What Dya Think?

I was a preacher in training at Oklahoma Baptist University.  Oklahoma was staging its version of fall’s shades of brown, orange, and splashes of red and yellow just to prove their existence.

Upstairs on a yawny Wednesday.  Shawnee Hall.  James Timberlake (Lumberpuddles) presided over Systematic Theology as if any of us might think systematically.  Most boys in the room (you heard the silence correctly, no girls) were merely stamping what they already knew: and firmly believed they knew more than Dr. Timberlake.  Not only did the boys know more, they were better at believing, stronger and wiser than this dinosaur trying to connect dots for the room’s brilliant non-learners.  Timberlake: what we believe is more than “getting it right” and more than “notching the grips on theological guns.”

What we believe; how we fashion believing into coherence guides our faith, shields our lives, and strengthens our resolve in the face of — life when ragged.

Few in the room suspected how ragged life can be, is, will be.

So in the middle of Kierkegardian Existential Epistemology (See?  You do have reason to be impressed!), boys talked, being flagrantly disrespectful, sharpening theological knives to carve up some whelp named Soren. With a side dish of dinosaur.

He paused.  For a second he was a wet-behind-the-ears Army Chaplain in the advance of Patton’s troops to close the pincer on the Battle of the Bulge and he said to the rude children, “When you are in a column of soldiers, and the Major stops your jeep to point a little Belgian boy with a Mauser marching a German soldier in the direction of where we are marshaling prisoners.  And the boy and the soldier skirt behind a building and then the rifle shot rings out; and you know he shot that soldier, you may not be as certain what to believe as you are in your comfortable chair now.”

Many of the fifty never dropped a beat.  Never heard him. They already had correct beliefs, no; not beliefs, knowledge.  It took no faith to espouse the answers on the exam, you only had to memorize answers.  They were super-pastors in training; here to merely time stamp their wisdom and move on to establish the Kingdom of God in growing churches that would love them, maybe worship them a little.

For a second, the disheveled hair vanished, the gray suit faded to olive drab in layers against the 1944 unbelievable cold, and the crew cut kid with glasses still sat in the jeep with the rifle shot ringing in his ears, for the rest of his life.

He was trying to tell the deaf that a checklist of certainties, an inventory of what you know because you have never needed much faith, real faith, faith in the face of the overwhelming — that parts of life will rock your boat.  Blow you out of the water.

Systematic is not so systematic.  Theology strips down to a ringing question of faith . . . what do you know, what do you therefore think when all else echoes hopelessness?



I don’t run from myself.  I don’t wish to be someone else.  I don’t spend time trying to be other people, but the guy in my mirror keeps changing.  His glasses have changed, and he is more nearsighted.  Liver spots.  Even when frozen off, tend to find new spaces on his face.  He is getting older, but the guy in my head still talks and sounds at most 30ish.

And yet, the Christian scriptures describe God as the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Timeless.  Not subject to the ravages of time.  Hmmm.

Just sitting here, I am replacing myself.  Cell for cell, and not quite replacing each cell as wondrously as I did in my first few years of life.

I now own five toilets in three buildings.  All functioning again after yesterday’s work by Paul.  No, all five flushing again after the nice plumber came out for four hours today.  He said tree roots don’t mind “gray” water, but they don’t help toilets to flush without sending relics into showers.  My wife hates relics.   Wait, the one in the guest end of the house sounds like a small machine gun when filling, and rattles pipes in the kitchen.  So, after one more servicing, they will all be maintained.  Not improved.  Just maintained.

And yet, for forty years the Israelites making an extended, generation-wiping detour in the desert never had shoes or tents, or clothes wearing out.  Timeless.

I have pains that take longer to heal.  Some never will.  I didn’t make life choices to bring pain, I thought.

And yet, heaven supposedly tolerates neither pain nor tears.

In the last 2,000 years, we’ve left nothing unchanged, unedited: governmental forms, trade, technologies, medicine, science.  Many changes are wondrous.  Some bring bad effects.

And yet, no one has said anything as lasting, as improbable, as heart-stoppingly hopeful as a carpenter-cum-late-blooming rabbi that authorities unsuccessfully rubbed out.

Did you ever feel as if time does not make sense?  As if time itself is somehow not right?

It could be that our weirdest acceptance of the incongruous is that we take time for granted, as the given.

When it is not.