Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What does God require of us?

well, to walk justly, and love mercy and walk humbly with our God, of course, but sometimes it's nice to have a little more in the way of specifics. :)

The Koala Bear Writer passes on Kathleen Gibson's thoughts on God's requirements and uses of writers. They are:
1. that our words be heard
2. that we become word-wrestlers
3. that we speak and write things we'd often rather not
4. that we do whatever it takes
5. that we be flexible and willing to change
6. that we give feet to our words
7. that we be effective people in our own back yards.

I was particularly struck by the first, second, and fourth of these. I think we are often over-ambitious and prestige hungry about being heard . . . but the error at the opposite end of the spectrum hadn't occurred to me--that it could actually be sin to hide our writing, to keep quiet when God intends us to speak. That wrestling with words means actually pinning concepts down strikes me interestingly too. I know about myself that I do write to pin concepts down, but it's felt like play to me. Or the gravy of life. That God might have intentions for my life and the lives of others through the process of my wrestling . . . hmm. And of course, on the fourth point--doing whatever it takes--the discipline of actually following out and doing the work of living into one's call . . .

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Book Review: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

What makes a good story? What kind of story is God trying to write my life into? Am I cooperating with my life being a story worth reading, or am I fighting to remain in the "senseless, selfish ways of non-story"? Donald Miller wrestles through these questions in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. The process of trying to turn a memoir about his life (Blue Like Jazz) into a movie script leads him to examine what makes stories work as stories. He reflects on what makes stories meaningful and then evaluates how that reflects back on the way that we live our lives. If stories are our lives with all the meaningless bits left out, is there a way to live our lives so that more of the meaningless bits are left out in the first place?

This book was far better than I'd hoped for. I wasn't a huge fan of Blue Like Jazz, but I'm a sucker for pretty much anything that deals with story structure and meta-story and that post-modern sense of the characters and writer interacting. (Think Stranger than Fiction.) Miller has all of that, but ruthlessly brings it down to the level of personal challenge. What am I going to do, what are you going to do, to write a better story with your life? How do we infuse our lives with meaning? Miller has grown up a lot as a writer and--apparently--as a human being in the years since Blue Like Jazz was published. There's less of his ego tangled up with his prose, making both for better prose and for less of an impression of a writer who needs his ego taken down a few notches. The book is somewhat slow for the first forty pages or so--don't judge the entire book by the sample section that's up on the publisher's website. It's the weakest section of the book. After reading a few pages here and a few pages there for a couple of weeks, I read the last two hundred pages more or less in one sitting. I'll also note that reading it side by side with Notes from a Tilt-a-Whirl was a great experience. The two books are dealing with some similar themes from very different angles and inform each other well. Miller's conclusions, like his beginning, is not nearly as strong as his middle . . . but the man's trying to write an ending when he's still stuck living the middle of his own story. He can hardly be blamed for not having lived far enough to see the ending clearly yet. Especially in a book about living the middle more deliberately.

Four stars out of five
Reviewed for Thomas Nelson

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Honest faith

MckMama has a rant up this morning--why is someone criticizing her whatever she chooses to share or not share? Why don't people just believe her? People say they want honesty, but do they really? It made me want to post a comment on her thread with a Mark Driscoll clip I listened to a while back. (But I can't find it). He made the comment in one of his sermons that there are only a select handful of people from whom he will take criticism--his elders, a few mentors, his wife. People who he trusts to have his best interests and God's best interests in mind. All the rest, he can't afford to take the time and energy to chase down all the anklebiters, naysayers and sour grapes and convince them to like him. There's wisdom there.

Say what you will about Driscoll. I certainly have issues with the man. But I give him this--he is who he is and he offers himself to the church and he doesn't take the time of day from critics who say, essentiall, that who and what he is needs to change (let them tell you how!) in order for his life to be something fit to offer to the church.

There's a tension in the church between deep and surface living. How much of ourselves do we expose to each other? And how much is appropriate to tell and under what circumstances? Am I willing to tell you when I'm just having a lousy day? (And when is it honest for me to do that, and when am I just being self-indulgent in my complaining?) How about things like financial problems, or marital problems? Is it honest to talk about those? Dishonest to hide them? Are there times when talking about such things to someone you don't know very well might be a betrayal of intimacy? What about issues of faith and doubt? Worry. Parenting. All mixed up with "I don't feel like doing the laundry," and "What's for dinner?" and "Did you see the new Harry Potter movie?" and "I'm having a great day because my potty-training child did NOT have an accident today." (The thing about "small talk" is that most of most of our lives are honestly made up of wonderful mundanity. We might say we want honesty . . . that we want things to be genuine . . . but what are we after, really?

The thing is, I don't think that most of us understand people in general, or the world, or our own lives, or other people's lives nearly as well as we think we do. We don't understand how the mundane and the profound are woven together as the warp and woof of life. We don't understand the ways that sin breaks us. We don't realize that someone we know has dealt with that--that among my 200 Facebook friends, probably every "that" is covered. We don't understand the reality that "that" is going to take years to heal, and is going to leave scars--and that there will be days that that seems really important, and plenty of days that I'm more concerned with what's for dinner.

We want honesty, but we're not prepared for it when we get it. It's too raw. Too scary. Too boring. Too threatening. We want to think we understand. Honesty shows us we don't. We want to think we have the answers. Honesty shows us we don't. We want the world to be a safe, manageable, controllable place. We know that we ourselves are buffetted and thrown about, but we want to think that someday, somehow, we'll get to a place of answers. But when we really interact with each other, we discover that none of us is one self-help book or one good sermon, or one inspirational song away from having it all together. We discover that giving or receiving a bellyful of honesty requires humility and commitment far beyond what most of us are willing to give most days. It means saying things like "I'd never thought of that before," and "I don't understand, but I'd like to." It means expecting to find that we're all sinful, complex, broken people in a sinful, complex, broken world.

Too often, when we say we want honesty, we just want to be voyeurs. Too often, when we get honesty, we try to trim off the edges so that it will fit back in the box. But we were made by a God bigger than we are, who placed us in a world too complex for us to understand. And he made each of us unique. Different. Should it be any surprise to us when other's individual experiences and stories seem alien to us? When our finite interactions with an infinite God seem too big to handle and comprehend?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

further thoughts on "Notes from a Tilt-a-Whirl" : the problem of evil

So . . . more on N.D. Wilson's "Notes from a Tilt-A-Whirl". Wow. I think I'm going to be re-reading and chewing on and quoting this one for years. I'm still turning over in my mind what I think of how he addressed the problem of evil. Because, for the most part, he doesn't see much of a problem. He presents it in artistic terms--a painting needs light and shadow, a story needs conflict for a plot line. And I certainly take his point that much of what we blithely call "evil" might actually not be so--that it is simply a higher, greater, more dangerous, sharper edged good than we are prepared to handle. Do we want sharp edged mountains in our world? Or would we rather have a world where no foolish grade schooler can ever concuss herself on a steep snowfield? I think it was worth it . . . since I didn't end up dying anyway . . .
But what of the evil we do see? The real, undeniable, pit-of-hell stuff? Is that from God? Does he actually desire it? Is it simply the shading in his pencil sketch? No--God is light, and in him there is no darkness. God is not tempted by evil, nor does he create or encourage evil, nor does he set us up for a fall for his own purposes. The evil in the world, the sin in the world, is our fault. God doesn't need it. God doesn't want it. It is not an addition to God's color pallete.
Would Wilson agree with me? Well, I can't entirely tell from the book. Maybe he just figured that other takes on dealing with the problem of evil had been well addressed in other places and he was doing something different here. He is presenting, if you will, the problem of Good. The problem is that Good is too much for us to handle. And it's certainly true that if we stop trying to reduce Good to fuzzy bunnies and safety scissors, our perspective on evil looks a little different. If we stop trying to equate evil with "anything I don't want," and remember that the plotline of this universe is about more than my comfort--if we attempt, at all, to take it in context--maybe the problem turns out to be a little different than we thought at first.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cause and effect

John Cleese is still at the top of his form--skewering virtually all of Western Civilization (with special attention to the Brits, of course) in a compact two minutes.

HT: Barb