Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Shattered Mug: An Observation


I did it.

In a hurry to get to school last Wednesday morning, I knocked my favorite coffee cup off the counter. My beautiful, unique (tall white ceramic with black artwork and lettering) "The Black Drop" coffee mug lay shattered on the floor at my feet. At first I thought I could put it back together again. Unfortunately, like Humpty-Dumpty, not even all the King's horses and all the King's men, could put my coffee cup together again. So, into the garbage, painfully, it went.

Now don't misunderstand me. I have other coffee cups; three or four more. But each one has special meaning to me. My Sunday morning cup was given to me by my editor at InterVarsity Press one Christmas. I bought my Jonathan Edwards Center coffee cup at the Yale University Press booth during the Evangelical Theological Society meeting in Washington, DC in 2006. "The Blackdrop Cup," however, stood for much more. It was my favorite cup. It reminded me of my favorite coffee shop (The Black Drop), my favorite coffee & roasting master (Alexarc Mastema - that's Alex in the picture to the right - Does he look like a coffee artist or what?!) and it held many great memories for me. You could say I was invested in it.

That I know of, there is only one other like it in the state of Texas!

The point is, our lives are filled with items that we charge with symbolism. Those items remind us of people, places and things that are special to us. In the process, we begin to cherish those items for what they do for us - they remind us of who we are and what we love. They remind us of those important moments in life that shape us and continue to shape us in this world. "The Black Drop" cup was one of things for me.

Yet as sad as I was to lose the cup, I also believe that it can be replaced. So though I have lost the original, there is a new one that Alex can send to me from Bellingham...and I still have all the memories. Stuff comes and goes in our lives, but its the memories that shape us forever.

Thanks Alex!

Stay tuned for next week's blog entry and another approach! In the meantime, a happy Palm Sunday to all!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

This Christian Life: When Your Child Turns 18...Are you ever ready?

The answer to the above question is very simply, "no."

As Christians, we understand that our role - as parents - is to prepare our children for life; literally, "training up a child in the way he (or she) should go" (Proverbs 22:6). We prepare them mentally-emotionally, physically and spiritually for the life ahead. For the Christian couple, this seems logical and natural. The birth of a child is a beautiful dream fulfilled. We prepare his or her room, we plan out educational goals, spiritual goals and physical goals. For the evangelical Christian, this means using Scripture as a guide to that undertaking. We want our child to have the best chance to succeed in an increasingly difficult world.

And so we begin the process of raising this child. We change diapers, hold them, sing to them, teach them to walk, to talk and the difference between right and wrong, according to our own world view. They come out of the womb and for the next roughly 8-10 years, they love us unconditionally. And then...

He or she begins to develop opinions and concepts on their own. Others people - friends, teachers and media (ugh!) - begin to shape our child's awareness and opinions. He or she begins to question our parental decisions and opinions. They begin to tug on the tether that connects them to us. Our role changes little by little from educator to rescuer - through the exercise of their own wills, they get into 'unforeseen' trouble and the natural instinct is to those who are closest to them - and hopefully, that's the parent. Sometimes, however, it is not. After a time however - and now I'm projecting into the future - a conversation partner. Although we always remain mom or dad, we are educator and rescuer still to some degree, our children become self-sufficient and thus our role changes. We become (again, hopefully become) sources of wisdom, love and encouragement for them as they progress to career and a family of their own.

This is all well and good, even understandable to most of us. But there is one important caveat. Parenthood changes us, the parents. This process of raising my two daughters is changing me. It's changing my marriage and it is changing my own self-understanding. The joy, the grief, the happiness and the pain have extracted a price. Now I am still "me" - but I'm a changed me. I am not the man I was 18 years ago when Catherine was born. I've not only been shaped by God, but I've been shaped by the process of parenting Catherine. We come to the adventure of parenting from one perspective and exit the venture from another. We don't just shape our children they shape us, just by coming into our lives. We will never be the same.

Next year, Catherine will attend university. I won't be there. I'll be here.

I hurt already. My little "bear" is a young woman with hopes, dreams and aspirations of her own. I'm still her 'dad' and she still tells me she loves me. She has a good moral grounding and an impressive understanding of the Christian faith. So I think I've basically done my job...

But I'm changed. I'm not ready to let my little girl go just yet. Through all the disagreements when she discovered her own world view to the frustration over boyfriends, I think I love her now more than ever. I know I am proud of her. It hurts to read Genesis 2:24 though: for a child shall leave father and mother and be joined to his/her spouse; and they shall become one flesh (my translation).

Although my hurt is truly sadness - I now recognize the importance of the preceding 18 years - I also realize that the hurt is love. When you love deeply, you become vulnerable. Thus separation becomes a painful awareness of vulnerability. The good news is that you know you have loved your children and loved them deeply. The best news is that I am not alone in this. God stands with me, being a Father and having a Son himself.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Attention Readers!

I am making some changes in my my approach to this blog in the near future, and so I am cleaning out the email addresses to which this blog is sent. If you would like to continue receiving my posts, just make a comment on this blog post saying so. If you don't get these blogs as emails and would like to do so, please make a comment to that effect. Finally, if you don't want to get it, just do nothing and I will remove you in about a week.

My approach has been somewhat 'hodge-podge' depending on what I am experiencing at the time; however, I will be going more spiritual and systematic in the future.

I am already at work on my next blog entry - This Christian Life: When Your Child Turns 18. After that, stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Audacity of Hope

This quote is taken from an interview given by Alice Eve, one of the featured actresses in the upcoming movie, She's Out of My League. To answer the question all of you are thinking - no, I have not seen the movie - I simply stumbled on the article on the USA Today website! Enjoy this snippet:

What’s your favorite part about America?
"Your mentality is amazing, and it’s something the Old World doesn’t have: that New World hope. The audacity of hope, it’s incredible to see that. We don’t have that in England. It’s just not there. Here, you guys dare to dream. It’s a beautiful thing." [From "Alice Eve: Rising Star and 'Laugh Addict" by Brian Truitt, accessed at:‘laugh-addict’/]

What caught my eye in this interview was the phrase, "the audacity of hope." I do not know if Miss Eve meant to use the phrase in the manner that it struck me; nevertheless, I cannot shake it and it has made me think and think, and think, think, think!

This Christian life is all about the 'audacity of hope'. The word 'audacity' or 'audacious', simply put means "a willingness to take surprisingly bold risks." I like that. I want that. I want to live a life of bold risks. I want to live on the edge, where dreams are born and epic poems are written. It is a place carved out by the resurrected imagination, a place where faith and love bring forth the beautiful life.

The place of bold risks is the place where Jesus lived and where the post-Pentecost disciples lived. They lived audacious lives. But because these audacious lives were lived in Christ - they were lived in hope. Hope is a key here. With no hope, there is no love; where there is no love, there is no God - For God is love. Paul was right when he said in his letter to the Corinthians: "But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love." (1 Cor. 13:13)

As I ponder the future, my prayer is that God would plant an "audacious hope" within me. That His love would pour through me into this world and that wherever I am and whatever I am doing, it would make a difference for someone. Thank you Miss Eve, for the profound encouragement for all of us today.

This Christian Life: Who am I?

The question, "who am I?" is one of the most daunting questions of our time and not one easily answered. Lately, I have been dealing with others who have either firmly answered that question in their minds or are struggling to answer that question. You would think that those who have answered that question firmly are the ones who have a healthier self understanding than those who have not; but this is not necessarily the case. Sometimes it is the self-confident one that is least understanding of who they are. Often, it is the one who isn't sure who they are that has the best grip on reality and life-in-general. Why is this so? It's a complex and deceptive question. You see, the question, "Who am I?" can only be answered definitively from the end of our life...

What shapes our human identity? Many things. I can only speak as a theologian and a pastoral caregiver on this subject, but allow me to touch on a few "shapers of identity":

1) Our family and its drama: parents, siblings, spouses and children all contribute to the stream of who we are, for better or for worse. Were you loved or abused? Are you a lover or abuser?

2) Our educational journey: did you finish high school? college? postgraduate work? professional school - lawyer, physician? Did you have favorite teachers? What did you study? What type of educational method was involved in these studies: memorization and application? critical thinking? radical empiricism? radical skepticism? creativity? All of these aspects of our educational journey contribute to who we are.

3) The commercial world around us: Our world constantly seeks to shape us through a vast media machine. It seeks to shape our values, our philosophies and ultimately our purchases. It wants to influence our understanding of good, bad, beautiful and ugly in its own terms.

4) Our belief system: do you believe in or trust something enough to build your worldview around it? Today, many people simply allow the commercial world or the national government to shape his or her worldview, but this is not necessarily healthy, good or to be desired. Others, build their worldview on a theology, or the idea of God. This can be good or bad, depending on your understanding of God. What we believe is a powerful shaper of who we are...

5) Our friends or lack thereof: The people we care for and those who care about us who are not our families have tremendous influence in our lives. To befriend someone is to exhibit a special kind of love that can be deep and long lasting. However, people struggle with building relationships today for a variety of reasons or the relationships that they build tend to be superficial. (See #s 1-4 above!)

6) Our choices: the choices we make, generally based on the influence of #s 1-5, tend to define who we are; not just one of those aspects, but all of them together - family and family drama, education, world, beliefs and friends. On one hand, the choices themselves, we think, reflect who we are: "If I choose to attend church, then I love God and find redemption." Thus, the person qualifies his or her self as "good." On the other hand,our choices shape the perception of who we are by others: "Can you believe that guy watches "R" rated movies, but still claims to be a Christian?" Thus others qualify this person as a "hypocrite" and not that good.

These are but a few of the influences on our self-understanding and I have over simplified at that. Let me now give you what I think.

1) The Christian Life is a Constant Process of Transformation.

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

[2 Corinthians 3:18]

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

[Romans 12:2]

Although at a certain point in our lives we can produce offspring, this does not mean that we are mature, or better, have reached the final stage of what God wants us to be. We are in process throughout our lives. In other words, we are always becoming - whether a 46 year old postal worker or a 42 year old mother of 4. Paul understood this completely. Although as young man he would describe himself as a "Hebrew of Hebrews" and "as to the law, a Pharisee" he would later understand himself in a different light...

2) I will be who I will be, because Christ is who Christ is!

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

[Galatians 2:20]

Paul understood what we do not. Whatever life we have as a follower of Christ is bound up in the life and integrity that is Christ Jesus. Paul counted his education and religious context as refuse.

3) I can only understand "what God wants me to be" now...

Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.

[Philippians 3:13-16]

I am not to be conformed to this world; I am not to resign myself to some fatalistic view of my situation - I am to press forward toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Jesus Christ. I am to doggedly cling to Christ, for it is His call, His life that is mine. If Christ is not defining me, my relationships and my hope, then I must change - or be torn asunder by the despair which results from my failure to live the life to which He has called me.

4) I will experience who I am, only when face-to-face with Christ.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.

[1 Corinthians 13:12]

When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You, “Your face, O LORD, I shall seek.”

[Psalm 27:8]

There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.

[Revelation 22:3-4]

It is only when we are face-to-face with Christ that we will know who we are. In the present, we strive to make Him Lord of our life; to let Him transform us in the painful process of living. He asks us to love deeply, but we shy away from it because love can be painful. Yet it is precisely when we live in obedience to Him that we are changed into what God wants us to be.

Who am I? Who are you?

Only time will tell, as we obediently make Christ Lord over every bit or our lives.