Monday, May 28, 2018

Is Your Life a Story?

Our lives are full of events; things happen. We live with them daily. Events have a beginning, a complication, and then a conclusion of some sort. Then we proceed to our next life event.

In fact our lives are not only a series of events, but also a series of overlapping events. For example, we have an event concerning our aging parents during the same timeframe as the appeal to the county appraiser’s office, which happened the day before the fire down the street, and after the hot water tank gave out, and so on. Because of this swirl of events, it’s often difficult to see any meaning or purpose in life. After all events, and life, often appear jumbled and random. 

Perhaps this is why we are so attracted to stories. By the power of story, we are able to separate the events and then consider them both individually and within context. Stories allow us to chart the complications of life and see their resolution. They allow us to see that events, though perhaps jumbled, are not disjointed. And though they appear to be random, they are not pointless. 

And though events often bounce off one another then spin in unpredictable directions, or so they seem, stories suggest that perhaps we don’t live in a random, accidental world. There is a progression to life, and there is meaning. 

This is what story gives us, the power to apprehend meaning in the swirl of life. And perhaps that’s why mankind’s love for story is never ending.

So how do you see your swirl of events? Is your life a story?

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Wilson, Progressives, and a Book Review

I have completed Wilson, the biography of our 28th President, by A. Scott Berg. Mr. Berg wanted to write a biography that captured, “the essence of Wilson’s character,” and in many ways he succeeded.

Wilson, a Presbyterian, was a controversial man who tried to seek the higher moral ground in political issues. However, he behaved inconsistently much of the time, both in Washington and during the Treaty of Versailles at the conclusion of World War I. The biography recorded, documented, and commented on these events. Also, rumors that have followed Wilson throughout history, such as those concerning Mrs. Peck and the courtship of the second Mrs. Wilson, were also addressed in a forthright fashion. The author provided documentation along with a well-reasoned argument concerning these issues.

However Wilson, as a man or politician, cannot be separated from the Progressive movement, and any biography must wade into these troubled waters. Though the book provided assessments concerning some issues, it lacked a critical evaluation of many of Wilson’s progressive ideas and enacted legislation, such as the Federal Reserve as one example.

As Berg lauded some of Wilson’s sweeping reforms, including World War I mobilization, some of his sentences were a bit problematic. Note one from Chapter 12, Armageddon.

“Wilson introduced Daylight Saving Time to America, which created an extra hour of farm work every day and which saved an hour of artificial light, reducing the use of electric and coal power.”

Note that since electricity was essentially nonexistent to American farms in 1917, Daylight Savings Time would have little impact on farm life that organized its activities by solar time. It certainly would not have added an extra hour of farm work.

As we evaluate Wilson and the Progressive movement, we must understand that the movement of the early 20th century, though the forerunner of today, was not the monstrosity that we see today. Progressive ideas were a reaction to something, often a troubling social condition, whether poor labor conditions, child labor, women suffrage etc. Moreover, many of the perpetrators of these poor conditions hid behind the Constitution, thus hindering reform. Many Progressives were openly Christian, and many Progressive ideas had Christian backing.

But there were problems, even with the early movement. First of all, Progressives had a willingness to ignore the Constitution or to view it as an obstacle in the way of their reform (hence their circumvention by the courts as one tactic). They ignored constitutional theory, such as limited government. Ironically, this view of limited government (along with the separation of powers) was grounded theologically in the fallen nature of man, best itemized by Calvin’s idea of total depravity, ironically also a view held by many Progressives. This inconsistency between their theology and social actions would create vast problems later in history, problems we wrestle with today. Progressives attempted to synthesize two opposing worldviews, an impossible and dangerous task. Expanding government to throw at real or perceived social problems almost always leads to greater problems, a lesson still ignored today.

On a personal note, when I began Wilson, I had mixed opinions concerning our 28th President. After finishing the biography, I must confess to still having mixed opinions concerning the man and some of his policies. Such is Thomas Woodrow Wilson.

Again, though obviously pro-Wilson and at times a bit apologetic, overall the biography is good and I would recommend it.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Pray for Parking? Seriously?

I have a quick question.

Let's say that after church I want to rush home and watch some afternoon football. But first I'll stop in downtown Lawrence to pick up a Chipotle burrito for a carry out lunch (probably a grilled chicken with sour cream and cheese).

Now the question. As I rush downtown, do I pray for a parking place?

If we say yes to the question, that would be selfish and self-absorbed. It would be like making God our personal genie, whose main duty is to make our life easy.

But hold on a minute. Do we really want to say no? Do we actually want to say to a holy God that we don't need His help? Is this not the primordial sin of self-exaltation and independence from God? And if that isn't bad enough, what if we think God is too busy to listen to our dinky supplication? Or that maybe He doesn't care? Those thoughts blaspheme the character of God.

So do we pray?

So much for a quick question.

Paul wrote to pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17), and just as it was important to the Thessalonians, so too is it important to us. Prayer shows us what we are, finite and needy, and if we give any thought to the matter, self-focused and sinful. Prayer also shows us what God is, sovereign, infinite, and holy. In prayer we acknowledge our dependence upon God. But more importantly, ceaseless prayer keeps us before the throne of grace, before the face of God, where we are forced to decide whether we want our will to be done, or His.

So pray for a parking place?  Well if I'm praying without ceasing, my prayers have begun long before I reach Chipotle. But what if I haven't been in prayer and am now confronted with the need for a parking place? I vote to pray, to consciously place myself before the face of God. For what an excellent time to begin the practice of ceaseless prayer. After all, downtown Lawrence can be messy, just as life.

Originally posted February 2014

Monday, March 13, 2017

What Does God Look Like? (The Power of Story)

Children are full of questions, but its usually the five-year-old boy who asks this one. You know the kid. He'll be running around the place with his toy plane, swishing it around and making noise. Then all of a sudden he'll turn to you and ask, "What does God look like?"

And there you stand.

Adults dont ask such questions. They dont have the time for such things. Also there are the problems of the physical describing the spiritual, the finite understanding the infinite, in short, the creation comprehending the creator.

But even in the adult world, the question remains. Its haunting and demands an answer. What does God look like?

When Jesus walked the face of the earth, he actually addressed this issue. No, he never told us what God looked like; instead he showed us. And he used the power of story to do so.

So whats the answer?

God looks like a shepherd who leaves 99 sheep to search high and low for a lost lamb (Luke 15:4-7), then calls all to rejoice when it is found. God looks like a king who forgave an unbelievable debt, one impossible to repay, just for the asking (Matt 18:23-35). God looks like a rich landowner who showed grace when he paid his vineyard workers at the end of the day (Matt 20:1:16). Or how about this? God looks like dad, running towards his stinking son, a boy dressed in rags and smelling like pigs (Luke 15:11-32).

When we read these stories what do we read? Well we may read a story about a dignified father running, hugging, and kissing his filthy son, but we are shown a stunning picture of our heavenly father.

Though these images are not photographically clear, the stories of Jesus have provided us, as through a dark or dim glass, a picture of the face of God. Only story has this power to communicate the infinite to the finite, the holy to the sinful, and truth into a hard heart.

So what does God look like? Is the question really important?

The question is extremely important, for in the quest to seek its answer will reside the meaning of life. And that is very important to the five-year-old who lives within all of us.

Originally posted February 2014

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Bloopers, College Style

We all make mistakes. We all have slips of the tongue, or sometimes fingers on the keyboard. Online college students who are taking a religion class are no exception.  The following are some that have crossed my computer screen over the years, copied as they originally appeared.

From submitted papers

Im thankful for the freedoms I have and the ability to cast a vote at the expense of others.

Abraham was a true and firm believer of God and his covenant was so important because God fulfilled his life and the life of his family, giving them so many blessings before his crucifixion.

Since evolutionary forces is the product of mankind, and not Gods creation it makes the ambiguous man real purpose.

Jesus was born during the error of Herod the great.

In the sixth century it is said to believe Jesus the holy son of God was born to a virgin by the name of Mary and David her husband, in the land of Bethlehem.

Luke also identifies that, Caesar Augustus made Mary and Jospeh vacate their house Nazareth and move to the house of Josephs antecedents.  This new place was the hosue of David.  The new house was too small, which forced Jesus to sleep in the manger.

The Pastor feels that the bible is the expired Word of God.

Unlike my religion which is Christianity, the Islam religion has its own set of beliefs.

During the concept, distribution and explanation of this paper will be explaining about the religions that I have done some extensive research and examined its meaning.

Is there a way to fix errors after submitting, your Discussion Board? I have tried on several threads, but it just wants me to write it all over again. It is bad enough that since Microsoft went into my computer, it does not work very well.

The crusades are another event that was led by Constantine in the fourth century to conquer battle for religious freedoms to break free from Roman influence.

The Jew made up over a third of the Jewish people in the world and half of the Jews in Europe.

Its told in the bible; which is the Christians holy book of God that Jesus would be born on a Holy day, born of a virgin and could be found in the City of Bethlehem by following the North star.

Christianity has about 2 billion members worldwide with 159 billion in the United States

When complaining about a grade

I worked really hard on this this paper. I didn't even know we had to write it like a legit paper.

From posted personal biographies

I hit half decade mark do not feel any older.

Iam married for thirty years, we have three wonderful children. One daughter married two sons in the service

Hello, my name is ________, and I am glad to back in class again.   I have five children, three girls and one son.

From describing a church visit

Directly across from the church is a very well kept community cemetery.  It provides a non-restrictive seating area for the congregation, a complete band, and space enough for praise dancers.

As I was waiting for the person that I was interviewing I did also see that the people that were involved for in this language were definitely a person a middle eastern decent with a second guessing at all.

[This church] is one of the smallest churches in the Napa valley, you could tell it had been around for a while, but when you enter the church the response from the members was completely infighting.

So as we chuckle over some of these comments, let us be all the more ready to chuckle at our own bloopers when we make them.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Papa and the Dump Truck

So what’s a college professor doing driving a dump truck?

One of my boys needed help.

We were at the diggins, the boy’s new house, and we needed to move dirt from the back of the poured foundation to the front of the property. To do this we used a skid loader and a dump truck, with the skid loader operator, the boy, being the more skilled of the two operators. After all, he had once picked up a quarter with a skid loader, or so he said.

Of course it rained the night before, so you had to overlook some of the puddles and slop, lest you spend the rest of the day in them; kinda like life. So the boy mixed dry dirt with the slop so we could work with it, though this created more work and everything seemed to move slowly.

Well the grays lowered and then turned into a mist. This made everything slick, which in turn made moving dirt even more difficult. But it wasn’t really all that bad, and in the end I only got the dump truck stuck once.

In time the mist stopped and the day lightened up and we began rolling with efficiency. The skilled operator explained how he wanted dirt dumped within six inches of a specific spot. After all that’s understandable, that was his skill level. But the college professor’s skill level was more like, “Thank you Jesus, we got this dumped in the correct county.” But the skid loader operator didn’t mind because that’s why God made skid loaders, to move dirt. Least that's what Papa said, and the boy agreed. So that’s just what we did, move dirt. As an aside, the dump truck driver actually did a pretty good job, a pretty good job indeed. Even the boy said so.

So what’s a college professor doing driving a dump truck?

Helping his boy, of course.