Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day - To My Too-Oft-Under-Unappreciated-Father

It's officially Father's Day, and officially my first with Lydia out o' the womb.  Today she began crawling for the first time (or at least the first purposeful crawls).  It has been an incredible year, and much of that due to that little girl.

But tonight I am thankful for my own father.  Dad - you have taught me so many things, including but not limited to:
  • Teaching me that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the world.  The faith in God that you put on display is an honest faith.  You've taught me that it's okay to not have all of the answers, and that this doesn't make the faith any less valid.  You also taught me that faith is the result of grace, rather than the inverse.  The long talks that we have shared about the biggest questions in life have honestly been some of the most life-giving conversations that I have ever had.  Thank you for leading our family in this faith.
  • You've taught me that loving one another is worth the challenge and the difficulties that it may require.  I have witnessed your unshakable love for your wife and your children, even when it is not easy to do so.  This is the type of love that takes work and commitment, and you have taught me that people are worthy of this type of commitment.
  • You've taught me to put the needs of my family before my own.  You give of yourself everyday at Medicap, which is something that I have far too often taken for granted.  I have only begun to realize the sacrifices you have made for all of us, most of us which have gone unnoticed for many years.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.
  • You've taught me to be committed to my wife and cherish her.  Your story of thirty years together in marriage to mom is one of the most beautiful stories I know.  We've seen you enjoy one another, be angry with one another, and forgive each other.  You've shown me that being married to another person under Christ is more than a romantic flurry, but is a daily partnership of working together.  I pray that Jamie and I will grow to love each other the way that you and mom love each other.
  • You've taught me to care for others.  Again, I've only begun to realize how much of a "place of peace" you have shaped Medicap to be, and it's a place of peace not for profit-gain, but for the sake of caring for your patients.  You've taught me that, whatever we are doing in life, the people we are doing it with and for are of significance.
Dad - I am grateful tonight to be your son.  I could not be more blessed.  I love you.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Late Night Reflections On Being a Father

It's been almost a year since my daughter was born.  I remember having the conversation with my wife about whether or not we were ready to have children: I now realize how silly of a question that really is.  Can we ever be ready for this?  Isn't the idea of a "wanted" child one of the most selfish and perverted desires in American culture?  We thought we were ready, and by ready I mean that we thought we would be in a healthy financial and emotional position to be able to raise a child without screwing them up too bad.  But were we ready to give up our mornings, the few hours that we have together as husband and wife, the "extra" money we might have that is now going towards infant puffs and teddy bears?

Becoming a parent is more than fulfilling some desire that Jamie or I had to define our lives according to who we are as parents or what we think we are "supposed" to do as a young married couple.  The openness to welcoming children into our lives cannot be separated from the willingness to open our lives to God's mission in this world.

Jamie and I both believe that the answers to humanities biggest questions are summed up in the proclamation that "Jesus Christ is Lord."  It is by no means an easy answer, nor can it rest as a simple proclamation.  Instead, it means that we live our lives a certain way and within a particular story.  It means that we do our best to raise our daughter to love God and her neighbors.  It means that we actively walk through our everyday lives looking to love the less fortunate, the over-fortunate, and the "just as fortunate as everyone else."

Becoming a father has revealed some of the darkest parts of who I am.  When my wife wakes up at 3:30 AM and tells me that my daughter is awake and needs a bottle, and my only response is anger and frustration.  When my daughter does not want to play by herself but instead craves to be held, yet I want to do nothing but have her play by herself so that I can read a few more pages of a good book.  When I want to purchase a new album on iTunes, but instead we need more formula this month.  These are real scenarios and real feelings that I was never ready for, and I thank God that I had not, because then we "would not have been ready."

Because the reality is that, given our own selfish desires, we would never want the late night wake ups, the "my times" ruined, or the "my money" taken.  Thank God, that raising this little child is about so much more than what I want for my own "happiness."

I can proclaim that this last year has grown and stretched me to places that I never thought I would be, and I am grateful for my best friend Jamie and my beautiful daughter Lydia.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What I've Been Learning From Science Fiction

Someone who has challenged me greatly in both my thought and practice was my Clinical Pastoral Education (C.P.E.) supervisor, Sarah.  Sarah opened my eyes to so much "blindness" that I had been walking around with, but at the same time helped me to realize that I will never be "with 100% sight."  This realization is not defeating, but it does shape how we interact with those who are different from us and those who disagree with us: our posture can be none other than humble-receptivity to "the other."  Even though I rarely have the opportunity to interact with her, I consider her a dear friend.

Sarah commented on my previous post (about MacIntyre) and asked "what is the theology of science fiction."  Now, I don't normally write entire blog posts as responses, but I have been thinking something similar to her question (I think) for quite some time: Why has this genre - which I previously suspected of lunacy and considered "below me" - made such an impact on my life over the past months?  I have a few thoughts.

The science fiction that I’ve read over the past months is that of C.S. Lewis* and Mary Doria Russell**.  Both of these authors tell stories of humans who encounter life on other planets; earth is not invaded, but rather the earth-dwellers are the invaders on the other planets.  With this understood, the following has stood out to me: (1) the protagonists are linguists, (2) “fear of the unknown and different” is usually quenched after the thing that was feared was understood in context, and (3) the humans have a terribly difficult time understanding “the others” connection with nature.  So even though I cannot answer the question “what is the theology of science fiction,” I can answer that all three of these things have influenced my theology.

The first insight is that the protagonists in all four of these books are linguists.  They are characters who’ve spent their professional careers studying the art and function of language in societies and cultures.  So why are they the heroes?  Because they (linguists) are able to communicate with beings who speak another language – a feat that the power hungry and those who resort to force care nothing about.  The power that science fiction has to illuminate this necessary part of societies interacting with one another is that it can overtly display the difference.  We somehow know that people/beings from different planets and millions of miles away would speak different languages, and further, that language would play different roles within those societies.  What is more difficult to realize (the part that I am learning) is that we all need to become linguists as we live amongst people who - even though it appears to be the same language - mean different things, even when we use the same words.  

The second, which is similar to the first, is that most of the fears developed in the humans were developed because they misunderstood someone or misunderstood some practice of the other.  The protagonists were heroes not in that they were able to suppress or eliminate their fear, but work through it into a place of understanding.  Now, these books are fairytell-ish (not completely though, Catherine) so it usually ended up that their fears were unnecessary.  It would have been possible that they had had every reason to fear.  I think about some of the things that we fear in this world: immigration, religious-extremists, maybe even our own neighbors?  Our emotion of fear is not the issue: the issue is how we then respond to the fear.  Do we have courage to pursue whether or not the fears are grounded in things that we should really be fearful of, or do we shy away and retreat?  

Finally, the humans are constantly bewildered by the other’s connection and relationship with nature.  We are nurtured from the earliest of days to consume our surroundings.  We are nurtured to believe that we are the center, and that the world is at our disposable.  That is why the antagonists in these books look to squander the resources of the land for their own benefit (financially) or for a grasp at power or position.  But the other creatures reveal a way of life that – even if I can express it in no better way – feels more harmonious and peaceful.  I remember news headlines after Avatar came out that said something like, “People feeling depressed; longing for relationship with nature on Pandora.”  Even if I can’t say much more, I can say that I have been impacted to be in nature more as a result of these books.

So why has science fiction (at least these four books) had this impact on me?  The genre allows the reader to dream and imagine an alternative way of life.  The genre also has the ability to over-state (in a positive way) things like differences of cultures, languages, and care for or relationship to the natural.  There is obviously much more that could be said, but I will leave it here for now.  Thanks for pushing me to think further about these things Sarah!

*Out of the Silent Planet, and Perelandra
** The Sparrow, and Children of God

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Help Me Read and Understand Alasdair MacIntyre

I've gained a new appreciation for fiction (specifically, science-fiction) since graduating from seminary. These books have impacted my thought and intellect far beyond what I ever considered to be possible. But I've sensed a longing over the past few months to tackle some of the texts that I was never able to tackle while studying in seminary. One of those books is Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue. It's difficult to think of a professor that did not mention this book during a lecture, or a syllabus that did not have it included under the recommended readings section, or a required text that did not reference it as foundational to their own argument. Nevertheless, I was somehow able to make it through the entire program without ever having read it.

I picked the book up and began reading shortly after Christmas, but today find myself only on page 32 of 278. It's frustrating. I can't tell if the issue is that it really is a very challenging book, or if I am just un-practiced in following logical argument or the niche language of moral philosophy (also contributing is the little eight month old who takes up most of the "reading time"). Either way, I need something to assist me in understanding MacIntyre's work and have decided that I once again need to utilize writing on this blog as a method for processing. Also, I hope that this does not turn out to be a stale outline or summary of MacIntrye (or at least what I take MacIntyre to be saying), but instead has some type of practical insight for what we are trying to do in Westmont.

MacIntyre begins by setting up a fictious scenario in which the natural sciences are blamed for devastating natural disasters. The general public therefore riots and destroys all traces of the natural sciences (laboratories burnt down, physicists lynched, books and instruments destroyed). Years later, a group of people attempt to revive the sciences, but all they are left with are fragments:
a knowledge of experiments detached from any knowledge of the theoretical context which gave them signifiance; parts of theories unrelated either to the other bits and pieces of theory which they possess or to experiement; instruments whose use has been forgotten; half-chapters from books, single pages from articles, not always fully legible because torn and charred (1).
MacIntyre's hypothesis is that "the actual world which we inhabit the language of morality is in the same state of grave disorder as the language of natural science in the imaginary world which I described" (2). The moral arguments that we find ourselves obsessed over (i.e. - just war, abortion, equality) are incommesurable. These arguments are largely circular, for they attempt to grasp rationality, even though the dominant emotivist culture allows no space for the rational (only feelings or attitudes). This is the situation we find ourselves in today: a time filled with mere remnants of moral language/argument, without the narrative that makes moral discourse actually possible.

Is Marriage (today) a sign that MacIntyre is correct?

The first 30 pages are packed, and I am sure that I have misunderstood much. It is exciting material though. While watching the news the other day, I saw a segment in which an interviewer was asking people on the street whether or not they thought marriage should be abandoned in our culture, given the shockingly high divorce rates. The responses varied, but the majority of people wanted to hold onto marriage as a cultural practice.

From the little I understand of the book so far, marriage seems to be a clear sign that MacIntyre is correct. The vows spoken to one another in a marriage bind two together in a commitment: specifically, a type of commitment that is for all of life. Yet, marriage as a cultural practice cannot account for why two people should stay together through "good times and bad, in sickness and in health."

Anyway, I had to spend a few moments writing down some thoughts about the book so far and what I understand MacIntyre to be getting at. For those of you who have read it, feel free to correct me where I have misunderstood, clarify MacIntyre's assertions, or offer advice on how to grasp the remainder of the book.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Uncle Tom's Cabin and Advent

Uncle Tom & Eva
Uncle Tom’s Cabin has more heroes and more villains than any book I have before read, and, for the most part, the characters are consistent with one of these two roles. Two of the most endearing and beloved characters – Tom and Eva – are clearly both heroes in the story. The reader grows to love Tom: a character who is unrelenting in his willingness to sacrifice his own self, security, and safety for that of others and for his Lord Jesus Christ. But the reader also falls in love with little Evaline St. Clair: a young girl who is sickened by the inhumanity of slavery and is willing to do something about it. Little Miss Eva is constantly seen playing with those whom her culture dictates as less than human.

There are so many things that could be said about this book (and so many have already – Abraham Lincoln attributed the beginning steps to emancipation to this narrative), but one scene in particular grasped my attention this Advent season. If you have not read the book, and you plan to in the future, you may not want to read on. Otherwise, please reflect with me on this Advent image.

Chapter 26

Tom, at last, would not sleep in his room, but lay all night in the outer verandah, ready to rouse at every call…"You know it says in Scripture, 'At midnight there was a great cry made. Behold, the bridegroom cometh.' That's what I'm spectin now, every night, Miss Feely, - and I couldn't sleep out o' hearin, no ways."
"Why, Uncle Tom, what makes you think so?"
"Miss Eva, she talks to me. The Lord, he sends his messenger in the soul. I must be thar, Miss Feely; for when that ar blessed child goes into the kingdom, they'll open the door so wide, we'll all get a look in at the glory, Miss Feely."

We have here the image of Tom waiting, without regard to image or comfort, outside of little Eva’s room , all so that he might get a glimpse of the bridegroom comin’ at Eva’s death. Compare this with the reading from Romans 13 from Advent 1:
11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near.
Uncle Tom knew that he would see something remarkable. He was living in a state of anxious expectation, hoping to merely get a glimpse of the glorious life to which his friend Eva was journeying to. How much more for those of us who believe that this kingdom has already come? Do we not walk everyday with the hope of the reconciling/redeeming work of a Savior?

The image of Tom lying outside of Eva’s room in eager expectation is engrained in my mind as an image for Advent this year. Advent traditionally invites us into dual hope: a remembered hope that Israel had for its Messiah to come, and a hope for the final coming of the kingdom of Christ in the future. Let us also hope to see the door of heaven opening up here and now, as we seek to share with the poor, the oppressed, and the widow that “the kingdom of God has come near.”

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Missional Learning Commons 2010

I often hear suggestions of podcasts or lectures to listen to, but rarely take the time to actually listen to them. Given the monotony of the data entry required at the job for the time being, I was able to listen to the Missional Learning Conference audio files in their entirety throughout the day (each lecture is only 12 minutes long). Although your time would not be wasted listening to any of the lectures, a few stood out to me:

  • Jon Berbaum on Desiring the Kingdom - Audio

  • Cyd Holsclaw on Discipleship Backstage - Audio

  • Mark Van Steenwyk on Discipleship in the Shadow of Empire - Audio

  • Dave Fitch on Leadership is Submission - Audio

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Light of a Living Gospel

"This, indeed, was a home,--home,--a word that George had never yet known a meaning for; and a belief in God, and trust in His providence, began to encircle his heart, as, with a golden cloud of protection and confidence, dark, misanthropic, pining, atheistic doubts, and fierce despair, melted away before the light of a living Gospel, breathed in living faces, preached by a thousand unconscious acts of love and good-will, which, like the cup of cold water given in the name of a disciple, shall never lose their reward." Uncle Tom's Cabin 138-139