Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Snow Day!

We got 6 inches of snow yesterday! Woohoo!
6 inches isn't much for a Denver boy like myself, but it's the most snow I've seen in the Seattle area since we moved here 10 years ago.

Here's a pic from my front porch.

I broke out the snow shovel, cleared the driveway and got homesick for Colorado.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Fyodor was right

“Love all of God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery of things.” - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I became a follower of Jesus 22 years ago. At that time, as a young man in my 20’s, I found in Jesus an unconditional acceptance and love. God didn’t seem to be fazed by the things I had done (or continued to do).

But then I got into church and began to learn what the Bible taught; mostly through sermons, seminars and radio preachers. I learned that I was totally depraved. I learned that I had been a rebel, destined for an eternity of hellish torment, but for the sacrifice of Jesus in my stead. I learned that I could not trust my own heart, because it is evil. I learned that the world is getting more and more evil and that God will eventually abandon it to destruction. I learned to hope to be taken away from this wretched, fallen existence.

I’m not sure to what extent I was consciously aware that I had learned and internalized these things. Rarely did I examine my underlying suppositions. But gradually, by the grace of God and the gentle leading of the Holy Spirit, I have come to examine and question this worldview which formed perimeters around my understanding of God, the Bible, the world and my self.

Now I’m learning new things. I’m learning that much of what I was taught was not so much what the Bible teaches but rather a theological system with seems part and parcel to Western Evangelicalism.

Like the thawing of a long winter, I’m seeing glimpses of a joy and optimism that I didn’t even realize I’d lost. I can love people (all people) because, as the Quakers put it, there is something of God in them. And because Christ loves them. I can admire and appreciate this earth because it is God’s good creation. I can like myself. I can trust myself. I can accept myself as unconditionally as I was accepted by God many years ago. I can do all this and still love, follow and depend on Jesus. In fact, I can do this because I love, follow and depend on Jesus.

I think I'm beginning to see what Fyodor was getting at.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


The story of Reverend Carlton Pearson, an evangelical pastor in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His church, Higher Dimensions, was once one of the biggest in the city, drawing crowds of 5,000 people every Sunday. But several years ago, scandal engulfed the Reverend, he was denounced by almost all his former supporters, and today his congregation is just a few hundred people. He didn't have an affair. He didn't embezzle lots of money. His sin was something that to a lot of people is far worse ... he stopped believing in hell.
So went the introduction to the National Public Radio program "This American Life" on the program that aired last weekend. I happened to be driving and listening to NPR when the program came on and, needless to say, the introduction caught my ears. They devoted the entire one hour broadcast to the story of Carlton Pearson. It's a fascinating (and sad) tale.

You can listen to it online by going to http://www.thislife.org. The episode is entitled "Heretics".

Monday, November 20, 2006

Jail Report

Every other Sunday, Carla and I conduct a church service at the local County Jail, in the Work Release area. These are folks who have been in jail and are preparing to be released. There is a palpable sense of trepidation among the inmates: they are excited about being released but worried of going back to their former lifestyles, making the same mistakes and winding up back in jail.

Carla and I play a set of worship music and then have a Bible study/teaching. The group is typically small: usually less than a dozen, and is very attentive and engaged. It is a mixture of men and women and they conduct themselves like any other group of Christians meeting together. The only differences are the jail uniforms and perhaps a more serious, intent and grateful attitude. They know they are sinners. They know they have fallen short and missed the mark. They have experienced judgment and retribution in tangible ways. They appreciate, and sometimes are surprised by, the mercy and grace that is extended to them by God through Christ.

Our Sundays at the jail are a highpoint of our week. We typically walk out of the jail completely buzzed by how good God is. It's an interesting and well-known paradox: When we give of ourselves, we find ourselves filled.

There are a group of chaplains who work full-time at the jail. They do a fantasic job. They are Godly, transparent men who truly love the inmates. One of the things I appreciate the most is their encouraging nature toward volunteers like Carla and myself, and the fact that they bring in Christians of all types to minister to the inmates: not just people who believe the same way that they do.

Yesterday was the first time we had been at the jail in a month. My travel schedule had caused us to miss a couple of weeks. The group was small: one woman and two men. We had a wonderful time however. There was a sense that we five, of very different backgrounds, were long-lost brothers and sisters; brought together in God's household.

After worship we had an impromptu dialog about addiction and idolatry. This was inspired by the last worship song we had sung:

Teach me your way, Oh Lord,
And I will walk in Your truth,
Show me Your paths, Oh Lord,
For I'm devoted to You,

Purify my heart's desire,
I long to be Your servant,

Give me an undivided heart,
That I may fear Your name,
Give me an undivided heart,
No other gods, no other love,
No other gods before You.

I layed out Gerald May's view on addiction and grace (see my blog entry dated Monday, November 13, 2006) and all three immediately "got it". They were all dealing with long term substance addictions (as are a majority of people in jails and prisons). They completely grasped the idea of how we take the desire for God that is built into us and transfer (or attach) it to other people, objects, substances, behaviors and relationships. We then look to these things to meet our needs, instead of looking to God; the only one who can truly meet our needs. These attachments can become addictions; in which case they control and imprison us. We went through the worship song "Undivided Heart" (which is based on Psalm 86:11) line by line and discussed how these attachments and addictions function as idols and cause our hearts to be divided.

We also read and discussed Luke 5:12-16: The story of the man with leprosy whom Jesus heals. The man was considered ceremonially unclean, which meant that he couldn't approach God. We talked about what it would have been like to be such an outcast from society. To lose everything and have to shout "Unclean, unclean!", warning people about yourself, whenever you came near a populated area. Of course, the inmates could identify with being a social leper; with having a stigma follow you wherever you go and with being seen (and seeing yourself) as unacceptable in God's eyes. The man's request to Jesus isn't to be healed, but to be made clean.
He says to Jesus, "If you are willing, you can make me clean". Jesus responds by touching him (how long had it been since another person had touched him?) and saying, "I am willing", which I understand in the Greek is very emphatic and might better be translated as, "You bet I'm willing!" The man is, of course, healed and then Jesus tells him to follow the ritual given in Leviticus 14 which will confirm, via a priest, his healing and restore him to the community.

It is stories like this - stories which display the love, mercy and grace of the Father, as revealed through Jesus - that these inmates drink up like thirsty plants in dry soil. Fortunately, the Gospels are full of such stories.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

I heard an interesting song on the radio today.  It's by a local Seattle band called "Death Cab for Cutie" (no idea what
that means!), and it's called "I'll Follow You Into The Dark". It has a very simple, Beatlesque melody and chord progression.
The arrangement is very simple: just vocal and acoustic guitar. What really struck me though, were the poigniancy of
the lyrics. Here they are:

Love of mine, someday you will die,
But I'll be close behind,
I'll follow you into the dark,

No blinding light, or tunnels to gates of white;
Just our hands clasped so tight,
Waiting for the hint of a spark.

If heaven and hell decide,
That they both are satisfied,
Illuminate the no's on their vacancy signs:

If there's no one beside you,
When your soul embarks;
Then I'll follow you into the dark.

In Catholic school as vicious as Roman rule,
I got my knuckles bruised by a lady in black,
And I held my tongue as she told me,
"Son, fear is the heart of love."
So I never went back.

If heaven and hell decide,
That they both are satisfied,
Illuminate the no's on their vacancy signs:

If there's no one beside you,
When your soul embarks;
Then I'll follow you into the dark.

You and me have seen everything to see;
From Bangkok to Calgary.
And the soles of your shoes are all worn down;
The time for sleep is now.
It's nothing to cry about,
'Cause we'll hold each other soon.
The blackest of rooms.

If heaven and hell decide,
That they both are satisfied,
Illuminate the no's on their vacancy signs:

If there's no one beside you,
When your soul embarks;
Then I'll follow you into the dark.
Then I'll follow you into the dark.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Here's a fun little website where you can take a test to discover your theological worldview. Of course, one should take this with a grain of salt since we don't know the qualifications of the person who put it together. Also some of the questions are a bit ambiguous. It's fun though, and I thought it scored me rather accurately.


My results:

You scored as Neo orthodox.

You are neo-orthodox. You reject the human-centredness and scepticism of liberal theology, but neither do you go to the other extreme and make the Bible the central issue for faith. You believe that Christ is God's most important revelation to humanity, and the Trinity is hugely important in your theology. The Bible is also important because it points us to the revelation of Christ. You are influenced by Karl Barth and P T Forsyth.

Neo orthodox




Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan




Classical Liberal


Modern Liberal


Reformed Evangelical


Roman Catholic




Monday, November 13, 2006

There are a handful of books that have profoundly influenced me: "The Challenge of Jesus" by N.T. Wright, "How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth" by Fee & Stuart, "Missional Church" edited to Gruder, some of Frank Viola's writings, a few others...

Addiction & Grace by Gerald G. May, M.D. has just been added to my short list. I had never heard of the book and stumbled upon it quite accidently at Half Price Books (thank God for Half Price Books!). What caught my eye was a recommendation on the front cover from M. Scott Peck. Lately I've been reading a lot of Peck and so decided to take a chance on May's book.

I was (as I perpetually seem to be) backlogged on books to read and so gave it to my wife and suggested she give it a look, since she also loves Peck's books. For the next two weeks it seemed all I heard her talk about were the amazing insights the book was giving her. "You've got to read this!", she would tell me.

Finally I got my chance and now I'm telling you: You've got to read this!


May (now deceased) was a Christian psychiatrist who specialized in addictions. His premise is that, essentially, everyone is an addict. Alcoholism and drug addiction are just extreme examples of a problem which we all face, which is that we are all designed with a desire for God but we redirect that desire towards objects, substances, behaviors and people.

Here are a series of selected quotations from the book which provide a feel for where May is coming from:

"Addiction exists wherever persons are internally compelled to give energy to things that are not their true desires. To define it directly, addiction is a state of compulsion, obsession or preoccupation that enslaves a person's will and desire. Addiction sidetracks and eclipses the energy of our deepest, truest desire for love and goodness. We succumb because the energy of our desire becomes attached, nailed, to specific behaviors, objects, or people. Attachment, then, is the process that enslaves desire and creates the state of addiction...

God creates us for love and freedom, attachment hinders us, and grace is necessary for salvation. In and throughout this condition, God loves and longs for us, and we love and long for God...

Ultimately, our yearning for God is the most important aspect of our humanity, our most precious treasure; it gives our existence meaning and direction... I think it is this desire that Paul spoke of when he tried to explain the unknown God to the Athenians: "It is God who gives to all people life and breath and all things... God created us to seek God, with the hope that we might grope after God through the shadows of our ignorance, and find God." The psalms are full of expressions of deep longing for God: thirsting, hungering, yearning. And God promises a response: "When you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me."

For me, the energy of our basic desire for God is the human spirit, planted within us and nourished endlessly by the Holy Spirit of God. In this light, the spiritual significance of addiction is not just that we lose freedom through attachment to things, nor even that things so easily become our ultimate concerns. Of much more importance is that we try to fulfill our longing for God through objects of attachment...

Even the briefest look at television and magazine advertising reveals how strongly our culture reinforces attachment to things other than God, and what high value it gives to willful self-determination and mastery....

More importantly, however, I think Paul's words about the unknown God indicate another reason for God's hiddenness; full and freely chosen love for God requires searching and groping. What would happen to our freedom if God, our perfect lover, were to appear before us with such objective clarity that all our doubts disappeared? We would experience a kind of love, to be sure, but it would be love like a reflex. Almost without thought, we would fix all our desires upon this Divine Object, try to grasp and possess it, addict ourselves to it. I think God refuses to be an object for attachment because God desires full love, not addiction. Love born of true freedom, love free from attachment, requires that we search for a deepening awareness of God, just as God freely reaches out to us.

In addition, full love for God means we must turn to God over and against other things. If our choice of God is to be made with integrity, we must first have felt other attractions and chosen, painfuly, not to make them our gods. True love, then, is not only born of freedom; it is also born of difficult choice. A mature and meaningful love must say something like, "I have experienced other goodnesses, and they are beautiful, but it is You, my true heart's desire, whom I choose above all."

With this realization, we may begin to reclaim our primary desire for God. Like the prodigal, we may choose to come home...

The journey homeward, the process of homemaking in God, involves withdrawel from addictive behaviors that have become normal for us. In withdrawel, attachments are lessened, and their energy is freed for simpler, purer desire and care. In other words, human desire is freed for love. Constance FitzGerald puts it this way: "In the process of affective redemption, desire is not suppressed or destroyed, but gradually transferred, purified, transformed, set on fire. We go through the struggles and ambiguities of human desire to integration and personal wholeness."

There are many spiritual names for this homecoming process: detachment, affective redemption, purification, purgation, ongoing conversion, sanctification. The term FitzGerald uses, transformation of desire, is the most appealing.

To appreciate it with accuracy, we need to acknowledge both its beauty and its fierceness. It is beautiful because it is a homecoming, because it is a liberation from slavery, and because it enables love. But it is fierce because it entails relinquishment, letting go, risking, and enduring losses that are very real and painful."

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Elmer Gantry

For years I've been meaning to watch the film Elmer Gantry.

It is based on the best-selling book by Sinclair Lewis about a fictional con artist who becomes a successful tent-revival preacher in the 1920's.

About three weeks ago I finally rented it. Although it's somewhat hokey and melodramatic - as films of that era tend to be - I also found it very moving.

One scene made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up: It takes place in the middle of a revival meeting; suddenly a man jumps out of his seat and, in an ecstatic state, begins barking and howling like a dog. I have seen this type of behavior in charismatic meetings, yet the film was made in 1960 - predating the Toronto Revival by 35 years!

Anyway, the movie touched me and left me feeling slightly unsettled. I found myself reflecting back on it for a couple of days.

Not long after that the news about Ted Haggard broke...