Who Are You?

There is a song by The Brothers Frantzich called Abraham that purports to answer this very question. I first heard it a few weeks ago on the Prairie Home Companion, and I remember thinking initially that it was a very cool song. Then I paid closer attention to the lyrics:

I am not what I do,
I am not the house I live in,
I am not my dead end job,
I’m not real, I’m just beginning,
I am not the words I speak,
I am not the clothes I wear,
I’m not war and I’m not peace,
My advice you shouldn’t care

But there’s a mountain range that runs
from Alaska to Mexico,
During the hottest days of summer,
its peaks are blessed with snow
Repeat after me,
in the words of Abraham,
those mountains are a part of who I am.

I still like the idea of the song. The idea of self-identification, of claiming separation from certain things and declaring an affinity for others is an idea I can identify with, but in the end, they go too far. There is a kernel of Manicheanism in the song, an over-separation of the physical and the spiritual. If you are not any of these things, if I cannot begin to know you by anything I observe about you, then who are you? Are you anything at all?

If the song has accomplished anything, it has encouraged me to think about my actual identity, as a man, a husband, a father, a Christian. It has encouraged me to ask who I tell myself and others that I am, by the millions of decisions I make each and every day. And since I have been thinking about these things, I thought I would ask you as well.

Who are you? Have you stopped and asked the question lately?

As always, comments are appreciated.

For the Love of God

I was reading John B’s most recent Blog Meridian post when I came across this description of a Wichita bookstore that he frequents:

There’s no coffee bar there, no fancy tilted shelving displaying the stock, no subdued, recessed lighting. You go there to buy, sell, trade and talk about books. But not in a pretentious or refined way. Books are the commodity there, just as with any bookstore, but nothing there detracts from the books. You don’t go there for Atmosphere. You go there for books. Period. It possesses all the analogous refinement of a livestock-auction arena; it’s a meat-market for book-lovers. Everyone in there is on the bibliophilic make. You hope to get lucky and pick up a few to take home. Everybody knows why you’re there, so you don’t have to pretend. Drool. Fondle. Grab an armload of books–the implicit promise of a trip home–until something better presents itself around the corner… Take one over to the comfortable (if well-used) couches for, um, closer examination. Hope for jouissance.

Besides the thought that if I’m ever in Wichita, I want need to visit this Bookaholic place, here’s what popped into my head as I read this: when was the last time you heard someone praising a church for similar reasons?

There’s no coffee bar there, no “come early and have a doughnut” sign on the front lawn, no grandiose choir, no special classes for 3 year olds, 5 year olds, junior high teens, senior high teens, college kids, career-minded girls, single moms, single people, desperate housewives, mid-life crisesing men or golden agers. You go there to think, talk, hear, and learn about God. You go there to worship. But not in a pretentious or refined way. God is the focus there, just as with any church, but nothing there detracts from Him. You don’t go there for Atmosphere. You go there for God. Period. It transcends analogous comparison; it is the only thing like it. Everyone in there is there for worship. Everybody knows why you’re there, so you don’t have to pretend. Listen. Sing. Ask. Fellowship. Sit in your pew or chair and meditate upon the greatness of God and His Son Jesus Christ. Pray for conformity to Him.

What do you say?

Hitchens and Wilson: Answering a fool according to his folly

If you haven’t heard, Douglas Wilson (a Christian) and Christopher Hitchens (an atheist) are debating the question “Is Christianity Good for the World?“. I’d be grossly under-exaggerating if I didn’t say that Wilson is destroying his opponent. Over the last several exchanges, Wilson has been asking Hitchens to explain what warrants his authoritative use of the words “good” and “evil”. Unsurprisingly, Hitchens doesn’t seem to know how or where to start.

In what may be the final segment, Wilson replies to Hitchen’s reference of LaPlacian thinking with the following:

But it is interesting that the same thing happens to you when you have to give some warrant for trusting in “reason.”. I noted your citation of LaPlace in your book and am glad you brought him up here. LaPlace believed he was not in need of the God hypothesis, just like you, but you should also know he held this position as a firm believer in celestial and terrestrial mechanics. He was a causal determinist, meaning that he believed that every element of the universe in the present was “the effect of its past and the cause of its future.”

So if LaPlace is why you think belief in God is now “optional,” this appeal of yours actually turns into quite a fun business. This doctrine means (although LaPlace admittedly got distracted before these implications caught up with him) that you, Christopher Hitchens, are not thinking your thoughts and writing them down because they are true, but rather because the position and velocity of all the atoms in the universe one hundred years ago necessitated it. And I am not sitting here thinking my Christian thoughts because they are the truth of God, but rather because that is what these assembled chemicals in my head always do in this condition and at this temperature. “LaPlace’s demon” could have calculated and predicted your arguments (and word count) a century ago in just the same way that he could have calculated the water levels of the puddles in my driveway — and could have done so using the same formulae. This means that your arguments and my puddles are actually the same kind of thing. They are on the same level, so to speak.

If you were to take a bottle of Mountain Dew and another of Dr. Pepper, shake them vigorously, and put them on a table, it would not occur to anyone to ask which one is “winning the debate.” They aren’t debating; they are just fizzing. You refer to “language in which to write this argument,” and you do so as though you believed in a universe where argument was a meaningful concept. Argument? Argument? I have no need for your “argument hypothesis.” Just matter in motion, man. [full text of this exchange, here]

A response like this is delightful to read, not because it is sure to silence Hitchens, nor because it is a panaceic answer to all issues that an atheist might raise. Instead, it is delightful because it reminds us that there is not one spoken answer to all questions, but rather that the way you answer a fool is according to the nature of his folly. Paul does this on Mars’ Hill by pointing out the hypocrisy of worshipping a god who dwells in a temple made by man or who can be worshipped by the hands of men (as if he needs something of man to exist). We see also that Stephen does this very same thing when he tells the Pharisees that they have not kept the law, just like their father’s before them who put to death God’s prophets. It is something that we see throughout Scripture, and it is something that we should do when we find ourselves with the chance to speak to those who (knowingly or unknowingly) mock the name of God (being quite careful not to fall into the trap that we are adjacently warned of: answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him)

Getting back to Hitchens and Wilson, I heartily recommend that you read through their five-part exchange. In fact, the only criticism I have of Wilson’s replies to Hitchen’s is regarding his recent choice of a particular Tombstone reference. While there was nothing wrong with the one he used, I was hoping he’d go with a (slightly altered) line by Doc Holliday: Why Hitchens, perhaps thinking just isn’t your game… I know, let’s have us a spelling contest.

Respecting our Depravity

Perhaps you’ve experienced the following:

You are watching television, a crime-drama or a thriller, something like CriminalMindsBonesNumbers or CSI:MiamiNewYorkIdaho. You know exactly the sort of show I’m speaking of. On the screen there is a woman. She is at home and she is alone. There is a very good chance that she is attractive or even beautiful. If so, there is an even better chance that she is dressing for bed. Slowly, the music assumes a suspenseful tone and the camera pans back letting you in on the secret that she is not as alone as she might think. If you have watched these types of shows more than once, then at this point you know that something horrible is going to happen to this woman. The question is, what will it be? You lean forward in your seat. The camera moves closer and perhaps you are allowed to see the attacker or perhaps the woman hears a sound from another room and goes to investigate. Either way, the suspense builds further and further until it is at a breaking point. It is at this moment that someone calls you from the other room. Your wife, your husband, your mother, your child, it does not matter who. “Can you come here for a minute?” they ask. “Just a second you reply”, and to yourself you think, I want to see what they do to her.

Do you understand the significance of that thought? Someone has imagined an evil, and you would like to see it executed. Someone has sat and contemplated the horror that they could inflict upon someone else, and while it is not real, in fact, because it is not real, it will delight you to see what they have devised. You may shudder at what you see, but it will not compel you to turn the television off or to not return to it again.

Don’t think that I’m just making this scenario up, or that I’m just guessing at human behavior, because I’ve done this very thing. I’ve thought those very thoughts. I’ve done it so many times that it makes me sick.

Perhaps there is some part of you that resonates with the above examples. Perhaps you too know what it means to see evil and to be intrigued by it. Perhaps is too soft a word.

You have come face to face with evil. And if you are honest with yourself, you know that it’s occurred every time that you’ve beheld your own face in a mirror.

The shocking thing though, is not that we are so depraved, but that we pretend to be surprised when someone acts on that depravity. We listen to the nightly news and we hear about the murders and the beatings, we hear about the woman who abandoned her children in a locked car in a parking lot, and we can scarce believe it happened. “How could they do such a thing?” we ask, and in our black and filthy hearts a sharp-toothed little monster shakes its head in mock surprise and grins, “How indeed?”

 

I will sing of mercy and judgment: unto thee, O LORD, will I sing. I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way. O when wilt thou come unto me? I will walk within my house with a perfect heart. I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me. A froward heart shall depart from me: I will not know a wicked person. Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off: him that hath an high look and a proud heart will not I suffer. Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me: he that walketh in a perfect way, he shall serve me. He that worketh deceit shall not dwell within my house: he that telleth lies shall not tarry in my sight. I will early destroy all the wicked of the land; that I may cut off all wicked doers from the city of the LORD.
(Psalms 101:1-8)

 

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
(Jeremiah 17:9)

Making Jehovah into a Lovesick Girl

It’s Friday and the Almighty is spending the evening at home. He’s met someone you see, someone named Chad, and, well, He likes him oh so much. So, sprawled across his infinite pink bedspread, He is waiting by the phone, His elbows resting on His enormous fuchsia pillow, His cell phone in front of him: He is praying that Chad will call. Next to Him on the bed is a pad of paper where He has written, “Jehovah and Chad 4eternity (4real)” and “Jehovah loves Chad! AWESOME!!”. Suddenly the phone rings and the sound of Nichole Nordeman’s Legacy fills the air. In His excitement, the Alpha and Omega fumbles with the phone before answering. Breathless, He lifts it to His ear, only to be disappointed.”Hey J, has he called yet?” asks the Holy Spirit.”No, but I’m sure he will,” says the Self Existent One, I’ve made it so clear how I feel about him.”

“I don’t know,” says HS, “earlier today I was talking to an angel and he said he was talking to another angel and that angel told him that he saw Chad in the library and Chad was totally talking to Buddha.”

“Are you serious? This totally can’t be happening to me. I’m like God Almighty and stuff, y’know, and he’s my Chad. It would just be so dreamy if we were together!”

“I know,”  says HS, “I know. Sooner or later, he’ll come around.”

“I just hope you’re right.”

Jehovah ends the call and then buries His face in His pillow.”Oh Chad,” He sobs, “how I love you so.”

I hope the above scenario seems ridiculous to you. I hope that if you thought I was being serious, you would think me guilty of blasphemy. Let me assure you, I am not being serious. But can I submit to you, that this is exactly what we do when we preach an Arminian gospel?

If God is who He says He is, then it is He who does the choosing. If He is who He claims to be it is He who has ordained all things. I have written previously about the co-existence of free-will and predestination and won’t go back into it in any depth here, but I do want to declare to you that Jehovah is the Sovereign God, the I AM. Though He loves us, it is not with a fretful, trembling love. He is no tender-hearted girl hoping and praying that some will come to repentance, that some will come to know Him.

What do you say?

Love, Insulation, and Speaking to be Heard

I read about a Swedish band; they sing their songs in English because it insultates them from lyrics that would be too raw, too painful to sing otherwise.  It made me think of birthday cards, of poems written by machines, of leaving notes for loved ones instead of saying the words ourselves.

Is it just human to behave this way? To only say what we feel when there is a lesser chance that we will hear our own words?

Does this makes its way into our worship? Or is it rather, quite the other way around? Is our ability to show ourselves, and to even know ourselves, tied up in our love for God? Are we unable to speak truly of ourselves because we unwilling to speak truly of Him?

What do you say?

Treating the Scripture as a Person

Imagine the following scenario:

Your husband or wife calls you and tells you that they need to talk to you about something important when you get home. When you arrive, they usher you into the living room. “I’ve been thinking,” they say, “about how uncertain words are and how difficult it is to truly understand someone. I know that you try to talk to me, and that you expect me to understand what you’re saying, and I appreciate that, I really, really do, but I’ve made a decision. From now on, I’m just going to interpret what you say the way I want to, based on what makes the most sense for me. I think that will make things simpler.”

When they finish speaking, you sit, slightly bewildered, collecting your thoughts. Finally, you ask, “Why? I know we have misunderstandings from time to time, I know that sometimes I confuse you, but fundamentally I thought we’ve understood each other.”

Their response leaves you breathless, “Exactly,” they say, “This seems like the right thing to do. It means so much to me that you understand. I think we’ll get along so much better now. I hope you know how much I love you, and how much you mean to me.”

How would you react to such a conversation? Shock? Confusion? Bewilderment? You might begin to wonder if your loved one has some sort of dissociative disorder. You might even wonder if it’s you who have the disorder. You might wonder a thousand different things, but no one would think that this is normal.

But what if instead of you, the person being addressed was God Almighty? And what if instead of a loved one, it was you who had sat God down for the talking to?

How often do we treat the Word of God as less than a person? How often do we forget that when we open up the Word to read, it is not a dead man, but the living God Himself who is speaking to us? How often do we let the fact that we must interpret the Word, pervert itself into the idea that we can interpret it, anyway we want?

How often do we forget that the exact message that God wants us to know cannot be rendered unknowable? I don’t know about you, but I forget it all the time.

Is There Truth Outside of Christianity?

Jamie Kiley is wrestling with a worthwhile question, namely, “What does Paul mean when he says that ‘everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God’?” Her question was prompted by the book Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell (someone who I do not respect at all as an expositor of the Word of God.)

Bell uses this verse as part of his justification for the following statement:

As a Christian, I am free to claim the good, the true, the holy, wherever and whenever I find it. I live with the understanding that truth is bigger than any religion and the world is God’s and everything in it.

Continue reading “Is There Truth Outside of Christianity?”

Al Mohler, Ann Coulter, John Edwards, and the word “faggot”

Apparently Ann Coulter recently called John Edwards a faggot and Al Mohler has written a piece distancing himself from her actions. And while I agree with Mohler in general, here’s where I start to lose the thread of his argument:

Conservative institutions cannot afford any association with this kind of language or attack. The issues are far too serious to be treated in this manner, and the very convictions Ann Coulter often defends are now sullied by association with her. Referring to John Edwards by using a word meant to demean homosexuals? What was she thinking?

How about saying that Christians cannot afford any association with this kind of language or atttack. How about saying that because sodomy is a serious sin in the eyes of God, it should not be mocked (something I am guilty of) by making a joke out of it. In other words, the problem with the word “faggot” is not that it is offensive to “homosexuals”, but because it is offensive to God in that it makes light of sin. As I think about this, I am convinced that by distancing himself from Ann Coulter’s comments for the reasons he states, Dr. Mohler is demonstrating how easily we fear men more than we fear God. I should also say that I’m not accusing Dr. Mohler of something that I haven’t done myself many, many times. In fact, I probably do it every day without thinking about it. And that’s the problem I’m addressing. Ann Coulter may very well be a jerk. She might be rude and crude and downright mean. But the problem is not with Ann Coulter. The problem is with Christians who are not holy. The problem, is that we don’t fear God.