Monday, September 02, 2013

Whose Life is it, anyway?

“If the first and lowest operation of pain shatters the illusion that all is well, the second shatters the illusion that what we have, whether good or bad in itself, is our own and enough for us.  Everyone has noticed how hard it is to turn our thoughts to God when everything is going well with us.   We ‘have all we want’ is a terrible saying when ‘all’ does not include God.  We find God an interruption.  As St Augustine says somewhere, ‘God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full – there’s nowhere for Him to put it.’  Or as a friend of mine said, ‘We regard God as an airman regards his parachute;  it’s there for emergencies but he hopes he’ll never have to use it.’  Now God, who has made us, knows what we are and that our happiness lies in Him.  Yet we will not seek it in Him as long as He leaves us any other resort where it can even plausibly be looked for.  While what we call ‘our own life’ remains agreeable we will not surrender it to Him.  What then can God do in our interests but make ‘our own life’ less agreeable to us, and take away the plausible source of false happiness? 

It is just here, where God’s providence seems at first to be most cruel, that the Divine humility, the stooping down from the Highest, most deserves praise.  We are perplexed to see misfortune falling upon decent, inoffensive, worthy people – on capable, hard-working mothers of families or diligent, thrifty little tradespeople, on those who have worked so hard, and so honestly, for their modest stock of happiness and now seem to be entering on the enjoyment of it with the fullest right.”

“Let me implore the reader to try to believe, if only for the moment, that God, who made these deserving people, may really be right when He thinks that their modest prosperity and the happiness of their children are not enough to make them blessed:  that all this must fall from them in the end, and that if they have not learned to know Him they will be wretched.  And therefore He troubles them, warning them in advance of an insufficiency that one day they will have to discover.  The life to themselves and their families stands between them and the recognition of their need; He makes that life less sweet to them. 

I call this a Divine humility because it is a poor thing to strike our colours to God when the ship is going down under us; a poor thing to come to Him as a last resort, to offer up ‘our own’ when it is no longer worth keeping.  If God were proud He would hardly have us on such terms:  but He is not proud, He stoops to conquer, He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him, and come to Him because there is ‘nothing better’ now to be had.  The same humility is shown by all those Divine appeals to our fears which trouble high-minded readers of Scripture.  It is hardly complimentary to God that we should choose Him as an alternative to Hell:  yet even this He accepts.  The creature’s illusion of self-sufficiency must, for the creature’s sake, be shattered; and by trouble or fear of trouble on earth, by crude fear of the eternal flames, God shatters it ‘unmindful of His glory’s diminution’.”

C.S. Lewis, from "The Problem of Pain", pp. 94-95

Friday, August 16, 2013

Love's Pre-Requisite

I have been thinking for a good while now that a deep and thorough understanding of "True Love" is the starting point for a biblical, Christian approach to the subject of Marriage.

But it dawned on me this morning that Understanding is perhaps not the starting point; I think I'm realizing today that True Love has what might be called a "pre-requisite" condition of the heart, along these lines:

It all begins with BROKEN-NESS: When our spirits are crushed, when our comfort is taken away, when our own Guilt is bearing down on us, and when we reach a point where we feel completely wretched and ruined and desperate, then and only then is the Heart pliable enough to be shaped and the Mind open enough to receive the wisdom and guidance that we have been missing (or have shunned)...

Broken-ness creates a void at the center of the soul which, then, HUMILITY can rush in to fill: Humility is not a "low self-image" or "tearing oneself down"; Humility is a proper, balanced attitude, a view of oneself that includes a profound sense of gratitude, and selflessness, and a deep desire to honor others, always remembering one's own broken-ness.

From this vantage point, now, the next stage is FORGIVENESS: Because one is always and forever painfully aware of one's own desperate Broken-ness -- an on-going condition that will only be remedied when our Sanctification is made complete by God Himself -- and as a result of a heart condition grounded in Humility, it becomes far more easy to Forgive the broken-ness and pride and sinfulness of other people. Who are we to hold others' sins and faults and failures against them when we ourselves continue to struggle with our own vast Broken-ness? A heart that continually wants to side-step Humility to assert itself, and to condemn others for their failures, is the very face of Broken-ness itself.

May God have mercy on us, we so quickly and so easily forget our own wretched state and we refuse others the mercy and grace and healing that other Broken hearts need, and which God has so graciously given to us, and which is ours to give, freely, to others...

Here are some things to read and ponder:

On Broken-ness
The Prodigal Son
(I love verse 17: "When he came to his senses..." Yes!)

The Graveyard Scene
(Scrooge is broken after having been shown a true picture of himself)

On Forgiveness
The Unmerciful Servant
The Elder son: Too Proud to Forgive

So let's get on our knees today and ask God to start fresh with us by Breaking our hearts, so that we can be filled once again with Humility, so that we can truly Forgive, so that we can then, from THAT state, be focused on TRUE LOVE.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Thomas: Disciple and Skeptic defines "Skeptic" like this:
"A person who questions the validity or authenticity of something purporting to be factual."

It also lists a bit of etymology on that word:

Origin:  1565–75: 
  Late Latin "scepticus" = thoughtful, inquiring
  Greek "skeptikós",  equivalent to "sképt" ( "esthai" ) = to consider, examine
     -- akin to "skopeîn" =  to look; to see ( "-scope" ) + ( "-ikos" ) or ( "-ic" )

Despite the "doubting Thomas" nickname he is so often known by, Thomas is, I think, the most inspiring figure of the 12 disciples of Jesus.  Consider these thoughts about "Didymus" ("the Twin", probably of Mathew):

-- He doesn't say much in the Gospels, perhaps because he is constantly and deeply pondering what is being said and done around him; perhaps he is waiting to see what develops further...

-- He is not the one impulsively jumping out of boats, or brashly declaring love for and loyalty to Jesus (only to deny Him later), or grabbing swords and swinging them around...

-- He is that "quiet one in the shadows"...  Knowing what he was thinking, I can imagine Jesus many times glancing over at Thomas and smiling to Himself...

-- Immediately after the Resurrection, he wasn't among the others who cowered in a private room "for fear of the Jews", perhaps because, in solitude, he needed to "process" (perhaps in great turmoil of mind and soul) what had just happened...

-- His 3 primary speeches in the Gospels are these:

    -- A quiet exhortation to "go and die" with Jesus in Judea (where they knew the Jews
        were anxious to capture and kill Jesus) -- John 11:16

    -- An honest inquiry into what "way" Jesus was talking about and how, then,
        to go "with" Him on that "way" -- John 14:5

    -- An insistence that the Resurrection claim be supported by thoroughly
        convincing evidence, and his reaction when a loving and compassionate
        risen Christ gives him that evidence -- John 20:25

It's clear that Thomas was someone who questioned things and examined the reasons behind them, but that did not make him a "doubter"; keep in mind, he was purposely and specifically hand-selected by Jesus Himself to be one of the 12!  Jesus, of course, knew Thomas' mind and heart and personality type completely and yet added him as a chosen Disciple. 

It can be assumed, then, that his inclusion in that intimate, inner circle was for some perfectly good reason.  I do not believe it was so that "doubters can see that their doubting is okay", but so that the Church can see and understand that Faith is never "blind".

More specifically, I believe Thomas "stuck to it" throughout the process, following Jesus and being known as one of His disciples, because it was Jesus HIMSELF that Thomas found so profoundly compelling, so irresistable, so Real.

In Jesus, Thomas saw more than a "movement", even more than just a Face and a Name, a Body and a Voice; I think Thomas was wise enough, and perhaps the first, to see GOD in Jesus, and he followed willingly to understand the mystery of what he was witnessing.  Following, but not foolishly.

Thomas was not a "doubter"; he was a thinker, a questioner, a Skeptic.
And, in the end, a Believer.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Justice for Trayvon?

There are thousands -- maybe millions -- of people across the country today (following the verdict of "Not Guilty" for George Zimmerman, who shot and killed Trayvon Martin 17 months ago) who are screaming for "justice" in that case...  A civil suit is sure to follow, probably driven, in part, by the current administration (who had a part in turning this case into a media circus)...

For anyone who cares, here is my own take on this entire situation:

Defining the Term

What IS "Justice", anyway?
This Wiki definition serves as a starting point... And this definition of "justice" at is also instructive... What both boil down to is this:  Given the subset of Facts that ALL sides agree on (and that deserves its own entire post), what would have been THE RIGHT DECISION in this case?

Well of course there is a mountain of Data that both sides disagree on; the bottom line is that during what can be described as a "street fight", Zimmerman (by his own admission) produced a gun, and Trayvon was shot and killed...

Should the charge have been "negligent homocide"?  "Manslaughter"?  "Second degree / Third degree Murder"?

These (and other possibly applicable descriptions) are what the Court systems are made to hammer out; what the "man on the street" understands may be accurate or may be wildly askew of the correct definitions...

The point here is that if someone is going to cry for "Justice", they need to have some clear, legally-acceptable definition of what that term means... Otherwise, we're all just spouting our opinions...

For my part, as a very low-grade "man on the street", here's how I see it:

This was a clear case of Justice-being-done, on a Micro scale...

Whatever else anyone may say, the "Justice System" did its work in this case:
A potential "crime" occurred; the defendant was prosecuted, had a defense team, and the case went before a jury, overseen by a judge; the jury rendered its verdict; the defendant was acquitted.

Case closed.

The "Justice System" -- on a Micro scale -- worked.  This is America, and nobody questions the integrity of the jury or the guidance of the judge.  Compared to the "kangaroo courts" of other countries, our legal system did its work fairly and equitably in this case.

This was a clear case of IN-justice-being-done, on a Macro scale...

However, what can be described as "the Facts of the case" seem to indicate that an Injustice may have been done here:  No matter what view one takes as to how it started (or why) -- these are, in the bigger picture, irrelevant -- the drama arose when a "street fight" ensued between the two parties...

Fist-to-fist, man-to-man, it was just a street fight.  And the facts seem to bear out that Zimmerman was on the losing end of that battle, in a fight that he himself provoked by "following" Trayvon and probably -- at least in Trayvon's mind -- posing something of a threat to him.

Then a gun was produced, tipping the scales in favor of whomever was in control of that gun.  Zimmerman is on record as admitting that he fired the fatal shot -- a single shot -- into the chest of Martin, killing him.

One of the definitions of "Manslaughter" that I found HERE includes the idea that a person is guilty of Manslaughter if his actions were induced by "fright" or "terror"... even "desperation will suffice"...

Are these not, clearly, the components of Zimmerman's own testimony on this incident?  The idea of "overwhelming force", rising to the level of "deadly force" (by someone NOT a police officer, federal agent, or commissioned and trained "law enforcer" of any kind)  seems to be the singular Reality that bubbles up to the top of any account of this tragic incident...

Therefore, it seems to me that if the Prosecution had angled for the strictest definition of Manslaughter in this case, instead of "going for broke" in a politically-motivated scenario demanding a "murder" convinction, they would have had enough leverage to win a conviction -- and, probably, a  prison sentence -- for George Zimmerman.

So if we define "Justice" in a very broad sense as "Punishment befitting the Crime", Zimmerman should probably have been convicted of something like Manslaughter, since he (1) essentially provoked this incident, (2) got into a one-on-one fight where he was out-muscled, (3) and produced a gun and shot Trayvon dead  ...  Self-defense, when one is minding one's own business and is attacked (and may have to use a gun to protect oneself) is one thing; I believe this is a case where the line was crossed and the shooter was wrong.

So the "system" worked, but the prosecution failed.

And now America must once again wrestle with questions of Race, and Justice, and Truth.  Are such discussions even possible, given the current, highly-politicized, racially-divided America in which we live?

May cooler (and more thoughtful) heads prevail.

Monday, May 13, 2013

50 Today

Today is my 50th Birthday.

I wish I had some pithy comments, some wise and sage remarks I could make here, about "things I have learned" and so forth, at this half-century mark.

I don't.

I have made a lot of mistakes in my life; I've squandered a lot of opportunities; and whether we're talking about Careers, or Finances, or Marriage, or Parenting, or Personal Health, or even Spiritual Growth, I am near the bottom of the ladder as a "model of success" in any of these categories.

But here are a few things I CAN share, from this point along the trail that winds through the forest of Life, where I am stopping, today, to rest my feet, drink from my canteen, and look around for a bit:

(1)  "To believe with Certainty, one must begin by Doubting."  One's World View absolutely colors everything about Life; the wise person knows, then, to pursue Truth, and maintain and open mind and a willingness to hear all sides, throughout the life-long process of putting together a world view.  A closed mind is the darkest place in the universe.

I cling to the Christian world view with a skeptical hand, more sure than ever that it is the Truth even as I avoid much of what comprises typical "Christian culture".  My wife is a believer in Jesus, too, and my kids are finding their way; I pray for them often, especially in this regard...

I believe in the Truth of the Christian world view, and more so as each year passes.

(2)  Married Love -- deeper and more meaningful with each passing year -- is truly one of Life's greatest joys.  Marriage either makes you better or it makes you worse;  and if you miss its full potential (philosophically, spiritually, sexually, emotionally), well, that is really too bad...  That's not to say that Marriage is always "blissful"... It means Marriage is (or CAN be) growth-bearing.  Sometimes that growth is enjoyable, and sometimes it's not.  But growth is always GOOD.

I love my wife, Sharon, very deeply, and more so as each year passes.

(3) Kids are AWESOME.  Your children will generate a white-hot Love in your Soul that nothing else can do.  It's true, they make their Mom and Dad want to scream sometimes (and they will know that feeling, too, someday!), but Parenting, like Marriage, is a wonderful and growth-bearing experience.  And growth is always GOOD.

I love my daughter, Sarah, and my son, Sam, very deeply, and more so as each year passes.

(4) I enjoy the indulgences of a premium cigar and a quality beer, very much.  I enjoy these simple pleasures  mostly because they bring a certain Peace and a gentle Quietness to my Mind and Soul...

(5) Hockey is Life:  The struggle.  The pain.  The team-based structure.  The skill and grace.  The speed and passion.  And the reality that Life is mostly about the hard work of doing the right things, often the "small" things, over and over and over, all to get to that one comparatively short moment where you pick up the puck in the neutral zone, speed into the O-zone all alone, deke right, come back to your forehand left, and top-shelf it (for the Cup-winner, of course!)...  Life is mostly work.  Sometimes it's fun.

(6) If Hockey is Life, JAZZ is what it sounds like.  To those who understand, no explanation is necessary; to those who do not understand, no explanation is possible.

(7)  Some people understand Reason, other people only understand the Stick.  I try to be the first kind.

I wonder what the NEXT 50 years will be like...

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Love and Marriage - 3 Lessons

The first 15 years or so of my Marriage were, more often than not, some fairly rocky times; but I think I am more willing than ever, now, to admit that most of it was my own fault.

Dealing with my own "negative" issues (and I should always be vigilant against their re-appearance) in those years certainly helped resolve some of the things plaguing our Marriage, but just getting back to "neutral ground" is not, of course, the same thing as building up positive results in the "plus" column...

I didn't really begin to understand God's vision for Marriage (which is, I think, the very best model of what the Gospel is supposed to look like) until I learned a few things...

Three distinct "Lessons" have come to me as true "epiphanies", thoughts that have struck me like a bolt of lightning at the time and which I had to mull over for some weeks and months before their true impact began to take root.  These are things I wish the Marriage counselors we have gone to would have imparted to me, but perhaps they are more effective when learned on one's own, anyway...

SERVANTHOOD is the secret to a JOY-filled Marriage (and Life)

Some time roughly 3 years ago, stemming from some realization that I have now forgotten, I found myself starting to pro-actively find ways to SERVE my wife:  I would try to do things -- some little, some significant -- that I thought would be a blessing to her (like cleaning the kitchen, or backing up the car to the porch when it was raining so she wouldn't get soaked, or getting between her and a disobedient child, etc.), and I became more intent about listening to her, pretty much all the time, for more "clues" about what would delight her, and then I'd try my best to do those things.

I was washing the dishes one day, thinking of how pleased and delighted she would be with a sparkling kitchen, when all of a sudden it hit me that I was JOYFUL in that moment.  Not "pleased with myself"; not even thinking of myself at all, but instead, imagining HER delight and happiness and pleasure as she discovered a clean kitchen...

That is when I understood that it truly IS "more blessed to Give than to Receive" (Acts 20:35).  This was a significant Step in my understanding of  Marriage - and of the Gospel - and I began to realize, too, that our own "Happiness" is not (or should not be) the primary goal of our lives (THIS Lecture played a significant role in that development).

I thought I had finally discovered the "secret" to marital Joy; but it was only a beginning.

It's all in the APPROACH

I've heard wise folks say that "it's not enough to be Right"; still others have said, "They don't care how much you Know until they know how much you Care."  Both very true statements.  Even though I was trying to exercise this new Servanthood perspective, I was still often approaching my wife -- especially when something bothered me, or when I wanted to talk to her about my own side of things -- in the same old blunt, forceful, insistent, matter-of-fact, and sometimes dictatorial manner.

I was playing cards with my in-laws, out on the porch one afternoon, when I was thunder-struck by the realization that my APPROACH to her was all wrong.  I finally saw that if I had approached her, over the years, with kindness and tenderness and an attitude that communicated to her how precious she is to me, things would likely have gone far better in our relationship.  C.S. Lewis' golden sermon, "The Weight of Glory", also helped me see just how profoundly God Himself values my dear wife (" have never met a mere Mortal..."), and, slowly, my perspective on, and subsequently, my approach to my wife has begun to change.

Then just recently, something else dawned on me.

It takes Time to build EQUITY

I heard a speaker on Marriage say once that "it takes 10 'Goods' to compensate for 1 'Bad' in Marriage".  The Equity that many of us have in our houses is something that often takes years to build up; out of the blue, while I was pondering some things last week, this idea of "Equity" in my Marriage relationship dawned on me:  It's great that I'm serving my wife (and finding deep Joy in doing so); and changing my Approach to her has helped quite a lot, I believe...

But now I must continue on this course long enough, and consistently enough, that I can build up a cache of Love "Equity" in her mind and heart.  She needs to have, deep in her soul, a certain assuredness that my Love for her is deep and real and permanent.  I don't know that she doubts this, even now; but the point of all THREE of these "epiphanies" is that they represent -- in concert with each other -- a FOCUS, a Direction, that I need to continue to press onward toward, throughout the entire length of our Marriage.

I'm not a great husband, and who knows how well (or if) I'll live these 3 lessons out very well, in the future; and of course, there are a number of other things that go into making a Marriage work ( Conflict Resolution skills... Patience when it seems like your spouse will NEVER change... Endurance to survive those long periods of Loneliness... etc...).  But I do know that Love is the central theme of the Gospel, and I cannot think of any better way to live that out than to persist at trying to Love my Wife well.

To be a Christian is to Love, and to be Human is to Fail (sometimes, as in my case, spectacularly).  But we have to keep trying, because this is where Forgiveness, and Humilty, and Compassion, and other virtues are learned and practiced. 

The work is often hard but the rewards are great...

    "A new command I give you: Love one another.
    As I have loved you, so you must love one another."

    "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,
    if you love one another."

          -- John 13:34,35