Friday, February 29, 2008


I may get in trouble for admitting this, but I have some confessions to make. First, I still attend a local congregation with my wife and kids. Second, I teach 10th grade boys during 'Sunday School' (God help them). Third, I try my best not to listen to the sermon. Usually, I crack open my bible and begin reading in an effort to tune out whoever is speaking. I have to do this for the sake of my sanity, really. If you read my previous post, you can understand why I don't want to go back to that kind of thinking, and much of the time the god that many a preacher presents sound downright mean and nasty, like he keeps a flamethrower handy to toast anyone who steps out of line.

This past Wednesday, however, I heard a pastor say something that smacked me in the forehead and helped me to see that I can sometimes still read certain passages with my old religious lenses on and not even realize it. I'm talking about Romans chapter 1, where it talks about the 'wrath of God being revealed against all unrighteousness'. Now, I shouldn't be totally surprised that he said something this cool and amazing, because he is a good friend who is on a journey of his own with God -- away from the traditional religious view.

So Wednesday night, during the Q & A time someone asked him if AIDS was God's punishment for homosexuality, and I believe that they made a reference to Romans chapter 1; this is a typical fundamentalist take on AIDS. His answer was an unequivocal no. And then he said that if you pay attention to the passage it says 'God gave them over' not 'God punished them with or for' and that often sin is it's own punishment. That's when I heard the smack on my forehead. Sounds like something I read in 'The Shack' which I knew from life experience was true, but didn't realize there was a Scripture to back it up. I had to go read it for myself to be sure, which is funny because I am quite familiar with this passage but all those years had been reading it wrong. That is a very different kind of wrath indeed, not the god with the flamethrower, but the Father who lets the prodigal go hoping that he will learn that what he is wanting will destroy him. And, once he has learn that, turn back toward home.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Jesus Loves You

Every morning I board the commuter bus to downtown Houston. Most days, I take a book to read while on the bus. I've found that riding an adult bus isn't nearly as fun as the bus rides I remember during my school days. Back then, you talked to your fellow bus riders to pass the time. Most days on the bus, nobody talks to each other, so I've taken to reading.

Lately I've been reading 'Traveling Mercies' by Anne Lamott; it's a good read, and I'm nearly done. Today, however, I reached in my laptop bag and found that the book was AWOL, probably hiding in the backseat of my car. Since my reading plans had been thwarted, I decided to pull out my ipod and listen to some music and podcasts.

So there I am, happily listening to a podcast and looking out the window while the bus carries us to our downtown destinations via the HOV lane when a hand painted sign in the middle of an empty field catches my eye. The sign said 'Jesus Loves You'. Now, you must understand that had I seen that sign 2.5 years ago when I first moved to Houston, my first thought would have been "Yeah! Right!", thought in a very sarcastic way of course. I know this for a fact because, at the time, there were huge billboards all around the city that were put up by the local christian radio station that had the words 'God Listens' in black on a plain white background (maybe they should have bought the red-letter edition billboards). I hated seeing those billboards; things were falling apart around me -- finances, family issues -- and I didn't see any answers (no, no one sent me a check for $50,000 to solve all my financial woes). I had even called that radio stations 'prayer line' only to get the standard 'God Listens, we will pray for you.' Anne Lamott says that the 2 best prayers she knows are 'help me, help me, help me' and 'thank you, thank you, thank you'. I was definitely praying the 'help me, help me, help me' prayer back then. I can admit now that, for the first time in my life, I began to contemplate how to best end my life; pills? plastic bag? high speed car accident? That's when I got an answer to my 'help me, help me, help me' prayers in the most unusual way. Somehow, the book 'So you don't want to go to church anymore?' ended up on the results of a google search, and that book lead me into a place where I could breath again and begin to see God's Love for me afresh.

So today when I saw that little sign in the field, with the words 'Jesus Loves You' written in red, I smiled. Something has definitely shifted inside me because I believed the words. I don't know how to explain it; my eyes must have been playing tricks on me because I could have sworn that the sign materialized right in front of my eyes as I was looking at the field, and I felt like I was meant to see the sign. Just think, if my book hadn't been misplaced, I would have never seen it. All I have to say is 'Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!'

Friday, February 22, 2008

God slipping us messages?

Jim Palmer, in his book 'Wide Open Spaces' has a chapter titled 'Could God be slipping us messages through Netflix?'. Tonight I went to the local cinema and watched a future Netflix title called 'U23D'. If you are a fan of U2 this is definitely a must see. It was filmed at a stadium concert in South America in 3D of course.

The main reason for me mentioning this however, is because it was contained the same theme as many of the Books, Movies, and even people who have crossed my path at this season of my life. That theme could be easily summed up in Jesus' words -- "Love God, Love your neighbor." I once heard a guy say that we often miss God speaking to us because we are looking for burning bushes; we have forgotten that Jesus has eye color and speaks to us in very human terms. Maybe this is part of what he meant. I used to think that I had somehow accidentally gotten a womans intuition, because my intuition is pretty reliable, that is unless I have a personal stake in the issue. Then my intuition may be masked by fear, greed, or some other blinding negative emotion or thought. But lately I've been thinking that this intuition thing really has been the Holy Spirit all along, and is something that I learned to listen to. Funny how the Holy Spirit never got upset over me not realizing this before now :-).

Rob has entered a season of skepticism and wonders in a recent post if attributing such coincidences to God may be simply reading God into nothing more than a coincidence. I'm definitely prepared to accept that as a possibility. I may be backwards from everyone else in the world, but science has always pushed me toward a belief in God, and Religion has often pushed me away from that belief. Weird huh? I keenly remember sitting in my college biology class learning how the helicase and polymerase enzymes replicates DNA, and realizing the immense complexity of one life and incalculable odds against life ever coming into existence on it's own. It seemed like a spiritual moment to me, even in the midst of a professor who daily espoused a belief in evolution and natural origins. That pattern continues to this day. I watch the Discovery Channel, and I see miracles everywhere (much to the chagrin of the Discovery Channel producers I'm sure). Then on any given Sunday, I'll walk into a local church and see a manifest absence of the miraculous.

Can all these things be explained naturally? I suppose so, but I keep coming back to the statistical possibilities (this may be a curse of being a computer geek). The coincidences are like flipping a penny and coming up heads 50 times in a row. I'm just not that lucky. And the fact that we are all here living and breathing is like coming up heads 12 billion times in a row. So for now, I'm sticking with that intuition thing and saying that yes God is slipping us messages. Just don't ask me that on Sunday morning ;-).

Wide Open Spaces

My 5 of spades was Wide Open Spaces by Jim Palmer. An excellent read if you get the chance to read it. One of the questions he poses really hit home with me. I'm sure you've heard the quote often attributed to John Wesley that goes "in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity". In the book, Jim discusses this quote, which typically refers to the doctrines you believe, and he poses the possiblity that we have been getting the essentials wrong. 'What if the essentials are love God, and love your neighbor?', he asks. Launching from this question, he takes you along with him on a voyage into freedom. He also makes the suggestion that when you experince love for your fellow man, you are infact experiencing God himself. Through the rest of the book Jim shares his story of how he is learning to do what love would do and ends the book with another question 'Where have all the little Christs gone?'

A friend loaned me this book, but I thought is was worth purchasing for myself (which I plan to do this weekend.)

Friday, February 01, 2008

Escaping the Matrix

Well, I expected to fly through the next couple of books because they are all fairly small, but my 4 of spade's isn't the kind of book you can go through in a day or two; it's called Escaping the Matrix: Setting Your Mind Free to Experience Real Life in Christ by Greg Boyd and Al Larson.

I picked this up at the local bookstore's bargain table for a whopping $2.50 mainly because I'm intriuged by the idea of the 'Matrix' as a metaphor for how we are often trapped in systems without recognizing that we are trapped. From the title, I didn't know where the authors were going with this, but having read about half of the book so far, the are limiting the scope of the book to what you might call a psychological matrix. The book helps you to understand how your mind processes the information it recieves, how to explore the nature of thought, and the patterns that are impressed upon you from others. There are also some exercises that can help you to become a 'detective of your mind' if you wish; this is the big reason why the reading is going slower than expected. I decided to give thier little experiments a try, otherwise I wouldn't know if they were really talking about something useful.

One of the things that I never thought about before is how we 'do thought', and for this alone the book has been insightful to me. Here's a quote:
Most of us haven't paid attention to Aristotle's insight that 'the soul never thinks without images.' Most people assume that they think with conceptual information -- which perhaps explains why we tend to trust conceptual information so much to transform us, despite our uniform experience that this trust doesn't usually pay off. We just haven't known there was anything else to go on. Why have we missed this?

Escaping the Matrix, p. 58-59

They go on to explain how we re-present or re-experience the things we thinking of in our minds, but this usually happens so fast that we don't realize what's going on. The goal of this book is to find out, which re-presentations, or re-experiences are based on lies, and work to remove those faulty 'neurochip' as they authors call them. I'll probably write a few more times on this, and let anyone know if it's worth the read or just some more psycho-babble :-).