24 December, 2008

All Consuming Fire

2 Ch 5:13 & 14
It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers [were] as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD; and when they lifted up [their] voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of musick, and praised the LORD, [saying], For [he is] good; for his mercy [endureth] for ever: that [then] the house was filled with a cloud, [even] the house of the LORD; So that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of God.

The Lord appeared as a pillar of fire and a column of smoke to the people of Israel. He covered all Mount Sinai with clouds and thunders and lightnings. He filled the tent of meeting, the tabernacle, with this cloud.

... And not again in the 300 years prior to this event!

300 years ago, in 1708, George Washington had still not been born. America was still a dark continent. Austria had still not annexed Hungary. The Great Alliance bested France in some war I've never heard of. 300 years is a long, long time. Most of us can barely read English written 300 years ago.

Generations had lived, loved the Lord, and walked away from Him repeatedly. Canaan had been occupied. The judges had come, ruled, died, and been replaced with new judges by God because His people could not curb their lusts without a judge over them. They'd grown tired of judges, and begged for and received a king in Saul. Then God provided better in David. Their government had completely changed several times, and been transferred untold times.

They'd been gathering 3 times a year (or failing to do so) for as long as anyone could remember. They'd been watching the annual sacrifices and hearing the readings of the law. They'd been tithing and resting on Saturdays for generations. Their religion was set in concrete.

And then Solomon started his building program. I don't know how long it took, but if you read the previous 5 chapters of 2 Chronicles, you'll see the immense scale of the temple. The "bath" at the front of the temple held 24,000 gallons of water. The Holy of Holies alone was overlaid with 45,000 pounds of pure gold. The place was a monster.

And the response of Israel was equal to the task. They poured out their hearts and pockets into building this place. Everything about Israel was utterly consumed in financing and enabling this house David had envisioned. Again, read the previous chapters to see what it looks like when God's people become excited about building God's house.

When the time came, the priests led the people in united praise. The band struck up a song, and everyone overflowed to the Lord.

And the Lord overflowed back.

The people were stunned.

They'd heard of such things happening, but they'd never remotely even felt a quiver of nervousness by imagining that such a thing might happen to them. God failed to warn them that He might actually dwell visibly in the house Solomon was dedicating.

Their unexpected Guest arrived.

2Ch 7:3 & 4
And when all the children of Israel saw how the fire came down, and the glory of the LORD upon the house, they bowed themselves with their faces to the ground upon the pavement, and worshipped, and praised the LORD, [saying], For [he is] good; for his mercy [endureth] for ever. Then the king and all the people offered sacrifices before the LORD.

When God breaks in upon His world, everything changes. Problems fade and invisible things grow solid. Daily bread stales to mere distraction. The will of God grows savory. It's God. And He's here. And I'm seeing Him fill His house right in front of my eyes.

If a celebrity even just a cute girl gives me a second glance, I'm flattered. If God comes in response to my work of building and my praise, I'm flummoxed. Israel planted their faces on the pavement because the Spirit was moving in their hearts. They worshipped from love. They siezed the honor the Lord bestowed on them, and returned it with fiery love.

They were stunned.

Stunned the way a humble guy is stunned the first time he realizes "that" girl is looking at him with real love. It feels misplaced. Inappropriate. Impossible. For God to honor their sacrifices and inhabit the dwelling they'd made for Him with their weak hands loosened their knees miraculously.

2Ch 6:18
But will God in very deed dwell with men on the earth? behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house which I have built!

And Solomon was right. God could not dwell in that tiny little house. It constrained Him.

So He took it upon Himself to be born of a virgin.

God traded in that house on a single, not-so-beautiful, human body.

But the glory that filled the house and brought all Israel to her knees was exactly the glory that filled that Man. It was God Who inhabited the temple, and it was God Who inhabited the temple on Earth.

The people followed Him, even though the veil was firmly closed and the fire of Divinity was hidden deeply within Him. They sensed something, and they were stunned at the wisdom and authority that flowed from His mouth and heart. The dove's descent onto Jesus was about the best clue most of Israel ever had that the Shekinah Glory had filled the temple once again.

That, and Jesus' announcement He would destroy that temple and raise it again from nothing in 3 days.

The Man Jesus contained all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, but God wanted more. It was God who decided to tear down the temple of His own body, leaving not one stone atop another.

And it was God Who raised that temple again, but this time not a single body. The temple had once been a badger skin tent. Then it was gold overlaying cedar and stone. Then it was a single human body. And when Christ rose from the dead, the temple grew larger than David or Solomon might ever have have dreamt. The temple grew into the glorious spiritual gathering of bodies that is the church.

At Pentacost, the Lord descended again to take residence in this new temple. He filled it with the fire of His presence. Moses and Solomon presided when the Lord descended in a cloud of smoke into the first temples. The Spirit presided when He descended like tongues of fire and sat upon each of the people in that upper room, filling them with His life and word.

Strip away the glitter of the Christmas the world tries to sell you.

Strip away the family bonding and sweet traditions.

Strip away even the manger story with its wise men, angels, and Mary.

What remains is the reason God was ever wrapped in swaddling clothes. Before He could be Christ in us, the hope of glory, He needed to be Christ the Seed sown in death for us.

Every single object described in the temple corresponds to an equivalent office in the church, filled by someone who loves Jesus Christ. And when the people give their gold and jewels to the building of the body, and when they give their hearts to praising His glory, the Shekinah Glory fills the temple because the Lord is good, and His mercy extends forever.

May your Christmas be rich in the stunning power of the invisible.

22 December, 2008

Honest Abe

There are those who insult Lincoln as America's Julius Caesar, who overthrew the Republic of Rome to make himself emperor, and accuse him of railroading America for his own fiendish purposes. They powerfully inveigh against his deconstruction of the Constitution, and the bloody war fought to satisfy his need to dominate the honorable men of the South. And those people are not defined by the fact they were raised Southern. They're dedicated Christians from all over the country.

You can find some of them here: http://www.theamericanview.com/

Just search for "Lincoln."

The argument is essentially this. America was formed as a union of sovereign states held together by a Constitution. In fact, the essential sovereign unit of American government was the state until Lincoln's power grab. When the South looked up and saw that their right to sovereignly rule themselves was being imposed upon by a self-important North, they resisted. They would not see the union, as orginally conceived, torn apart by Northern self-righteousness and arrogance. And Lincoln merely used those Northern vices in imposing his own power lust on the nation, and in sending many thousands of good American boys to their deaths.

The argument is disingenuous.

It ignores a handful of key points in building its airtight case. Actually, most arguments truly are airtight when seen from one perspective. The question, of course, is what one's perspective is, but that's the actual subject of this post and we'll get to it a little later. The history on this topic is of interest to me, so I'm going to carry on with it a little longer.

I was raised to believe that at times the American government was my enemy. I married a woman who sometimes believed the American government was our enemy. I buy food from a guy who believes the American government is sometimes our enemy. And I had immediate sympathy to this Lincoln as Caesar argument from the very first time I heard it back in the late '80's.

It was interesting to read an impassioned defense of this argument against Lincoln.

Then read 14 of Lincoln's speeches.

His arguments against secession went like this:

OK. Secede if you must. Just do it the right way. Don't do it by force of arms, but by force of election. The ballot formed the country, and only the ballot can splinter it.

Furthermore, it is right to give the entire country a vote on the secession of any part of the country, and that for several very good reasons. First, is there any contract which once formed can be broken by any one party at any time? The states have severally entered into contract together, and have profitably enriched one another in many ways. For the seceding states to take the wealth gained from the other states without compensation is theft. For the seceding states to close off the possible benefits of the contract from the remaining states is painful. They must honor their contract, even as they seek to end it.

Furthermore, there is no way to divide the nation that doesn't result in the overall impoverishment of each part. No matter how the country might be split, the states will have to deal with each other and the fallout of any separation. The final, resulting nations will be poorer for the division. So why divide with blood? If there must be division, why not equitable, legal, ballot-driven division.

Lastly, it is unthinkable that all of the states should decide to evict just one, and yet what is the difference between every state seceding from the one and every state agreeing to kick that one state out? The mean, selfish kind of a freedom demanded by the Southern states was an unjust freedom. The selfish acts of one member of a family have a depressing effect on every member. Sovereignty is not the same as freedom from obligation. When one member secedes from a marriage, it is not a simple and detached act of personal freedom; divorce is a devastating blow dealt to every member of even the extended families involved. The states are obligated to deal with the honest effects of their attempted secession.

These are reasonable arguments. To compare Caesar, who made himself Rome's destroying savior by marching his army into Rome and conquering the capital, against Lincoln who worked with the Congress and left the power of legislation in Congress' hands throughout the rebellion, is too much.

Lincoln made mistakes, and did things that caused questions in his time and ours. His suspension of Habeus Corpus is still talked about among people who talk about such things, but even at that it was only for a time and then Congress was given the reins. Lincoln was a man and not a god, and it showed in his mistakes. He was given a hard road to walk, and he walked it as honestly as I believe any man could. He took brave steps over and over and he saw the job through to its final stages.

But there are those who are not content for him to be a man. They need him to be an American Satan.


I believe it's because of their own desires. They desire their states to be free today in way they never will be again. Fair enough, but if they get their way in this will they be done? Or will they then want sovereign counties, and cities, and homes? (I'll tell you one thing. They'll love quoting that question within their own contexts.)

These are big questions. Where to place the dividing line between personal sovereignty and community good is contentious.

What I find interesting is that in 1861 this line was drawn by men who wanted to hold other men as slaves. The cry is loud and long that slavery was never the issue, and I hear that cry, but I cannot respect it.

In the end, Lincoln did not fire the first shot of the Civil War. The secessionists fired first on Fort Sumter. Lincoln had promised that he would not march on the South, and he never broke that promise. He proposed compromise after compromise, but the South would have none of it. They wanted the right to do what they wanted to do, and it cannot escape me that what they wanted to do was inarguably evil.

The first intended use of the lofty freedom for which those men of the South died was the continuance of a great evil.

And I believe I find a pattern in that. We are most usually willing to "fire the first shot" when we are protecting our right to do some evil after which we lust.

Having read Lincoln and his detractors, I am more impressed with Lincoln's character, courage and ideals than ever before.

My point of view has moved a lot in the last several years.


I'm about to take a bit of leap, so be sure to come with me.

I believe this was my mistake in trying promote the home church. It was not enough for me to want to see the church done differently. I needed the steeple-churches to suffer demolition. Following Luther's example, I wanted to secede from all Christian organizations and I wanted their hierarchies blown to smithereens.

My point of view has moved a lot on the church, too.

I find myself wondering how many of the men manning pulpits under gaudy steeples are men for whom I'd have the utmost respect, if I only knew their story. Instead, I only know them by a single doctrinal stand they've taken somewhere along the line, and that as framed by their enemies.

May the Lord forgive my ignorance. And may He bless the men who stand for Him as well as they know how.

30 November, 2008

The Body of Christ

I was reading in Scientific American today about HSPs - Heat Shock Proteins.

The Wikipedia article is pretty technical, and the SciAm article is only slightly less so. I'll save you the trouble of reading them and then jump to how it amazed me again at what the body of Christ truly is.

An HSP is charged with helping other proteins do their jobs. There are proteins specific to every cancer cell. The HSP cannot fight cancer, that's the job of our T-cells, but it can snag a little signature of that protein and take it to a T-cell, for example. Another protein might need to be folded up like a pretzel to work, and be having a hard time growing into its mature shape. HSPs make that folding happen. They can't do what the protein needs to do, but they can help that protein get itself folded into the right shape.

(And, BTW, to enhance the benefits of HSPs in your mortal body, exercise. Their rate of production is increased under sufficient stress, and heating up your core temp with exercise does the trick, according to a SciAm side-blurb. I'd love to think of how that applies to Christ's body, but not today.)

Everything the body does, every single little thing from digesting food to fighting disease to kissing a baby on the forehead, requires the interaction of millions of entire subsystems. Even something as simple as a bone cannot do its job without systems on top of systems and within systems. And what's more, almost everything in the body does more than one thing. It does its thing, but it makes sure other things can do their thing, too.

The finite but immeasurable complexity of our Creator's work astounds.

The connection between our bodies and the body of Christ is almost unavoidable, so I'm not going to belabor it. The least, most hidden member of the body, when functioning correctly, could be that perfectly tailored HSP for someone. Without ever being able to fight off a cancer, the quietest soul in a congregation might touch someone in a special way that makes him confident enough to resist evil. We need each other in ways we cannot begin to imagine.

And that's what I want to belabor.

We just found out about HSPs in fruit flies in 1962. It was 1977 before anyone realized that what happens in a fruit fly happens in mice, too. It was another pair of decades before they began to see just how remarkably versatile the lowly HSP really is. I could rattle off story after story of science's amazing discoveries that things they considered completely unimportant are actually keys to our very existence.

It turns out HSPs have one other little function. It's of some moderate importance, I imagine.

HSPs keep us from being mutated genetic freaks.


Micro-evolution happens every day of our lives, in every living being, and every living species. Most mutations are highly negative, but somehow we don't die. That somehow is tied to these HSPs. No has figured out just how yet, but somehow HSPs buffer and suppress poor genetic guesses in our bodies. It's these lowly, unknown, functionless HSPs that keep us from spinning out of control.

Again, the parallel to the body of Christ is amazing. Think of it the next time that bunch of old ladies in the corner is keeping the church from doing something that would otherwise be really exciting. They may just be keeping your church from mutating beyond repair. :-)

Here's the thing that floored me. Scientists are only just now beginning to see how very complex the human body really is, but I think they might be light-years ahead of Christians who think they have an idea how the body of Christ works.

I've done home church. I've done pentacostal revival. I've done presbyterian accuracy. I've done random gathering. And EVERY ONE OF THEM has profited me. I've been blessed by the body of Christ every time I've joined myself to her, in every form.

I've argued with passion that every church building should be burnt to the ground and that every pastor should be made to get a real job. I've argued for the freeing of every member of the body to serve their function, without mediation by some hierarchy. And I've argued for one hierarchy over another. And I've argued against the anarchy of home church. (No, these are not in chronological order.)

I've arrived, through all this mess, to the place I'm almost unwilling to argue against anything. (I'll still argue for lots of stuff, though. :-) )

The body of Christ is too complex and wonderful for me.

She responds very well to leadership. She responds very well to freedom. She responds very well to anything around which her members can unite, which is to say anything that does not inherently create confusion. And somehow, when placed in swirling confusion, she can create some amazing and beautiful order.

She can also be crushed by leadership. She can also be starved in freedom. She can also fail in the middle of the most unity-centric, ordered care imaginable.

Whatever else she may be, the body of Christ is far, far beyond mortal understanding. I suspect the bio-spiritual dance of the children of the Living God demotes the mystery of HSPs to elementary school levels. And I used to think I had it all on a string in my 20's.


The best I can do is prepare myself to behave properly within her, give my best to her, nourish myself on the purest milk and meat I can find, and then love her wherever I may find her.

Anything else is certainly beyond me.

15 November, 2008

Child's Play

I'm refering to Calvinism and PreMillenial Dispensationalism and Ecclesiology and all their brothers, sisters and cousins.

It's just a feeling I have right now, and not really a definitive thought, but I thought I'd articulate it anyway.

There's a chance I could be investigating a new church in a few months. My current church is wonderful, but my circumstances might make such a move practical. You know how I am about attending the church closest to my home.

As I considered what this might mean, one of the things that crossed my mind was that the new church I'd most likely consider is anti-Calvinist. This little detail reminded me of the awkwardness of starting at my present church in 2005. I awkwardly explained to the pastor that I was a Calvinist, Amillenialist, and home-churcher. I was happy that he was willing to let me be all those things in his church.

Doing that all again was unappealling.

And then I thought back on all the problems my Calvinism had caused in my present church. There was ... Well, really there just wasn't. Aside from the fact that I'd mentioned my Calvinism, it had never caused a single problem. I'm at peace with each person's need to choose God, so it doesn't trouble me when people use that form and formula for describing conversion. I think they need to believe God holds them by His unfailing choice when troubles crash in on them, but they are usually happy to believe that, too.

And so it happened that I had the thought that maybe I'm not much of a Calvinist any more. I still believe Calvin was right in most of what I've heard he said, but that doesn't make me a Calvinist. I still believe the key points of Arminius' disagreements with Calvin were in error, but that belief doesn't define my relationship to anyone.

When I call myself a Calvinist, I don't mean to separate myself from anyone but I absolutely do define my relationship to them. I commit us to starting our acquaintance adversarially. And that does not seem like a good idea.

So, I thought some more. It would be awfully convenient for me to find an excuse, any excuse really, to hide my true beliefs. That kind of dishonesty calls for deeper rationalizations. :-)

I thought about my current small group in this church. We meet weekly, and I'm not sure I've ever felt the need to make a specific point of my beliefs on Christ's return or how our hearts first learn to trust God. That's a lot of weeks and a lot of arguments and a lot of not once needing to base my contributions to that group upon the fact that I'm a Calvinist. It turns out, week after week the most important thing is knowing Christ and knowing my brothers and sisters and speaking and hearing wisdom as best I can.

(Maybe I'm becoming a Peoplist?)

I would not trade my knowledge of doctrine for ignorance. I just think maybe doctrine's a good thing to "do" in your youth. A real understanding of what God does and why is a great foundation and launching point for life. Knowing that God saves and then we are saved has been a tremendous comfort and compass for me. And I gleefully admit that I don't have a lock on any doctrine. I could be wrong or right for the wrong reasons, and I'm certainly lacking a lot understanding even of the things I know. Still, I have the basic comfort and compass of knowing the broad outlines of God's motions through history, and my part in them. That knowledge of the Eternal One has been a timely salvation for me over and over again.

It's just that I'm not cut out for dedicating my whole life to such knowledge. I'm cut out for caring about people, and giving my life to the Lord through them.

The most important thing a baby lion can do is play. One day that play will enable him to lead a pride and hunt massive wildebeests and elephants. Even so, my play at doctrine in my teens through thirties taught me to use the scripture as a man - to edify and heal. The people who taught me to make war with doctrine did me no favors, mind you, but the ones who taught me to seek the mind and ways of God showed me the way forward into His mercy.

Doctrine was life to me, just like play once was. I still play and I still study doctrine, but I seem to do both less and less.

I think it's a good thing.

29 October, 2008

The Portal of the (Candidate's) Soul

There's an old anecdote:
It is said that Abraham Lincoln, when he was President of the U.S., was advised to include a certain man in his cabinet.
When he refused, Lincoln was asked why he would not accept the man. "I don't like his face," the President replied.
"But the poor man isn't responsible for his face," responded his advocate.
"Every man over forty is responsible for his face," said Lincoln.

As I look at this election, I care that Obama looks like a bit more of a socialist than McCain. But, I still remember the days when Republicans everywhere rejected McCain as a liberal socialist, too. And I care that McCain has some gravel in his gut that Obama won't have for a few more years. But, I know the job just might forge Obama into something great, too.

I know everyone's up in arms about having two such terrible candidates, but I really think these are two of the best candidates we've had in a while. I think there's a real chance either of these candidates could really make a positive difference in their areas of concern. I do like McCain's areas of concern better than Obama's. And I have a definite leaning to the right, anyway.

Still, I had my doubts.

Watching these videos was an, "Every man over forty is responsible for his face," moment for me, though. These videos moved me past my doubts. Obama ain't funny. Oh, his jokes are cute, and he has a presence, but given the opportunity to have some fun he takes no risks. Given the opportunity to join in play with his audience, he plays along instead. McCain jumps in the mud and starts slinging it. As I watched these videos, I really, really liked McCain's face. I'd love to see that man leading this country.

Watch these videos and tell me whether you see him differently. Or whether you just think it's silly to make big decisions over little things.

Obama Part 1

Obama Part 2

McCain Part 1

McCain Part 2

Oh, and I'm really sorry I'm not really blogging any more. Some months life just gets a bit busier than others.

19 October, 2008

We Shall See Him As He Is

One day we will see Jesus face to face. All our dreams will come to fruit, and we stand right there in front of Him.

But oddly, it will be a human-sized experience in some way. It will be the opposite of a dream that can keep changing with every new thought. Jesus will be Jesus, and He'll never change. He'll be there in a body, just like our new one, and He'll definitely look like something. It's an odd thing, but He'll no longer be an amazing million possibilities. Jesus will be Jesus, and when we pass Him on the streets of gold, we will recognize Him.

In a sense, that might be a little odd. Imagine meeting the girl of your dreams for the first time. 999,999 possibilities drop away in an instant when you see the real thing. You could almost mourn the 999,999 girls that will never be, but then you can finally begin knowing the girl that's really there.

Getting to know the Jesus that's really there just might be like that. We might first have to mourn the Jesuses we imagined before we can love the Jesus Who's standing there in front of us. I think that will feel good and right.

And when it happens, I suspect an amazing thing will happen. We will be shocked to discover that we already know Him. We'll be shocked at how few surprises there are for us, because have already known each other. Jesus will reach out to us, and we'll know that gesture because Bob and Dan were just like that. And He'll laugh with us, and it'll be just like Charleen and Linda.

I think the biggest surprise of meeting Jesus will be the degree to which we are not surprised by the beauty we see in Him.

It's an exciting hope.

08 October, 2008

The Eight

If you're over 40, you like the old songs. A lot. That's why there's so many oldies stations.

I noticed that this morning. I don't listen to the radio, and I do run with the windows down, so I hear a lot of stations over a month. I recognize the music rolling out of the windows of people my age. The Boomers are redefining the layout of the radio band as much as they are anything else, and I like it when they drive by because I get an instant warm feeling from whatever song they're currently ignoring.

And it makes me wonder stuff.

Are we hardwired to learn and like music in our teens, and after that everything we like requires extra concentration? I learned to like classical in my early 20's, and it still doesn't give me a warm fuzzy.

And I learned Camptown Races and She'll be Coming Around the Mountain (with variations) and others as a child, and they're still a part of my repertoire. There's hardly any cause to sing such songs any more, but they used to be a common language across generations according to popular American myth.

Amazing Grace is like that, or it was before it fell into complete disuse. These days you hardly hear it except on the bagpipes in movies that want to create instant grief. Just as I Am used to be one of those. I still wish it were around. It's probably my favorite sentiment, and statement of grace upon which I most rely. I chose it for my wedding 20+ years ago, and still love it.

It seems to me our churches are making a profound mistake by not perpetuating the common language of song. There should be (let's say) 8 songs that are sung at least 4 times a year, and everyone should be required to learn them. Anyone who is a member of the church should be able to sing these 8 songs, at least the 1st and last verses, without an overhead, hymnal, or karoake prompter.

Simple reality teaches me that the older folk ain't going to learn the new songs easily, so if we want the barrier to entry to be low for them, we should give the benefit of the doubt to an older hymn over a newer alternative.

What would your 8 songs be?

(Over the next week, I'll be at a conference in Wash DC, so I might actually be able to comment on this thread! WooHoo! Vacation!)

04 October, 2008

What Happened to Cause the Financial Meltdown?

Ya'll know I'm a diesel mechanic gone digital, not an economist. Still, this thing is big. And more than just big, it's fascinating because the damage control is being done in real time by panicked leaders and companies. The opinions are thicker'n skeeters in Louisiana right now, and not just from pundits. The average Joe has an opinion, the pundits are changing their opinions, congressmen have opinions, and it just so happens we have a quartet of presidential candidates with opinions.

It's absolutely enthralling.

In a, "Wow, my kids might grow up in the stone age," kind of way.

Anyway, here's a link to Michael Kruse summarizing his opinion of the steps that got us here.

I live in a world of linked data points. The more points you can make jive together, the more likely you've got a useful opinion. Michael is the first guy I've seen link every point. He indicts Democrats, Republicans, lenders, free markets, regulation, and greedy Americans, but that's no big deal. Everyone is doing that. He does it in the right way. He points out what they did, and why they did it - actually why I might have done it myself if I were in their shoes.

I respect and can use an opinion like that.

And, for the record, you might enjoy the video at his post, too. :-)

A Prophetic YouTube Post

28 September, 2008

Why We Divorce

Salvo Mag started up a conversation between me and my son. The magazine is excellent for that. If any of you need such fodder, I HIGHLY recommend it. I even agree with it quite often.

Anyway, Salvo blamed the rising and already astronomical divorce rate on something. I'll let you read it for yourself to find out what. I'm going to give you the rant I went on over it. The conversation was pretty awkward, because I'm one of those statistics, but I never let a little awkwardness stop me. I argued that everyone's wrong about the reasons behind the crazy divorce rates.

The Left Wing often says the divorce rates went up as soon as women were no longer forced by economic necessity to survive in empty, unfulfilling and even abusive marriages. They have a fascinating data point, and one for which I have respect. The divorce rate in any society increases and decreases in lockstep with the degree to which women are treated like chattel. As women become freer, the divorce rate increases. With this data, they point out the essential inequality of the deal women get in marriage. Women, they assert, immediately realize how much better off they are alone when the option becomes viable for them.

The Right Wing usually says all us divorcees just lacked commitment. The romantic excitement went away, and things got hard, and we all caved and ran away looking for greener pastures. They point to the hippy generation's free love mindset and the Boomer's self-obsession and find all the explanation they could possibly want. The "Greatest Generation" died and left America in the hands of a bunch of selfish cowards. When the marital going got tough, we walked away.


It seems to me both arguments are paper thin on the surface. The lefties cannot possibly imagine women are better off alone. Raising kids is the most fulfilling experience life offers us in our 30's and 40's, but doing it as a single parent is devastating. There's still good and joy in it, but the workload kills you a little bit every day. And financially, the single life is stupid. To be single financially is to have no backup plan, and to pay double for most of the resources in your life. (Housing, food, utilities, etc. could all be split with a spouse.) The idea that women are freer just because there's not anyone committed to facing life with them is silly.

The righties could possibly be more insulting, but I don't know how. Everyone who says divorcees lack commitment has simply tattooed on their forehead that they've never been divorced. Again, I don't know any Christian who got bored and decided to spice things up by starting over fresh with a new face. Pretty much when your "answer" on any subject is that everyone's lazy, you're missing something key. I just wish evangelical Christians wouldn't miss this one from the rooftops with their bibles held high over their heads, because millions of broken souls have no way to take their self-righteous accusations helpfully. They just turn away, every bit as lost and broken as they were before Jesus' self-appointed representative stepped in to "help."

Still, we all need an explanation for the hockey stick that describes divorce rates from 1960 until the present.

The explanation is simple. None of us knows how to stay married any more.

It's a skills thing. Our parents used to be involved in helping us judge the quality of our prospective spouses, and after we'd chosen someone to wear our ring, they were "present" enough in our lives to help us navigate a course through those critical first rollercoaster humps.

Who's involved now?

Our parents used to live a couple blocks away from their Mom and Dad. Now we live a couple states away. The extended family used to be the only family there was. Now, it's almost weird to stay in touch with Mom and Dad, much less to lean on them for help and advice. Moms and Dads used to watch "that son-in-law of theirs" and if things got iffy, they got mad. Not any more. These days we keep everything to ourselves, and our parents never hear about our problems, even if they can see them.

And we are hopelessly awkward at fighting. Spouses used to know how to have a good fight and a good forgive. These days the fights are too intense and the forgiveness is too shallow. Consequently, we don't know how to complain to each other. If you cannot complain without starting a too-strong, too-permanent fight, then you won't complain. And if you don't complain, things that could be changed fester. We panic at every conflict.

And that's caused because we don't know about the rhythms of relationship.

We're told that the emotion in a marriage follows a steep downward curve and bottoms out by about year 10 of marriage. If you ask many kids today to draw the trajectory of romantic love in marriage, you'll get something that looks like the current housing market - it starts high and spends the next 50 years in the toilet.

But that picture is not true. Instead, romantic love starts high, dips low, bounces back a little less high, dips a little less low, and through this process eventually settles somewhere in the middle of the scale. No one taught us that. No one taught us it was so simple, so when the first huge dip came we poured heart and soul into getting the fight resolved and the love restored. And when we "won" and everything was back where it should be, we relaxed - only to find ourselves speeding into another dip. We wore ourselves out trying to fight every dip and depression, when all we had to do was trust each other and exercise courtesy, honesty, and forgiveness.

Our generation KNOWS that you need a personal trainer to lose weight or learn tennis. Anything that requires actual skill requires meaningful training. No one tries to become a good tennis player without finding a good coach to give them the basics.

So what do we think? Marriage is easy?!?!

Marriage requires no skill?

Anyone can have a successful marriage if they are willing to be enslaved and if they have enough commitment?

When my wife and I were struggling through those first years of marriage, we had no training and no support. I don't think we were unique in that. We had another couple going through the same stuff we were, but we couldn't really talk to them. Church leadership didn't care to be involved, and our families were so distant as to be no influence at all.

We were guessing!

The real question is how we guessed right for 16 years given all the ballast we were carrying. But we were Americans, and we were smart, and we were successful at so many things. And it looked like things were working for so long, and we made it through so many high waters together. We sweated out days and months and years of low times, and we made it. Up until the last year of our marriage, we were proud of how we'd faced everything together.

But every struggle took its toll.

Go ahead and lecture me about not being committed. What? Do you think I haven't played that mp3 in my head? You can be as committed to tennis as you want. If you lack training, you'll injure yourself while learning nothing so much as to hate the game.

All our successes taught us to hate the marriage.

It takes a village to make a marriage. Look back on history, and you're fooling yourself if you think you see greater commitment in 1950. You're fooling yourself if you think you see women who wanted to be free, but couldn't find a way out. Look back on a world that lacked the isolating entertainment of the television, though, and I think you're onto something. Those kids HAD to play with each other, and they learned profitable conflict. There was nothing else. Look back on a world that expected parents to be involved in their adult children's lives. You can see the last vestiges of that world played out in the sitcoms that made the mother-in-law a villain. Mother-in-law jokes aren't funny any more, because there's no more friction there. The mother-in-law is half a state away, and the young couple has her visitation rights carefully controlled.

Nobody meddles any more, and it's costing us dearly.

We need help.

24 September, 2008


A friend of mine is a committed agnostic. He's not the kind that wonders if there's a God when the power goes out for a couple hours, then forgets again when the wide-screen comes back on, either. He's the kind who's argued against Richard Dawkins after reading 3 of his books, against Plato after reading the Republican, and against preachers after hearing them ply their trade.

He commented after reading the book of Matthew that it was like no other philosophy book he'd ever read. He found it amazing in its directness. He put it like this, "No matter how well it might be concealed, every philosopher's book whispers, 'Don't you think I'm smart?' That's nowhere to be found in Matthew. Neither Jesus nor Matthew cares whether you think they're smart. It's just as direct as it can be."

You have to respect that kind of observation and that kind of observer.

He was listening to Christian radio again the other day and noted it depresses and encourages him equally. One of the depressing things, he said, was the Infantilism.

He said the people on that radio wanted Jesus to answer all their listeners' questions. Jesus could tell them what to think and what to believe. The preachers wanted Jesus to clear all the obstacles in their hearers' lives. They wanted Jesus to pave their paths with roses and wipe their butts for them. "If," he said, "you can imagine wanting it, Jesus WANTS to do it for you."

I don't know about you, but I will absolutely vouch for his observation.

I've never thought of calling it infantilism, but the name is dead-on.

I've written on this subject enough times that anything I said now would be repeating myself so I won't bore you with a diatribe against Infantilism. I just wanted to share the term with you and the prayer that we would be delivered into a rich, fully mature experience of God.

16 September, 2008

The Year of Rallying Dangerously

In August of 2007 I made a promise to myself that I was going for one year to pour everything my body had to give into winning a tennis tournament. I started my quest at the Reynoldsburg Open. In August 2008 I played the Reynoldsburg Open for the second time. In 2007 I won through easily to the Quarterfinals, then lost in a tough match to the #1 seed. In my second attempt I won the hardest match I'd ever played to get to the Quarterfinals, then lost in a tough match to the #4 seed. They were my best two showings of the year, and the second was no better than the first.

This is the story of my continued failure to master tennis.

I've had an expensive affair with this elegant, introverted sport, and never more so than this year. I know everyone doesn't like to read and think about tennis as much as I do, not even most players, but if you're interested read on and I'll tell the story of this year and what it's meant to my life. If you don't I promise I'll understand.

I fell in love with tennis at age 14 or so.

Back at 14 my whole life was at, "Love All." That's the score at the beginning of every tennis match, and my life was still a blank sheet awaiting the unfolding of whatever story it would tell. I spent hours back then hitting against various wooden walls all over my little home town of Grass Valley, CA. I did the same thing with soccer, but it's much easier to practice tennis alone than soccer. With soccer, you can kick penalty kicks all day, and do some light dribbling, but without at least one other person it's pretty hopeless. With tennis, a simple wall will let you practice everything but volleying and return of serve.

I even bought my own racket. The $20 things my parents bought me just weren't cutting it any more. The T.A. Davis Imperial I bought was $80 of pure, voluptuous beauty. (http://www.woodtennisrackets.com/makers/tad/tadrac1.htm - it's in the third row, on the far right.) It was my own money, and when I wore out the first racket, I turned around and bought another just like it. I never regretted spending that money, and I never regretted wearing those rackets down to nubs.

I found that I actually loved more about tennis than just playing. I learned how much I loved being alone with my wall and my ball. I could settle into a groove, pushing myself left and right, wearing my body down, and wondering where the hours could have gone. I was a pretty massively depressed kid, and solitaire tennis played profitably into my survival.

I guess I was emo before emo was cool. :-)

In high school I began to make a little bit of a name for myself. No one on the team hit with as consistent form as I did. Against the wall, I had even worked out a dependable form on my one-handed backhand. No one else used the one-hander back then, so it became a kind of signature of mine. I went on to win a number of high school matches.

All I remember are two losses.

The first one was a really close ladder match on my team. John had not watched as many pros as me or modelled his game after them, but he was resourceful and he was getting the better of me. At one point the coach walked by and found out I was losing. He just said, "I guess John wants it more than you," and walked off.

I was devastated.

That was a deep, deep blow. I wanted that win much worse than John did. It meant a lot more to me to be #1 on that team than it did to him, but John had figured something out that I didn't figure out for years. Looking back, I know I could not have beaten him that day, but I carried my coach's accusation for decades. It might have motivated another player, but it hyper-motivated me. It placed a burden on me that I could not bear, and my reaction to it started me down the road to choking in a way I could not cure.

My second memorable loss was in a match against the local public high school's scrub team. Our little Christian school didn't have a lot of players to choose from, so their scrub team ended up beating us. I don't remember whether if I had won my match, we would have won the meet.

Anyway, it was a single-set match, first to 8 wins. I was ahead 7-1 and felt badly for the poor little kid on the other side. I backed off the littlest bit to let him get a game or two and lost 7-8. It's the kind of thing one doesn't forget, but my coach's look told me I'd really, really never forget it. His eyes reminded me I lacked heart, and couldn't be trusted to deliver under pressure.

Halfway through my little opponent's comeback, my niceness turned into panic and finally into a full-blown choke. I started losing because I was nice, and then choked because I feared I hadn't "wanted it bad enough." I learned that day never to lose out of niceness again, but my habit of choking was permanently fixed by that day.

I'm a very emotional man, and tennis is a fickle sport to emotional players. I needed help dealing with my emotions in more areas of my life than tennis, but tennis was a perfect mirror for everything else that was happening in those years. I was a kid with some potential but who never figured out how to harness it. Instead of the real strength that I did have, I tried to harness some "true grit" that just wasn't me. I started trying to do everything by some unnatural force of will, and it just didn't work for me. And that never works for anyone on a tennis court.

Pretty much everything about life sucked. It just showed most obviously in my tennis.

I laid down my rackets when I graduated high school. Nothing good was happening for me out there, so I let it die. Any potential I might have had was long since gone, and there was no point in playing the game any more.

It was about 10 years later when I picked them up again. I found that tennis was fun if I played doubles with a partner who could keep my emotions under a wise rein. Singles was still too much and too hard for me, but doubles was fun and we won the city championship at our level - and the city was Atlanta. The level was pretty low, but it was nice to have some success.

Then I injured my knee, and laid the old rackets back down again until my divorce.

It had been 11 years since I'd last touched the old Wilson Pro Staff 7.5 in my closet, but with everything else falling apart I needed something unimportant to call my own. My knee was OK if I wore the brace, so I had the racket restrung and joined a 3.5 doubles team.

My two years were just what the doctor ordered. They were good men and I began to feel like I could play the game again. They whetted my appetite, and I began wanting to play more and more.

During my two years there, my main tennis weakness was on full display. No matter what kind of match I was in, I could find a way to choke. I could find a way to be intimidated, or to play below a poor opponent, or just to try too hard. Somehow, I figured my problems out by the time we reached the playoffs, and that never hurt. I think both seasons I was something like 5-3, but I don't think I lost a playoff match.

My little bit of success gave me courage. The choking problem was still there, but I began to hope that I could master it. I was, after all, 40-something now - not 16. The lure of singles tennis began to grab me. I had failed at singles all those years ago (2 1/2 decades? Really?) and I wanted to try my hand at it again. I'd heard there were singles tournaments around Columbus, and I wondered what would happen if I played them.

It seemed like I'd kind of learned how to handle choking during our playoff matches. Maybe playing in tournaments would tap into whatever helped me with that same kind of stress.

So, I started training for singles. And the choking only got worse. Somehow this sport that was a game for many seemed to be a life and death struggle for me. The fear of missing a simple shot grabbed me around the throat point after point, match after match, and year after year. I'd loved tennis for 30 years when I finally played that first official tournament in August of 2007. I beat a guy who hadn't played in years pretty handily, and then played the #1seed. I gave him a run for it. I surprised him, and hung with him for quite a while before he imposed himself on me.

He beat me in straight sets, and there was an obvious skill gap between him and me. If I was going to win a tournament, I really needed more and better skills.

So, I called in a pro.

I went to Joan Ramey's tennis camp.


I'd recommend her gifts and experience to anyone. She retooled my game from top to bottom in 3 days. She saw more hitches and more glitches in my game than I'd ever guessed anyone could find, but she was equally observant of what I was doing right. I left her camp with the strokes to compete with the big boys. It was expensive, but it was the cheapest money I'd ever spent. I could have spent years trying to put together all the things I learned from her in one weekend, and having those years given to me at 43 was quite a wonderful gift.

And with that training in hand, I came back to the local tournament circuit.

And it knocked me on my butt.

I'd love to tell the story of how I rose to the top of Columbus tennis, but I never even made a splash. I'm afraid I have no desire to the tell the story of loss after loss after loss. I know that will disappoint you, but try to understand.

It probably took 8 months after my time with Joan, practicing 3-5 times a week, for the things she taught me to settle down into the depths of my unconscious the way the 30 years of bad habits had done. The strokes I wanted at the beginning of my tournament journey were finally beginning to come naturally.

And even after those 8 months I was still losing to 1st string high school players. Now, that's not exactly something to be ashamed of. A 1st string high school player usually has one or two really good strokes, a lot of stamina, and a deep, burning desire to win, but I was playing to win.

An old man like me usually has cunning, experience, and a valuable calmness in any situation. Oddly, I have none of the three.

I'm not a cunning player. I come straight at you with my best game. If you can beat it, I'll lose.

And my experience was useless. When you throw out all your old strokes, it sets you back a bit. Suddenly, you don't know what to do in a given situation, because you've always done something else before. You find yourself having to think when you should be simply performing, and that's the death of any value experience might have brought.

And more than anything else, I was not calm. Even having strokes that should make me a decent tournament player could not help me breathe when the pressure hit.

I think I played fifteen to twenty matches total. I met up with about five 2nd string high school players during my tournament play. I beat them all. I brought my best game straight at them, and they could not beat it. I probably met up with about ten college level players. They all beat me easily. I brought my best game at them, and they knew exactly what to do to it.

And I met up with three 1st string high school players.

These were the losses that hurt. I lost all three of these matches, and I lost them because I choked. It was truly heartbreaking. And just to cheer me up, a couple of the happy winners gave me tips about what do to when I'm under pressure. Thanks guys. Every tip was one I've heard about 100 times, and whispered to myself during the trial by fire. Every tip failed me.

My old high school coach was a really great guy, and a good man. I praise him for everything he did, and I don't want it to sound like I blame him for what I did to myself across all those years. He did what every teacher does. He experimented. He cared and tried to figure out a way to help me reach my maximum potential. And he did what I've done so many times in my life, and guessed wrong. It's not his fault.

For 25 years I'd carried his words around in my head, and with my game sharpened beyond anything I'd ever achieved before, I was still pulling those words out and killing my potential with them in really unhappy ways.

I have to admit, I was getting close to putting the old rackets down again. I'm a card carrying masochist, but the fun of paying good money to get my butt stomped in the first round of every tournament was beginning to wear on me.

In July, I found Brent Abel.

I may or may not ever play in the style Brent recommends. I've tried it out, and had both great success and abysmal failure. Some of the fault has been mine, and some of the credit belongs to my opponents. We'll see what I do next year. But whether or not I start playing his game, I purchased everything he had on mental skills, and it was a bargain.

Brent's primary aim is to teach each player mastery of themselves, and I needed that more than anything. My strokes were never my problem. It was always me. He freed me of my choke. And he did something even better than that for me. He taught me things about myself I didn't even know. He gave me permission to play tennis like an introvert, and in so doing I learned what I look like when I'm really competing well. I don't look like my high school tennis coach thought I should look. I don't look like tennis announcers think I should look.

When I'm playing my best, I look like I'm really unhappy and almost bored.

Since I started looking at myself through Brent's magnifying glass, I've seen something change in my game. I've become competitive. I beat my first 1st string high school player, beat a 1st year college player, and lost well to a pair of college+ players. It's been a new world for me, and a happy one.

My first win in the Reynoldsburg Open of 2007 had been against a 3rd string high school tennis player. My win in 2008 was against 1st string high school player or maybe even better. And my Quarterfinal loss there in 2008 had twice the quality of my loss in 2007. I was still losing, but my tennis was actually better. Finally. And more than that, I enjoyed myself in a way I did not enjoy my loss in 2007. Tennis is a lot more fun when you can breathe.

My results are no better, and I doubt they ever will be, but my joy with this game is much richer now.

Last night I lost a match 6-7, 4-6 to an old, cunning, inexperienced competitor. He beat me in exactly the same way I lost that ladder match back in my high school days. By rights, I should have won. My strokes were better and my mental game was sharp, but my opponent found the same old weakness. He discovered that I eat up any shot that comes hard and flat at me - like a wall might return. All those years ago I taught myself to hit balls that come off a wooden wall - hard and flat. Anyone who hits anything to me that a wall would not hit always has a great chance of humiliating me.

I lost that match, but one thing was different. I enjoyed myself. And I was sure the guy cheated me out of four critical points! If he had seen those 4 critical points the way I saw, I might have won by as small a margin as that by which I lost. But even with that weighing on my mind, I was enjoying myself. I could see how a worthy opponent was beating me, and I honestly enjoyed trying to stop him.

3 months ago the scoreline would have been 4-6, 1-6 because he figured me out at 3-3. We both knew the moment he changed his game against me, and we both knew the battle was on. It was a real hoot as I tried to force him into positions that kept him from hurting me, and he kept finding ways to hit that one ball I couldn't figure out. He pushed through, but I only choked away three or four points the whole night. It was fun.

And that makes me want to hold on to these old rackets for another year.

Tomorrow I'll work on that shot my opponent kept hurting me with. It'll be just like old times; me, a tennis ball, a machine (that can toss me exactly the shot I need to practice) and pushing myself until I wonder where the hour's gone.

And after my next match, I'll work on whatever hurt me worst that night.

And I'll enjoy myself.

In all this, I've learned one thing above everything else. I've learned the golden value of pushing myself to master something. I accept the reality now that I'm never going to master tennis. After all these beatings, it's still hard to accept. I really thought one day I'd be able to win a tournament, but I can now see that if I do it will take a lot more work than just a single year, a little bit of luck, and it'll have to be a small, small tournament. The guys who play the big tournaments are phenomenally good. The distance between their skills and mine is greater than the distance between Federer's skill and theirs. Really. They are that good. On my best day my best backhand can't compete with what they do while joking around and practicing.

And it is good, it is very good, for me to see what real mastery looks like. I'm embarassed to say I can see how little progress I've really made toward it, too. But I'm proud to see how much more progress I've made than if I'd stayed where I was and kept flattering myself. Pushing against the standard of play at these tournaments finally forced me to come to grips with things that had bothered me for decades, and that can only be good.

I finally learned to enjoy the game again.

Some day I'll probably rewrite this story, because it deserves to be more readable, but today I'm going to publish it as is. It's my story and it's kind of a rough ride. It makes sense that it'd be a rough write.

I'm really glad the Lord made me with a love of tennis, and I'm really glad I came back.

15 September, 2008

Power's Back On

After just 18 hours.

In retrospect, I guess we might have resorted to cannibalism a bit early.


Even the food in the fridge all still seems fine. It was quite a blow, though. I cannot imagine being in it down in Houston.

I was out riding my bike on a tree-covered trail when it hit. I really ought to pay more attention to the weather reports. In fact, I had gotten back on the bike to head home after hitting some tennis balls with a random stranger. The balls were blowing as much as 15 feet away from their initial target when we finally decided to call it a day.

The trail ride was actually a little nervous. A tree fell behind me, and another falling limb caught me right in the arm. In the end, I just went home and watched it all from my porch. The neighborhood had some dramatic tree falls, but nothing personally. I went and checked on all my neighbors and contacts, and everyone was good to go.

I really do have about 3 posts in the oven. Don't give up on me yet. :-)

01 September, 2008

My First ...

Opportunity to preach, that is.

Yes, your little codepoke got to stand in a pulpit for the first time this morning. That's not the whole reason I've been so slow to post, but it did have an effect. :-)

It was an exciting morning for me, and for those of you who are interested it's online already thanks to the ultra-efficient sound guy at our church.

Fruit in the Wilderness

14 August, 2008

We've Been Pronouncing It Wrong!


Some of you will recall that I've been obsessed with the answer to the question of Life, the Universe and Everything for some decades now. It is the very question which Douglas Adams' fictional computer, Deep Thought, was brilliantly and successfully invented to answer. Deep Thought's answer, though, was as inscrutable as the question itself.

Deep Thought told them the answer to the question of life, the universe, and everything was, "42."

The philosophical conniptions Mr. Adams imagined as a result of this one little answer filled a book and more.

But, you see, that's the very problem. Mr. Adams wrote a book, so we never got to hear the answer as spoken by Deep Thought its very self. Had we heard those words from its own sub-woofers, we'd have understood everything!

I was toodling along this afternoon when a car had to merge from two lanes over. It was an interesting car mostly in that it made a Mini-Cooper look like an SUV. I really hadn't previously realized you could make a roller skate street-legal, but the owner of this ... whatever it was .. obviously had looked the regs over a little more closely than me.

In fact, the roller skate could seat two people. I know this, because his license plate said so, plainly, for all the world to see, Four 2.

That was when I saw it. Or rather, heard it.

"For two."

Deep Thought never said, "Forty-two." He surely must have said, "For two" and some stenographer wrote it down in a messed up kind of shorthand that wasn't phonetically based like all rational shorthand must be, and we were left to pick up the pieces for all time. (And, of course, the world would not be here at all if it weren't for that mistake, but we'll not go there.)

Look at the universe around you and tell me it isn't for two!

Right down to the Creator and His bride. :-)

10 August, 2008

The Church's Biggest Problem

KB put together a great post on the evolution of the church, tracking it from the fellowship it was in the 1st century to the enterprise it is now. His take is fascinating, and as usual I cannot comment on it due to technical bugaboos. I cannot even go back and reread it before I pen this knock-on post. Ah the joy of technological limitations.

Way back when I was able to read KB's post that once through bloglines, I agreed and disagreed with it. I agreed that an ideal 21st century church would look different from an ideal 1st century church, and that the differences would be gains for the church overall. I disagreed that the paradigm of an enterprise could ever be a profitable one for any church, ever. I was tongue-tied, though, because I am not sure exactly what KB meant by "enterprise." I know what enterprise means to me, and I don't support that. I just don't know what it means to KB, and I'm sure if I did I would support whatever he means.

I think maybe the biggest problem facing the church today is our obsession with finding and fixing the biggest problem in the church today.

Along those lines, KB's post brought to mind an email I wrote a month or so ago (while I was busy not blogging.) It was about a book review I'm currently not writing while I'm not blogging. In the book, the author relates a life-changing experience he had doing a particular spiritual discipline, and proceeds to sell that discipline as the "one thing" missing in the lives of all Christians and the one thing that, if it were present, would change everything.

Here's what I wrote in that email:

The answer to fixing Christianity has to lie somewhere else than finding 99% of it's best and brightest certifiably insane.

The author tells persuasively of his experience learning how to do this method on a 6 week retreat. He gives ample evidence of changed lives in everyone learning it and of the lasting, beneficial effect the experience had on people from very different walks of life.

But is that proof of the method? I doubt it.

As I was reading his story, it occurred to me that the Navigators, the Promise Keepers, the Holiness Movements, the Charismatics, the Legalists, the Missionaries, and Everyone Else can produce equally stirring anecdotal evidence.

Maybe that's proof that all anecdotal evidence should be rejected? It probably should, but I doubt that's the lesson here too.

Instead, I think this is proof of overly narrow root cause analysis.

Each of these groups was doing a different thing, but they were all doing it "together" with other believers. The common factor in each of these widely varied stories is that a group of Christians was wholly committed to really connecting with each other to do something profitable.

Given any silly excuse, if Christians get together with love in our hearts, we will touch each other and the Lord in life-changing ways. It takes a little excitement, a little leadership, a little hope, and a little focus to start that flow of love between brothers and sisters that bonds us together.

It's those bonds that change our lives.

It's like being in a family. Which is most important? Financial security? Emotional security? Passion? Purpose?

Just try living without any one of those things.

The church needs doctrine. She needs connection. She needs worship. She needs purpose.

I think I still believe a little bit in the house church movement. It's hard to say, though, because there are other needs that are more important. When a man is out of oxygen, he doesn't care so much that he's sleep-deprived. I wish I might see the church organized differently, but before I spend energy there it seems there are other things that might be more important.

The need to find and fix the most important crisis facing the church today seems universal, and it seems to be driving us further and further apart. I'm tempted to name this tendency to obsess over the church's biggest fault, "The tree-trunk of division springing from the taproot of Laodicean Pride." We proclaim that we see when really we're blinded by the lumber in our own eyes. I know I blew 10 years of my life chasing that wild goose.

I think I know what to do about the tree-trunk.

Quit trying to fix the church.

Our worst problem is trying to fix every problem. Maybe it's because we imagine we're wise enough to know every problem. Or maybe it's that we like fixing big things instead of doing little things. Or maybe everything's pretty much OK and we need to get on with the business of doing that which God's been preparing us to do for all these centuries.

Whatever it is, we need to put 80% of our energies into loving the Christians to whom we are closest. Maybe with whatever's left over we can tinker with trying to revolutionize the church in our generation. I don't know, but I know I really need to pour my life out for brothers and sisters whom I can touch. I need to form bonds with my brothers and sisters that can survive the fires of disagreement, repentance, and boredom. I need to commit to people with all their messy needs, rather than ideas or disciplines or quests with all their manageable sterility.

And if that means learning to bond with emergent Christians, then show me the way to Starbucks. I can always buy a lemonade smoothie. :-)

08 August, 2008

A Chip off the Old Block

It's not every day my son sends me an email, but when he does it's usually some pretty rich stuff. Yesterday's email was the kind of stuff that makes a father stop and say not just, "That's my boy!" but, "Dang. That's right."

I figured I'd share it here.

You might enjoy watching the video first, before you've heard his take on the things Obama says.

Obama proposes a gasoline price solution to struggling families


And a young man analyzes Obama's thoughts


The first thirty seconds are all I care about.  The situation: consumers give money for product; companies increase prices because demand is increasing faster than supply; they make a lot of money, the majority of which is spent building the infrastructure necessary to provide five billion gallons of oil a day to the world; Obama, desiring sovereignty, promises to take money, willingly given in exchange for product, from the receiver, and return it to the consumer if the consumer votes him sovereignty.  We have gone past the age of Rome, where the leaders provided bread and circuses with their own, albeit ill gotten, money.  We have returned to some sort of barbaric feudalism where we choose our leaders based on whether they promise to earn us spoils.  With his eyebrows hunched, his spine strait, in a calm, oratorical voice, he promises to break the trust of capitalism, which is that if you produce something people will give you what they produce for it, you can keep what they give you in exchange for your goods. 
Who would not vote for a candidate who promises that you can spend your money and spend it again?  A candidate who will have the police, the national guard, and the army behind any policy he manages to get through. 
Perhaps I am making an excessive fuss about a throwaway comment, but the symbolic nature of it is so frightening. 

02 August, 2008

Terminator: Spawn of the Machines

In the heat of a fascinating discussion of whether a human can truly believe God, my son said that humans became self-aware at some point in evolution, and that when that happened evil became possible. He was countering my point that evil cannot be explained by evolution. Bad can, but not evil. His argument was that evil is a necessary possibility given self-awareness.

I basically had to concede the point.

Anyway, in a flash of insight, his statement brought back to my mind two things at once.

The first was that Adam and Eve "became self-aware" when they ate of of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In fact, from now on I believe that's the phrase I'm going to use to describe the fall. With the serpent's help, humanity became self-aware. It is out of our self-awareness that all manner of good and evil flow.

The second was the ominous history from the movie Terminator 2, "The Skynet Funding Bill is passed. The system goes on-line August 4th, 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th."

For those of you, my faithful readers (and if you're still reading me at my blistering pace of 2 posts per month, then you are faithful indeed) who know the story of Adam and Eve a little better than that of the Terminator, Skynet was a massive supercomputer that became self-aware and began trying to destroy humanity. That's the premise of the whole Terminator series.

Hal is the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey that becomes self-aware and tries to destroy it's human operators. Wargames is about a computer that becomes self-aware and accidently tries to destroy humanity. I, Robot features a computer protected by the 3 Robotic Laws from ever hurting humanity that attempts to destroy humanity (yes, while obeying all 3 laws - that's the magic of Aasimov's work.)

What we have here, folks, is an archetype!

Of course, the theme is as old as Frankenstein's monster, but the thought was new to me. And I don't know how far Shelley really explored her theme. (Suddenly, I want to read the book. :-) )

On the 7th day of creation (I picture Adam falling on God's Sabbath; I don't know about anyone else) humanity became self-aware - and very scared of the Creator we were trying to supplant.

17 July, 2008

Idols in our Homes

I've been worried for a while about people calling too many things idols. It's all well and good to be against people watching too much TV, but is it really an idol? Or is it just an inferior amusement, sometimes used badly?

I've been reading in Isaiah, and God is clearly annoyed when His people turn to idols. There's a really great scene in which Isaiah describes a dude who's obviously pretty handy with wood tools. Our new buddy grabs a good-looking hunk of wood, and turns it into a table and chairs, then maybe a plate or two, finally takes the chips and scraps and lights a fire to cook his dinner. That last left-over piece, though, he carves into an idol to whom he can "say grace" for his meal. It's almost funny how God sees no difference between the activity of making dinner and a making convenient god.

That's an idol.

Faith, hope, and love, Paul says, are the three things that matter, and those are the three things the idolator poured into that last piece of wood.

Faith is a logical, conscious decision to live as if a god's promise will be kept based upon prior knowledge of his power.

Hope is the ability to hang on now because you know god will make enduring the present worthwhile.

Love is a commitment to think, feel and act in the best interests of your god.

I see all three of those things in the actions of Isaiah's unhappy wood-worker. He reckons that his god has given him today's food, so he exercises faith that his god will do it again. His hopes for the future are truly based on the way his god will make that future pleasant. And he has invested his time and passion into pleasing that god with his carved image and tiny offerings to it.

I don't see any of that in America's relationship with the television. We don't think the television brought us any good thing, so we don't rely on it to bring us anything in the future. We don't hope for a better future because of the television's oversight in our lives. Maybe we invest in that box, but all our offerings are to ourselves.

And therein lies the key, I believe.

Our idol cannot be seen, because we no longer believe in the invisible. We don't have to incarnate it any more. We look at history, and find we've gotten our own meals for our own selves, so that's where we put our faith. We hope for our future, because we have laid plans for it and because science keeps making it better every day. And we pour our love out to stir up more passion from within.

In other words, we've not moved a lick from Paul's day. We've made a god of our bellies, trusting our lusts to bring us every good thing and our strength to keep us against the day of trouble.

Don't rail against the television. It's just a little offering we make to our lusts. Our cars and our wide screens and our nest eggs, our jobs and our houses and our spouses, our movies and our shows and our nightlife; they are the little offerings we give to appease our god, the little sacrifices we make to ourselves. We sculpt our abs, sleep at our custom sleep number, and dine in every luxury we can afford in order to strengthen and prepare our god to conquer for us. When our body is strong and our minds are tuned and our attitudes are adjusted, we can make the best of all possible worlds for ourselves.

When the Living God sees us in front of a TV, He doesn't trip out. I'm sure He knows a better way for us to spend our time, a way to spend time together, but He's got big shoulders and He can bear for us to overdo some entertainment. Through Isaiah God tells us it's when He finds us wrapped up in the arms of another that He is angered. It's not Ba'al with whom we whore, though, it's our better selves.

We strive to have faith in ourselves. We hope to grow better and wiser. We practice loving ourselves. We've refined idolatry in much the same way we've distilled the cocoa bean into crack. Ba'al was harmless compared to our idolatry.

Do you want to send a message to America?

Trust God.

16 July, 2008

The Match

If you wonder what the match, The Match, between Federer and Nadal was all about, here's 13 minutes of bliss.


As you watch, realize that any pro from any generation at any level can hit any of the shots you'll see in this video. No pro anywhere. ever. has hit 13 minutes worth of these shots, with this much on the line, with this much fear in his heart, as both of these men did last Sunday.

It was clearly the best tennis match of all time. The drama was unparalleled by any event in any sport I've ever heard of, stretching across almost 5 hours of time on court. If you've ever wondered what desire looks like, here it is.

15 July, 2008

Touching Base

Hello all. Long time no see.

I think it's been more than a year since they instituted the blog-block at work, and it continues to make life tough for me. I used to be able to count on 30 minutes a day, 3-5 days a week, to put things out here that interested me. I think it's been 2 months since I've blogged anything regularly, and I don't see any breaks coming soon. I continue to be quite busy at home, and just seem to be getting busier.

One of my preoccupations these days has been tennis. This year I've played a very full tournament schedule, and I have learned SO MUCH about this game!

I cannot believe I ever thought I knew anything about tennis.

I don't know when I've ever been so profoundly humbled.

It's been very good for me.

Here's what's humbling about it. I used to think I knew as much about tennis as I did about being a Christian. Now that I know how badly I've sucked all these years at tennis, I'm pretty sure I'm right about being just that good a Christian, too. If people with true devotion can be so much better than me at a silly game, I am awed at how deep the waters of true wisdom might truly be.

I think about how far I thought I was in tennis, versus how far I now know I still have to go, all most every day. And almost every day I'm reminded how far I thought I was on the road to being a decent Christian. Well, praise the Lord, it just means I have that much more excitement and hope ahead of me.

The rest of life is really going well. I'm quite happy these days, and really feel the blessing of the Lord in every area of my life. I just figured I'd check in and let those of you keeping score know that things are good.

I do have several half-baked posts mocked up in my inbox. Maybe some day I'll actually write a couple of them. :-)


For those of you with too much time on your hands, let me tell you about my year of tennis-ing dangerously.

Here's the score. I've put all sorts of time and effort into learning how to play tennis right, and then teaching my body to do what my brain has absorbed, and what I've learned is that people who have been doing exactly that same thing for years are much better than me. I'm exactly 11 months into my master plan for local tennis domination, and so far I have yet to make it past the quarter finals of a single tournament. My record is something like 4-9, with at least 2 of those losses being 0-6, 0-6 drubbings.

I'm a putzer. :-)

I'm proud of this part of it all, though. I've stepped onto the court and measured myself. 3 years ago, I thought I was pretty good at this game, but I was playing at the 3.5 level when the tourney's are all 5.0+ events. I had no idea what the gap is from 3.5 to 5.0. Now I know. It's the gap between 7th grade algebra (which is way tougher than arithmetic) and college level calculus (which is still way below graduate level experimental math.) Not surprisingly, I've made it up to first or second year high school level algebra, and keep failing at the college-level tests.

I've had to learn to take my game out of the ivory tower, and learn how to make it happen on the hard courts. I now know, not just what an attacking game looks like, but what it felt like both times I did it right. I know what it feels like to decide to flatten out a forehand against someone who's eaten flat forehands for lunch for 2 decades. I've measured myself against the #1 seed in 4 different tournaments now, and come up wanting every time.

My expectations were completely unrealistic (or I probably would not have had the courage to try.) The thing with expectations, though, is that we really expect them to work. Having those expectations dashed really hurt ... every single time ... repeatedly ... publicly. But after a mere 11 months, I think I am beginning to see what I can really expect, and it's rewriting my experience of the game. I look back and see some pretty quick learning, and now I really feel good about what I see.

Here's my grades, as best I can assess them:
Dimension of Tennis
The way I thought I was playing in 2007.
The way I was actually probably playing in 2007.
The way I think I'm playing now.]

Grade card:
Forehand: B - D - C
Backhand: C - F - B
Serve: B - D - C
Approach: C - F - C
Volley: D - F - C
Put-away: C - F - D
Mental toughness: D - C - B

I think my best chance to become a winning tennis player at this level is to turn my volley into an A. You need an A to win, and you need to force other people to play into your A strength. Right now, my best hope is to lull people into playing against my backhand and surprise them, but it's not an A and it never will be. But I think I have the nerve to make my volley an A, and I think it's a rare enough game to upset some otherwise much better players than I am.

We'll see.

With my newly adjusted expectations, I'm actually starting to enjoy tennis. It's been a great ride, and maybe I've got a little glory tucked away somewhere in these tired old bones. I'll tell the story of my latest win some day, if I can get to it while it's still fresh. :-)

Thanks for listening.

27 June, 2008

Ishi, not Baali

I was at church, and we had a visiting pastor who quoted Hosea 2:16.

He said, "Ishi," as he read it, and I was all over that. I guessed pretty quickly what I thought it meant, and quickly BlackBerry'd myself an email message so I would remember to dictionary it when I got home. Sure enough. About 1 time in 6, the word means, "husband."

This is such an arresting passage I'm going to go ahead and quote the whole thing. I don't have any big conclusions from it, but that one word was so telling to me. God found Himself betrothed to a lover who whispered Ba'al's name in her sleep. She sought Ba'al out with all her free time. She gave him little presents and the flower of her youth.

And He was God.

He made Ba'al, and could "disappear" not just him, but everything over which he was supposed to be "god." YHWH could have manipulated the wife of His youth, or overpowered her. He could rightfully demand that she call Him, "Lord Omnipotentate, YHWH." She has spent so much time adoring Ba'al, an abusive god if ever there was one, that she has taken to reacting to her Lord as if He needed to awe her with His power. She has taken, not only to worshipping Ba'al, but to calling YHWH Baali as an act of tenderness.

He dreams she will call Him, "Ishi."

He rejoices when we name Him rightly, tenderly.

Hsa 2:14-20
Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her. And I will give her her vineyards from thence, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope: and she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt. And it shall be at that day, saith the LORD, [that] thou shalt call me Ishi; and shalt call me no more Baali. For I will take away the names of Baalim out of her mouth, and they shall no more be remembered by their name. And in that day will I make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, and [with] the creeping things of the ground: and I will break the bow and the sword and the battle out of the earth, and will make them to lie down safely. And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the LORD.

22 June, 2008

Regarding my 10 years under Gene Edwards

In a small group meeting in my church, I mentioned that I had spent 10 years in a "cult." I then had to apologize for not having mentioned it before, and explain that this is not a fact one usually "leads" with when meeting new brothers and sisters.

About 2 months ago, I promised a sister in the Lord that I would republish a statement I made about 6 years ago regarding the leader of this little group.

Those two events finally pushed me over the edge to get off my duff and pull this little story back from the archives and publish it again here.

This article was written in specific answer to some question. I believe the question was something like, "Would you recommend I join Gene Edwards' church?" It's not tremendously detailed, but it covers the broad outlines of what happened. If you'd like a little more detail, you can look at this series of posts.

Leaving Gene Edwards

By the time I started college, I had decided to spend my life as an itinerant minister of the gospel. The two things I knew were that no minister of the gospel should earn a salary, and that I didn’t want to take over anyone’s church. Instead, I would move from church to church, helping as I could, when I could.
Yes, I was full of the arrogance and idealism of youth, but I also knew something of my ignorance. I knew that it would be decades before I could be of use to any church, and that I needed someone to teach me. I began looking for an old man to train me in what it meant to be a worker in the church.
My quest for a new type of church led me to Gene Edwards’ books. I loved every word, and practically memorized every one. I had found the man who could teach me what the church should be. Amy and I married with the understanding that as soon as possible, we would move to be a part of one of Gene’s churches.
I had written Gene some time earlier to request permission to move to his church in Portland, Maine. Gene had recommended that I wait, and move to a church that he planned to plant in Atlanta. I could not have been more excited. Gene always wrote about how important it was to be in a church from the beginning. This would be my chance.
Gene wanted us to avoid Portland. It turns out that Portland was in its death throes. Gene explained to us that half of that church was experiencing church life for the first time, but that the other half had been a part of his earlier experiment in California. The older members seemed to be tearing the church apart due to secret bitterness against Gene. It should have been a clue to me, but I was too excited that the Lord had answered my prayers for a mentor.
We didn't expect to find a "perfect church" in Atlanta, but we sure did expect an exciting ride.
We could not have been happier those first few years. We fell in love with our new brothers and sisters, and practically wore out each other's living rooms. We spent hours together eating, singing, and dreaming. Life in the church was everything I’d ever imagined. We described the church as a piece of heaven come to earth, and we meant every word. We fought more than we could tell, and hurt each other too frequently, but we loved each other, and were loved just as much.
In the end, we left Gene and his church, and we would never go back. We still love the memories and maintain relationships with people who accept our departure, but Gene’s church was not heaven after all. In retrospect, the church in Atlanta looked suspiciously like a frat house, commune, or any other group of college kids thrown together by any fate. It was fun, but I suspect the excitement was just youth.
I believe the problem in Atlanta, and in all Gene’s churches, lies in the vision of the worker.
Gene started a 40-year countdown on his ministry in 1987. In 2027 he wanted us to look back on his ministry, after he was long gone, to honestly evaluate whether his time had been well spent on this earth. He told us that there would be no way to honestly judge his work until it had survived forty years worth of crises. I half agree with him. There is no way to judge a man’s work a success without seeing it survive forty years. I believe, though, that we can and must judge his work a failure today.
Gene Edwards proposes two standards by which a worker in God’s kingdom should be judged. The first is by his ethical standard, and the second is by the health of his churches. I believe Gene’s work fails both standards. To be fair, Gene believes that he is doing exceptionally well in both areas, and that he is doing so against incredible odds. His followers agree with him, and will defend his record without reserve.
Gene teaches that the foundation of a worker’s ethics should be that the worker would consciously lose whenever one of his churches is in crisis. I believe that this standard is false. Moreover, I watched Gene neglect even to try to meet it. What I saw him do under pressure was the exact opposite of what he preached. In situation after situation he manipulated the church from the outside, and micromanaged the outcome of crisis after crisis. He chose a spy or two in each church (sometimes overtly and sometime covertly) and used that person to pull the strings of our lives. At first, we were amazed at how much he knew about what was going on in the church. Within a year or two though, we had figured out what was happening. By the third or fourth year his ways were old news.
Gene's churches never had true, independent elders while I was there. Instead, we had "contacts". The brother or (more often) sister who reported our actions to Gene and brought instructions from him had an aura of prestige, but no real authority. Gene changed contacts pretty frequently, such that they could never grow into de-facto leaders. Instead, all the brothers ran the church together via “brothers’ meetings”. Gene told us that this method was not biblical, but that it was necessary to keep the egos of 20th century Americans in check.
Gene teaches that elders will spring up organically within the church. He also claims that those elders are his head covering. In my brief tenures as contact/elder, and in my observation of others in that role, I never knew anyone to exert headship over Gene at any level except once. That once, Gene declared that brother a mortal enemy, shunned him for the next seven years, and never allowed that brother into any position of responsibility again. I believe that this action is a natural outflow of Gene’s theology, and I'm sure that he would defend it as safest for the church.
The job of the brothers was to implement Gene’s plans. Gene does not like to manage details, and it was the job of the brothers to flesh out his plans and make them happen. Gene alone set the spiritual agenda of the church, and any deviation from that plan was sure to anger him. I know that this is a far cry from the version of the church that Gene preaches, but it is what I watched for ten years.
I was eventually forced to the opinion that Gene ministers in a fundamentally dishonest way. He told us that he was the most honest man we would ever meet, and for years I took his claim at face value. With stunning regularity, though, he put my trust to the test with actions that seemed to give lie to his words. I made excuses for him again and again, and struggled to understand each of his actions in the light of his conflicting claims. For years I found ways to believe him, but it was an exhausting way to follow the Lord.
The house of cards fell for me over the course of a dismal year in which I watched him tear apart the church in St. Cloud. He bragged about his boldness and ethics, then explained to us how thankful they should be that he been so spiritual in their dismemberment. There was no excuse for the things I watched him do that year. Finally, I had been forced to look at his actions, rather than at his words. Looking back over the previous years, I saw everything he'd said and done, and everything I’d chosen to believe, in a new and heartbreaking light. Gene’s years of explanations and excuses were all torn away, and the reality of everything I’d supported came crashing home.
I had watched Gene plant a handful of churches, and I had watched each of those churches die, sometimes more than once. I had listened to Gene explain how in each of those cases, it was the church’s fault. They had ignored his warnings, and failed to do what he lovingly suggested they needed to do to thrive. Looking back, his excuses were the same in every case, going all the way back to Portland. I cannot know what happened there, but I sure recognize the excuses.
I knew several of the churches that grew and died under Gene’s ministry. I watched them weep as Gene dealt with perceived enemies in their ranks, and listened as they begged to know why Gene was being so cruel to them. My loyalty lay more with Gene than with my own eyes, though, so I allowed those saints to believe that they were bringing all this pain down on themselves. I was wrong. I should have known enough even then to conclude that Gene was lying to these people, but I was too indoctrinated to see the truth.
Whether you agree with my assessment or not, nothing can excuse Gene’s track record. The second standard to which Gene holds the worker is the health of the churches he plants, and there are no survivors. (Several crawled back from the grave and he called them resurrected, but I would call them zombified. I lived through one such rebirth, and the second church was only half-alive while he was not there to breathe life into it.)
Gene blames all that death on the brothers and sisters who gave their lives to those churches, and to him. I would listen as Gene praised brothers and sisters to the highest heaven. A year later I would listen again as he claimed to have known all along that these same brothers and sisters were troublemakers. I watched it happen in every church, and to saints whom I know had done nothing wrong.
I was forced to realize that the problem was with Gene, and had no option but to leave him. Leaving him, though, opened another can of worms. I had to decide whether Gene’s theology was right or wrong. Should I leave just him, or his theology too? Should I keep trying to practice what he preached, or had we been pursuing the wrong goals for those ten years?
There are brilliancies in Gene’s theology, and he is a wonderful speaker. His standard for church ethics is quite elegant (if the world believes it is wrong, it’s wrong, else wise it’s probably just someone hunting brownie points with God). His teaching of the Lord’s Supper is truly beautiful (it should be a high celebration and a joyful feast, rather than an introspective wake). He also preaches that salvation is not the prime force behind history (the relationship between the Father and the Son is the central motivator for all of redemption).
Still, the core of anyone’s theology is a hard thing to nail down, and I was most concerned with Gene’s theology of the church. Gene preaches that each church should be autonomous, but his actions belie his words. Practically speaking, Gene’s several churches share one leader. The church planter makes every significant spiritual decision for the church. Gene taught us that the wisdom to handle the weightier matters would grow up in the church, but it never did. Gene handled all the weighty matters himself, or through his trained men, and we in the church were simply required to keep our mouths shut.
The two defining characteristics of Gene’s churches are both direct fruits of his theology. The first is their church planters, with their ultimate authority. The second is their brothers’ meetings, with their displacement of eldership. Inevitably, the churches became men’s clubs.
This atmosphere has had some painful outcomes. Gene told us, during the conference in which he planted our church, that the church and the family are natural enemies, and that neither can flourish, except at the expense of the other. When asked to clarify that statement, he told us that the family must not be allowed to steal from the church. Over the next 10 years, I watched, applauded, and participated as time and again our church stole from its families. There is nothing that I regret more than the pain our church caused families, and I believe that most people who have been mothers and fathers within Gene’s churches would agree.
In the end, Amy and I left Gene's movement for a number of reasons, but mostly we left because of Gene. We had our share of troubles with the saints, but those could usually be worked out. We fled that man's ministry. We adored those first few years in the church, and there are a hundred things to remember fondly, but leaving Gene Edwards is the best decision we ever made.
Whether you chose to follow Gene Edwards, or to move on without him, may the Lord bless you, and the body of which you are a part.