19 July 2009

Gong Alien

This is my last post here on ::not as big as i am::. I've begun a new blog, more about what I've seen or done than about what I've been thinking or commentaries on books. I wanted to begin capturing my life as an alien in Wollongong, Australia. I'll be reporting on my life on that blog. No more posts for me on this blog. So go on . . . Get! :-)

15 July 2009

My Resilient Friend

An admired friend of mine from University has written a book and for almost a year now, I've been receiving his brief excellent thoughts like this one I'd like to share. Perhaps you'd want/need to buy his book, My Resilient Life. ;-)

I love those gracious, wise people who give others space and simply fill the room with quiet grace. By letting me be, they empower me to be...better. Read on for more.

01 July 2009

Waste Not! Food Swap, 27 July

This time Nicole and Ella and I went together and we took Corey and Emily with us. Some of the plants on the table are ones I planted in beds I helped build on a former landfill site. They taste great. We also swapped three lemons from the tree in our backyard, spring/green onions, and some Thyme for some lettuce, rocket/arugula, and a mandarin orange or two. We also took some parsley and cilantro/coriander.

You make grass grow for cattle and make vegetables for humans to use in order to get food from the ground.

Rain and snow come down from the sky. They do not go back again until they water the earth. They make it sprout and grow so that it produces seed for farmers and food for people to eat.

Share your food with the hungry, take the poor and homeless into your house, and cover them with clothes when you see them naked. Don't refuse to help your relatives.

Who, then, is the faithful and wise servant? The master will put that person in charge of giving the other servants their food at the right time. That servant will be blessed if his master finds him doing this job when he comes.

Whoever has two shirts should share with the person who doesn't have any. Whoever has food should share it too.

Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothes.

Don't work for food that spoils. Instead, work for the food that lasts into eternal life. This is the food the Son of Man will give you. After all, the Father has placed his seal of approval on him.

They were joyful and humble as they ate at each other's homes and shared their food.

Yet, by doing good, he has given evidence of his existence. He gives you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons. He fills you with food and your lives with happiness.

27 June 2009

Faith Disoriented

Daniel Dennett, Mother Theresa, and Sigmund Freud walk into a bar. Who do you suppose gets up off the ground the least confused? . . . It's just an introductory joke I made up.

Below in block quotes is a comment I copied from a blog post by Richard Beck. He responds to Daniel Dennett's judgment of Mother Theresa saying,
I see [Dennett's] point. But again, I think he's working with the Freudian simplification: Faith and doubt work along a simple continuum. If she expresses doubt she's got to be an atheist (or she's confused).

But scholars of the religious experience have long said that faith and doubt are two sides of the same coin. Placing them in a binary tension misses vast swaths of the religious experience.

In short, I think a part of what these essays can accomplish is to expose these binary models found in people like Freud and Dennett as well as in many Christians sitting in churches (the healthy-minded who dismiss the sick soul and avoid lament).

The "she" referred to is the saint now known as Mother Theresa. One thing the blog post claims is that not all religious varieties fall into an either/or category of atheism or theism. Faith isn't a light switch that is either on or off. Freud, on the other hand, believed that even if a legitimate faith that was somehow out of science's reach did/could exist, no one would accept that faith because people will only accept faith to provide consolation of their anxieties. People who live with the tension of faith and doubt, like Mother Theresa in India and like Jesus enduring shame, seem to be phenomena Freud ignored. Put simply, Dennett, an athiest, tried to put Theresa in the category of atheist because she doubted.

We trained hard in soccer. Our abilities were sharpened up. Our skills developed, our speed and agility heightened, we scrimmaged the girls' varsity team and won, handily. We were oriented well toward soccer. Then, we played our first real game of the season and lost decisively. For the next practice time, we didn't go back onto the field. We went inside for "chalk talk". If we could've we would've watched video clips to help rehash the most painful parts of our loss in disbelief. Now soccer, the game we thought we knew more or less, had dis-oriented our team. Eventually, we pushed past the loss and somehow ramped our training up even more. In fact, to an extent, the pain of the loss pushed us. The dissatisfaction with loss motivated us toward becoming a better soccer team. We cursed the defeat that eventually blessed us. Whether or not we won a game, that defeat and the practice that followed made every game richer. Soccer became our master again, so to speak. It re-oriented us to soccer in a more respectful way.

Eventually, doubting Theresa recognized God's presence in the times she had been most convinced of God's absence. How long was this sense of God's absence? Decades. She must've passed through dark times of dis-orientation, . . . but apparently later felt re-oriented in a new way more fully aware of darkness. She cursed the doubt that later made her feel most deeply united with Jesus.

I follow Beck in the above comment that "faith and doubt are two sides of the same coin." The Biblical Psalms, for example, witness to orientation, dis-orientation, and re-orientation. The over-arching story of the Bible tells of good, bad, then better. So, doubt isn't the end of faith; it's the beginning of faith's new birth.

In my own story . . . when the recognition for my need overcame the fear of confessing it, I received Jesus as my/the Redeemer and Master of myself/the world. Still wet from my watery grave, I was beginning to feel God's rescue as well as I understood it. Then, a feeling of God's absence replaced the sense of salvation. My understanding was disoriented, confused. Could I continue to practice my faith? If I want to know Christ and the power of his rising, I must share in his suffering, conform to his death.

17 June 2009

Me . . . a Winter Baby?

This is how a girl from Queensland keeps her "born-in-a-Texan-summer" baby warm in a New South Wales winter. I might have endured snow and minus 30 temperatures in Canada; a non insulated apartment and icy cold bike rides to school in Japan . . . but I still call it cold here.

As is typical of homes in this part of Australia, we do not have the luxury of central heat or ducted heating. While the temperatures remain above freezing (lows from 38F and up) and daytimes can even be "pleasant" (highs in the high 50s), we still have to work hard at keeping warm. Our house does well at holding in the cold air -- a good thing for summer days.

Many mornings we put a coat over Ella's pjs and slippers over her feet. There is nothing we can do to keep her hands warm as she crawls all over our wooden floors. And nothing I can do to keep those chilly hands away from me while she nurses! She doesn't seem too bothered by the cold, the attire, or that fact that she'll have many of her birthdays in the dead of winter as long as we live in Australia.

I'd have to say though, that there isn't much cuter than a bundled up baby . . .

12 June 2009

One Thing to Avoid

"Avoiding a fight is a mark of honor; only fools insist on quarreling" (Proverbs 20:3, NLT)

These are someone else's thoughts I wanted to share:

I’ve found that for most people, it can be easy to start a fight but hard to end one. It’s easy to get offended and say things that we know we shouldn’t, but once you get started, it’s difficult to stop. It’s hard to let it go. That’s why the scripture tells us that it’s much better not to ever even start a quarrel.

If you want God to honor you, if you want to enjoy your life to the fullest, then always strive to be a peacemaker. Be the kind of person who goes the extra mile to avoid an unnecessary argument. Make your home a place of peace. Choose to be in harmony with your spouse and the people you live your daily life with. The Bible says that you are blessed when you are a peacemaker. So today, look for ways to make peace. Choose to overcome strife and wear the mark of honor He has given to you.

God of peace and new beginnings, today I choose to be a peacemaker. Let me break out of my antagonistic spirit and get unstuck from miry quarrels. Let my insisting spirit die. Dice it up with the sword of your Spirit. Let my next argument be to start something life-giving that begins and ends with peace. Let me take the time necessary before I react to begin in peace and let that peace be sustained by your patience. May I wear that mark of honor by avoiding strife. I yield every area of my heart, hands, and feet to You. Like Jesus. Amen.

04 June 2009

A Good Prayer (a poem)

Open up the windows and doors.

Clear out the dusty toys from the attic.

Put on a mask and take out the trash that’s stinking up the basement.

But open the windows.

Don’t let the wind slam the doors.

Let fresh air into the house.

Let the warm, then the cool
summer breeze change the mood of every room.

Take a breath of it. Yeah!

Breathe in, breathe out.

Let out a joyful shout!

Grab a broom and sweep the house out.

Let the warm summer breeze draw you outside.

Under the sky. Under the sun. In the grass and among the trees.

Let the sun warm you up and the breeze cool you down.

Cry a little, but smile, too.

Just breathe in, breathe out.

Go back in the house and put up the broom.

Close the doors, but leave the windows open for now.

Laugh a little now.

It was a good prayer.

“How much do I owe for this sunshine and fresh ai

by Jason Whaley

- - - -

Poem inspired . . .

Matthew 5:43-48

James 1:17

Somewhat by Frank Laubach:
January 3, 1930

To be able to look backward and say, “This, this has been the finest year of any life”—that is glorious! But anticipation! To be able to look ahead and say, “The present year can and will be better!”—that is more glorious! I have done nothing but open windows—God has done the rest. There has been a succession of marvelous experiences of the friendship of God. I resolved that I would succeed better this year with my experiment of filling every minute full of the thought of God than I succeeded last year. And I added another resolve—to be as wide open toward people and their need as I am toward God. Windows open outward as well as upward. Windows open especially downward where people need the most!

30 May 2009

Fearless and Free and Sharing

Read this short blog post about debt and sharing in ancient Israel: Fearless and Free

29 May 2009

Waste Not! Food Swap

I took Ella to this today. Awesome. Neat. Even in a bit of rain. Even though I had nothing to give, the others gave me a bunch of huge healthy kale, basil, coriander, limes, tamarillos, a bunch of chili peppers, a few chokos, and thyme--all fresh and organic. Ella especially loved the birds, ducks, chickens, and the one Chihuahua that was standing behind the coffee servers. The Garden's blog (with pictures of last month's Waste Not! Food Swap) here.

28 May 2009

Sodom, Sheep, and Simeon

This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.

- Ezekiel 16:49

Matthew 10:16-20
I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

Pray for opportunities to witness as a sheep among wolves.

Simeon’s Song
Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.

19 May 2009

Smile by Faith

I read a devotional today and wanted to share a more concise, redacted, and personalised version of it:

When times are tough, when things aren’t going as planned, many people have a long, sour face. They’re down, discouraged, worried, and upset. But when you choose to rejoice, you smile and have a pleasant demeanor no matter what. And it’s not because you necessarily feel like it or because everything's perfect. You just simply smile by faith. You smile knowing that your expression is saying to God, “I trust You. I know you're working all things out for my good.”

However, . . . what if I can't smile. I've tried to move my face into a smile. I've tried to repeat the words in my head, "God will make a way," but I can't believe the words right now. It's not a feeling of a rainy day, but one of being buried under water. What can I give thanks for? In what good do I believe?

Things are too bad, too miserable, too chronic to accept as permanent. There must be an End to evil and suffering. There must be Judgment against the violent, the greedy. I'm not one of these. So, I will long for the Day of Judgment with a . . . smile, though tears still flow.


Joyful One, I choose to rejoice in you. Your goodness goes way beyond my difficulty. Even when I don’t see a way, aren't you making a way for us? I surrender every area of my life to you in confident hope that in the end you'll put all things to rights. You're the Judge I trust. With my big brother, Jesus, I pray with a smile on my face. Amen.

Space for Joy

I have committed myself to joy. I have come to realize that those who make space for joy, those who prefer nothing to joy, those who desire the utter reality, will most assuredly have it. We must not be afraid to announce it to refugees, slum dwellers, saddened prisoners, angry prophets. Now and then we must even announce it to ourselves. In this prison of now, in this cynical and sophisticated age, someone must believe in joy.

- Richard Rohr

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who live in it.
Let the floods clap their hands;
let the hills sing together for joy
at the presence of the Lord,
for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity.

- Psalm 98:7-9

11 May 2009


I got this these two e-mails and thought they applied to me well since we've only been living in Australia for about four months now.


You must avoid breaking when things don't go your way.
You'll always be secure to the degree that you accept change.
True security comes from being able to bend your insecurities.

When you recognize and accept that change will inevitably take place.
You'll become secure, not by standing still, but by growing, moving, and staying energized.
Be secure in the knowledge that you can deal with anything that happens to you.

Have the courage to bet on your ideas.
Take some calculated risks and act on your dreams.
There is no permanent security on this earth, there is only opportunity.


Today's Scripture

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28).

Today's Word

Thank God, we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken! The kingdom is simply God’s system. It’s His way of doing things. The Bible tells us that His kingdom is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. In God’s kingdom, when you give, it shall be given back to you, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. In God’s kingdom, you can have an abundance of peace and prosperity in your spirit, mind, and body no matter what’s happening around you. And just like the verse says, His kingdom cannot be shaken! That means, if the stock market goes down, God’s kingdom is still strong. If the housing market goes down, God’s kingdom is still strong. If gas prices go up, God’s kingdom is still strong! You can live in God’s kingdom that cannot be shaken—no matter what’s happening here on earth. Begin to thank God today for His kingdom. Thank Him for His system of blessing in every area of your life. As you obey His Word and worship Him with a grateful attitude, you will see His hand of blessing and walk in the abundant life He has for you!

A Prayer for Today

Heavenly Father, thank You for the kingdom. Thank You for Your system of blessing in my life. I open my heart to You and ask that You reveal Your truth to me so that I can live to please You all the days of my life. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

03 May 2009

Lion and Lamb

Last month, in a weekly local newspaper given complimentarily to a large part of Wollongong . . . Toward the middle, on opposing pages, two "Easter" articles.

The left article, written by a Pastor, expressed conservative Christian beliefs, namely Jesus' resurrection. A Lionish Easter representation. The right article, written by a Reverend, emphasized the death of Jesus, subversive to dominating empires and kingdoms and powers of the world. A Lambish Easter representation.

My reactions . . . The left article seemed to represent something I believe is core and essential to the Christian faith, ie Jesus' resurrection. The article also represented the typical debating spirit of the church, especially since the Reformation. It chose to challenge atheists [stereotyped] in an argument of sorts. However, I can't imagine a lamb starting an argument with someone who was already mocking him and misunderstanding him (Matthew 26:62f).

. . . The right article seemed to represent a foreign Christianity. Toward the end of the article, the Rev said, "The cross stands as a critique of domination and those things that diminish life and the divine spark in us all." This article was particularly engaging and interesting to me. I thought, How true that "he was killed because of his politics--because of his passion for God's justice." How true that "God in Jesus . . . [on the cross] is a metaphor of radical grace . . ." How true that the cross shows in a subversive way the evils of dominating and destructive systems in the world that deny the image of God in us! Yet, is that all? Certainly not! If the cross reveals sin's darkness, how much more that the resurrection stands as God's power to deal with sin and redeem life from death!

Easter is not only the Lamb's judgment of the powers, but the Lion's supreme dominance over them through the vindicating resurrection and the rightful enthronement and new creation that follows.

01 May 2009


Invisible God, The I AM:

too many images, too much spam

delete all but one

move spam to the trash

close out my programs--

just force quit all before i crash

give me a reboot, patiently i wait

re-install your image, i pray

run in me

yours is my self, my network, my world

am i really to be the password anew?

you’ve restored me--Oh, GLORY!

loving you and your world,

alive and giving you praise, Oh, I AM.


28 April 2009

Without a Camera

Dear God,

Thank you for, in all your power and wisdom, allowing me to leave my digital video camera on the train Saturday.

Actually, I was depressed Saturday night because I just felt so small and worthless. But Sunday was a new day and I began learning to be thankful. Thanks for Sunday. The self-absorbed depression turned more into humility and joy. I'm able to laugh at myself and because of the irony of winning something through losing.

And thank you for letting me be absent-minded for that brief second on the train. I don't blame you for not reminding me or intervening. I don't blame you as if you intervened to make me forget the camera. I'm just saying I attribute the good that came out of it to you and your generosity.

I'm thankful because several times in the last few days I wanted to take some video of Ella being amazing. I said to myself, "Oh, I can't take a video. I'll have to just watch her and be with her now." I paid extra close attention to her and tried to memorize her movements and faces and sounds. I felt especially connected to her and her dad.

I'm thankful because I experienced Nicole's forgiveness. You know how she responded to my absent-mindedness. The weight of losing such a valuable record of important moments in our lives and the technological ability to record many more memories all makes the depth of her forgiveness more encouraging.

I'm thankful because I also realize the blessing it is to record image and video of people and things. It seems to say, The person herein pictured is important and significant in this very moment and should be remembered. I'm thankful that I've been able to take so much video and so many pictures of Ella and Nicole and other people we love and scenes of God's creation we care about.

What a blessing, God, to have a camera and not to have a camera! You certainly do send both rain and sunshine to the just and the unjust. Whether I'm at my best or worst, you're patient and eager enough to wait for me to become a blessing.

And thank you for the Mullinses' camera and generosity so we could have afternoon tea with them and have Ella's nine-month old picture taken.

Please let us have the camera again if that's your will.

Let all my life be all yours. Amen.

23 April 2009

The Rescue

To save my own child I would do anything no matter the cost. To save other children, even if it meant giving up a bit of comfort, I'm not sure I would do it so eagerly, especially when there's no guarantee the children will actually be rescued. Would I be giving up some comfort for nothing? I don't see any easy options for doing any great things.

22 April 2009

Ignore God: the domino effect

Shouldn’t I feel sorry for this important city, Nineveh? It has more than 120,000 people in it as well as many animals. These people couldn’t tell their right hand from their left. -Jonah 4:11 GW

A righteous man has regard for the life of his animal, But {even} the compassion of the wicked is cruel. -Proverbs 12:10 NAS

Or, The righteous know the needs of their animals, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel. -Proverbs 12:10 NRSV

. . . 1 There is no faithfulness or loyalty, and no knowledge of God in the land. 2 Swearing, lying, and murder, and stealing and adultery break out; bloodshed follows bloodshed. 3 Therefore the land mourns, and all who live in it languish; together with the wild animals and the birds of the air, even the fish of the sea are perishing. -Hosea 4:1-3 NRSV

19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God;
20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope
21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now;
23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. -Romans 8:19-23

Happy Birthday to me! 34 years old and looking forward to the redemption of my body!

Happy Earth Day, too! God, set Earth free from its bondage to decay and let Earth see your children when they're revealed. Amen.

17 April 2009

Ancient Momma's Poem

I thought I'd share an ancient poem that has meant a lot to me since that week we found out we we're having a girl and we had a lot of anxiety about the placenta previa and so on.

Ella's born now. No more previa and she's not yet weaned. We still have pressures and ambitions from without and from within . . . This poem helps me to find calm:

Before the Lord
I'm not proud in passions or logic
I don't occupy my self with things too great and too marvelous for me
But I've calmed and quieted my soul
like a mother calms her weaned child
My soul is like the weaned child that is with me
Hoping in the Lord

Psalm 131 with some poetic license.

10 April 2009

Chaste Good Friday

The preacher said, "Drip, drip, drip, . . . our innocent Savior's blood from the horrible crown of thorns . . . every one our sins bringing lash after lash of the whips made of bones and sharp steel . . . nails driven through bone and flesh . . ."

This is often how I've heard Good Friday told by Christians. It's also a brief sketch of Mel Gibson's the Passion of the Christ. Lots of physical violence and gruesome depictions and descriptions and elaborations of the Son of God's crucifixion.

The Gospel of Mark is different, and I think for a significant reason:

I begin reading about Good Friday in the 14th chapter of Mark and the first time I encounter physical violence against Jesus is verse 65:

Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, "prophesy!" The guards also took him over and beat him.

Then, Mark gives no more attention to physical violence against the Son of God until chapter 15, verse 15:

So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

What brevity! In a single sentence Mark says "flogging" and "to be crucified" without gruesome depiction. Then, in 15:17 and 19:

. . . and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him . . . They struck his head with a reed . . .

Restrained, the violence depictions in Mark are limited to four verses out of about 38 since Jesus' arrest. A "violence" verb list would be:

after flogging

Eleven verbs, four of which inherently imply violence, none of which does Mark elaborate. Each time violence comes up, Mark moves on past it.

So what of Good Friday does Mark emphasize and bring out? I think the clue is in 14:51-52 and in the frequent mention of clothes. The closest Mark comes to belaboring violence against the Son is when he says, "they stripped him of the purple cloak . . ." 15:20.

Here is 14:51-52:
A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.

It's a metaphor for the disciples' shame. In fact, the verse just prior says, "All of them deserted him and fled." I think the point is that Jesus suffered the shame his disciples and friends deserved. There are no Jews, Empires, or instruments of torture. Just naked shame.

Listen again at the chasteness and brevity of Mark's crucifixion description:

And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take. It was nine o'clock in the morning when they crucified him.

Mark has something we've often missed. Or, put another way, we feel like we've got to add so much ornamentation compared to Mark's simple telling.

Perhaps we can learn to tell the Gospel the way Mark does it. What are some ways we can tell the Good News more like Mark does and less like the movies have?

One way I thought of doing this is concentrating on just telling the Easter story instead of emphasizing elaborate explanations and atonement theories (not that they're bad). Perhaps chastity is a powerful seed for conversion we've overlooked in the past.

09 April 2009

Reptile or Mammal?

Reptiles are deadly serious.
Mammals are playfully curious.

Sharks, though not reptiles, and dolphins, certainly mammals, demonstrate this well.

Sharks simply swim, kill, copulate, react, and survive.

Dolphins, on the other hand, have a more abundant life. They play, laugh, kill, mate, act, even save humans (although they've also been known to hurt humans). They don't just survive; they really live.

I want to be the mammal. How do I do this?

Copulate or mate?

Be reactive or proactive?

Survive or thrive?

Be cynical or curious?

Withdraw or explore?

05 April 2009

Life . . . What It Is!

Life . . . is what it is . . . Life is good, then it's bad, then it's good again . . . Life is just absolutely wonderful and amazing! . . . Now I'm ridiculously hungry! . . . The whole world loves me, doesn't it! . . . Won't you take me out of my car seat so I can play? . . .

No prejudgment . . . No terrible memories rehashed . . . Now is what I have and I'm thankful for it and have decided to eat it and enjoy it . . . I'm free and I can move so I will! . . . What is that? . . . You love me, too, don't you! . . . Good. Now what is that flavor? . . . Why aren't you smiling? . . . Why aren't you picking me up? . . . Can you put me down? I'm in the mood to play . . .

Those are some phrases that I think express the tone of Ella's life as well as some of the sentiment of the book of Ecclesiastes.

Oh, and one more phrase that Ella says quite clearly: LOL.

Press "Play", then press "HQ" to view in High Quality . . .

18 March 2009

Today's Journal Entry (w/ a bit o' lyric)

It's killing me to be quiet . . . I've been staying at home with my healing face . . . reading books, reading blogs, cleaning up the place. Mostly taking care of Ella and washing dishes and talking with Nicole. Today, though, I get the stitches out and, supposedly, Dr. M says I can rock climb tonight.

So, tonight while climbing with my partner will be another test of whether I'm a good listener and communicator.

. . .

Stitches out. 10% skin strength in my face wound. Thumbs up for climbing, "Just don't smash your face on the wall." "Okay."

. . .

So, I'm back from climbing and I think I listened well . . . then I stumbled and struggled on the question of "So what do you do?" by the new partner. There are three of us now climbing together Thursday nights. Great time.

. . .

Prayed with Corey via chat for the Ockers of Australia, rednecks of sorts whom, I know, Jesus would love. They have a great sense and practice of EQUITY, RISK-TAKING, TAKING CARE OF EACH OTHER, ANTI-HYPOCRISY WHETHER RELIGIOUS OR OTHER, . . . CONFESSION OF PERSONAL FAULTS, NO PRETENTIOUSNESS, NO SHOWING OFF! They sound like I imagine the Twelve.

I end today thanking God for my precious wife and daughter . . . and the new U2 album! Here's a lyric that reminds me of trying to rush prayers to God and God speaking back:

Restart and reboot yourself
You’re free to go
Oh, ohhh
Shout for joy if you get the chance
Password, you, enter here, right now

Oh, ohhh
You know your name so punch it in
Hear me, cease to speak that I may speak
Shush now
Oh, ohhh
Then don’t move or say a thing

Okay, another good lyric:

I can stand up for hope, faith, love
But while I’m getting over certainty
Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady

15 March 2009

Week of Meek and a Poem

On Sundays we've simply been reading sections of 1 Thessalonians and making a commitment to make room for God to change certain things in our lives. Last week I determined to work quietly with my hands. That would be my new 'practice', so to speak, not that it was a new thought, just something I'm not normally intentional about.

I called it "the week of meek" so I wouldn't forget to reign in my urge to talk about God and faith ALL day. I learned three things after practicing this attitude among non-Christians for a week:

1) It is a challenge for me to listen and be content with living as a Christian without talking about it A LOT. I tend to be slightly pushy and wordy about my beliefs without listening and getting the vibe of the other person.

2) Hard work is hard work, especially when done quietly. On a scale of 1-10, one being the quietest worker and ten being the most talkative, I believe I'm usually a seven or eight.

3) Sometimes I unintentionally use God, through overt Christian talk, to make my self look righteous, more righteous than I am. Really I've been aware of this habit since the late '90s, but I haven't changed much since then in the area of self-righteousness.

Practicing is hard. It's like training. It reveals weaknesses. But it's good. I realize I need more consistent training. I need to stretch my self further. I'm going to keep this week of meek going a little longer, at this point I'm thinking two more weeks.

Of course, I'm ready to talk about my faith if someone demonstrates curiosity, but when I feel the urge to tell them everything I think I know . . . I'm going to reign the urge in so I can give them an opportunity either to express more curiosity or to express their own beliefs and knowledge.

Since, if you've read this post thus far, you've proven to love this kind of information and you know you're welcome to comment as lengthily as you like, I will share one more thing from the week, a poem that popped into my head late one night, just for my blog readers, if I have any, to enjoy. If you read 1 Thessalonians, the poem should make sense. Anyway, here it is,

Turning from idols to serve the True One
Laboring, started by love
Nursing mother, caring for her own
Overflowing from one to one
Until the Voice and the trumpet call
Then, "Look!" . . .
in the sky!
meet the Son!

Oh, and here's an excellent principle I learned, intellectually, from Dr. Friedman, which I hope will help me keep reigning in my eloquent waxing:

“People cannot hear you unless they are moving toward you, which means that as long as you are in a pursuing or rescuing position, your message will never catch up, no matter how eloquently or repeatedly you articulate your ideas.”

08 March 2009

Areas of Spiritual Poverty

One of my professors drew this little diagram back in 1997, I believe. I don't remember what he said, but the image has bothered me ever since . . . in a good way, I think. Recently, I thought of adding the question to ask my self in all honesty. Am I impoverished in each of these three areas? Is it possible to find the sweet spot? Is it even worth asking? Should the words be different, like WAY/TRUTH/LIFE?

God So Loved The . . .

Any comments? Thoughts? I was trying to capture "tax collectors and sinners" with more provocative language. The spider part was partly inspired by some, perhaps faulty, theology by my lovely wife. "God only created spiders after sin and the cursing of the ground." :-)

03 March 2009

Religious Practices (Or Practicing Worship)

A couple weeks ago we had a high intensity workout for worship.

Okay, I know that sounds strange if not unscriptural. Let me explain. I believe when Christians get together it should be for the purpose of celebrating what God has done and getting fit for daily tests. For example, to grow able to love our neighbors, we practice loving on each other when we commune together; to become fit enough to consider trials to be pure joy, we each other and carry each other's burdens in church.

So here's what we did a couple Sundays ago just before communion, how we built up an appetite for the Lord's Supper:

We said to each other, "I don't know what I'm doing, but God loves me anyway."
We discussed, "What is Christ best known for throughout the world?" and basically said, "Love."
We discussed, "What are Christians (we) best known for?" and basically said, "self-righteous."
We said to each other, "Oftentimes, I don't love, but God loves me anyway."

High-intensity workout:
We practiced saying each of Jesus' beattitudes to each other by putting the teaching into a common phrase.
For "Blessed are the poor for theirs is the Kingdom," we said, "I need you."
"Blessed are the mourners for they will be comforted," . . . "I'm sorry." (meaning sorry for our sins)
"Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth," . . . "I respect you." (meaning although I could exert power over you in some way, I choose to respect you)
"Blessed are the ones who hunger and thirst for righteousness . . ." . . . "I want to do what's right, regardless."
"Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy," . . . "I have forgiven you already." (this was powerful to hear)
"Blessed are the pure in hearth for they will see God," . . . "I will be honest with you always." (this was particularly hard for me to say)
"Blessed are the peacemakers . . ." . . . "Let me be the first to stop the fighting." (this opened my eyes to my lack of self-regulation when I see the opportunity to win a fight)

Then, at the climax of our workout we remembered Jesus' teaching on LOVE: "A new command I give you: Love one another. This is how the world will know that you are my disciples." So we said to each other, "I will cut you slack because Jesus did me." (since practicing this statement aloud in church, I've said it numerous times during the week in my mind and returned a blessing for a curse)

We discussed the question "How has God been good to us?" and retold parts of the story of God in Christ.

It seems like church is meant to get us fit for heaven. So I plan to look at it this way from now on. The church should be a blessing to the world. How can we do that without practicing and working out when we get together? How can we really hunger and thirst for the Lord's Supper without doing core Christian practices together? How can we love like Christ without practicing? It won't happen by accident or just wishful thinking.

23 January 2009

Australians, Generalizations

Okay, remember the quote I put on here the other day: Rare is the culture in which all or even half of its members follow all of its customs. Family members tend to select from their culture’s repertoire of customs and ceremonies those behaviors that support their own idiosyncratic patterns, whether they are healthy patterns or neurotic, and pay most attention to those values in their tradition that prevent change. Edwin Friedman

So I've generalized four values/customs/behaviors from my impression of Australians, but I'm in no way saying all or even half of the broad Australian culture.

1. Australians work hard. Very hard. And well. Very hard and very well.
2. Australians have holidays well. They know how to spend a good vacation and do so.
3. While drinking tea, coffee, or beer Australians insult each other politely; it makes you feel like "one of the gang".
4. Australians are averse to religious pomp and certainty, but not to good works or spirituality.

I believe all these values are contagious. For example, tonight, we were drinking tea with several Australians and Corey, the American started laughing because a certain brand of Australian tea prints on the boxes: "How an Australians should enjoy a up of tea . . . boil . . . steep . . . drink tea while politely insulting each other." Right-o!

I believe there is nothing particularly good or evil about any one of these [4] characteristics. I think it's by the grace and truth of the Word that these values can be redeemed and saved for God's good pleasure. As I am invited to join into life here, I approach the invitation with thoughts of my redeeming God.

17 January 2009

New Creation Sermon

When you look at the world, what do you see? frustration, money, brokenness, pain, suffering, . . .

But I believe God is in the business of new creation.

Galatians 6:12-16

In the Smoky Mountains where plants and trees were torn out in order to put down a winding asphalt road, soon plants and trees will bust through the stony ground. What once was bitumen will soon be lush re-growth and life. Who is behind this?

Genesis 1:2, 7

From everything being one jumbled up mess to being separated into different places and paths, God is the One who creates order from chaos.

Genesis 2:7-8, 15

The first gardener, Adam. The first vocation, blessing the earth. How'd Adam do? sin . . . chaos . . . flood--the separated waters went back to being jumbled up in the middle and destroying everything. Sin leads to chaos in creation. But God made a new world out of the destruction.

So then the second gardener, Noah, planted a vineyard in the new creation.

Genesis 9:20

How'd Noah do? sin . . . chaos . . .

Hosea 4:1-3

No acknowledgement of God . . . leads to bloodshed, etc., . . . leads to fish in the sea and birds of the air dying . . . order returns to chaos . . . what a mess

But there's a new gardener:

John 20:11-15

Jesus is the Cosmic Gardener:

God went to the center of creation, the most broken part, to heal it, to make it new again. He had to be all in all. (Ephesians 1:22-23)

For God to become all in all isn't easy. Bringing order from disorder isn't easy. Bringing life from death isn't natural. Healing creation isn't easy. God had to heal it from the inside out. The Son is the firstborn of all creation. Without him, none of creation can be reborn. (Colossians 1:15)

His healing begins in you:

Philippians 1:6, "I’m convinced that God, who began this good work in you, will carry it through to completion on the day of Christ Jesus."

There are four circles. In which one are you?

1. The world, the cosmos, is all good.
2. All is wrong with the world.
3. Through Jesus, God is redeeming the world, making it new. Jesus is my Savior.
4. God is sending you and me together into the world to be part of its healing, its being created anew, his will done on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus is the Lord of all.

I was in a mall recently, followed the signs to the men's toilets, and found a one stall room occupied and therefore full. I turned to rush to find new signs leading to new toilets. Just as I turned, there was another man going in to the one-stall room. I told him, "There's only one toilet and it's taken." He said, "That is ridiculous!" in a perturbed, frustrated voice. Sufficed to say he beat me to the new toilets. After washing my hands, I was in the fourth circle, so to speak, thankful and ready to do good works. But the man disgruntled at the one stall was drying his hands still with a sourpuss face as if the one-stall situation had ruined the goodness of the new and spacious men's room. He was still stuck in the second circle as if the world were wrong without any hope of redemption.

But I believe God is in the business of new creation. So, whatever truth there is to all four of these circles, I want to be in the fourth circle as much of the time as possible.

Cultural Camouflage

Rare is the culture in which all or even half of its members follow all of its customs. Family members tend to select from their culture’s repertoire of customs and ceremonies those behaviors that support their own idiosyncratic patterns, whether they are healthy patterns or neurotic, and pay most attention to those values in their tradition that prevent change. Edwin Friedman

I must confess that I don't follow all American customs. I've often wondered just how many I do follow. Perhaps like my parents and siblings and church and hometown, though, I selected certain behaviors that suited my own idiosyncratic patterns, good and bad, so I could maintain the emotional processes I was already used to.

Have you ever made generalizations like, "I just don't get along with [those kinds of people]," or "Americans are so loud?" Maybe those statements are appropriate, but to blanket those generalizations on all Americans or on all the people of a particular culture (e.g., Western) or subculture (e.g., church) is ignorant. To say, "I hate Australian culture," is ignorant of the fact that perhaps the Australians with whom I have been acquainted weren't following all or even half of Australia's behaviors.

I'm an American living in Australia, but I'm not defined by my being American. Who or what defines me? Who or what is . . . me? Do I define my self? Or does my self define me? Or does the Creator define me?

What value is it to dialogue with these questions? It's a value to me as I begin a new life in and among various cultures and families. It's important that I don't blame God when it is I who is slack in my responsibilities. It's important that I don't believe in cultural superiority. Culture is neither determining or defining. It simply brings to light society, communities, families, and selves. Culture is neither good nor evil. As Paul put it, "Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; what matters is new creation." That is the rule.

1. I will try not to be rash about applying generalizations to individuals based on my impression of generic Australian culture.
2. I will not apply my experience with specific individuals to all Australians.
3. I will seek to find new creation within people no matter what impression of their culture or subculture's stain.
4. I will take responsibility for my behavior--it's not because of my culture or subculture, but because I have succeed or failed in taking steps to follow Jesus whom I regard as my Savior and Lord.

12 January 2009

Three Pictures

Ella with two suiters, Joshua and Jonas.
Ella with "Aunt" Brenna, teammate and friend, just before we took off for Australia.
Teammates, Shawn and his son, Darian.

06 January 2009

Thirteen Pictures

We're here in Memphis briefly, saying goodbye (for a while) to friends like Kari Nieman:

Some of our first friends in Austin that we met in June. We will remember Sami and Abby in prayer:

Another wonderful friend and encouragement in our faith, Jason. Friends since 1993:

Our life for the past few months has been a trip. Thankfully, we always packed light. ;-)

Ella's a triune citizen: of U.S.A., Australia, and Heaven:

Our mission coach, Amos Allen, and his wife, Anne, a mentor:

Shipping our belongings and attachments and accoutrements to Australia, with Ella showing the actual size during tummy time:

Ms. Toni teaching Ella who made the fish:

Mark and Cindy Oswald are some of our most righteous supporters. Mark let me join him in home remodeling work while we lived in Austin. The work he gave me let us "live a little" and also let me see how to work like a Christian. And Cindy demonstrates how to be nice. ;-) Cindy grew up in the same small town in Oklahoma that my dad did, Velma Alma:

Wonderful friends of ours, Ken, Patty, and Alex Kohl! We knew they liked us because they've always given us a hard time. As you can see, Ella punched Alex in the face. He's fine now, though. I think Ella's shaping up to be my million dollar baby (that is, a boxing success):

Our wonderful teammates and friends! The Griffiths are still awaiting their permanent residents visa, so they can't come to Australia yet, but we and the Mullinses are flying on tomorrow. We'll stay in touch through e-mail and video conferencing and of course we will gather 'round the throne together in prayer:

Aunt Missy makes Ella comfortable:

Baby Ella shows Grammy and Papaw how to play UNO: