Archive for October, 2007

Idiot Savants


Eugene talks about going to a friend’s cattle ranch and ‘riding fence.’ He describes it as an all day boring ride along barbed wired fences. The purpose of this long, tedious, mindless exercise was to repair holes and round up escaped cattle. Long-Quoting from The Jesus Way:

He told me that cattle are the dumbest members of the entire livestock family, animals, as Pooh Bear might put it, ‘of little brain.’ But in one thing they were absolutely brilliant: they have a genius for finding a hole or a weak place in a fence. And the moment they find it they are through it, leading their sister cows and brother bulls after them into dangerous terrain where they have no skills for protecting themselves or avoiding calamity. You then have to spend the next two or three days rounding them up and returning them to where they belong and can be kept alive. My friend called cattle the idiot savants of the livestock world. And so it was necessary to ‘ride fence’ to protect the cattle who didn’t know enough to take care of themselves but were absolute geniuses at finding a hole and escaping from the confines of the community where there were adequate provisions for keeping them healthy.

One day while reading Moses and finding myself in the middle of a long passage of Statutes of Ordinances in Deut. it occurred to me that this was something very much like my friend riding fence on his parent’s cattle ranch – and me in my congregation. Christians in congregations are certainly not mentally defective but there is considerable evidence that we might be spiritually defective, with one exception: We have an absolute genius for finding whatever might serve as a loophole in the commandments and creed. (TJW pgs 74-75)

So true.


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pupsBeen reading Eugene.There was a line in The Jesus Way – I can’t find it now but the gist was that the inherent problem or defect in sentimentalism is that it is intrinsically an unreal representation of reality. It is a brighter, softer view of things that does not characterize the way people really experience the world. The temptation in sermons or in conversations with people is to leave them feeling good, warm, and cozy – to leave them smiling. It’s enticing to do this because it does indeed make people feel better about themselves and their lives. It brightens their day.

The enticement should be warded off at all costs because there is no sentimental trail leading out of the valley of the shadow of death. Sentimentalism denies the very real realities of human suffering and struggle. It’s why in advertising ads with babies and puppies are well received. It’s a world that is not real but it is deeply longed for.

In our sermons we must earnestly fight the urge to be sentimental, rather we must trust that the Living God and his word are sufficient to the comfort and salvation of his people.

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Prayer and Solitude

solitudeI met today with some men who are older than me with a wealth more ministry experience that I have. It was interesting as we went around the table. The guy who takes the group by the reigns and runs the meeting is the guy who feels like his quiet time is something he has to do before he does anything else. He’s intense about it just as he is intense about everything else he sets his mind to. The guy who comes across as the wise one says he interacts with God throughout the day – enjoying his presence wherever he goes and in whatever he does.

What occurred to me was that I tend towards feeling like the first guy though I kinda live like the second guy. But I live with guilt like I haven’t done enough or done it well enough or deep enough or it was meaningful enough. It’s an interesting distinction to make. What became clear to me is that I pray a lot. But what I long for is an extended period of solitude to be renewed and refreshed. Guy 2’s spirituality is a lot more livable for me if I could ease up on thinking I have to spend an hour with God every morning. Because with the demands of family and work, I rarely have the physical space to enter into a period of solitude.

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Living at Home

homeHenri Nouwen says in Wounded Healer, “Anyone who wants to pay attention without intention has to be at home in his own house – that is, he has to discover the center of his life in his own heart” (p. 90). I know this to be true. The more centered I am personally and emotionally, the more easily I can interrelate with others in genuine, self forgetting ways. I say ‘self forgetting’ in the sense of really being available for another without getting personally hooked. It’s called differentiation:

“Our level of Differentiation determines our ability to define and express a clear sense of our identity in relation to our partner. By “clear sense of identity” I mean who we are, what we think, what we feel, what we want. The level of our differentiation determines our ability to hold on to that clear sense of ourselves even under pressure or in the face of rejection, criticism, or conflict.”


As I reflect back on CPE, the ability to be differentiated, to draw distinctions between yourself and others was chief to being able to offer viable pastoral care. It’s interesting as I reflect on where I am these days. I am less congruent than I used to be I think that comes from spending less time in my own house than I should. I really don’t feel as differentiation as I did, say, a year or so ago. I’ve lost a sense of who I am, I think in the process of being in parish ministry. There are many expectations and duties that just suck this dutiful, good son into the mess.

To be quite honest, I’m feeling a sense of needing to come to a clear sense of myself. I don’t know what it is about the Fall that seems to bring me to a point of needing to get my bearings again. You know when you’re hiking and you’re certain of where you are going and then you have a moment of complete confusion and disorientation? That seems to me happen seasonally. Hah, I have no idea why. It’s not a bad thing. But it can throw me for a few days.

I like Lewis’ definition of humility, it’s not a pretty girl going around believing she’s ugly or a clever man seeking to be stupid. It’s about forgetting yourself. Lewis says, “If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.”

It seems being too introspective – referring now back to the quote from Nouwen – would mean spending a lot of time in self absorbed, self-centered focus. I don’t think that is what he’s getting at all. There is an honest humility in being home in one’s house. Being at home with yourself. The truth is, we all have strengths and weaknesses. Being honest and living into a deeper knowledge of ourselves is both empowering AND a means to humility.

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brewI’ve been getting into Ringma again. The guy is just so wise – full of home brewed Christian spirituality. I say home brewed because his Christian Spirituality has evolved over a life time of living it and going for it. He talks about being missional and incarnation as non-negotiable’s in a fully orbed Christian spirituality because that’s what he’s learned is real and true. Forget effectiveness and church growth.

It’s home brewed because it’s about particularity – acknowledging a call to a specific locale where you are used by the Triune God to bring creativity, shape, and order, to remind people that their redeemer lives, and to live in the power of the Holy Spirit.

When you’re home brewing beer, you’re attentive to what you’re doing whether it be in your garage or your basement or your living room. You work hard to pay attention to the details because you want the time, the temperature, the fermentation process to produce a good beer…a good beer you can share with your friends and neighbors.

It’s about the death and dying of the ingredients and the chemical synthesis that occurs in the process. A grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die. And if it dies, it brings forth much fruit.

I’ve heard one of the most important things for producing good home brew beer is making sure your bottles are absolutely sanitary before you fill them. Clean and sanitary. What a powerful image of the importance of the inner life. It’s not abou outer cleanliness. It’s all about sanitizing the interior world, bringing under the Lordship of Christ.

Home brew also isn’t mass production. It is not about easy, fast efficiency. It’s about taking your time and doing it right. It’s about passion and commitment to a final product that is weeks maybe months away.

In terms of the soul, our hard work to brew our spirituality with passion and commitment with the enabling power of the Holy Spirit is the goal. I know my image of beer making is possibly a bit a irreverent but it works for me because I love home brewed beer. The effort and commitment that goes into the creation of the brew is a great part of why the finished product is so satisfying.

Ringma says, “Spirituality is a way of life linked to the purposes of God in redeeming, healing, and mending all of creation. It is a way of life in Christ, through the Spirit, supported by the community of faith and the spiritual disciplines that animates the whole of our life and our witness and our service. Mission is our cooperation in God’s redemptive activity in the world.” Home brew in participation with God’s project of redemption.


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deathDEATH, thou wast once an uncouth hideous thing,
Nothing but bones,
The sad effect of sadder grones :
Thy mouth was open, but thou couldst not sing.

For we consider’d thee as at some six
Or ten yeares hence,
After the losse of life and sense,
Flesh being turn’d to dust, and bones to sticks.

We lookt on this side of thee, shooting short ;
Where we did finde
The shells of fledge souls left behinde,
Dry dust, which sheds no tears, but may extort.

But since our Saviours death did put some bloud
Into thy face ;
Thou art grown fair and full of grace,
Much in request, much sought for, as a good.

For we do now behold thee gay and glad,
As at dooms-day ;
When souls shall wear their new aray,
And all thy bones with beautie shall be clad.

Therefore we can go die as sleep, and trust
Half that we have
Unto an honest faithfull grave ;
Making our pillows either down, or dust.

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moesYesterday we went met with the nice folks of the Department of Immigration & Homeland Security to finalize all of my son’s paperwork to be a US Citizen. While there was a measure of suffering involved with this process, it is not what has disturbed me to write this post.

For lunch we went to Moe’s Southwest Grill in Dilworth. It was a just lunch while we waited for some paperwork to be finalized. The guy at the cash register was a very friendly guy who noticed Noah’s energy and made a comment. We talked for a couple of minutes. He was just a cheerful, engaging guy from Buffalo, NY who had been to some places we’ve been. Good guy. Nice chat. His name was Jeffrey Phillip Maher. I say ‘was’ because of this! About an hour after we left, the guy was dead. Murdered in cold blood by a former employee.

The first thoughts that came to my mind when I read about this were, “No! This can’t be! There’s no way! It was just an average quiet day in Dilworth!”

It is so shocking that 1) life is so fragile and 2) that in light of this fragility, we walk around acting as if we’re unbreakable – as if in a dream.

We were there at Moe’s having a great time, meeting and talking to people, never thinking that in a matter of moments everything would change – as if in a dream.

I live as if there is a permanence to life and this world even though I know there isn’t. Am I delusional? Or just forgetful? I get lost in the details and bored by the beauty of the ordinary. I emphasize the peripherals not the substance. I nurture the temporal rather than seeking after the eternal. Days like to today mash my face into the truth – into the really real.

It’s funny, many people would pull the Theodicy card – “God if you are good and all powerful why don’t you stop such evil acts before they happen.” But if we’re going to talk about the really realness of things, all we can say is that evil IS but God still IS too. There’s a paradox, certainly. But this God isn’t the cush God of consumer delights and satisfactions guaranteed. This is the God with us, who was crucified for us, who has risen to triumph over all that may come against us. No violence committed against us takes away from God or diminishes his glory. Violence only illustrates just how badly we need him and the shalom that he brings.

“It is because suffering, in one form or another, is a common human experience that religions give to suffering a place of central importance or consideration. There are few better ways of coming to understand the religions of the world than by studying what response they make to the common experience of suffering” (John Bowker, Problems of Suffering in World Religion). Dorothee Soelle correctly notes Christianity’s relationship to suffering is “not merely as remover or consoler. It offers no supernatural remedy for suffering but strives for a supernatural use for it. A person’s wounds are not taken from him. Even the risen Christ still had his scars.”

St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 4: 16-17 elaborates on why the scars are important, even necessary:

“Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

Therefore the implications for suffering from a Christian point of view are ultimately teleological. The design has purpose. In view of Christian faith, there is no such thing as meaningless suffering.

And yet our religion, in and of itself, does not provide solace. Christian comforters do best to sit and move in silence trusting that their presence articulates, nay incarnates, truths that cannot be formed with words.

As C.S. Lewis says in response to his would-be comforters:

Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.

The Lord be with you.

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