Lemon bag head

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It’s a good thing Emeth didn’t die!

- Micaela, commenting on Emeth’s survival after falling down one flight of steps.

* * * * *

Lemon bag head

Lemon bag head

Wedding girls wear those silly hats when they get married.

- Emeth, upon the occasion of Micaela wearing a lemon bag on her head.

* * * * *

Annie: [In the middle of lunch] Uh-oh.  I ‘got (forgot) pay.
Mommy: Do you want to pray?
Annie: Yeah. [Taking mommy’s hand] Thank you.  Amen!

Begging for bread

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“Daddy, we forgot to talk about communion yesterday,” Micaela says.

She’s right.  We did forget to talk about it.  Or more like it, I forgot.  It’s actually the last thing I want to talk about right now.  I’m mid-bite in a perfectly cooked slice of bacon.  But I suppose this is Deuteronomy six.  “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”  I get my Bible and open to the end of Matthew.

As I search for the passage in mind, she asks, “Daddy, how will I know when I’m ready to take communion?”

This first came up over the summer.  She didn’t make a fuss over us not letting her participate, but she wanted to know what it was all about.  So we read and talked.  “Can I take it?” she wanted to know.

I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I said, “I think you will know when you are ready.”

Mostly it seemed that she was just hungry on a Sunday morning and wanted a snack as the bread (matzoh) and wine (juice) were passed.  But of course, it was hard to discern.  I guess it was my way of buying time.  Besides, I still wonder if I am ready.

Not sure how to answer, I start reading:

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”  And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-28)

“Why did they break the bread?” Emeth asks with his arms outstretched, motioning the breaking of bread over and over again, fascinated by his own hand movements.

“Jesus was celebrating the Passover with his Disciples.”

“What’s the Passover?” Micaela asks.

My mind goes back to the spring when we read about the Exodus.  “Do you remember when we read about Pharaoh?”

We talk again about the tenth and most devastating plague.  Moses telling the Israelites to kill the perfect lamb and paint the blood over the door post.  The Angel of Death passing over.  The death of the first born.

Her face is so attentive.  She is turning these words over in her mind, like a heap of compost.

For four years we’ve dumped all of our organic waste into a pile between three pallets in our backyard.  Slowly turning the heap with a shovel each time.  Four years of leaf accumulation, grass clippings and food waste.  It is a beautiful black, rich with minerals and nutrients and fat worms doing their God given task.

And now, all of these pure, simple words that we have poured into her over the past four years are beginning to break down and meld together.

As she asks more questions, she is letting me see the Passover and communion through the eyes of a child.  This old story comes to life again.  The blood of the lamb over the doorpost.  Jesus, the Lamb.  His blood shed for us.  Covering us.  Washing us white as snow.

She is teaching me, and my heart begins to warm.  I want to cry at the simplicity of it.

Later, at church, as they pass the bread and wine, she asks me if she can take it.  Sadly, my mind runs to all of the immature things she has done or said that week.  Or that morning.  Then, just as quickly, I am reminded of my own immaturity.  The things I said.  The things I did, or chose not to do.

Is she ready?  She is as ready as me.  We are as ready as Peter, who denied Jesus three times that night.  Two hungry children standing before their Father, begging for a piece of bread.

We take and eat together.

Dear Coffee: A Letter

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Dear Coffee,

This is hard for me to communicate, because I really do love you.  I can’t think of starting my day without you.  But I think we need to end our relationship.

We’ve been together a long time, haven’t we?  We met in college, freshmen year.  I had stayed up till early in the morning studying for my Philosophy 101 final, and you ran me over.  I had never tried anything like you before.  You were fun and exciting.  You had so much variety.  All those other drinks wore too much sugar or artificial ingredients.  But you.  You were bold, and you didn’t care what anyone thought of you.  I was drawn to your originality.

Part of what was so interesting about you is that you had travelled so much.  You had seen the world.  Ethiopia, Hawaii, Turkey, Columbia, Peru, Nicaragua.  Yes, this made it hard at times, since you seemed to flip personalities like a switch.  On Monday you’d be Italian, on Tuesday French, Wednesday dark, Thursday light.  But all your traveling did have it’s advantages.  You really knew how to blend well with others.

One thing that kept it exciting is that you had so many different names.  Sometimes you asked me to call you Breve.  Other times, Espresso.  And of course, my favorite, Mocha Latte.  You were a mystery to me.  And yet, you were unmistakable.

But as time went on, I think I got a little too attached.  At first we were seeing each other a few times a week.  But soon enough I needed you everyday.  It seemed harmless at first, and the withdrawal symptoms were not worth it too me.  So I kept going.

I was in a good routine.  You and a bagel with butter every morning.  But then life got more stressful and I wanted more of you.  I started emptying my pockets after lunch just to scrounge together enough change to buy you.  Then after dinner I found I couldn’t get by without you and and some sweet delight.

What was once exciting had become routine.  You became commonplace.  Where I once appreciated your variety and boldness, it eventually became “any old you” to get me through.  I didn’t care if you were stale or rancid.  That could easily be covered up.

So where does that leave us?  I am saying goodbye, but I don’t know if this is goodbye for good.  I sure hope not.

Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying.  It’s not you.  It’s me.  I just have some things I need to work on in myself.  I’ll understand if you move on.  I would too, if I were you.  I’m not worth it.

Please don’t try to call or text or show up in my kitchen cabinet.  I don’t think I’d be able to handle the temptation.  I think it’s best if we grind this thing to a halt.

Sincerely,

Joseph

“Why does God allow evil?”

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“Why does God allow evil?”  To ask this question, to even entertain it, is like walking onto a highway, traffic speeding in both directions.  It is sure and sudden death if I attempt to answer it.  But that is not my intent.  I cannot answer it, yet I cannot leave it alone.

It is a legitimate question.  Yet, for some reason, it has always seemed strange to me.  It feels like the question has gotten to it’s destination too quickly.  Like trying to swallow vitamins without water.

Why does it seem strange?  Maybe because there are two ways to ask it.  I can ask with a sincere, genuine, truth seeking heart, or because I am looking for a scapegoat, and I want to escape the idea that there is a God that I might be held accountable to.  If it is the latter, then it does seem strange.  Because, then, where would I stop with this question?

It is easy to ask: why would a good God allow Hitler, genocide, rape and abuse?  Why illness that eats away at our insides and debilitates us?  Why poverty and hunger?  Why oppression?  Why does he not stop these things?  Why did he create a world in which these things are possible?

But then, what is stopping me from asking why God allows Monsanto to exist?  Why does he allow us to rape the earth and to grow food that does not nourish us?  Why does he allow soil erosion and water pollution?

What about lesser things?  Why does he allow college to be so expensive?  Why does he allow cubicles?  Why does he allow us to build toilets that are so tall it feels like I’m sitting on a bar stool?  Why does he let my cuticles rip and tear?

By no means do I intend to mock the question.  Rather, if it is the intent of the questioner to find fault, and to absolve himself of responsibility, then where does he stop?  When would he ever take responsibility for himself, or any decision, or any circumstance that he finds himself in?

If that is the disposition of the questioner, then it puts him and God in opposite corners of the ring, with the world and all it’s problems in the middle.  The questioner, by implication, says to God, “Look at this mess!  If you would only prove to me that you can take care of what you created, then I might think about following you.  But until then, tough sell.  I’ve got my own problems to deal with.”

If this is the spirit of the questioner, then it seems that he is missing something obvious.  For, what really is the problem with the world?  Isn’t it us?  Aren’t we the ones that have messed things up so badly?

“So, if we are to blame, and if God is powerful, then he should fix us.”

Can a husband stand before his wife with coldness in his heart, and say, “Make me love you”?  Can the surgeon do his work if the patient squirms?

“That’s just it,” the questioner objects.  “The surgeon should tie that worm down before he works on him.  Knock him out with some anesthetic.”

So is it actually a question of control?  Are we equating power with control?  “If God is powerful, he should be able to control all things.”  What if power is more than just control, though?  I can control my six-month-old daughter’s actions because I am stronger than she.  But, if as she got older I stopped controlling all her actions physically, and started manipulating and controlling her through my words, I would be seen as an unloving father who never cared about her own will and desires.

To exercise control in this way is not loving.  If power is only control, it is merely the act of breaking the will of another, and subduing it to your own.  For God to be controlling and loving would be a contradiction.

So what does it mean for God to be powerful?  Could it be this, then?  That God has the power to redeem and renew, and to make something beautiful out of something horrible?  Is he loving in that he gives us the will to decide between good and evil, and to live this life according to our convictions, yet powerful enough to begin the redemption process as soon as we turn toward him in an act of surrender, from no matter how far we have strayed?  To restore that which has been marred beyond recognition?  To wash us white as snow in the blood of the Lamb?

But all this does not seem to answer the question of why there is evil in the world.  The wife commits adultery; the husband is angry and left grieving.  The mother was told there isn’t an ounce of good blood in her body; the fatherless daughter feels helpless because the doctor’s don’t know what to do, and she is scared of being left all alone.  The migraines never cease, and the neurosurgeon has her on medication that is making things worse.  The stuttering boy is never left alone, and is incessantly teased by his peers; he just wants to get through a school day without garnering attention.  The body gnaws with pain, night and day, and the doctor’s have done everything they can; he wonders if he’ll make it through his thirties as he watches his three young children play.

“Why, O LORD, do you stand far away?  Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Ps. 10:1)  Is this all we are left with then?  Another question?

Maybe there is a difference between asking, “Why does God allow evil?” and “Why did you allow this, God?”  Again, the disposition.  In Psalm 10, the writer asks his question, then goes on to lay out all of his potent observations about the wicked.

In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor…
the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the LORD.
…all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”
His ways prosper at all times….
His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression…
in hiding places he murders the innocent.
His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless…
he lurks that he may seize the poor…
The helpless are crushed, sink down, and fall by his might.
He says in his heart, “God has forgotten,
he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”

The innocent, the poor, the helpless.  All oppressed and crushed under the might of the wicked.  He calls God to action.

Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up your hand;
forget not the afflicted.
Why does the wicked renounce God
and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”?

And then, he speaks what he believes to be true about God, in spite of his observations.

But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation,
that you may take it into your hands;
to you the helpless commits himself;
you have been the helper of the fatherless.

In the beginning he asked, “Why, O LORD, do you stand far away?”  He does not ask this question in order to absolve himself from responsibility or to blame God.  He asks with a sincere heart.  He does not receive answers to his questions, yet he knows that this is not the way it should be.  The wicked should not prosper.  The innocent, poor, helpless and fatherless should not be oppressed and crushed.

Isn’t it from their very mouths that this question flows most justly?  The poor, the hungry, those who weep; and not least of all, those who are hated, excluded, reviled, and spurned (Luke 6:20-22).*

Maybe it is not such a strange question after all.

 

*I am indebted to C. Anderson for this valuable insight.

 

Pushed over the edge

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Part thirteen.

We were happy together in our house in the trees, yet our minds and hearts remained restless.  We were brimming with questions.  We wanted to find our “calling.”  We’d wonder, “How could this be all God has in store for us?  Working, raising a family, being involved in our church.  There must be more.”

This was not helped by the fact that I continued to read books and listen to sermons on the subject of missions.  One book that particularly influenced me at the time was Francis Chan’s Crazy Love.  He made me want to do something out of the norm.  Something that required risk.  This theme of “taking a risk for the kingdom of God” was repeated in many of John Piper’s online sermons that I listened to.

I have never been on a “missions trip.”  Rachel went on a good many, both in high school and college.  What she loved most about these was the common sense of purpose, working together with others towards a common goal, whether it was caring for orphans or building a structure or moving dirt.  She would come home from those trips feeling unified with her teammates.

Here in the suburbs it felt like just the opposite.  We felt isolated and purposeless.  We longed for a deeper and richer sense of community.  Play groups with the kids, small groups with other couples, and even accountability groups within the church did not seem to be meeting our needs for friendship and community.  These groups felt separated from real life.  There were abstract questions and conversations to “dig deep” into one another’s lives, but never time to cultivate the soil that deeper relationships require.  This was perhaps where much of the discontentment stemmed.  I would hear Rachel’s reminiscings and we would talk about our philosophy of community.  It seemed that only one thing could consummate our communal longings: full time missions.

I vacillated though.  Deep within I wanted to just settle down, but Rachel was not excited about the prospect.  She wondered if I was merely going along with the flow, doing what I saw my friends doing, or that which I felt others were expecting me to do.  And there was some truth to that, because that is what I mainly saw – friends and family, settling down, working, loving, teaching and training their children, being committed to their church for a very long time.  To me, there seemed to be something special about such a long term commitment.  Rachel valued such commitment, too, but only if it led to growth in community and a common sense of purpose and mission.  And that is precisely what we were not experiencing.

To complicate matters, we were newly married and adjusting to life together on a grand scale.  Rachel still felt that I was too connected to my old life.  That is, my life before I was married.  She wondered if she married me and my family.  Me and my friends.  Me and my interests.  And I, on the other hand, subconsciously expected things to continue as they were.  The same family routines, the same friends, the same pursuits and interests.

So there were two things at play.  One, a need to get away from all that was comfortable to me, so that we could be more unified in our marriage, and two, this desire for purpose in our new life together.

With these thoughts ruminating in the recesses of my mind, I listened and read.

On a Friday afternoon in August I was on my way home from work, listening for the second time to John Piper’s sermon “Proclaiming the Excellencies of Christ Among the Nations, Not Prosperity.”  As he spoke, I felt like he was speaking directly to me:

No, it isn’t for lack of money that there are 1,568 peoples with no missionaries.  It’s because we have so much.  The comforts of the West have made us soft and cautious and fearful and indulgent and self-protecting, instead of tough and risk-taking and bold and self-controlled and self-sacrificing.

Was I being pushed over the edge?  In such moments it is hard to discern all of the inner-workings of the mind at play against the outside influences of conversations, books, articles, and sermons.  But here I was.  Questioning if indeed I was called to become a missionary.  “When I die, what do I want people to remember me as?  What do I want my children to remember about me?  My grandchildren?  What kind of legacy will I leave?  I don’t want to be remembered as self-indulgent.  I want to be remembered as a risk-taker.  I don’t want to be ruled by the love of money.  I want to be free from money and give all for the sake of this great cause.”  I said that I felt a burden for these unknown peoples to know Jesus.  Surely if I pursued this great mission I could protect us from falling into self-indulgence.

At that moment, I decided that we would not pursue the image of the “American Dream” that I had in my head.  No.  Instead, we would pursue this Great Call.  We would be Risk-Takers.

There was only one path to take.  Move to St. Paul, join John Piper’s church, and become missionaries.  I resolved to tell Rachel as soon as I got home.

Part twelve.

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