What I Think (as if it mattered)


I guess I feel compeled to codify something a bit.  Very unlike me, I know.  When it comes to someone who is genuinely interested in the free exchange of ideas, I love conversation.  Unfortunately, I typically don’t have to care whether or not someone understands me because I rarely find myself in dialogue with somone who likes the questions more than the answers.  Most of the time when someone asks me to explain something it’s because I’m a target.  You’ve experienced that, too, I’m sure.  I used to engage in that kind of thing; heck, I used to feed on it!  Now I prefer to back out of situations where the person would rather debate.  Debate has its place, but not in the intelligent world where people are sincerely seeking and on the same side.  If your ideas stand, they don’t need tactics or volume or body language.  All you need is a mind — and the ability to communicate maturely what’s in it.  On a forum such as this one, however, I can’t be sure who is reading and I don’t want anyone to anchor their atheism in my words — that anchor won’t hold.  I believe that there is a God — one God.

The following is from an e-mail study group to which I am proud to be a party.  In it, and with them, I felt like I had to restate my issue.  To give you a little background, I proposed that the God of the OT could be different from the God in the NT.  The response was that of Jewish defense so I had to reiterate my point.  Often I fail in communication so it was by no means their fault.  Here is what follows, and, as always, please feel free to respond:

My primary concern is that I haven’t moved to a place that allows me to form theology. Sounds strange, doesn’t it?!

I used to have one. It was faulty and embarrassing. Actually, several have come and gone with the most recent one to vacate my premises leaving around 2006-07. I might have one now and not really know it, but I’m not sure how possible that even is.

Yes, the Jewish culture has a long, lustrous timeline filled with everything from abundance to captivity to war to tragedy to opulence [yes, I know I already said abundance, making opulence redundant, but the send button was quicker than my brain when I originally wrote the e-mail]. I don’t want to gush over them, though, because I don’t want to sound like the semi-racist who brags that “some of my best friends are black”–oh, yeah, well name ’em.

I do need to qualify my question from last week. I’m not saying anything bad about Jews by contemplating a two-god bible. I’m simply saying that the worldview of a captive Jew as he is being deported from Jerusalem in 597 BCE could easily inflate God’s powers and characteristics. If everything in the OT is literal and 100% true, then we may be dealing with a different God or an immature perception (both of which pose problems for those who look to the Bible as a sole source of information about God). I find I am more comfortable, in terms of logic, if the OT is more of a window through which we may take a look into the psychological needs that having a God met for them.

That being said, the real exhumed issue for me now is that of whether or not I can/should have/espouse a theology again. It’s a big deal because I don’t yet know on what I can base one.

——

So what do you think?  And while I understand that religion can be a deeply personal topic for many people, I’d like to read responses that take a sound, historical-critical approach.  Not to say that all responses aren’t welcome; it’s just that I’m looking for some pretty specific things.

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Recently a friend posed a question to a group of friends, in which I am thankfully included. He asked how we would finish a phrase, and here is my response.

His phrase:

Greater acceptance and understanding of God’s teachings leads to…

My response:

. . . an overwhelming realization of how horrible I am and how amazing it is that anyone would call me a friend.
. . . a dangerous responsibility that will forever leave me daydreaming about the days when I didn’t understand.
. . . feral anger at how my flesh enslaves me.
. . . clearer insight in regard to Isaiah’s response to God (I’m horrible, woe is me, I would be better unborn).

I don’t even know why my friends love/like me or call me “friend.” And my satisfaction with their ability to quit me (even though they don’t, surprisingly) leaves me dumbfounded at God’s inability. I would have quit me a long time ago. Sometimes I don’t know that I haven’t.

——

The previous posts are excerpts of my responses to the responses from the e-conversation that followed the phrase-finishing task.

As for someone unable to read the Bible, I am pretty jealous of those folks. They may have a purer understanding of God and his teaching than those of us who can read. Rom. 1:20 says that God’s eternal power and divine nature are evident through what has been made/created. It also says that God did it that way to remove excuses.

If I couldn’t read, I would be held accountable to the standard set by creation, i.e. nature. Seems like that is a similar standard for Adam and Eve in the Creation story since they were held accountable only for that which they were capable of knowing.

Man, if only I could have been illiterate. I may never have argued over baptism, instruments, marriage, “wine or strong drink,” Sunday worship vs. Sabbath worship, et al–all those things that some believe constitute the talking points of greater understanding. Instead, I would find myself with more time to sift through God’s eternal power or soak in thoughts of his divine nature, things apparently written on the rocks and on the backs of birds and gnats. All these walls, roads, skyscrapers, vehicles, etc., keep me from seeing what is probably simultaneously most basic and most complex about God. Heck, even state parks and the like want me to see nature their way.

Perhaps what we call civilization looks to God more like an ant farm: unending work inside our reality trying to get toward something we’ve never seen, but that we’re pretty sure can only be achieved through work since that seems to have gotten us everything else we’ve ever wanted.

“[g]ratitude which cannot rest or be confirmed until turned into praise, prayer, or some other expression” D. Lyles

That may be the first profound statement I’ve read in 2010. Not that anyone’s waiting in the wings on my stamp of approval.

It’s never dawned on me that “gratitude” is a state of being which can only be worn as a result of the VERB “thank.” The infinitive “to thank” is like the infinitive “to love.” Just as I can’t love you if I don’t prove it, I can’t thank you unless I prove it.

I guess that leaves me both depressed that I haven’t lived that way, and improved because I now can. Of course, I will most likely continue the depression because now that I have a deeper understanding (to an entry level), my past leads me to believe my future will be littered with the casualties of failed responsibility.

How many more people have I thanked than I have loved? How many new failures must I now face as a result of the realization that I have spoken “love” and “thanks” to well more people than I have loved and thanked?

I’m sure it’s number I never want to see.

Despite my past, or maybe because of it, I love you all and I thank you all. Of course, now I have to prove it, and I don’t know how. I really don’t.

It feels like I’ve taken everything I’ve ever been given and used it all as a method to walk away from God. Like God’s message to Israel through the whole Hosea/Gomer story, God taught me to walk only to find out I would use the skill to walk away (read Hosea 11 for some sobriety).

If I use the wrong (or maybe the right) math’, I am a monster like Frankenstein or Lennie (Of Mice and Men), but more like Frankenstein–created for good things and only capable of evil. I am capable of remaining faithful in every decision, but I find a way to continually require that God spin good out of my evil. So either I’m not following his lead or I’m simply screwing up and leaving casualties in my wake that God has to fix.

Every time I hit bottom, the casualties leave me fewer and fewer hands to help me up. I miss my friends and I may always have to. But I need to know that God will take my “family” out of Sodom despite my decisions.

May explain my hermit-like behavior. Just afraid to hurt anyone else. It’s like a mission effort to spare people by helping them pass me by.

All this could sound like depression-sourced talk, but I’ve really moved beyond that and am simply trying to at least make it make sense. Not justification, but at least a little peace in knowing that God will/can/does clean up my carnage in others’ lives.

I’ll very rarely ever mention the over-mentioned Jabez, but it may be prudent to point out that Jabez asked for his territory be enlarged, as opposed to the territory God has for him.

Just a thought. Sometimes I’m not so convinced that God has an exact blueprint for my life. To rule my life as if it were some type of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade type foot puzzle where I’m constantly having to check to make sure I’m making the step God planned or I might fall into a stalagmite-covered pit, it’s not within what seems to be his character.

It begs the question: Did Lot sin by choosing the land he chose, or was he rescued because he remained faithful within his choice (remember the lowest sell-stop number on S&G was 10 so that doesn’t mean Lot and his lot were unfaithful)?

It seems to me that we are called to be faithful no matter the choice or situation. It’s almost as if a choice, with two plausible answers (in other words an amoral choice), isn’t as important as the way we follow-up with the choice. “In whatever state I am, therewith to be content” Phil. 4.11. If we’re submitting to God, maybe we’re one (or both) of two things: 1. We’re either blessed where we are, or 2. We are where we are because we’re blessed. Maybe you’ve let yourself believe you’re where you are because of your decisions, but you’re really there by the hand of God. The litmus test may just be God’s glory and God’s blessing.

A lot of people believe that the Bible was preserved from generation to generation, untainted, intact, and sufficient, despite the cruel hands of Marcion, King James, Thomas Jefferson, and those people who’ve made the Bible look like a teen magazine. Those same people may be wise to take the same attitude about God’s relationship with his people. If he can part the water, create the world, preserve a text, and defeat Satan, he surely can lead/protect/bless you where he’s placed you, even if you think you got you there.

If you look at the amount of scripture used to talk about a subject as an indicator of a subject’s importance (and I do), God’s lead is not as important as your heart and faithfulness. Mainly because his lead is his business, and our heart (which will make us open to his lead whether we know it or not) is our business.

That and one penny represent one worthless e-mail and one obsolete denomination of currency.

10-10-10; the old triple double. 

It’s the perfect way to test a basketball player’s performance in a game.  The stat’ tells of points, rebounds, and assists.  In other words, how many times did s/he score, how many times did s/he help recover a mistake, and how many times did s/he enable another player to succeed.  It’s rather rare because a player’s path to salience is typically trodden with two things in mind: how many points can I score, and how pretty can I make the act of scoring look.  Pretty unfortunate, huh?  Especially when making a shot “pretty” usually entails making another player look ugly. 

With the exception of Wilt Chamberlain, the two record holders in the point scoring category are little known.  Frank Selvy and Bevo Francis are the college record holders for most points scored in a game.  Bevo did it in February of 1954 with 113 points.  Then not even two weeks later Frank hit 100 exactly (the same score as Wilt’s historic NBA performance in 1962).  I can’t find anything but box scores from those games, so I don’t know what their rebounds and assists looked like in those games, but judging from the final scores, they couldn’t have been that high. 

As remarkable as those performances are, I can’t help but wonder if pop’ history has all but buried their names because of this unspoken assumption: they spelled team, “t-i-e-m” (use a Germanic diphthong).  Their teams didn’t really win the games, they did.  It turns basketball into tennis, wrestling, golf, or any other one-on-one sport (granted all those sports can be played on a team, but not predominantly).

 You give me a team who has a group of players who can consistently perform triple doubles, and I’ll help you find the bookmaker to place our bets.  It wouldn’t be gambling, it would be investing. 

We’d all much rather be on a team with a player who is as known for his assists, like Steve Nash, or his rebounds, like Kevin Garnett.  Before I continue, I should note that Wilt Chamberlain is basically exempt from this writing because he’s not only the fourth all-time leading scorer in the NBA, he’s also the number one all-time leader in rebounds by almost 2,500, ahead of Bill Russell. 

Stats, stats, and more stats, yes, I understand this is pretty boring to non-sports fans, but the overarching lesson is far greater than sports.  To be great, you can’t simply lift yourself above the crowd.  I posit that Wilt is one of the greatest not simply because he could score, but because he could help recover another’s mistake.  To be great, you must help others be great.  You must be willing to lead by serving so that those who follow will see your leadership as a service to the group. 

In a marriage, there’s a very similar stat’.  Consider the following from Joe Beam: 

10-10-10

“Suzy Welch wrote a book encouraging people to ask themselves the consequences of their decisions in ten minutes, ten months, and ten years. She’s right on target. The more mature you are, the more you focus on long-term consequences rather than short-term consequences. Before you do anything that will affect your marriage, ask yourself the consequences in 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years. Think long-term and it will change what you do short-term to much wiser actions.” 

The reason a triple double is valuable in basketball applies here, too: to be successful, you must be a team-builder. 

How much better would so much be if I had only stopped to consider the 10-10-10 in my decision-making?  It’s almost impossible to say, but my experience leads me to believe that life would be better. 

Our decisions can never affect only our lives.  It’s chaos theory applied to relationships.  A butterfly lands on a car in Nice and a car wrecks in Muskogee.  Or, as a line from a recent movie puts it, “we could step on a bug and the internet is never invented.” 

How will this affect 10 minutes from now, 10 months from now, and 10 years from now?  And I would add, “who will this affect . . .” 

With that in mind, so many of our decisions in the past that have never been run through the same filter seem selfish and irresponsible.  They’re an amalgamate of rash thinking that has only been asked one thing: “can I . . . ?”  To borrow a line from the character played by the great philosopher, Jeff Goldblum, these decisions were made by we who “were more preoccupied with whether or not [we] could, [we] didn’t stop to think if [we] should” [just in case the movie’s title is copyrighted, I’ll just say it’s from Dancing With the Stars since I know I can use that title and both shows are about reviving old dinosaurs that should have probably been left to fossilize and be glorified in history books].  And it’s the “should” that 10-10-10 truly enlightens. 

I can think in terms of now, this minute, this game, the largest amount of points I can score today, or I can think in terms of the team, how we can win, how we can go where we’re going together, how my life can lift up my wife and teammate.  There’s so much I wish I could change, so many decisions I wish I could go back and re-make using the marriage triple double.  But I can’t.  And if Niebuhr’s famous “Serenity Prayer” holds, then the “wisdom to know the difference” isn’t retroactive, but can start from now forward.  If I can only begin to act and be a team member instead of the “teIm” member, my marriage will better at all three “10” intervals (or at least my decision-making should be).

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