Thursday, September 22
I didn't really read the blog - I just wanted to say "Singaporean Presbyterian".
If he slobbered when he thought about nachos, he'd be a "Salivating Singaporean Prsybyterian".
I could do this for a while. But I won't.
Wednesday, September 21
Some guy has figured out how to build a cleaner-burning engine. I'll be the government outlaws it.
Thursday, September 1
Not long ago, I made the mistake of confessing my deepest, darkest sins to some "church friends", and it became immediately obvious that they didn't know what to do with such a depraved sinner as me. I'll be a lot less likely to confess my faults in the future.
A lot less likely.
Monday, June 13
I don't believe in life after death.
I know, I know. Heretic. Before you start stacking cordwood for your Jack-flambee' though, hear me out.
Though I do not believe in life after death, I do believe in the resurrection of the dead. "What's the dif", you may ask. The difference is that the whole "life after death" thing requires that I leave my body upon death. That whole notion implies the very Greek and entirely unscriptural idea that "my body" and "me" are not the same, that my body is a prison from which I must escape if I am to experience existence as I was meant to. But if that is true, then I should seek to die as quickly as possible so that I can enter into the fullness of my existence. If being "stuck" in this body means I am barricaded from "real life", then Death is the friend that sets me free from my prison and should be welcomed as a liberator.
But Death is my enemy - a vanquished enemy, certainly - but an enemy nonetheless. I hate to draw attention to the obvious, but when we die, we quit living. Else what does it mean to say that we die? Death is The End, The Grand Finale, the Last Chapter, the Final Enemy.
Or at least that is what Death meant until Christ defeated it and broke its grip on mankind. The promise of Christ's resurrection is that though Death will claim us all at some point, Death will no longer have the last word.
Christ as the firstborn from among the dead has become the first fruits of the New Order of Creation; He is not a disembodied spirit but an embodied man. If Christ rose bodily from the dead, then we too shall be so raised. If Christ is now clothed in immortality then we too shall be so clothed.
But if that is so, what happens between the time of our death and the time of our resurrection? No one really knows, but I think we must simply cease to exist. We are dead. And though we are gone, we still maintain a kind of life in the memory of those who knew us on this earth. Those on earth who remember us after we are gone will not have known us perfectly, nor will they remember us perfectly, and - worse for us - they too will one day cease to exist.
But God knows us perfectly and will remember us perfectly.
He will raise us from the dead just as Christ Himself was raised.
The first time God imagined man, He made us from the dust of the ground and breathed the breath of life – His life - into us. The second time He creates us, He promises that the life He breathes into us will never end.
The ancient creed affirms the Christian belief in "...the resurrection of the body..." Paul reminded the early church that "if there is no resurrection of the dead, then we are to be pitied above all men". Christ appeared to the disciples after His resurrection and He made an explicit point of showing them that He was physically present. He was not just an ethereal concept or a substance-less spirit but a real person with real scars who ate real food. He occupied space, but was not constrained by space.
God seems to like the physical realm. He must get a charge out of His creation, or He wouldn't make such a big deal over it. When we treat death as if it were a friend and act as if this physical creation is somehow a lesser expression of God’s goodness than the spiritual realm, we are guilty of devaluing that which God highly values.
Life is good. Resurrection life will be even better.
Thursday, June 9
Tuesday, June 7
Sometimes I get so worn out with trying to do the right thing, be the right thing, think the right thing, say the right thing and hang with the right people that I forget the Good News of the Kingdom of God.
I manage to screw up with great regularity. Every single blooming day I do at least one thing that violates some scriptural principle, and I can always find at least a dozen books, articles, tapes and radio preachers who are eager to explain - in excruciating detail - why any person who does what I do is (insert condemnatory description here) and certainly perdition-bound.
I keep thinking about that phrase in the letter from James to the church where he says that the person who gazes into the perfect law of liberty and acts based upon what he sees there will be blessed in what he does. I used to think that James was warning us not to forget what scum-bags we are, but now I realize that I had it exactly backwards.
When I gaze into this perfect law of liberty, I see reflected back to me the image of a perfect Man. This is a wonder to me - yet the image in this mirror is in fact what God sees when He looks on me. As I gaze into my "reflection" there in that perfect mirror and ponder what God's gracious work has wrought on my behalf, the glory of it penetrates - however slowly - to the darkest and densest reaches of my heart, and as this "God's-eye-view" of me seeps into my soul, I see myself as God already sees me. A lifetime of gazing into this image changes me - my choices slowly align themselves with the reality of that image.
I can trust that the screwups I assign to myself are not reflections of the real me that God already sees, but are merely the vestigal remains of the old Jack that is already dead but not quite yet fully decayed.
Friday, June 3
Am I worse at being a Christian than the other people at church, or am I just more aware of how screwed up I am?
The other day, as I was contemplating doing something I knew I shouldn't do, I stopped myself and gave myself a good talking to: "You know better than that. God doesn't want you to do that. You should do the right thing."
And so I didn't do what I was contemplating. I felt slightly better about myself and found the shadow of this thought floating through the detritus of my mind: I'll bet God is pleased with me for doing the right thing...
And just like that I realized what a fool I am.
I believed that God would be please by me doing the right thing. I imagined Him weighing my deeds in the balance and finding me worthy for doing the right thing, (or worthless for doing the wrong thing.)
Though I've always confessed that my fecal matter is malodorous to the Almighty, (and everyone else as well), I apparently still believe that my righteousness somehow impresses Him. I guess I honestly thing that my good deeds are NOT as repugnant to God as used, bloody bandages. What an idiot.
The New Testament clearly shows me that my evil deeds do not separate me from God and my good deeds do do not bring me any closer. My deeds - both good and evil, righteous and unrighteous - have no bearing of any kind on my relationship to God. With the death, burial, resurrection and glorification of Jesus, God has taken the whole issue of good deeds / bad deeds off the table. My sins mean nothing to God because they are all already paid for by the death of Christ, (and therefore forgotten by God). My righteous deeds are worthless to God, because they are dung by comparison to the righteousness of Christ. God approves of me not because I behave or don't behave but because I am in Christ .
This is such a radical way of thinking and living that I can barely wrap my head around it. I find it so much easier to condemn myself for my failings or to praise myself for my successes - yet both of these imposters are worthless to me and repugnant to God. He is utterly pleased with Christ, and is utterly pleased with me in Christ.
My deeds - both "good" and "bad" - are death for me, death if I place any value or trust in them at all. But if my trust is in Christ, then my life is in Him. He is the Vine, I am one of his branches. Whatever life is in me is His life. As the life of the vine is in the branch, so the life of Christ is the life of Jack.
Saturday, March 19
I know that I know that God has spoken to me, but I have no recollection of the time or event when He gave me the words that I now carry in my mind. I have a message inside my head - a message from God to me - but I have no memory of when that message was given. At some indeterminate point this summer while on vacation, I knew something that I hadn't known before. I don't know how it got there, but this "message from God" was burned into my mind:
I will be your reward.
God said this to me - I don't know when, I don't know how, I don't know where. I only know that these words are in my head, and I didn't put them there.
For as long as I can remember, my experience of life did not measure up to my expectations. I thrashed about trying to make sense of it all. I've made messes, hurt people, tried things, rejected beliefs and - in the immortal words of Bono - "still haven't found what I'm looking for." A deep, brooding dissatisfaction with life has marked me and colored every day in melancholy shades of gray and blue.
Not long ago, I was reading Jesus's instructions about the things we hold dear: "wherever your treasure is, there will your heart be - so store up treasures for yourself in heaven where they cannot be stolen or rot or rust." I remember responding saying to God something along the lines of: "Help! I don't know how to treasure heavenly things. Please help me do that."
I guess maybe that was one of those dangerous prayers - you know - the kind you shouldn't pray without strapping on your crash helmet. But I prayed it. And today I realized that since I prayed that prayer and since He spoke those words into my head, I have experienced a radical reorientation in my life. I had just finished lunch with a friend, and as we were parting, he asked if he could pray for me. I'm always grateful that anyone would talk to God on my behalf, so I said sure. He then asked me, "what do you want me to pray about?" and it struck me - I have everything I need.
I have lost everything in this world that I counted dear: my marriage, my children, my home and - to some extent - my church. And yet God has not abandoned me. I don't know how I know that, but I do. Even though I am bereft of the things that were most important to me, even though I feel their loss accutely, even though the external circumstances of my life are bleaker than they have ever been, God has not abandoned me. He's here hanging out with me, even as I stumble and bumble through the biggest mess and most difficult, painful experience of my life.
He's not making me feel better - I feel like shit most of the time. He's not easing my circumstances - they suck. He's not vindicating me - my reputation is shot. He's not doing any of the things that I used to think He should do to make me feel loved. Yet I feel more loved than ever in my life.
I cannot explain this except by saying "He is with me." And because He is with me, I just don't care what people think of me. I don't really care if I am doing the right thing in the right way at the right time. I don't care if people think I have gone off the rails, or that I am a lost cause or have abandoned the faith. I don't need to explain. I don't need to defend. I've lost everything I ever thought I cared about, and now I know - even if I never get any of it back again - God is with me.
So I told my friend, "I can't think of a thing to ask of God. He is with me - what else could I possibly need?"
He has become my treasure. He is my reward.
Saturday, January 22
I spoke with Robert Capon today, the author of the subversive book Between Noon and Three. He is the first author I have ever found who is willing to say publicly what I have only dared to half-imagine. Grace, as he sees it, really is a the free gift of God to the underserving, and the only possible way to avoid enjoying its benefits is to not believe it. Simple, I know, but profound in its implications...
I have wondered over the last few years why it is that I have always been attracted to the folks who exist on the fringes of cultural normality - the freaks, weirdos, oddballs and assorted socially not-quite-acceptable people. Normal people, while non-threating, tend to bore me. I don't know why I prefer the statistical outliers to the normal folks, but when I look at His creation, I find all sorts of analogues in the natural world. God apparently has a tremendous taste for the bizarre and the weird and the just plain not-normal. How else to explain the platypus, or the venus fly-trap, or tsunamis, tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanoes, cancer, Amos 3:6, crocodiles, dragons, giants, dwarves, the Loch Ness monster?
I know I am wandering back & forth between the nominally real and the nominally imaginary, but where exactly is the border between the two? Chesterton argues that myth is more real than reality, that the realm of the fantastic is where life really lives, and that the world we moderns and PoMos call "the real world" is really just a two-dimensional cardboard replica of the real thing. (Sorry, I don't remember if I got this idea from Orthodoxy or from The Everlasting Man.)
In light of my previous post, and in light of being cut off from the five most meaningful relationships in my life, (and thus losing my gravitational center), I find myself questioning my whole concept of God. It seems He is both far more terrible and far more wonderful than I thought before.
Well, maybe I have thought it before. I remember as a pre-adolescent reading The Chronicles of Narnia and tasting of something so much more wonderful and more awful than myself and my small, constrained little world, something I identified as God expressed through Christ, but the 30 intervening years have pretty well smashed the awe and wonder of that childlike vision out of me. I am so much more sophisticated, more worldly, more cosmopolitan - and yet somehow my world has become so much smaller.
But along comes Genesis and Job and Chesterton and Lewis and Capon and my world is turned inside out, or upside down or something I cannot explain in a straight-line intellect-only dimension. Poetry or song or art might better capture it.
I stumbled onto some poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay, (who is apparently no longer in vogue as a poet), and found a beauty and wistfulness there that I had all but forgotten. So I shall sit down with my poetry again, and seek to touch that long-lost chord that Lewis first struck in me when I was 11 or 12, that music which echoed in my soul for years but that the years have likewise silenced, that wonder and awe at the beauty and mystery woven into the very fabric of the universe.
I am alone tonight, as I have been for the last 16 nights, and probably will be for many more nights to come, yet in some undefinable way, I am NOT alone, maybe for the first time ever.
As Robert Capon reminded me on the phone today, there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, and if I am anywhere at all these days, it is in Him.
Thursday, January 20
We had a bible study at the office today and read Genesis 39-41 about Joseph, and the leader asked what the story taught us about how we should behave, (I think.) But it seems to me that is the wrong question. Rather than asking, "what does this story teach us about us", it seems to me the right question would be "what does this story teach us about God?" And quite frankly, I find it pretty darned disturbing. Here is a God who was apparently powerful enough to prosper Joseph as a slave and as a prisoner, wise enough to give him the interpretation of dreams, in control enough to cause them to come to pass, faithful enough to be with Joseph wherever he found himself, and yet this exact same God also allowed Joseph to be sold into slavery, allowed him to be cast into prison, allowed the baker to be hung, and allowed the famine to occur. It seems to me that such a God is utterly unlike anything we could imagine on our own. It seems He cares not one whit about pain - He certainly allowed, if not outright caused plenty of it. So the thought of us being "used by Christ" to be nice people in hard circumstances seems utterly laughable.
What kind of God allows a beloved son to suffer from cancer and die at the age of 9? What kind of God says "I am with you no matter what", and then allows or causes all hell to break loose in our lives? What kind of God allows over 100,000 people to be swept away in an instant by a tsunami He darn well could have prevented?
If our job as "believers" is to help people by being nice and not causing pain and helping relieve painful circumstances and bring comfort in pain, then why doesn't our God simply arrange things so that people don't experience hard circumstances? Why in the world would He need me to be a pain-reliever? What lunacy!
I don't know the answer to these questions, but I do know that the God I see in the scriptures is not the tame and kindly old grandfatherly figure much of Christendom seems to imagine and teach. The God in these stories is terrible and wild and utterly beyond our comprehension. He keeps the universe spinning, for pete's sake. Does He actually need us to be nice to other people? The sheer folly of such thinking simply overwhelms me. If He was incarnate in Christ, (and I believe with all my heart that He was), then what do all these things tell us about God? I just don't think it tells us to be nice people, to say nive things and think nice thoughts and be a postive influence. I'm really not sure what it tells us, but a God who names the stars, puts the planets in place, sets the galaxies spinning, builds an earth that wipes out people as if they were nothing more than kindling for a fire, presides over cancer and AIDS and divorce and alzheimers and even became a man and DIED a horrible, humiliating death, such a God certainly has absolutely no need of me for anything. The whole idea of "morality" utterly pales before such a God.
For some reason I keep thinking of that story where Jesus was teaching in somebody's house and these guys cut a hole in the roof and lowered their paralyzed friend through the hole right down in front of Him. Jesus looked at the paralyzed guy and said, "Your sins are forgiven you." And then, because He knew the Nice People, the Moral People, the Upright People, were all pissed off about that and saying to themselves, "who does He think He is", Jesus said to them, "I know you are offended that I granted this man forgiveness for sins. You concept of God does not allow me to do that. So just to show you that your concept of God is completely wrong…" and then He turns to the paralyzed guy and says, "Get up. Take your mat and go home." And the guy gets up. And takes his mat. And goes home.
Who is this God? And how could I dare imagine He needs anything from me? My intellect is not merely humbled, it is driven speechless to the ground where it wallows face down in the dirt. My emotions short circuit from the nearness of His overwhelming power. My very body wants to find a small, dark place to tremble in fear and hide.
This God is not what I would have imagined, not what I would choose, and certainly not what I have been taught.
But I want to know Him. Dear god, I want to know Him...
Wednesday, January 19
Alex is one of those people. I've known Alex for several years - we work in the same company and in fact I actually interviewed him when we were hiring. I've always liked him - he's really different. He is very ethnic looking - in actuality I think he is part cuban, part japanese, part I-dunno-what, but he could pass as any number of ethnicities or nationalities. He was raised in Europe, was recruited by the CIA right out of high school and quit his high-paying job as a QA manager for a big Fortune 500 company to become an entry-level programmer. Did I mention he is brilliant, gentle and interesting?
We had a drink together tonight, solved the problems of the world together, and I thought to myself, "why are we not better friends?" I honestly don't know the answer to that question. But I am determined to change that. Alex is an extraordinary man - he challenges my thinking in some ways, and agrees with me in others, but he is most of all his own person.
So tonight I give thanks for a new old friend. To Alex, who dares to be simply who he is. Next time, the drinks are on me.
Tuesday, January 11
I won't blame "Progressives" for all the societal ills from which we suffer, but they certainly bear significant responsibility for changing our societal paradigm from one which tolerates deviance to one which revels in it. Jonah Goldberg makes the case more clearly than I could.
I face an awful lot of fear now. I just wrote a note to my pastor and one of the elders describing all the things that scare me in my life: living alone, being barred from worship, the effects of this situation on my family... Panic lurks under the surface.
The really, really, really weird bit is that I have more of sense of being in God's hands and more sense that He is actively at work to do me good than I have had in a Very Long Time. Go figure.
Monday, January 10
The last few days have been some of the most difficult, painful and strangely liberating of my life. A personal crisis has forced into the open some issues in my heart that I never recognized, and the recognition has been not merely a revelation but an epiphany. It is as though I had spent my entire life viewing the world through the wrong end of a telescope, always running into things and tripping over things, never really seeing or experiencing the world the way "normal" people do. And suddenly, I understand why.
Now, that doesn't mean the pathology is not still there. But what it does mean is that the first step to finding a solution is identifying the problem. I've been in the IT biz for a long time, and it is axiomatic that you cannot solve the problem if you cannot identify the problem.
Well, now I know the source of the problem.
It's a relief, really, even though my life externally appears to be in worse shape than ever. In reality, what might appear to an onlooker as the first day of a disaster was in reality the first day of healing. Although the metaphorical cancer is still inside me, at least I now know the nature of the problem.
I fight self-pity a lot, which is both self-indulgent and stupid. God is actively at work on my behalf, sorting out the mess that I have made of my life, redeeming that which seems irredeemable, making something beautiful out of something horrendous. I am not in control - He is. But the illusion of control is hard to relinquish.
My family suffers because of me. That is my excruciating reality. Yet they too are in God's more-than-capable hands. I do not understand His ways, but I have reached a point of desparation where I must entrust myself and my family to those ways, opaque though they may be. And in abandoning my delusion of control, I find freedom. Paradoxical, eh?
Friday, January 7
Bless the Lord, oh my soul, and forget not one of all His benefits -
Who forgives every one of all your iniquities
Who heals each one of all your diseases
Who redeems you life from the pit and corruption
Who beautifies, dignifies and crowns you with loving-kindness and tender mercy
Who satisfies your mouth, (your necessity and desire at your personal age and situation), with good so that your youth, renewed, is like the eagle's.
Sometimes the scripture seems so random, other times it seems as if God had something written specifically for me. This is an instance of the latter.
I am overcome by my own iniquities. I have climbed down into the pit and am trapped in my own corruptiom. My life is hideous, shameful and despicable. I deserve scorn and wrath. I am ever hungry and never filled.
God's mercy is displayed initially in allowing my shame and corruption to be exposed to the light. It is horrible to be exposed as a liar and a cheat. But I am hopeful - very hopeful - that He is faithfully dealing with me as son, cleansing me, forgiving me of my sin and changing my life into one that is an honor to His name.
Thursday, January 6
Small as this is, I think it speaks to a fundamental truth God has woven into creation. In spite of the virtual nature of so much of our work these days, we are still creatures, not merely consciousness. There is a physicallity to existence that makes each of us unique, no matter how unremarkable we may be. The constraints of space and the borders of our physical bodies both reinforces our alone-ness and our uniqueness.
And this also has implications for those who profess belief as Christians. Our physical presence - together as people - is the format through which Christ is manifested to the earth. Gotta have that body - and all the irritating realities that come with it - living, working, singing, laughing, crying. fighting, forgiving together to incarnate the Word of God in our communities.