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 wonder if i can love enough

When I met and married Jill, I was in professional ministry: stuff we can now do for free.  As a seminary trained minister, I allowed me to think I was, what?  More spiritual?  A little better?  I am not sure.

It evidenced often.  Here’s a way.  Jill loved horses and Colorado.  Loves.  And I wondered subconsciously if maybe she loved them more than Jesus, or God.

When we married, I knew for a while that I loved Jill more than anything, but I “corrected” that by relearning to love Jesus first.  Again, I got paid to believe like that.

I spent another thirty years with Jill.  I resigned from church work, and I now play at being honest.  I say “play” because honesty without love or grace is an all-consuming monster.  Brave souls have faced it and been ground to dust.  Many write novels to journal it.

In my honesty I found nothing affects me like a horse or mountains move Jill.  Okay, I weep at some books or movies, but it’s different: not as structural, as fundamental as is Jill’s love for horses like Firefrost or Dartagnan; or the Princeton Valley, Chalk Cliffs, and skiing the Rockies.

I ride bikes.  Clear land.  Work in wood.  Ski.  Write.  Travel some, and nothing grabs me like being on a horse on a snowy day grabs, sustains, heightens, infuses Jill’s day with light and hope.

Which caused me to go back and hear John, whom I translated from Greek: [1 John 4:20] “For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.”

Jill loves her brothers and sisters, and we see them more than mine.  Jill loves our grand-kids, and goes to lengths to babysit them more than me.  Jill also walks our land and draws strength up out of the ground through her boots — when I see all that needs to be done.  Jill also loves Lewis and MacDonald as if they were fiances she lost in the war.

And John shattered my thinking.  Jill has been passionately crazy about people and things God has crafted for her and handed her — far more than anyone I know.

So God, by way of John, is using Jill, not my measuring stick, to show me: Loving who and what has been evidenced to me by God, is the first step in really learning to love the One who created them as evidence of His love to — me.

This may be a great year to learn to love more.

 

Inconceivable

It is Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  What happened today?  Nothing, but today describes much of life.

We wade through a flurry of planning, spending, and staging a wedding.  We endure/enjoy the BIG day; the honeymoon and return to … quiet … close to nothing is happening.   We return to work, wondering what we weaved into our life.

We pitch, talk, ask, work and sleep on cots while launching a business and … it’s quiet.  We await people returning our calls.  We await excited customers; to finally place orders.  We await lawyers’ and CPA’s bills.  We wait to know if the market will really like us, and wonder, “Was this the right thing?”

We buy — us and friends — a ton of equipment and toys.  We hope we’ll lose “baby poundage”.  We decorate, move furniture, and attend Lamaze classes to learn to say, “Give me my epidural!”   We labor for hours (days!); deliver; and bring a little one home to start sleep deprivation, and it is not quiet, but it leaves us asking, “What were we thinking?”

Peter is kicking himself.  He DID deny Jesus three times.  John lets Mary rest.  He wonders why Jesus’ family isn’t caring for her.  Mary of Magdala wonders if demons return if the one who vanquished them dies.  Judas’ body sways at the end of a rope.

And nothing is happening.

Guards laugh!  No one has stolen Jesus’ body!   Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus get the first calls asking, “Why?”  Asking for the body of a criminal, Jesus.  In Herod’s night terrors, Jesus returns with John the Baptist.  He awakens relieved.  Nothing is happening.

Unless.

Unless you heard Jesus talk of the Kingdom.  He spoke counter intuitively of it.  He said it’s like a farmer who sows seed in a field and — goes to sleep.  The seed does what it does as he goes about life seeing nothing; and continuing after green shoots mysteriously, wondrously push out of the ground.

On Saturday, Friday’s horrors are almost echoes.  Well, still horrors, but moving inexorably toward echoes.  We hope for that.

On Saturday, Sunday is inconceivable.  It’s inconceivable twice.  Once, resurrection is too good to be true. We can’t imagine it before it happens, just as we can’t unimagine it once it happens.  Twice, it’s tomorrow.  We say we imagine tomorrow, but it’s only our sanguine safety version, or our feared folly that’s worse than what happens.

We haven’t shaken yesterday, and can’t imagine tomorrow.  Saturday.  In between time.  Where we spend most of life.

So, let Good Friday’s sorrow wash through you and take out the garbage.  Celebrate the first Sunday with wonder, tears, or stunned silence, but inbetweenthem.  Consider this.  Jesus told us the Kingdom is like seed He plants.  We only imagine a body losing heat on a cool stone slab, but far from our eyes He’s preaching in Hades; leading out those awaiting Him, and updating a conversation with Satan as to who really holds the keys to Death now.

In between Friday and Sunday, Saturday: a day to seize what He promised; said; and did to indicate what to expect tomorrow.  How to live today if tomorrow is inconceivable.