Tuesday, March 22, 2016

No I in Team

Have you been following Izaic Yorks?  Yeah, me neither.  Not being a big fan of NCAA track & field I had no idea who this young man was until I heard about him on the radio.  Seems Mr. Yorks ran the fastest mile ever by an American collegian in a recent meet.  At just under 3:54, Izaic ran a mile at about the speed I bike a mile.  The real surprise, however, is that he did not run the mile at the NCAA championships which he qualified for.  Why not, you ask?  You can read about it here, but the upshot is that he had already committed to running the Distance Medley Relay with three of his teammates.  The qualifying heat for the mile is right before the DMR so Izaic had to choose which one to run.  Running the mile would effectively ruin their chances to win the DMR.  Izaic had promised his teammates he would run the relay and he evidenced no hesitation in keeping his word.

Now here's the thing, his teammates, his coach, and everyone aware of the story would have understood if Izaic bowed out of the relay to have a shot at being an individual champion.  In fact, with track & field's emphasis on individual achievement, all these people probably expected Izaic to do so.  Izaic Yorks, however, considered his word to be more important than all that.  It's more than refreshing, it's amazing.  I know it shouldn't be but it is.

What is God doing in me?  Even if I wonder what He will do through me, I am in danger of missing the greater purpose.  When I focus on God working in me, I might forget what I promised so long ago.  When I gave my life to Jesus, I agreed that whatever He wanted was what I'd do.  As I learn more about Jesus, I am coming to understand that He wants to do things in us rather than just in me.  Keeping my word might require me doing something that will be recognized as a church thing rather than an LP thing.  That might seem obvious but I find it easier to do what Jesus wants when I'm pretty sure someone will pat me on the back for it.  What about you?

To be sure, this does not remove my individual responsibility.  Izaic still had to put in the work himself.  No one can run the training laps for you; no one can push through the pain on your behalf; no one can read your Bible, pray, or serve the needy in your place.  When choosing where or how we will serve, however, Izaic's example bears remembering.  On race day, he chose to run with his team rather than in an event where his name would be listed by itself.  Oh, that I would make the same kind of decision while following Jesus.

By the way, Izaic is in the habit of keeping his promises.  He started some time ago and I will be watching the Rio games in hopes of seeing him fulfill that promise also.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Gravity pt.3, The ending and beginning

"Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance."  So says C.S. Lewis in the essay, "Christian Apologetics" in the collection God In The Dock.  In terms of western culture this is definitely arguable (as done by a Lewis critic here), but this is not, I think, Lewis's point.  In terms of what Christianity says about ultimate reality, it is either true or false.  This is true of every religious and philosophical system.  The consequences are pretty dramatic in any of the major world religions.  This has caused many to reject the whole lot.  Others say that they are all basically true but not exclusive.  (I think this position is really saying that they are all equally false, but that's a different post!)  For the last couple of posts, I have illustrated Christian belief with the obvious-to-everyone force of gravity.  No doubt, to folks who do not share my convictions about Jesus Christ, this seems a little condescending.  That is not my intent.

To a believer, the evidence of God is everywhere and nearly as obvious as gravity.  To the skeptic, all these phenomena could be explained by chance or natural forces.  Each group seems to be ignoring the plain evidence from the other point of view.  Some might be tempted to make peace between these two groups by trying to compromise and come up with an acceptable middle ground.  This is not my intent, either.  I am firmly in the "believer" camp.  I am trying to grow in my ability to see things from the other side so that I can understand and befriend more people.  Acceptance, however, doesn't mean I agree.  I'm going to try to persuade you still.

This, then, brings me to the end and what I hope and pray is a beginning.  I really believe God is trying to reveal Himself to humanity.  Maybe it would be better to say He is trying to reveal Himself to each human.  Some have said that He could do a better, more dramatic job if He's God after all.  I'll have to concede this point.  It doesn't always make sense to me either but I don't even understand why other humans do what they do.  I guess it's not surprising that I don't always understand why God does what He does.  On the other hand, what about those instances in your life that don't easily yield to happenstance.  Have you encountered a circumstance that seemed a little "too neat?"  Have you learned enough about our natural world to see that, as my high school chemistry teacher used to say, "it almost looks like someone designed this system?"  Have you felt the gentle pull toward belief?  Sure you could explain it away.  What if it's true?  What if the pull is not two masses drawing each other in but the pull of a Father for his child?

If someone sent you this article, ask them what this all means.  If you'd like, you can reach me through the comments or you can find me on Facebook.  I'd love to continue the conversation.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Gravity,pt. 2, A Parable, Maybe

Imagine a child born on the international space station.  As much as gravity is a part of every second of our existence, it is completely alien to him.  Every day he floats through the space he inhabits.  Everything he lets go of continues in whatever direction it was going until acted on by some other force.  Among other effects, his hip joints (our familiar ball and socket) have formed very slowly because of the lack of pressure from crawling and walking as an infant and toddler.  He had to intentionally exercise with resistance bands from the time he could be taught or tricked into doing so.  This child is now of an age where the beginnings of physics can be explained and, of course, one of the fundamental forces governing our universe is gravity.  How would you explain it?

That part is actually pretty easy.  One equation with a constant and 3 variables is all it takes.  The idea is reasonably easy, but then how would you convince him it was real?  He has no direct experience with the force.  To be sure, you could give evidence.  Orbits depend on gravity.  Without an attractive force, all celestial objects would fly in straight lines rather than curve around a central body.  Planets around the sun, the moon about the earth, even his own home continues around the earth he sees out the window everyday.  The problem is that motion is hard to observe at such an enormous scale.  What if he resists this idea?  Couldn't all the objects we just mentioned be travelling along on parallel lines?  Even if he's resistant he should be able to see the changes in the relative positions of the earth, the space station, and the moon.  Parallel, straight paths won't work but circular paths are still not obvious.  Who knows what lengths he might go to put the data together without gravity?  School teachers could, no doubt, give testimony to the creative ability of stubborn children!  The best and brightest of earth believed their home to be flat for a long time because you can't observe the curve while you're standing on it.

The most effective device would be a field trip.  A few moments anywhere on the surface of the earth (to say nothing of landing!) should be more than enough to convince our recalcitrant student of the reality of gravity.  Understanding would be unleashed as the experience broke down the barriers of resistance.  A whole new world would be opened.  Even if he suggested that this was a idiosyncrasy of earth, a few more trips should settle the debate.  Experience on the moon and another planet (we're the ones doing the dreaming here, right?) would render resistance more amusing than substantive.  Gravity is universal.

Too often, as Christians, we get stuck in the explanation and evidence stage when talking about our faith with an unbelieving friend or family member.  Some of them accept and are transformed.  Several others are heart-breakingly unconvinced.  What's needed is experience.  Here, of course, is the problem.  Getting a child to experience gravity on the earth, moon, and Mars is simplicity itself compared to conjuring up an experience with God for someone else.  We don't control such things.  God has to encounter them by His own choice in His own way if anything we say about Him is true.  The beauty is that, if what we say is true, this is exactly what God wants to do.

This is certainly not a reason to stop giving explanations and evidence.  What if we took the child to earth before explaining gravity?  He'd have no frame of reference to understand his experience.  So it is with our unbelieving loved ones.  We ought to give them the information we have so when God does show up, they understand what is happening.  What I am arguing for is for a little peace.  Your friends and family aren't dependent on you coming up with the perfect argument for them to come to faith.  They are dependent on God drawing them to Himself.  The pressure is not on you.  There's enough courage involved in overcoming my anxiety to just have the conversation without adding to it the pressure of having to perfectly convince my friend through my own skill and passion.  More importantly, too often I find myself poring over past conversations and imagining new illustrations and completely neglecting asking God to do His work.  Faith is not easy.  It's not easy to accept the first time and it's not easy to put into practice as we go along.  God is not tame or safe, after all.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Gravity, pt. 1, A Parable Maybe

Have you ever thought of the benefits of gravity?  When I set something down, it stays there.  As a parent, I love this.  I would never be justified in saying, "It's probably where you left it" if not for gravity.  Gravity makes staying in shape much easier.  Built in resistance is something we take for granted but most of us have heard of the muscle atrophy experienced by astronauts due to living in weightlessness.  Gravity keeps water in my glass at supper and holds the atmosphere around earth like a blanket.  Oh yeah, it also keeps the blankets on me while I sleep and keeps me on the bed without restraints.  Certainly, there are some frustrations with gravity.  I'm not crazy about falling when I'm clumsy or when winter brings icy conditions.  I have some older friends who suggest gravity is not always an aid to the physique.  On the whole, however, it's pretty hard to argue that gravity is anything other than an overwhelming positive in our life.

Now imagine this.  Imagine meeting a man who claimed to believe in gravity because of all the good it did for him, personally.  This fellow would probably amuse us to some degree.  He believes the right thing but for questionable reasons.  We might even wish to challenge this hypothetical brother in his beliefs because he has taken something fundamental and made it all about himself.  It's not that he's wrong but he has missed the greater point.  Gravity ought to be believed in because it's true, whether it is good or bad for me at any given moment.

You, of course, see the parallel.  I believe that Jesus is God in the flesh.  The second person of the Trinity and the "exact representation of the Godhead."  I believe the major tenets of Christianity.  I believe these things are true.  Recently, however, I have been shown how we (Christians, especially us preacher types) tend to sell Christianity under terms of how good it is for you.  To be sure, I believe God is good and good for us and good to us.  The greater point, though, is God ought to be believed in because He is.  If He isn't, then "we are to be pitied above all men."

"Well, what's the problem?" you ask.  Isn't the issue that people believe, no matter the reason?  The problem is that belief because of benefits will not be enough to sustain anyone who hits a patch of life where the benefits aren't obvious.  Just like the products we buy, when it no longer works it is no longer useful and should be discarded.  A firmer foundation would lead to a more resilient faith.

A couple of notes: this post is designed for believers.  Moreover, my hope is that it encourages you to examine your own motives for belief.  It is not designed to beat someone else up for their motives (those are hard to ascertain).  Nor am I intending to speak to non-believers.  Some of you are probably objecting to likening faith in a Person who benevolently created and rules the whole universe invisibly to something as obvious as gravity.  To that I would say that this is only part 1 . . .

Thursday, March 12, 2015

What I Don't Know

How do you know what you don't know?  Now that's a ridiculous sounding statement, how can you know something and not know it at the same time.  Short answer, you can't unless you are a martial arts master from some of those old movies.  "You knew without knowing, that is the secret!" That is not what I mean.  Think of a blind spot in your driving.  You can't see in your blind spot (I think that's why we call it that!), but you must be aware of where it is.  If you change lanes without looking over your shoulder, you've just followed a recipe for putting some new paint on your car.  Knowing what you don't know means knowing where my knowledge is deficient.

The lack of awareness of my knowledge "blind spots" can lead to much worse than a little fender bender.  The most common occurrence of this phenomenon in my life is with other people.  I am completely aware that I don't know what makes my phone or computer lock up when I most need it.  I also know that my knowledge of the machinations of the stock market is woefully incomplete.  However, with other people I have this curious behavior that seems to "fill in" my blind spots.  I simply assume.  (Yes, I know that old joke too!)  It's easy.  "They are just being mean."  "He's just plain lazy."  "You don't have any idea what I'm going through."  This last one is probably true but we rarely apply it in the other direction.  I always know what you're going through and it's not as bad as what I'm going through.  Just in case it's not clear, that last sentence has some sarcasm to it.

We would never say this out loud but it happens all the time.  It leads to lots (most?) of our hurt feelings and broken relationships.  What to do?  How can we fight this?  The obvious answer is to ask questions and seek to really know but that will take considerable time.  Is there anything to do right away and for the people I only interact with for a limited time?  Happily, I think there is.  Try making a different set of assumptions.  What if you assumed everyone you interact with has it worse than you.  Assume they are a little busier, a little more worn out, and a little more hurt than you are.  I don't think this will cause you to be silent about your own needs but I know it leads me to ask more questions rather than be demanding, be more respectful of others' time, and extend more grace rather than walk away hurt.

Is everyone busier than me?  In more dire straits than me?  Putting in more effort than me?  No, no, and no.  That will become evident as we really know each other.  In that context, however, these disparities will lead to generosity, sacrifice, and love.  Here's the thing.  Jesus said that I must love my neighbor as myself.  The "trick" to this is that I can never aim at equality.  I am so naturally good at looking out for and loving myself that the only way I can love someone else equally to me is to work at putting their needs above my own.  It requires a new set of assumptions.  Ones that don't fulfill that old joke!

P.S.  I read some old posts to make sure I hadn't already written on this.  I ran across a post that said there were some folks in my life who would consider this post written to them.  That is once again the case but, as with the former post, a conversation reminded me of how badly most of my friends and me need a reminder.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Being Human

The last few days have caused me to think harder than usual.  I have received both praise and push back related to my last post and, if I expected one and not the other, shame on me.  This weekend I spent a great deal of time helping decorate our house, watching my Tigers lose the SEC championship game, and preparing for the great privilege and responsibility of preaching to the congregation that meets at Union Hill Baptist Church.  To be honest, I began preparing the morning sermon looking for something to say about Ferguson.  Indeed, to see if God had something to say about Ferguson.  I'm sure He does but that is not where this week's message ended up.  From that message, the events in Ferguson, the video and grand jury proceedings in NYC, and the discussion of my last post, I have a few more thoughts that have risen to the top.

The main point of the Sunday morning sermon was that God said at least three things in coming to earth as the Baby Jesus ("Messages from the Manger" clever, right?) and He is still saying them today.  Those three things are, "I am with you," (Matt 1:18-23), "I understand you," (Hebrews 4:15-16), and "I love you this much." (Philippians 2:5-8)  I'll spare you the whole sermon but Jesus waded into our messy, painful, real world to rescue us.  As such, any who follow Him ought to be the first to wade into the messy, painful, real life of someone else.  Categorization hinders this.

As described by one of my friends while sharing my last post, I am a "white, middle class, conservative Baptist pastor."  I'm pretty sure he used those words in a friendly fashion.  All of them carry some useful information.  All of them can also carry some excuse to put people in a box and assume you know what they will think, say, or do in any variety of contexts.  In short they provide an opportunity to short-cut actually knowing someone.  Obviously, there are lots of words that carry that opportunity.  Black, White, Latino, Cop, NAACP, Protestor, Suspect just to name a few that have been thrown around in the last several months.  None of these labels are bad; they all carry useful information but they carry the opportunity for not knowing.

Are all black men aggressive towards cops?  Do all police officers treat black me unfairly?  Are all prosecutors biased toward the police officers they work with?  When the questions are asked like this, the answers are easy.  That's not the way prejudice usually works.  I get a little information about a situation or a person.  Maybe it's from a little bit of gossip, half a conversation that I overhear, or even the news.  It's easy to slide a little information inside my pre-made categories and end up with a faceless wall of "people."  I put people in quotes because that's the problem; they are not people anymore.  They are preachers, cops, lawyers, blacks, whatever.  They no longer have faces, or families, or personalities.  They are the group.  We know how "they" are.  That's how "they" always are.

Knowing is hard.  It is much easier to keep to myself and my like-minded friends and imagine how others think and feel (if they feel).  If I keep reminding myself that I am imagining, there wouldn't be anything too terrible about that.  The trouble is when imagining turns into assuming.  Assuming is not knowing.  Assumptions turn people into blocks and groups.  Personal interaction (usually listening more than talking) leads to knowing.  Knowing turns groups into individuals, people.  Humans have pain.  Humans cause pain.  It's all part of being human regardless of language, zip code, or color.  Knowing will lead to pain.  Those you know will hurt you.  You will hurt when others hurt people you know.  You will hurt when those you know hurt even when no one caused it and there's no one to blame.  It stinks.  Knowing, however, is the only thing that makes loving possible.  Without that there's nothing worth anything.

One final thought, I read an article last week about who we really know.  The author didn't use those words but, instead, talked about who we discuss important social issues with.  Think about the folks you discuss politics, faith, and social issues with in a meaningful way (not like we talk about the weather).  Do all those folks look like you?  I realized that those folks in my life are boringly similar.  They all look like me and most of them think like me.  I'm out to change that.  How about you?  Don't be surprised when it turns out to be difficult; knowing is hard.   

Friday, December 5, 2014

Thoughts on a Rally

I attended the NAACP rally for Michael Brown at the Missouri Capitol this afternoon.  I wanted to hear what the protestors had to say and, if I could, to understand something of where they were coming from.  I wanted to record some of my thougths mostly to help me organize them and process what I saw and heard.  I put it on this blog because I'm foolish enough to think someone else might be interested in them also. What else are blogs for?!
This was an NAACP rally and, apparently, that is who organized the march from Ferguson.  There were, however, clearly some in attendance who believed in the immediate cause, justice in the Michael Brown case, but who disagreed with the platform speakers (the chairman of the board and the national president for the NAACP among others) about what needed to be done and what channels should be used.  The goals articulated by the NAACP president were to have a special prosecutor appointed to this case and to end racial profiling in the USA which includes a piece of legislation at the federal level.  Personally, I think that a special prosecutor is a reasonable request but, at the very least, making the grand jury proceedings public is necessary.  While I'm not normally given to agree with the govenor of New York, I heard him say this morning that if the preception of our justice system is one of inequality and prejudice then that must be dealt with no matter if it is a fair perception or not.  I think he's got this one right.  I should further say that I have no idea what good legal rules and precedences I am suggesting setting aside to make the grand jury proceedings public but the evidence needs to be heard.
A bishop of a Christian denomination read part of an open letter from his denomination (I'd include a link if I could remember the denomination) that I thought was interesting particularly regarding the grand jury.  The letter acknowledged that a full trial might find Darren Wilson not guilty in the death of Michael Brown but that the openness of a full trial was required for there to be trust in the process.  I thought that was a pretty good word.
I better not get any farther before I say that I believe being a police officer is a near-impossible job.  Being responsible for the protection of law abiding people while being resented by every person you stop in their car or on the street and constantly living under the real possibility of someone agressively trying to hurt you or keep you from doing your job is more than I have to put up with ever (even on Sunday morning!).  Add to this constant situation the need to occasionally make life and death decisions with no time and no margin for error and you have a job that most of us cannot imagine doing well.  As sympathetic as I am to the protestors and, in general, those who feel unheard and unknown, we ought to all try to imagine ourselves in the shoes of a law enforcement officer.  While being the target of the anger of some of the protestors, several officers provided escort, traffic control, and protection to the public, protestors included, as usual.
Finally, those "other protestors."  There was a small portion of the marchers who called for "revolution."  I did not get (or take?) the chance to speak to one of them but their interactions at the rally suggested they were not interested in simply voting their mind or influencing through the existing political channels.  I did not get the impression that these revolutionaries were looters but they definitely were more militant in their speech and demonstration.  I would like to brush them off as radicals but, to be fair, it is pretty easy for me (and maybe many of you) to not really think about the NAACP demands farther than today's rally because they don't sponsor "occupy" movements or the like.  These, generally younger protestors, struck me as being ok with a measure of anarchy.
The NAACP clearly wanted to draw these young people and their energy into the fold while controlling their methods.  This kind of reminded me of pastoring a church with some always wanting change faster and some always wanting to take a little more time to consider things.  That's assuming that everyone agrees on the goals.
On the whole, I was impressed with the reliance on God clearly demonstrated from the NAACP leadership and the peaceful yet forceful statements of what needed to change.