we tolerate another opinion, another way of life, another religion, another lifestyle, another belief? What are we doing to one another?

I don’t know…

 

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The complicated world of prayer

Much is said about prayer in the scriptures. And almost all persons of faith would say that prayer is an important element of their faith- at some level. Even people who don’t prescribe to a particular religion or faith will admit to praying on occasion.

So why is it so complicated?

Well, only God knows. We should just go ahead and say that at the outset. Because that is the inevitable conclusion we will come to when all of the various (and sometimes competing) ideas on prayer; as outlined in the Bible, are placed on the table.

Pray in Jesus name.
Ask, seek and knock (and you will get what you are asking for; seeking; and knocking (on)?).
Whatever you ask for, if you believe, you will have.
If you tell a mountain to jump in the ocean and believe it in your heart, it will happen.
Pray without ceasing.
Pray in the spirit.
When you pray, don’t babble a lot like the religious leaders.
and so on…

So what are we to think when the prayer is not answered?

“Oh, God always answers; it’s just that sometimes the answer is NO…”

Yeah, I have heard that one too.

God, my child has cancer, can you make her better please? Cause I don’t want her to die before she has a chance to live a full life and get married and have babies, and…

“NO”

ok, um….sorry to bother you, God…

Even if you allow that God can do what He wants and heal some and not heal others, and that there is sin in this fallen world and sometimes things happen that we don’t understand and we’ll understand on “the other side”, and God teaches us SO MUCH in our suffering and pain and God knows things that we don’t…

Even if…

The what do we do with those darn verses? Like:

Matthew 7:7  ”Ask, and it will be given to you seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

Matthew 21:22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

Mark 11:24  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

John 14:13-14 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it

Are they true or not? Jesus said all of those things; and it was pretty straightforward. Are they that hard to understand? Did Jesus mean it when he said you will have whatever you ask for? Guess you didn’t have enough faith. How much does it take? It’s my daughter…can you give me enough faith? Please God…please…

There must be more to the puzzle than meets the eye. It must be too complicated for most of us to understand- this prayer mystery.

But why?

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The miles add up

This commercial caught my attention recently. I immediately downloaded it and have played it repeatedly. It makes me laugh, it make me cry…I’m trying to discern why. (ohhh that rhymes…)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PR_UYx4vSPs

Here are some thoughts: It shows the diversity of the human condition; and I have come to love that. Babies, young people, all genders, different ethnicities; people with friends, people alone, etc. The first laughing person is a baby with no teeth, and the last one is an old man with no teeth. We start in diapers and we end in diapers… 🙂

But laughter is an interesting element to me. I think it’s highly underrated. I was thinking of an old friend recently; looking at some of his pictures on Facebook, and I thought of this about him- remembering times together in another life long ago…

“he laughed easily”

I think that may be one of the greatest compliments we can give someone. You laugh well… you make me laugh.

I have come to think lately that I don’t laugh enough. And I want to take steps to correct that. “It’s not the miles, it’s how you live them.” So very, very true. We get one life. We only have so many miles on this old car…how are we gonna live them?

There has been a lot of pain in my life in the last few years. Some of it self-inflicted…most of it not. Pain does some crazy stuff to us. And it can make me become a person I don’t want to be; a person I don’t like…a person who doesn’t laugh well.

I want to laugh well. I don’t want to waste the miles I have left.

I guess I will buy a Volkswagen…

 

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For the Bible Tells Me So

“You eating at Chic-Fil-A today?”

I received that text while I was on vacation. Had been out of the loop a bit, so had no idea what was going on. I said, no, not planning to. I didn’t. Battle lines were drawn…people chose sides…the debate rages on.

Biblical Family…Biblical Marriage…these are the phrases that mark the battle line. Either you believe in what the Bible says about marriage and family, or you don’t. Gay marriage has become a hot political issue this year, and all kinds of folks are weighing in on where they stand. Most of the time, the argument against gay marriage is that it goes against Biblical marriage.

It’s clear- the Biblical Family is traced back to Adam and Eve. And we should all pattern our families after that- and hopefully have two sons…and if one of them kills the other, as can sometimes happen in Biblical Families, God can always bless you with more kids…and you’ll teach them not to throw stones.

Well there are other Biblical Families we can look to for guidance. There’s Righteous Lot; after Sodom is destroyed, in a cave with his two daughters (his wife isn’t there because she had been turned into salt)…his daughters get him drunk, and then have sex with him on successive nights and bear him children. There’s Abraham- the father of the faith…He and Sarah were joined in their Biblical Family by her maid Hagar, who bore him several children because Sarah couldn’t. It was Sarah’s idea…then she got mad at Hagar and had her thrown out into the desert. There’s Jacob, who had the twelve sons that became the twelve tribes of Israel, all borne out of different wives and handmaidens…(we’re still looking for the Biblical Family that we in modern-day America can pattern our families after so that we can fight against those who want to do it differently and in the mean time we will also eat lots of Christian Chicken Sandwiches.)

Let’s see.. can we look to David? Nah. He married Bathsheba after getting her pregnant and having her husband killed. That produced Solomon, and he had a gazillion wives (that can get you arrested in America today)…no good example there. Guess we better look to the NT, where we can find Paul (who wrote half of it) telling us it’s better to not even get married at all, or if you are so horny and might sin, go ahead and get married- but you’d be better off to stay single.

Biblical Marriage. Biblical Family. Catch phrases for political and religious argument, but not very substantive in and of themselves. Maybe we would be better off just calling it “Traditional Family Values”. What would be wrong with that? Well, I guess then you get into the argument about who’s traditions we’re talking about. That opens up another can of worms…no, it’s better to simply attach God’s name to it. 

That- in many minds, ends the argument. If God said it, that settles it. “God told me”. That is the trump card that supposedly ends all discussions on the matter. But there is a problem with that. Sometimes, God hasn’t spoken very clearly on a subject. Even if you hold to the view that every word printed in every version of every Bible is the literal Word of God, you’ll have a hard time finding clear instructions on what a Biblical Family looks like.

It seems to me the Bible speaks more clearly and more often on other subjects. Like love. And kindness. And not judging others. And love. And forgiveness. And…love.

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I am, I said. Part II

The ‘I am, I said’ title to the initial post was from an old Neil Diamond song many of my generation may have recognized. It’s always been a favorite of mine:

“I am I said, to no one there. And no one heard at all- not even the chair”.

I guess I was thinking along those lines when I decided to write a blog- putting my thoughts out there into the public realm for all to see.  I am. And I have a voice. There will, no doubt, be those who’s reaction is…”who cares?”. I understand that reaction. And you are free to choose not to partake.  I won’t blame you. There are plenty of people who are saying things that I don’t care to hear…that’s the beauty of having choices in life! Delete buttons. Off switches. They work….I know.

In my work I have the opportunity to meet many older people. It’s always fascinating to hear their stories- to learn a bit of who they are. I am always amazed to learn that many of them- the vast majority, in fact; live in very close proximity to where they were born. They were born “just up the road there”, or “my dad built this house”. Folks in their seventies and eighties…folks who lived simple lives; never did “big things” or went many places. A man in a small town a few hours away, when he learned I lived in Nashville, said: “yeah, I went there once, back in the fifties”. He said it like you and I would have talked about going to Moscow, or to the Bahamas…

Others have been many places. Mr Johnson, I learned- as I talked to him and his wife, had been on the beaches at Normandy- in WWII. He was a POW in Germany for 5 months. He gave me one of his favorite cigars after we had talked for awhile. I was awestruck.  Mrs Armstrong worked in the school cafeteria for 40 years- “just up the road there”. Raised her family and now is mostly alone; living out the twilight of her days. Mr McGrath “farmed a little and worked here and there”. Different people; different stories. Each unique.

I am prone to attach more value to the people who have “done more”. It seems unlikely, however, that God does the same thing. Most of us simply do the best we can with what we have. And who am I to judge that in another person? How do I know what that person has had to overcome- just to get up every day…

We have value not because of what we have done. We have value not because of what we believe. The pressure and the effort exerted to measure up to certain ideals; placed upon us by others who claim to have an inside track to the truth…I have seen it do untold damage. And it cuts to the core of who we are as an individual, unique person.

I’ll accept you as you are- in the beginning, but then I’ll try to change you- into who I think you should be. Because I know better than you who and what you should be. And I’ll do it in the name of Love. No. If you have been wounded by those who would say and do things to you in the name of God- in the name of Love, just say no. Trust your instinct and realize that you deserve better. You are worth more than that.

“we accept the love we think we deserve”. I heard that recently and it had the ring of truth to me. It’s a trap we can easily fall into. Don’t accept a lesser kind of love; one that is shrouded in manipulation, control, or shame. You deserve better. Maybe what looks or sounds like love really isn’t.

We need to know that we matter, because we really do. We each have significance…worth…value. We each can- and should; cry out: I AM.

Another Elie Weisel quote: “the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” If you have had the unfortunate opportunity to experience both- as I have- you will agree. Being ignored hurts the worst.

I agree with Mr Gump when he says:

“I’m not a smart man, but I know what love is…”

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I am, I said

“Write only if you cannot live without writing. Write only what you alone can write.”
― Elie Wiesel

And so it has come to this. I must write. I have, in fact, been writing down my thoughts for some time now. I will make them somewhat public here- for those who care to partake. I’m not sure why. But I feel I must. It’s a kind of catharsis for me, I guess.

Catharsis: “a purification or purgation that brings about spiritual renewal or release from tension”. It can also be a medical term that helps you, um…well…purge.

I was talking to a pastor who I meet with regularly and I said something along the lines of…”I feel the need to find my voice again. I have never been a very passive; background-kind-of guy; I have always been active and vocal. And if I don’t speak up, it feels like my only choice is to wander slowly into a corner and sink into a dark, lonely place. I don’t want to do that. I want to be engaged with people; to interact. But to do that- for me, I have to be able to articulate who I am and what I believe”. He asked me if I was ready to do that. I said I don’t know- as ready as I’ll ever be, I guess. I don’t know. He said: “well you don’t want to be saying something that’s always changing”. And my immediate response was- “why not?”

It was a moment of clarity. For both of us. “good question”, he said. “you’re right”. We went on to talk about the concept of an ever-changing; ever-evolving faith. It’s what he embraces; and maybe it’s why I have connected with him.

I have found that I process things best by relating with people; by engaging in conversation- interacting. I can tend to isolate, but that has never served me well. And in isolation, I don’t grow as a person. It’s an easier way to live- just not a better way…for me, anyway.

Maybe you will find this helpful. Maybe it will stir you- make you think. I guess that’s what blogs are for. In the days to come, I will share some thoughts on faith, life, love, etc. I have been a man of faith for all of my adult life- almost 40 years. So that will be the subject of much of the conversation.

And that is what it will be- a conversation. Not a place for me to announce what is right and wrong in the world, but a place to begin and continue a conversation with others. Those who think the same and those who think differently. And those who maybe are willing to change the way they think.

May we all fall into the latter category. Those who are willing to change.

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