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Monday, February 29, 2016

I Don't Love February



Psalm 77:5, "I thought about the former days, the years of long ago" (NIV).  As a side note, it's worthwhile to read all of Psalm 77, just in case you wondered...

The other day I came across a quote that read, "Don't let your struggle become your identity" - Toby Mac.  I like the concept.  I like it a lot.  But there is something to the idea that our struggles do shape who we are.  It can be a good thing.  We all have a past.  Life happens.  If it didn't, well, where would we be?

So, primarily, February stinks for me because of events that took place 23 years ago...

1993 was not a leap year.  I fell asleep on February 28th, listening through the walls to the last moments of Mammaw's life.  I woke up on March 1st, feeling pretty alone in the world.  She had been sick for a very long time.  My mom had checked out on me, completely, as she cared for her.  I was thirteen.  Even all these years later I wonder if I should have given her one more hug, said, "I love you," one more time, curled up in her bedroom and watched as she died as opposed to just playing the audio.  It's suffocating to think about it, even now. 

Leap day provides space...

Leap day reminds me of the hours that didn't exist that year, of all of the things that weren't said and all of the moments that weren't had.  But it also reminds me of all of the things that can be said and done, today.  It's like a bonus round.

And so I don't love February.  In fact, I generally like it to come and go as quickly as possible.  And yet... here I am considering all of the things that can happen, today, because these hours are real.  I am considering all of the things that I won't get to do next year on February 29th, because it won't occur... for anyone...  Overall, I think we should all do some pretty amazing things on leap day, because we only get so many of these extra magic hours (oh, Disney reference, now go watch "Up"...)  I wonder what kinds of things I might yet do, today, that actually require a leap...

And... just because I can take a moment of personal privilege on my own little space on the World Wide Web whenever I want, how about a throwback, throwback Monday...

If you post something three times, you must really mean it...  I first posted this in 2006... then again in 2008 (with minor editing)... and here we are, yet again (with a little more editing)...
 


In 1993, Mammaw went to live with Jesus... and I still miss her...

I wish...
That she'd taught me how to sew...
That she'd met Phil...
That she'd seen her five beautiful great-grandchildren...

I wish...
That I had that bandana and T-shirt...
That I'd paid better attention when she was "whipping" potatoes...
That I'd gotten her nose, instead of her hair...
 That I'd said, "I love you" one more time... Because I could have...

I'm glad that so much of her personality is in me... even the parts that other people don't understand... because deep down, those are some of the best parts...

At times like this, I could use a hug... or a trip to K-Mart... or some fried chicken... or a game of Chinese checkers... and the list goes on and on, because the memories are good...

I hope she'd be proud of the person I've become... and the person I'm becoming...

And I know she would, because she always seemed to see past my many faults anyway...

I doubt I'll ever...
Shell beans again...
Sweep the street in front of my house...

But I'm glad she did...


Don't forget where you came from, but don't lose sight of where you're going, either...

L.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Paint



I've always wanted to go to one of those painting parties.  The idea was super exciting in my head.  Today I finally made it to one, and then I remembered...  I can't paint...

I consider myself a relatively creative person and even artistic by some definitions.  However, the actual acts of drawing and painting have eluded me.  It's probably why most of my kids' early childhood art is either some creative version of a handprint or free form... very free form.  I can make stick figures... sort of.  But the truth is, I'm better with a camera or on the stage. 

I'm not sure an introverted perfectionist who sometimes has had trouble comparing herself with others, lately, could choose a more vulnerable activity than a painting party.  It's a good thing somebody told me how intimidating I am at the preceding brunch.  Because, the facade...  yeah, there's that... always that...

So, I'm really intrigued by the results of these parties.  Frequently, the participants post a picture of the finished products their groups have created.  Interestingly, even though everybody follows the same directions, and there is an example, and a live artist/instructor actually shows you every... single... step; no two paintings ever look the same.  And yet, they all turn out alright.

I took comfort in that, today.  I sat down in front of an empty canvas and thought to myself, "I will probably not be the first person to ever come to one of these parties aspiring to paint a sunflower and accidentally painting a boat or something."  In the end, I did, indeed, come home with a version of "Sunflower at Sunset" over which every single person who lives in my house raved.  It's sitting in close proximity to my "Wake Up, Kick Butt, Repeat" sign... you know, the one that serves as a backdrop for the John Wesley bobblehead.  This post is just  getting way too personal...

I've been talking a lot about how God creates in partnership with people.  There's an interesting parallel here.  Think about this.  What if God creates the canvas and the paints and then we all sit down and start to work on something, given the same basic directions?  What if we all follow those directions the best we can?  What if we all love God with our whole being and love people just like we love ourselves and... also... love ourselves?  I'm willing to bet that your picture will look a whole lot different than mine.  Heck, we might actually end up with sunflowers and boats and abstract designs (may I paint one of those next time)...  But they'll all turn out alright.  And your people will probably even rave.

How about some unity in diversity?

L.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Reflecting on "The Uncontrolling Love of God"

Well...  I turned in my reflection paper on Tom Oord's, The Uncontrolling Love of God, today.  There may be few things less terrifying than turning in a reflection paper to your professor who is the author of the book!  But... you know... less fear and all that...

I do not ordinarily post academic work to this blog, but I think this paper is a worthwhile read for a couple of reasons.  First of all, it's not really all that academic.  It's a reflection paper, not a research paper.  I think the vast majority of my readers can handle it.  And second, you need to read this book.  All of you.  Today, if possible.  I think this post might give you just enough of a teaser that you'll go do just that...

So here goes...

*****


"We all want to make sense of life" (Oord, 2015, 15).  In The Uncontrolling Love of God, Tom Oord claims that he has solved the problem of evil.  This is a gargantuan claim.  Oftentimes, people struggle most with the problem of evil because of the way God's attributes are defined.  The omni-attributes of God are most prevalent in this struggle.  It does not make sense that a God who is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient would allow for evil in the world.  If God is everywhere, all knowing, and all powerful, why would God not simply step in to stop, or better yet prevent, all genuinely evil occurrences.  Oord makes two important proposals regarding this question.  First, perhaps we have poorly defined the omni-attributes.  But more importantly, perhaps we have misunderstood that God's primary attribute is love and that no amount of foreknowledge, power, or even presence can override the loving nature of God.
            Throughout much of Christian history there has been an ongoing debate about God's attributes.  Although there are many viewpoints, two that stand in direct conflict with one another are the Calvinist and Wesleyan stances.  On the Calvinist side, a picture is painted of a God who not only knows all that will happen but a God who directs, dictates, and coerces all things in order that God's will is accomplished in every moment.  This God not only uses evil but creates it in order to accomplish a greater good.  In the midst of tragedy, people are expected to embrace the idea that everything will be OK, because God knew about the tragedy before the beginning of time and intended for it to come to pass.  This is comforting for some people.  They embrace the idea that God is in control.  Power reigns. 
            On the Wesleyan side, an all knowing, all powerful, fully present God still exists, but this God has self-limited in such a way to allow free will.  Because of this, God often looks on almost as an innocent bystander.  God knows what each choice will be, but God does not intervene, at least not most of the time.  This concept of intervention is problematic, because it implies that God is actually not fully present and would need to move in order to be close to the tragedy.  But God does not move in.  Instead, God allows people to make their choices and only then will God comfort the grieving, perhaps bringing good from the tragedy as people cooperate with God, but never (or not often) stepping in to stop the evil as it occurs.  This is also comforting for some people.  They embrace the idea that God knows, God understands.  Empathy reigns.
            And yet, the question remains, if God could stop evil, why would God not choose to do so?  Further, why would God not choose to do so all the time?  Oord postulates that the real reason for this is neither that God is orchestrating evil nor that God is allowing it.  Perhaps, instead, God cannot act unilaterally to put an end to genuinely evil occurrences in the world.  Perhaps, instead, "God's power is essentially persuasive and vulnerable, not over powering and aloof... cruciform... other-oriented love" (Oord, 2015, 155).
            This idea that God cannot do some things is not a new one, but it is an uncomfortable one.  Even Scripture indicates that God cannot do some things.  God cannot sin.  God cannot be tempted by evil or tempt others.  God cannot lie.  And yet there is a great deal of pushback when it is suggested that God cannot stop evil.  This may be because humanity is desperate for an answer, but it is not wise to desire something that would usurp love as the primary attribute of God.  Almost no one legitimately wants God to be more powerful than loving, not when people stop to think deeply about what that could mean, not really.
            Since, "love by definition is noncoercive" (Oord, 2015, 181), this puts the burden of culpability squarely on humanity, on creation, and sometimes even on random chance.  God does not desire evil and acts persuasively, much like God acts first in prevenient grace.  God pursues and calls, but sometimes, even often, "creatures and organisms may not respond well to God's call" (Oord, 2015, 179).  Since God cannot act unilaterally but in partnership with creation; this shifts the blame regarding evil from God.  We can accept that God is doing everything that God can do, with love at the core of God's attributes. Essential kenosis does, indeed, solve the problem of God's culpability for evil.
            Unfortunately, there are other aspects of evil for which essential kenosis, on its own, does not account.  Because our God of love cannot prevent or impede genuine evil by use of coercion, we are left with some circumstances that seem hopeless.  It seems like a good trade-off to believe, soundly, in the unending goodness of God.  There is some peace and comfort in this.  But the fact that people experience pain, loss, and grief is still prevalent.  "Some evils are character destroying rather than character building.  Many people have lives that are made far worse because of intense pain.  They grow bitter, vengeful and tyrannical, making life hellish for others and themselves" (Oord, 2015, 25).  What do we do with this?  Essential kenosis says that we don't blame God, and this is a move in the right direction.  However, God appears to take responsibility even for that for which God is not culpable.
            Inasmuch as humanity must respond, in some way, to genuine evil; God also offers a response.  Ultimately, that response is consistent with self-giving love, incarnate in the death and resurrection of Christ.  And yet there are other, smaller ways in which God reacts in everyday, ordinary circumstances.  God is always with us, bringing comfort in the midst of even the greatest sorrow.  Empathy does not account well for all genuine evil.  It is certainly not an acceptable reason for evil.  Arguments that insist that, "We must go through hell to appreciate heaven" (Oord, 2015, 19), fall flat.  Yet God does offer us the kind of love that moves heaven into our own personal hell if we will accept it.  God also squeezes as much good out of genuine evil as God can, continuing to work in partnership with humanity.  Arguments that insist that God creates evil for a greater good fall flat, but God does offer us the kind of redemption that brings as much good out of evil as there can be. 
            In many ways, The Uncontrolling Love of God and essential kenosis provide us with a sound foundation for faith in a God defined primarily by love.  This is refreshing in a culture that often views God as either coercive or uninvolved.  Essential kenosis allows for a God who embodies the classical attributes of God often considered orthodox in our understanding of theology, but it also redefines the order, saying, "love comes first" (Oord, 2015, 163).  And it does.  Why would we want anything less?

Work Cited
Oord, Thomas Jay. The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015. Print.

Works Consulted
Boyd, Gregory A., and Paul R. Eddy. Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002. Print.

Holy Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.
 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Reprieve



I have had some Psalm 69:3 moments this past week.

"I am worn out calling for help, my throat is parched.  My eyes fail, looking for my God" (NIV).

As it turns out, I think God knew I couldn't take one more day of anxiety, panic attacks, puking, etc., because there was a message waiting for me when I managed to drag myself to my computer, this morning, that I didn't expect to get until next Thursday.  A good message.  One of those messages that causes a deep breath (which I needed, desperately) and a reminder that it is now OK to relax, reset, and stop being crazy, at least for a little while.  It's safe to say that I failed miserably at my #LessFearIn2016 motto over the past few days.  It's OK.  I'll probably be able to regroup and be alright for at least several months now...

I read Mark 4:40, today...

"He said to his disciples, 'Why are you so afraid?  Do you still have no faith?'" (NIV).

Well... ouch.   

I think this might be the part where I should simply thank everybody who has been exercising faith for me, lately.  I need you all. 

And now, some rest...

Hopefully followed by lots of action...
 
L.