Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Emo Illustration

I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said "Stop! don't do it!"
"Why shouldn't I?" he said. I said,
"Well, there's so much to live for!"
He said, "Like what?"
I said, "Well...are you religious or atheist?"
He said, "Religious."
I said, "Me too! Are you christian or buddhist?"
He said, "Christian."
I said, "Me too! Are you catholic or protestant?"
He said, "Protestant."
I said, "Me too! Are you episcopalian or baptist?"
He said, "Baptist!"
I said,"Wow! Me too! Are you baptist church of god or baptist church of the lord?"
He said, "Baptist church of god!"
I said, "Me too! Are you original baptist church of god, or are you reformed baptist church of god?"
He said,"Reformed Baptist church of god!"
I said, "Me too! Are you reformed baptist church of god, reformation of 1879, or reformed baptist church of god, reformation of 1915?"
He said, "Reformed baptist church of god, reformation of 1915!"
I said, "Die, heretic scum", and pushed him off. -- Emo Phillips

I was just called a heretic tonight over something I wrote at my Bible study blog a few months ago. Apparently I wasn't Calvinist enough. The commenter has something like 15 blogs, all taking on one heresy or another. One was entitled, Arminian Heresy, and once I saw that I didn't worry too much about what he thought.

Not that there is no such thing as heresy. Another of his blogs was about the heresies of the Watchtower Organization. Another was about Mormonism. But it seemed that, like Emo above, he wanted every last belief to be exactly as he saw it... or else.

I think there are some essential beliefs, but there are also doctrines that really don't qualify as "dealbreakers" so far as I can see. I may believe in 5-point Calvinism or 0-point Calvinism or Calvinism by a field goal on Monday Night Football, but it seems to me that crying heresy because someone else doesn't match all five TULIP points is a bit over the top.

My denomination is one of the few that doesn't draw a lot of doctrinal lines past the basics. I really like that. I have my own opinions about baptism, but if a brother has a different belief, I'm not out to push him off a bridge, yelling, "Die, heretic scum!" For that matter, I'm not about to push a Jehovah's Witness off that bridge with the same shout either, yet I cannot consider his beliefs to be either correct or orthodox.

Of course the trend lately in the church is to go the other way... to whittle down the list of essentials to the point where it's basically just using the term "God" and everything is OK. I think that's foolish nonsense, but by the same token I'm not about to disassociate someone based on doctrinal beliefs. I'm not going to compromise my own understanding either, but it's the anti-Christ-like (if you'll pardon the expression) shout of "HERESY!" which really makes me feel sad for those who settle on one understand without thinking that God can be much more than we can take in.

All the commenter said was "HERESY!" No explanation of what or why or where or when or any other word starting with a "w". No, "Come let us reason together" or anything like it. Just a war whoop and a condemnation hurled over the wall.

I think most people I deal with understand what I believe and why. I think most also realize that I'm not going to push them off a bridge due to denominational differences. But they know that I'm open to talking about all those matters.

At least I think that's what they understand.

"Lord, help me to stand for you in an uncompromising way, yet still show the love as You showed it."

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Revisiting... Walking Through the Graveyard

I was thinking about this post and decided to "dig it up" and run it again. When I do this kind of thing, I become aware of some of the common themes in my writing. It all kind of ties together sometimes. I hope you enjoy this post from about 18 months ago.

I found myself in my old hometown yesterday. I don't get there much anymore and usually when I get there I'm in too big of a hurry to look around. But yesterday I had a little time and an urge to look around. Eventually I found myself in the cemetery of this town of a thousand residents. I remember walking around there as a kid, sometimes as part of a geneology project and other times just looking around. Yesterday though, became a kind of walk through my childhood. I visited the graves of many people whom I may or may not see in heaven, but I remember them in life. I saw the grave of my elementary and middle school principal. Across the path was my grandfather's burial site and the grave of my aunt who died at the age of five months.

As I walked, I became aware of so many people who had passed to the back burner of my mind. The guy who ran the meat packing store. The lady who worked at the bank. My uncle's dad. One of my good friends from elementary school. A lady who used to drive my bus. Plenty of other relatives, including some I never really met.

As I walked, I realized there was one grave I'd never visited but had to be out there somewhere. She was my first "girlfriend." (We were in kindergarten -- how "in love" could we be?) We were good friends all through school. I had a crush on her on and off for years. She was a big encouragement to me, helping me to develop some confidence. During our senior year, we each took short trips to visit some colleges. I went with three other guys and we had fun over the next three days, seeing four different campuses in addition to downtown Indianapolis at night. She started off for a campus visit with a friend in a VW beetle about the color of a yellow tennis ball. The two of them drove about 30 minutes to the Interstate, then as they tried to merge into traffic an 18-wheeler all but crushed the beetle. My friend was taken to the hospital in a coma.

I visited her in the hospital many times. We were encouraged to talk to her, as the nurses kept saying that she heard what we said. When I went off to college about nine months later, she was still on my mind but I stopped visiting. I felt like my presence was causing her mother so much pain, hearing about the things her daughter should be doing. I kept praying.

She finally died in 2001, shortly after the Twin Towers fell. She had been in a coma for 22 years. Her parents had cared for her the entire time. She had spent some time in various hospitals but eventually was brought home where she was cared for by her loving parents year after year. When I saw her again in the casket, I would have never recognized her. She looked nothing like her old pictures.

While pacing around the cemetery yesterday, I finally found her grave. There was a beautiful stone with her senior picture etched into it. On the reverse was a beautiful quote from St. Francis. Then I looked to the right and saw another stone with the same last name. It was for her parents. Her father was still alive, but I had forgotten that her mother has passed away almost a year later. She had given so much of her life to care for her daughter that her health was horrible and her heart was broken. As I looked at the stones together I thought to myself, "This is the way we were taught to live." We're called not to live selfishly, but to live to love God completely and to love others as ourselves. My friend's mother had not wasted her life caring for 22 years for a daughter in a coma. She had followed scriptural instructions of caring for her daughter.

I often wonder what my friend was going through in those 22 years. Would she have preferred death? Should it matter if she did? Is it God's decision to take life or ours? I pray that God was able to do some incredible things for her during that time. I am positive he did not desert her.

A friend asked me about the Terri Schiavo case. He wanted to know why people wanted her to be starved to death, or why they wanted her dead, period. My best guess is that we see ourselves in the face of the less fortunate. In our limited understanding, all we see is a body driven by very little mind. We see that someone like Terri is not in control of anything; she is at the mercy of others. When many people see themselves in that situation, their reaction is fear. They fear living in a debilitated state. They fear not having control. They fear it so much that death seems preferable. And what an interesting choice that becomes for the non-believer. They would rather take the uncertainty of death over the observed certainty of living a life out of their control. Isn't that an amazing statement about the incredibly strong drive of self? But if a decision to remove a feeding tube becomes a personal fight to be able to retain control of one's life, it ceases to be about life itself. . . only about self.

I don't pretend to know everyone's motivations for their opinions. I only present what I've seen in observing some people. My conclusions aren't meant to broad-brush, but to help me understand this whole case better. I certainly feel for my friend's mother and father. At the same time I also have great admiration for them. I also greatly admire Henri Nouwen, who gave up his university teaching position to care for people who couldn't care for themselves. Yet I also understand the pull of selfishness, in not wanting to give our lives to serve others. Still I know what the Bible tells us to do for other people and I know how dangerous selfish desires can be to my relationship with my Creator and Savior.

God has allowed this stuff to perkolate in my mind since I first drove into the graveyard yesterday. And I think I am even more grateful for the gift of life, yet more aware that my life is not my own. I have been bought with a price. My undying praise and thanks to the One who bought me, and thanks as well for continuing to shape me into His image.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Horsin' Around

Well, it's been a number of months, but we're equine owners again! He's been with us for a month now, so it looks like he's staying. This is our new addition to the family. His name is "Mister". Actually his name is long and complicated and doesn't even contain the word "Mister", but that's what my wife has decided to call him. And since she'll be doing most of the work, she gets to name him.

Faithful readers (also known as people with too much time on their hands) will remember that we lost our little grey Welsh pony back in March after spending eight years with him. This month, my wife culminated her horse shopping experience by picking up this quarter horse for more than a few quarters.

Mister is bigger than Cracker Jack was. He is a different color. He also has a much different temperment. Where Cracker was more like a dog, following us around the pasture, Mister is a real handful on the ground. He is much more interested in the green grass surrounding him than in anything I have to tell him.

Then again, Mister loves to be ridden. He just hates to be led around. He wants to be put to good use -- whether walking my daughter around the yard or galloping down the fence row with my wife urging him to go faster. In his mind, it's: "Carrying someone on my back is good, being led around is bad".

I'm just kinda thinking here, but isn't it interesting that most people would reverse those twp things. We would prefer to be led from place to place, being shown what to do, rather than carrying the load ourselves. It's much easier to have someone lay out all the instructions than to take up our cross or be an example to others.

Horses are working animals. People (the smarter of the two) depend upon horses to do specific tasks. Horses are effective tools when they are being used by a good horseman.

We too are to be effective tools. We are to be used my God (again, the smarter of the two) to do specific tasks, which Scripture says have been laid out for us to do since before the foundation of the world was laid.

Maybe horses are actually the smart ones.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Devil's Sharpest Tool

It seems like the Devil's best tool against us gazes at us from our mirrors each day.

When it comes to a Christian walk, I am my own worst enemy.

Is there anything that we do (aside from our pure worship of God) that isn't deeply rooted in selfishness? Go ahead. Think of something you do that doesn't involve indulging yourself. I'll wait.

Find something? I couldn't.

The more we are fixated on self, the further from God we become.

I don't think I'm being cynical when I say that most of the supposed "good deeds" we do are rooted in selfishness. Yes, even the time spent helping someone, or being nice to someone who isn't all that nice. Dropping coins in the kettle for the Salvation Army or giving blood can also be outgrowths of our own selfishness.

Maybe it's just me, but I know plenty of people who are nice to someone just for the good feeling of helping someone else. They give gifts for the tax deduction or donate clothes because they are too lazy to have a garage sale. That's not selfless. That's just the opposite. "That good feeling inside" is the motivator. The deduction is the motivator. The laziness and a need to clean out the closet is the motivator. It's not the fact that someone else is helped. Can those two things be separated? Sure. It's your motive.

If I am driving somewhere and I see a vehicle in trouble, I will usually stop and try to help. I do this despite the fact that I am nowhere near a mechanical genius. The reason I stop is because I developed that habit in early adulthood. Back then, my car was a not-so-gently-used vehicle, and I often found myself on the side of a road in need of assistance. I figured that if I saw someone who could use my help, then I should help. After all, the roles could very easily be reversed the next week!

So my pure motives for stopping are not so pure.

How many generous donations to universities or hospitals or charities come with strings attached? Why are wings of buildings or stadiums or awards named after individuals? Because quite often putting that name on the building is a stipulation of the gift. That generosity isn't so pure either.

Let's face it, even in our Christian walk we are tempted to be selfish. At Attention Span I've often detailed situations where churches are split apart because of a power struggle between groups of people. There's the woman who sings a special song in worship to draw attention to herself, instead of deflecting the praise to God. There is the man who serves on the board so faithfully because of the power it gives him. There are the Sunday School teachers who teach because they like to be looked up to. There are the pew fillers who show up for services so they look pious to other people.

Selfishness is like a pair of handcuffs which keep us from being very effective. The Devil makes sure our wrists are bound each day.

Of course, Christ has the key to the cuffs.

"Lord, help me to die to self every single day... in my work, in my family, and especially in my relationship with You."