Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Back to the Shack

I had actually started another entry on this book this past Sunday after church. It came up in three different instances and I think that the questions/feelings/insights elicited were worth sharing…and I’ll still share them, but I wanted to get this out there first.

Let me begin with this statement, “I was duped!” As someone who likes to think he knows the Word pretty well, as well as someone pretty aware of the movements out there trying to pass themselves of as Christianity, I was duped, at least partially.

As mentioned in my review, I kept a running list of those things which I found theologically unsound and dishonest. In response to a friend who felt strongly about the book, I created a document where I expounded upon my list. I took each page number that had something I found problematic and I wrote a short synopsis of the problem. The instance where I was duped takes places on page 172. What follows is what I wrote in that other document….

Pg 172-To me with the question of the character Sophia, the author is casting doubt, to an extent of the Trinity. In one breath he claims that she is not part of it, yet the next he claims that she is very real and obviously a part of God. So, do we have a Trinity or something else? Confusion. How would this play with a new believer, seeker, or someone struggling with their faith?

Obviously I caught that there was a problem there, which is why I say I was partially duped. It just didn’t sit right with me. Turns out that I only had part of the problem figured out. Thanks to “pottermom” who commented in the comment section of the original review, I was made aware of something called the “Sophia Movement”. Google it, it is quite shocking. Near as I can tell, it is a concept steeped heavily in Easterm Mysticism, as well as the “mother earth” types, which certainly fits with both the Sophia character in the book and Emergent Philosophy. However, what I found especially troubling was this little nugget, in Russian Sophiology, Sophia is THE FOURTH PERSON OF GOD!!! Go back and check my synopsis again.

I had no clue that there was a such thing as the Sophia Movement, nor did I realize that as I read this book, this book being ate up by Christians and being hailed by some as the second coming of the Bible, that I was also being steeped in Eastern Mysticism. How exactly does that fit/coexist with Christianity?

Here are my questions/thoughts for people to ponder. I by no means consider myself some great theologian. But I do know the Word and a fair degree of its history. If I have two gifts (and no, they were not discerned by a spiritual gift inventory) it is that I consider myself pretty good at cutting straight to the heart of scripture (we try too hard to complicate things) and if I don’t know the answer, I won’t tell you that I do. I’ll do my due diligence to find out and understand. Secondly, I consider myself fairly well schooled on the those beliefs/practices/people trying to pass themselves off as Christianity.

As I settled into The Shack, certain “buzzwords” and thoughts/ideals began to jump off the page at me. This was early on in the book, which of course caused me to examine and scrutinize every detail from there on out(it wasn’t hard, the author wasn’t shy about sharing). I’m certainly not going to beat up on something, just for the sake of doing so. So, I was careful in how I read and interpreted the book. What was the context? Could it be taken a different way? I tried to look at everything from every angle just so I could be fair and honest.

How many people are going to read this book as I did? How many people have the tools or time to do so? I was someone looking for “problem” areas and I missed a HUGE one. Is a new believer going to see these things? Is someone searching for God for the first time going to be cognizant of these things? How would some of the devout Christians who are hailing this book feel if they knew the deceit hidden right before their eyes?

But what does it matter? If it makes you feel good….It does talk about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit after all….Far too many people are taking this book as something revolutionary, as something that should be viewed as a companion piece to the Bible and it is truly heartbreaking. More to follow soon….
 

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Shack-The Review

***Disclaimer*** There are people I know, love, and or respect who happen to like this book. To them, I want them to know that this review is in no way an attack of them or their tastes. This is just my opinion of this book, which I'm sure is plenty faulty as well.

“Have you read ‘The Shack’?” You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve been asked that over the last several weeks. Initially, I think anyhow, it was people who were genuinely interested in whether or not I had read it. As a matter of fact, I just finished reading a copy that belongs to the friends who first asked me that question. With that said, I should’ve known something was up over the last couple of weeks because of the friends who were asking. They are usually the ones, with a devilish grin no less, that will bring up those things that get me going. Yup, I should’ve known something was up. So, what did I think of “The Shack”…

Well, it only took me until the very bottom of page 10 to know I was in trouble. It was with the word “Papa” that I cringed. I knew to whom it referred as soon as I saw it and with that, I will reveal yet another thing that tends to make me cantankerous…I absolutely, positively cannot stand it when people refer to God as “Papa” or “Daddy”. My reaction was so strong, that I actually put the book down, not because I had to get away from it, but to really try and understand why that had elicited the response that it did. I had never really thought about it until then. I certainly have no issue with God being referred to as “Father”, “Father God”, or “Abba”.

It didn’t take long for me to realize it is the complete and utter lack of reverence in “Papa” or “Daddy”. Might as well call Him, “Huggy Bear”, “Schmoopy-Poo”, or….”SANTA!” I kid, but to me, this is a problem. Where is the reverential fear? The respect? The honor? You know, I look back at my relationship with my own dad. My dad is an incredibly loving, gentle, and generous man. He was a man for whom I was never ashamed to hug, kiss on the cheek, or to tell him that I loved him in front of others. We have a great relationship. I have a great deal of respect for my dad, he is an honorable and just man. But I would never dream of calling him “papa” or “daddy”. To me, it just wouldn’t show respect or reverence to him. And while there were times that I thought my dad had a big old “S” on his chest and had a cape hidden under his shirt, he was and is in fact mortal. How much more respect and reverence should we show God?

I hear “Papa” or “Daddy” and I picture someone running to throw themselves into the lap of a fatherly or grandfatherly type. And I think…When I meet God, am I going to exclaim, “DADDY!” and go running to His lap? No, I can assure you, with the very first hint of recognition of His presence, this sinner is going to be prone with his face buried in the floor. And should I be able to speak, should I be so blessed as to be able to address Him, it will be as “Father”. I hear “Papa” and “Daddy” and my picture is of one who expects no accountability, I picture my dad, the grandfather, in whose eyes his grandchildren can do no wrong. Think God views us like that? If so, I gotta think there’s an entire water-logged world and a couple of crispy cities that are going to have a huge bone to pick. (Yikes three paragraphs and I’m only to page 10)

So, why did I spend so much time describing my hang-ups with “Papa”? Because it is indicative of the rest of the book and the treatment of not only God, but Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. No respect, no reverence…just “Papa”. Unfortunately, it goes a whole lot deeper than that. I found this book to be little more than an advertisement for Emergent/Emerging Philosophy, interwoven with a story designed to yank and pull on your strings. A story designed to make you want and need comfort, a story that makes it a little too easy to ignore the itching on and within one’s ears.

The book abounds with relativism and universalism. You can find examples of all-inclusive doctrine (every belief system leads to God), there is no judgment, there is no Hell, no accountability, no absolute-truths, the inability for humans to distinguish between good and evil, and not so veiled attacks against churches and organized religion. If one wants to understand the allure and tactics of the Emergent Church, this book makes for a fantastic case study. As I read it, I kept feeling like I should be sitting in a trendy coffee shop, slurping on some fruity drink, with my Rob Bell glasses and haircut, with the I-Pod blaring in my ears, as I commune with God through the lyrics of Bono and this book.

In the spirit of fairness, as I read the book, I kept a running tally of examples that had good, solid theological ideas for which most Christians would agree with. Basic truths and basic tenets of our shared faith. And I also kept a running tally of those that were overtly outside the realm of even the loosest orthodoxy. My final tally? Good-8 Not so much-33. Many of those examples stretch across multiple pages….the story is only 251 pages!!! And Christians are just eating this book up!

But don’t take my word for it…check these ideas against the scripture yourself. Do they hold up? Of course if you believe like the Emergent camp, then the Bible is not the inerrant word of “Papa”, nor is it understandable or quantifiable to mere mortals, and you’ve got yourself a new means of “experiencing” “Papa” and living your faith. If on the other hand, you do believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, that it is understandable, that it does contain absolute truth, then the book doesn’t hold up all that well.

I can hear it now! But it’s fiction you big grump! Yes, but then why do I hear so many speak of its transforming power or how it opened their eyes to what their relationship with God should really be like. It’s a good story, it’s an emotional story. I’ll man up and admit that my eyes welled up on a few occasions. I’m a father, a husband, and generally loving person, so sue me. My eyes welled up a few times over the course of Harry Potter too. But the difference is that this book is presenting God and so much about the Word and faith in general in such a potentially harmful light, in pretty effective ways. The protagonist is a very likable fellow, easy to empathize and commiserate with, you feel his pain, his anger, his hurts. You want him to find peace, you want him to win, you want him to be made whole and he is by something called “Papa”, but it certainly doesn’t resemble the “Father” of the Bible. (and no, I'm not speaking to physical appearances either...Thank you very much Marty)

Ultimately, here’s the thing. I have absolutely no problem with fiction of all kinds. Matter of fact, my tastes are pretty wide ranging. I love books and I love reading. But if I’m looking for “Father”? I look no further than the Bible. Why would you ever need any other book to find God, to know God, to feel emotional about your relationship with God. God came down to earth in the form of man and was nailed to a cross for YOU. He suffered and died not just for everyone, but for YOU. It is personal, it is emotional, it is real. What more do you need or want?

On the other hand, if I’m looking for “Papa”? Well, I just turn the speakers up and leave my computer on this blog and watch the countdown, anxiously awaiting his arrival.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Are You Up To The Challenge?

I’ve been thinking about this one for a while and I’ve decided that it is to time to stop thinking and finally do it. Amongst my grumping and cantankerous rants (oh yes, they will remain), I’m going to start highlighting one person a week for a brand new, very prestigious award…“The Super-Awesome-Fantastic-Amazing-Person-Of-The-Week-Award”.

Now, I know everyone is clamoring, “How do I qualify for the TSAFAPOTWA?” Well, it’s complicated, but rest assured I have been working around the clock with a team of nuclear scientists, sociologists, climatologists, Benedictine Monks, and ninja-star throwing capuchin monkeys to come up with a super-secret formula with which I will employ in determining who the weekly winner is. It is so super-secret that I can’t tell you (plus I don’t want any “glory hounds” campaigning and buying me gifts, or baking me cookies, or telling me how I should really just nominate myself each week, or slipping me cash) However, there is one requirement that I will make you aware of…the final step in the determination process is that you absolutely, positively must agree not only to have your picture taken with me, but also to allow me to put it on the blog with an entry as to why you were chosen for the award.

There are also some ground rules that, while having no bearing on who wins, I want to make everyone aware of. My goal is that there will be no repeat winners in a calendar year. Now obviously if something huge and amazing happens, I reserve the right to recognize a repeat winner. Secondly, I will do my fool best to leave my family out of it, otherwise they’d win every week. They’ve already “broken” the formula three times and the ninja-star throwing capuchin monkeys are not happy. With that said, I cannot imagine them not making an appearance at some point.

All kidding aside, I think we all need to do a better job of recognizing those who are making a difference. We’re all too quick to point out the shortcomings of others, but we are woefully inadequate at lifting up those who are out there doing good. I see this as a challenge for myself, picking 52 different winners in a year, for legitimate reasons, and making sure that I keep up with it.

On the flipside, I’m also throwing down the gauntlet. I see this as a challenge to all of you from me…not to make my list, but to create your own. You don’t have to blog about it, you don’t have to write about it, and you certainly don’t have to publicize it. My challenge to you is simply to search out those doing good in your life and recognize it. Give someone a hug, a pat on the back, or a handshake, and let them know…”I see what you are doing and I appreciate it.”

Are you up to it?

PS….The inaugural winner of TSAFAPOTWA has been chosen. And pending the picture requirement, they will be appearing on this blog Monday 9/22.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

THE POLL!!!!

Thanks to all of you who voted in the poll!!! The vote was almost 2-1 in favor of the music staying!!! (Remember, if you don't like it, you can always turn down your speakers or scroll down to the bottom of the page and pause the music...I won't be offended...I'll just remove you from my Christmas Card list and it might very well be the deciding factor between the naughty and nice list for Santa...But hey, no big deal...Right!?!?)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Wake-Up Call

So, I’ve had a few days to pray and think about last Thursday. When you really get down to it, there was/is a lot going on in that situation. It’s easy, probably too much so, to focus entirely on myself, my failure, my feelings, etc. Thankfully, I realized that pretty early on in this process. I’ve spent time praying for the gentleman at the heart of this situation. I’ve also spent time thanking God for the brother who stepped up without hesitation. I’m thankful for the example he set, not only for me, but for our entire group. I’m thankful that he had that opportunity to serve God and “the least of these brethren”. It is important that we seek, remember, and give thanks for the good that is so often taking place alongside the bad.

Praying and thinking about these things was helpful, but there was still that pain and weight upon my heart at my failure…for which I was also and remain thankful for. Thursday was a tough day. Nobody likes to feel ashamed, embarrassed, or angry with themselves. Nobody likes to feel that they’ve let themselves down, much less God. For myself personally, there is not much that I despise more than the feelings of regret. That feeling that if only I had done that one thing differently or handled that situation differently. That feeling of wanting to take something back is brutal.

And it was with these thoughts, these feelings, and many others that I began taking a good, hard look at myself and my situation. And as I did this, I was reminded of last Christmas (Why should that be surprising, right?) Last Christmas, bar none, was the absolute worst Christmas of my life. You ever hear anyone say, “What’s the worst they’re going to do? Take your birthday away?” Turns out, there is in fact worse that can be done, at least in my opinion. I took Christmas from my son. He had screwed up monumentally. Matter of fact, it wasn’t just one monumental screw-up, it was a series, each unrelated to the last. And you know for me to cancel Christmas, it had to be pretty substantial.

When I think about that time, the first things that pop into my head are the deep disappointment I felt in my son, as well as anger, among a few other things. But the thing I remember most of all? Above everything else? That Christmas morning, which just absolutely broke my heart, I remember the sense of overwhelming love I felt for my son. It was so acute, so powerful. The other feelings were still there, believe me, they were still there, in full effect, but if there was ever a time when the kid could’ve actually drowned in the love emanating from me to him, it was that morning. Despite being extremely disappointed and angry with him, there was no denying that I loved him more than ever.

That’s how I felt Thursday, except I was on the other end. I still felt those unpleasant feelings, they still stung, they still made me squirm, but I also felt God’s love in a way that I don’t normally feel it. I felt like I was enveloped in it, yet, I didn’t feel like it was trying to drown out those unpleasant feelings. It was a strange, yet incredible feeling to say the least. It was as if God were making darn sure that I felt His love, but that He still expected me to deal with these other matters. And deal I did.

I’m tough on myself. I expect a lot of myself and I’ve never been one way to shy away from addressing my failures (I’ve had enough practice after all). I don’t take it to self-destructive levels, nor do I ever let it interfere with God’s grace, but I will stay after it until I’m certain that I’ve sufficiently addressed it. Every day since Thursday, I’ve been after it.

So, what have I learned? I learned that Thursday was a wake-up call for me. Feeling like I did Thursday, was so out of my character for me. Maybe I was just having a bad morning? Or maybe it was just one of those “human” moments we all have? Maybe it was just an anomaly? Maybe one of those things is the right answer or maybe it’s a combination. Who knows? What I do know, is that it doesn’t matter. It came far too easily to me, that feeling of, “I really don’t want to be bothered with you.”

In that, I realized that I had gotten way too comfortable and way too complacent with myself. I serve my church tirelessly, always willing to step up and do whatever is asked of me. I don’t hesitate to step into the fire for friends. These are all good things and they can certainly be ways of serving God. But have I really been serving God? I don’t really have a clear answer for that. I think a good portion of the time I was. But I also think at times I was enjoying the pats on the back, the kind words a little too much….which is really out of character for me. I normally find that stuff embarrassing. I had always been a big believer in doing my “good” in secret. Let the world think I’m cantankerous :) God knows the truth.

The more that I dug, the more that I reflected, the more that I really took a good, long, hard look at myself, the more I realized that I was becoming everything that I despise and everything that I swore I would never be when I accepted the call to pursue the ministry. My behavior was slowly transforming into the very type that I would not have hesitated to jump all over. The very type that would have had me growling, “This is what is wrong with the church today.” I also learned a lot about humility and that I need to be more understanding and gentle with some. I’m sure most probably set out into the ministry not unlike myself (albeit probably far more respectable than I could ever dream). Idealistic, intent on changing the world, and calling people back to the truth of God and His word.

But sometimes, sometimes people get lost, far easier than they would have ever dreamed. And before you know it, you’re thinking of cutting your hair and getting something “well coifed” and respectable looking. You’re thinking you really need to invest in some nice suits, perhaps even designer. You begin thinking that perhaps you need a nicer car (or motorcycle in my case) to drive. After all, you’re doing God’s work, you deserve a little something extra, He won‘t mind. And before you know it, you’re secretly hoping that people in need will pass right on by your table, when only yesterday you were praying that God would put those people in your path. Today, I thank God for unpleasant feelings. Today I'm thankful that I remember my place and my calling are more often than not going to be in the mud and dirt of life, not in pristine sanctuaries.

We all too often shy away from the unpleasant within…guilt, anguish, shame, disappointment, and fear. But you know what? Just as God created the good feelings we have for a reason, He also created the unpleasant ones as well. They are there for a reason. Explore them, kick them around, look at them honestly…understand why they are there. God will help us do this, if we are sincere and honest about it, and willing to make the changes that need to be made. He certainly held my hand in this process and I certainly didn’t deserve it. Talk about grace.



***On Friday, February 15, 2008, my wife did not go to work. My son was not awoken to go to school. He had spent two long months addressing those things which had gotten him into trouble. It was tough, there were minor hiccups in the road, but he took it all to heart and made the hard changes he chose to make. When he did finally stumble out of his bedroom that morning, he was met by an unexpected sight. The Christmas tree had reappeared in the living room and beneath it, the Christmas he had forfeit and then some.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

***NOTE***

The Christmas music is on hiatus, at least until I update with a new entry. Christmas music hardly seemed fitting with the latest post.

FAILURE

A lot of people write during times of emotional duress, anger, stress, and any other number of unpleasant feelings, me included. It’s cathartic. It’s a good way to make yourself feel better about something, or to vent, or to rationalize away these unpleasant feelings. This is not one of those times.

A lot of people like to point out their own shortcomings as a means of somehow elevating themselves, or of proving their piety. Sometimes they do it for pity. Sometimes they do it in the hopes that someone will tell them, "You know what, it's okay." or "It's understandable." or "You'll do better next time." This certainly is not one of those times.

I’m a big believer that we are only given so many opportunities to truly make a difference in people’s lives. I think how we answer these calls says a lot about us and our spiritual health. I’m also pretty sure that God is paying special attention during these times.

I think we, as Christians, are addicted to comfort. We can say all the right things and we can usually do the right things, as long as we don’t disturb our comfort level too much. Every once in a while we might stick our neck out for someone, but I wonder how often we do this for own selfish reasons, ego, or pride. Do we truly do these things because we are doing them for God? Or do we do these things so that we can ultimately feel better about ourselves? For the accolades? For the praise? For the "good seat"?

I think we, as Christians, are all too often afraid to get our hands dirty. I think sometimes it is all too easy to turn a blind eye to those problems that we don’t want to address. I think sometimes when faced with a difficult situation, when God is truly calling on us, it is all too easy to rationalize things away. To make excuses, to do what we need to do to bring that comfort back…To convince ourselves that we are everything that God wants us to be and expects us to be, because after all, we are human, He understands, He doesn't expect too much.

I failed and failed miserably this morning on all of the above counts. With one single thought, with one single feeling, I failed myself. I failed the brothers who were sitting with me. I failed anyone who might look to me as an example. Worst of all, I failed God.

Sitting at McDonalds this morning with my Emmaus Reunion Group, talking about the lack of reverence we show God, my Bible open right in front of me; a very obviously homeless person was struggling to enter through the doors. He was on crutches, but by the time I had taken notice of him, he was about to overcome the obstacle the door was presenting. I’ve played that scene over and over in my head, and I’m certain that my memory is accurate. I probably could’ve gotten up and made the gesture, but that’s all it would’ve been at that point, a gesture. Should I have made the gesture? Yes. Is that where I ultimately failed this morning? Read on.

He made his way to the counter and out of my mind. A couple of minutes later, a member of our group abruptly asked if any of us had any money. I rarely carry cash and as I do every Thursday morning, I scrounged around in the dark before leaving, for $1.25 in change to buy my $1.17 coffee. And my change? Well, I put that in the change container they have at the register for rotating causes. As of late, it’s been a program related to special needs people and horses. My wife, the horse lover, would be so proud. All that to say, I had no money.

Luckily, someone in our group did, our newest member. So, the member who had asked, took the money and bought the handicapped man breakfast. He came back to our table and was shortly followed by the man. And with my first up close look at him, I completely failed. There was no half-way about it, or part way, it was a complete failure. The man was an amputee, hence the crutches. Seeing as he still wore a hospital bracelet, perhaps it was fresh. I don‘t know. He smelled badly because he had just soiled himself. His speech was mostly unintelligble.

My first thought? “Please don’t stop, just keep going.” Wow. I type that and I want to delete it, I want to delete this whole entry. I’m ashamed, I’m angry, I don’t want to think about it, I want to rationalize it away. I want to tell myself that it’s okay, that it was understandable that I was repulsed, that I was put off. And I wonder just how repulsive I was to God at that moment.

It was just a thought. No one else knew it. I didn’t speak ill of anyone. I didn’t take any action against anyone. I didn’t do anything that was of any harm to anyone. A random thought was all that it was, right?

‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

That thought, “Please don’t stop, just keep going”, was a snapshot of my heart at that moment. And that scripture quoted? Matthew 25:40? It’s one that I do happen to think of a lot, one that convicts me, one that I thought I did pretty good living by. I pride (that word right there is probably a part of the problem) myself on my generosity, my willingness to roll around in the muck with and for people, and my propensity to give what others tell me is too much of myself. Yeah? Well, I guess as long as your “muck” isn’t too dirty, I'm there for you. And I also guess that means there are degrees of “doing and not doing” just as there are degrees of “least”. This man’s least was too much for me at that moment. Think God cares what I perceive my limits as being? I don’t.

I want these feeling to go away. I want to do something to distract myself from them. I want to tell myself that I’ll do better next time, and you can bet, I will. I want to feel better about myself. I want to start working on next week’s lesson for the course that I’m teaching at church. I want to work on the talk that I’m giving at the next Emmaus Walk. I want to do whatever I can to make these feelings go away and to make myself feel good about myself and the way that I serve God. But, I can’t.

This shame, this disappointment needs to burn for as long as God allows it burn. I need to squirm. I need to avoid the bathroom mirror. I need to feel and understand my failure. I need to feel and understand the way that I failed myself, my brothers, the man in need, and God, lest I fail again next time or the time after that.

I know that I am forgiven simply because I have asked. But forgiveness does not negate disappointment and whatever else God is feeling towards me at the moment. I think we sometimes lose sight of that. That forgiveness means that everything is just A-Okay after the fact. The weight upon my heart and soul tell me that it is not. I expect more of myself and as a Christian, He expects more of me. I am human, but that is no excuse. I was made by God, valuable enough to be saved by Christ, we all were. And for those who recognize those two things, more is expected. Being human, prone to sin, failings, and screw-ups is a hindrance, not an excuse.

I would be remiss if I did not mention, that my fellow brother who thought to buy the man breakfast, also gave him a ride at least as far as Winchester as he was trying to get to Morehead. I thank God for this brother and his willingness to do for the least of our brethren. I am also thankful that he showed me this morning that while I know and embrace the fact that I am a work in process, it is a far bigger job than I had led myself to believe.

**Just found out that my fellow brother delivered the man to his mother's doorstep in Morehead.