Category Archives: Faith
Last weekend I went to a retreat that joined several service corps groups together: Jesuit Volunteers, Christian Appalachian Project Volunteers, Mission Year Volunteers, etc. One of the topics that came up was hunger and I saw a quote attributed to Ghandi that went like this: To a man who is hungry, food is God. Now, a couple Google searches later, I understand that Ghandi meant this in terms of a hierarchy of needs. When bringing a message about God (e.g. preaching the gospel) the matter is moot to a man who is hungry. Unless you provide for his most basic needs, teaching about God is missing the point (I find this particularly relevant to my faith with frequent claims that “God is Love.” If that is so, we may need to show our love with food and water before we ever share our motivation by God.)
I understand the priority of needs (like food) over theology. Jesus may have disagreed but for all practical purposes, I don’t mind meeting needs before sharing faith. And if faith sharing doesn’t happen because those whose needs are met walk away, then so be it (also something that happened to Jesus).
Rather than read it as Ghandi meant, I first thought of his statement as a generality meaning: our God is the thing we lack. I think there are many examples of this practice. We tend to spiritualize those things over which we have the least control or for which we are the most desperate. Ever seen someone whisper to dice at a craps table? Ever heard of a rain dance? For some, including myself, it’s easy to think we don’t have what we want for a mystical reason.
My wife and I attend Mount Zion Baptist Church in Seattle, WA. As a predominantly African-American church, the first few months were a sometimes foreign cultural experience. One thing we quickly grew enamored with was the gospel music. Not just the kind you hear on the radio, but also “Negro Spirituals” (yes, that’s the politically correct term). These songs are captured as hymns in the African American Heritage Hymnal. Last Sunday we sang “Because of Who You Are” which lies somewhere between modern and antique.
Because of who You are I give You glory.
Because of who You are I give You praise.
Because of who You are,
I will lift my voice and say,
Lord, I worship You because of who You are.
Lord, I worship You because of who You are.
Jehovah Jirah, my provider,
Jehovah Nissi, Lord You reign in victory,
Jehovah Shalom, You’re my prince of peace,
And, I worship You because of who You are.
Lord, I worship You because of who You are.
When Shannon and I first got married, I struggled to communicate unconditional love to her. It continues to be an ongoing work as you’d expect in all relationships. One of our worn-out arguments was about a single phrase: “I love you just as you are.” I hated to say that. And often when Shannon felt the most needy, she was desperate to hear it. In those times when something had gone wrong, it was difficult to imagine that I could love her for the rest of life if it never changed.
Of course, to complicate matters, we heard the phrase in church: “Jesus loves you just as you are.” I never liked that idea either. To me it said something like, “if you never change, Jesus will love you just as much as he does now.” In truth, I think that’s a lie. Whosoever can spend any real time with Jesus and not feel his gentle but firm push on their life must question whether they are indeed experiencing that relationship mutually. While God’s love is consistently for us, it don’t always feel like it. You can’t think the disciples always knew Jesus’ love when they heard things like “get behind me Satan.” (It’s there in Matthew 16:23 if you’d like more context.)
As part of Intervarsity’s inductive bible study, I’ve spent a lot of time in the gospel of Mark. And I love it. The gospel of Mark has been a transforming force in my life as I have sunk my teeth deep into it. As part of the inductive process, we focused on a practice broken into four parts: observe, question, interpret, and apply.
The first part, to observe, requires note taking and highlighting of the text. It’s common for people to fill their wide margins with notes and to use eighteen different colors identifying characters and their actions and their motives. As part of this process, it’s important to look for repeated words.
In the beginning of the gospel of Mark, one particular word is constantly repeated: “immediately.” It gives the narrative a sense of urgency and importance. Jesus goes from place to place, immediately. Immediately he talks and immediately he walks and immediately crowds respond.
The last part, to apply, requires reflecting on the group’s interpretation of the passage and figuring out ways to live out our interpretation. This part usually gets the least focus but is the most important. By applying what is learned in the study, the teachings can come to life and bare fruit.
So here’s the idea: “Immediately,” the bible study: read a passage of mark, reflect on it, and do something immediately for a minimum of 30 minutes. This could mean writing a letter or trying to engage someone on the street. On the street, speaking with a homeless man or, even better, taking him to dinner would often be a great way to apply early teachings in Mark. Even if it simply meant praying alone or with others for 30 minutes, it would go a long way toward making a bible study meaningful.
Bonus points for the study leader that actually arranges to serve/visit in a senior home, prison, or skid row.
I heard a rather sad story once from the pulpit. Apparently, a family found a young, wounded raccoon. The daughter of the family insisted on taking care of it and the family obliged her. Over a period of a couple weeks the raccoon grew healthier and healthier in large thanks to the daughter who cared for it daily. A month later, it had become a kind of family pet. It could go about in the backyard and responded well to being fed. In the second month, a friend warned the family that what they had was a wild animal. The friend told the family to get it back into the wild as soon as possible. Without doing so, he warned, the animal would one day drastically change its behavior and would even attack without warning. Sadly the family ignored their friend’s warning. The next call the friend received days later was from the emergency room. The raccoon had indeed matured and its wildness got the better of its temperament. Without warning, the raccoon had attacked the little daughter with its claws.
The moral of the story is obvious: don’t treat a wild animal as a tame one. The pastor went on to explain how our temptation to do bad is like that temptation to keep the raccoon as a pet. Eventually, doing bad comes around back to you and scratches you with its claws. (He explained it better but that was the gist.)
One bored Sunday in Church, I got to thinking about parts of speech and who I am. I know it’s kind of a strange intersection of thoughts but I promise you I’m not the first to cross the paths. As I sat in the pew and pondered these things, I thought of the name God uses in Exodus in a dialogue from chapter 3:
Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.
In High School, I was fascinated that God called himself I AM WHO I AM. For a teenager struggling with identity, and a programmer fascinated by recursion, the name was deeply satisfying. I continue to experience great mystery in this name God uses for himself.
Now, on identity and parts of speech. “I AM WHO I AM” doesn’t seem like much of a noun to me. No, it’s somewhere between a noun and a verb. So on my little bulletin, I scribbled “noun + verb = norb.” Norb is God’s part of speech. He is a noun, to be sure; an entity in eternal existence. And he is also a verb; a being that implies action, even movement.
From C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain, we read his take on the matter:
They wanted, as we say, to ‘call their souls their own.’ But that means to live a lie, for our souls are not, in fact, our own. They wanted some corner in the universe of which they could say to God, ‘This is our business, not yours.’ But there is no such corner. They wanted to be nouns, but they were, and eternally must be, mere adjectives.
In his view, he paints a picture of God as a noun and we as adjectives. I like this idea but I was also partial to a character I played in a musical in High School. The character was Buckminster Fuller and the musical was Godspell. I distinctly remember the line: “I think I am a verb.” And so, I mixed two words together again on my bulletin and wrote, “verb + adjective = verjective.”
And so the intersection between God and us is a verb. We are human beings.
Each morning, Shannon and I say the serenity prayer from Celebrate Recovery. It goes like this:
God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as a pathway to peace;
Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that God will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
(Some may be surprised to see that the serenity prayer is longer than it’s popular first four lines.)
As we say the serenity prayer each morning, sometimes very early, I’m inclined to keep my eyes open. If I let my lids droop I zone out and head back to zzz. As I have my eyes open, I’ve come to notice two things: flowers and the clock.
About weekly, Shannon buys flowers and puts them in a vase in the center of our kitchen table. They’re very pretty and I like them very much. Problem is, they rarely last more than a week. With refreshed water, they’ll hold out an extra couple of days but they just weren’t meant for vases. Over time, they drop their petals and die. With this, a lot of men find flowers rather pointless. Why buy something that’s just going to die a week later? But I doubt it’s a week to the flower. For the flower, it’s likely been a rather full life (even with some travel). And eventually it returns to the dirt that previously sustained it. As I sit at the breakfast table, I think to myself, am I really that different? In my time, I will grow and flourish and whither and die. The flowers are a beautiful, sobering reminder that I live a mortal life. We all do.
And the clock. If I could only think that I had all the time in the world… But there the clock is, always ticking away, always at the same rate. I don’t think the phrase for time is “running out.” Certainly, I don’t feel that way. But it’s another sobering reminder that life moves forward. Forward is a positive thing, though. As time moves forward, it’s worth looking forward. And as I look forward, I’m hopeful.
I know it’s kind of all silly but the flowers and clock contain a very real reminder.
What do you see as you eat breakfast? What do those things say to you?
Last weekend, Shannon and I had the honor to visit friends in D.C. for their wedding. The occasion worked nicely so that we could travel to New York thereafter to visit with family for a memorial service for my Grandfather, Jim Jenks. As part of our trip, we stayed with friends of the bride and groom who live in Arlington, VA. How it was exactly, my wife and I still don’t know, but we connected very quickly with our hosts and their community of friends. E and R were fantastic hosts and we owe them a great deal of thanks for giving us a place to stay. Over the course of our visit, we discussed a great many things.
Soon after we arrived back in the Northwest, we got an email from E just saying how fun it was to get to know each other a bit and thanks all around. In the middle of her email was a great compliment: she said they admired how intentional we were about life. Intentional. I had never thought to compliment someone with that word before but now I see how very nice a compliment it is.
The truth is, if Shannon and I are intentional, it’s because we try. We try very hard, actually. And I suppose that’s the point.
What are you intentional about?
Recently, I finished “Till We Have Faces” by C.S. Lewis. I will admit that even now, I’m not exactly sure what the title means. None the matter, I’ve posted two parts on my wiki that I wish to remember. Here, I’ll attempt briefly to explain what they mean to me. In reverse order:
Of the things that followed I cannot at all say whether they were what men men call real or what men call dream. And for all I can tell, the only difference is that what many see we call a real thing, and what only one sees we call a dream. But things that many see may have no taste or moment in them at all, and things that are shown only to one may be spears and water spouts of truth from the very depth of truth. [p. 277]
These sentences are like old familiar friends. I recall the time when I first started to dream. Around that time, I came to believe what Shakespeare said best with:
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. [Hamlet Act 1, scene 5]
At the risk of sounding too “out there,” I’ll admit that there are things that I feel I have “dreamed” and which were very real and very true. Some of the greatest of these have been in relationship with God.
The second and far more meaningful section is longer so I’ll reproduce only the couple sentences that stand out:
I perceived now that there is a love deeper than theirs who seek only the happiness of their beloved. Would a father see his daughter happy as a whore? [p. 138]
Isn’t that God’s predicament? I want God to settle. We want God to settle. If only he could be proud to see me achieve the success I desire. But that’s asking too little of him and he won’t compromise. He needn’t compromise.
So, give it a read. What stands out to you?
On June 14, 2011, I was honored and humbled to be able to speak on “Victory” at Celebrate Recovery at Overlake Christian Church. Here’s a snippet to pique your curiosity:
Victory. Tonight’s lesson and acrostic is titled Victory. Principle five of eight principles, step seven of twelve steps, and the lesson title is Victory.
Isn’t this a bit strange? I mean, I’d expect “Victory” to be step twelve of twelve, principle eight of eight. Doesn’t Victory come at the end? Well, no. Not in this story. A little more than half way through, and we’re telling you: you win! There’s no “if”, “but”, or “except”, after that. It’s the truth. With step seven in the twelve step process, we realize Victory in our lives.
Read the full talk on the Victory wiki page.