Friday, August 31, 2007

Facebook

Believe it or not, I'm on Facebook. It seems very complicated to me right now, but I'm learning. It's fascinating to me that there are more and more ways people can connect with each other. That's a good thing. But I can see that a person can spend all day "connecting" yet never actually see anybody. That's not a good thing.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Mother Teresa and doubt

It's been in the news a lot lately that Mother Teresa (1910-1997) struggled more than anyone knew with doubt and a sense of alienation from God. What strikes me about this is that people are surprised by it. The public figured all along that if there's anyone (besides Billy Graham perhaps) who was perfect, it was Mother Teresa. Even Christians invoke her name when trying to illustrate the standard of perfection to which God calls human beings.

Time magazine called her doubt "Mother Teresa's Crisis of Faith." Raymond Flynn, former Ambassador to the Vatican, called it "the work of the devil." Whatever (or whoever) the source of her struggles, I'm sure atheist Christopher Hitchins feels vindicated for calling Mother Teresa "a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud." I prefer to think of her as an ordinary woman who knew and expressed the love of Jesus a lot better than I do.

Not that I wish doubt upon anyone, but in a way it's good the world is talking about Mother Teresa's feelings of emptiness. Perhaps it will lead some to the truth that Christianity is not a "things go better with Jesus" kind of religion. Perhaps it will lead some to read portions of the Bible like Psalm 13 ("How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?"), Psalm 22 ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"), Psalm 55 ("My heart is severely pained within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me"), or the books of Job, Lamentations, and others.

I ran across an excellent essay on Scriptorium Daily called "Why Was Mother Teresa Sad?" The author, Fred Sanders, offers these 10 possible reasons Mother Teresa often went through the dark night of the soul:

1. Maybe it’s depressing to be immersed in the lives of the poor of Calcutta, every day for your whole life. Think about the last thing you saw that “ruined your day.” Then think Calcutta.

2. Maybe she was very empathetic. See point 1, repeat.

3. Maybe her sense of God’s nearness was so intense for a brief time in the 1940s that everything after that seemed, by comparison, empty. The key is, “by comparison.”

4. Maybe she inherited from her religious culture an unrealistic set of expectations about the level of spiritual intimacy to expect in her emotional life. Whether it is the expectation of “being visited by extraordinary consoling graces” in a Catholic context or “he walks with me and he talks with me” in an evangelical context, the gap between the rhetoric and the daily reality can be a steep drop.

5. Maybe her special gift was more about outward activity than inward contemplation, and whenever somebody asked her to write down her big sins, she came up with besetting doubt. So her life is 95% obedient service, and 5% darkness and doubt. (A corollary of this one is, Maybe she wasn’t perfect)

6. Maybe the twenty-one thousandth time you wake up thinking, “Hey, I’m pretty cool, I bet Jesus is really pleased with me,” – only to catch yourself at that nonsense — you get a little depressed that this sinful self-congratulation thing isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

7. Maybe she developed, over the years of prayer, Bible study, church attendance, and service, an appropriately elevated sense of how high and exalted God is compared to any human achievement or conduct. It could be that the people who throw themselves into obedience the most whole-heartedly are the ones who are most able to see how exalted God is, and how petty, partial, and weak our best response is.

8. Maybe a life-long relationship with Jesus Christ is a life-long relationship with a person whose presence is spiritual rather than physical, whose standard conduct is not to reply verbally when spoken to, whom “having not seen, we love,” and who is currently at the right hand of the Father from which he shall come to judge the living and the dead.

9. Maybe prayer is talking to a God who is invisible and silent, and everything in our nature cries out that visible and speaking would be more gratifying.

10. Maybe all creation groans for the revelation of the glorious freedom of the children of God, and those who have the Holy Spirit groan in greatest solidarity with the rest of creation.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Two goodbyes in one week

Last Monday, I said goodbye to our church's Senior Pastor, who after 16 years at our church accepted a call to a church in Colorado Springs.

Tomorrow, my wife and I say "goodbye" (in a way) to our youngest son Michael, who is starting his freshman year at Florida State. Actually, he's been up in Tallahassee for a week looking for a job (which he found!). But we're taking the rest of his personal belongings to him, setting up his dorm room, and leaving him in the hands of...whom??!!

God.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Sanctity of Human (and Dog) Life

For weeks now, we've heard story after story on the news about Falcons' QB Michael Vick and allegations about his cruelty to animals. Today, it's official. Two of his co-defendants pled guilty and implicated Vick as one who tortured and killed dogs in connection with dogfighting.

According to Fox News, Vick and these men collectively "executed approximately 8 dogs that did not perform well in 'testing' sessions" at the alleged dogfighting compound on Vick's property "by various methods, including hanging and drowning."

Certainly, no one - especially a Christian - should turn a blind eye to acts of animal abuse. Proverbs 12:10 says, "A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal." According to the Old Testament, animals are to enjoy the same Sabbath rest as their owners (Exodus 20:10). When an ox or donkey was seen fallen on the road, the Israelites were supposed to help its owner get it to its feet (Deut. 22:4). There's also that well-known verse about making sure a work animal gets enough nourishment while it's working: "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain" (Deut. 25:4, 1 Timothy 5:18). In Deut. 22:6-7, God even promises a long life to those who care for mother birds (even though He gives permission to take the baby bird or eggs for food).

Humans should take care of animals because God does, and we are created in His image. God "provides food for the raven when its young cry out and wander about for lack of food" (Job 38:41). Jesus taught us that God feeds the birds of the air (Matthew 6:26) and knows when a single sparrow falls to the ground (Matthew 10:29).

Nevertheless, there's something really wrong here.

Where are the news stories about the roughly one million human lives that end every year in America by abortion? How can the same Americans who are outraged about Michael Vick find it enjoyable to pay to see slasher movies and watch depictions of human torture and killing on film? How can the same states that outlaw dogfighting (and cockfighting and taking sea turtle eggs and killing endangered species, etc.) at the same time legalize physician-assisted suicide and let murderers (like Mary Winkler) go free?

For killing eight dogs, Vick could spend 5 years in prison and pay a $250,000 fine. Mary Winkler shot and killed her husband but spent just 5 months in a county jail, followed by 2 months of therapy for depression and PTSD. She's now back to work at the same dry cleaners where she was employed before the murder.

And don't forget about O. J. Simpson.

The same Scripture passage that says God knows when a sparrow falls to the ground, goes on to say that "you are worth more than many sparrows" (Matthew 10:31). Human life is qualitatively different from and superior to that of animals. We have a soul; animals do not. We are the image of God; animals are not. God gave human beings dominion over the animal world (Genesis 1:28). Animals are subject to, and inferior to, us. We can use them to make our work easier, we can train them to obey our orders, we can buy them and sell them, and - hold your breath - we can even eat them.

Our dominion over animals does NOT justify animal abuse in any form. However, we should mourn the loss and abuse of human life far more than we do the alleged crimes of Michael Vick.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Dentist

I went to the dentist today. That is one of my most dreaded and unpleasant experiences. I think it goes back to my childhood days. My dentist in Union, SC, was trained I think by Nazis. He was a sadist! So when I go to the dentist now, I still tense up like crazy and have a hard time being a nice Christian pastor.

My dentist here in Orlando is the nicest, most gentle guy in the world. It's his dental hygienist that intimidates me. Which is weird, because she's this petite young thing with the softest voice you ever heard. But then when she gets that sharp, steel instrument in her hands she gets brutal! And the debridement...ohhh my, she becomes an expert in torture!

Look, I do my teeth right. I floss every night, I use this special electric toothbrush sold by my dentist, I brush at least twice a day. So why must she carve up my gums and dig down between my teeth like she does?! Every time she starts working on me I think of that awful scene in Marathon Man (1976) where Laurence Olivier (playing a Nazi-trained dentist like my childhood dentist) straps Dustin Hoffman into a chair and drills holes in his teeth. It's one of the most unwatchable movie scenes ever!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Fab Four

Last night I took my son Michael on a short road trip. We drove over to Daytona Beach. First we ate out at the Outback Steakhouse, and I told him that money was no object - we were going to eat anything we wanted. Michael had a big steak, and I had a full rack of baby back ribs. Delicious. Then we went to a concert. Since we are both big Beatles fans, I had bought tickets to see The Fab Four. It's billed as "the ultimate tribute to the Beatles"...and I'd agree. They were excellent!

Their website looks really cheesy, and at times the concert was too. But these guys are amazing. They dress, look, talk, and sound like the Beatles. They came out first as the Beatles appeared in their U.S. concerts in the mid-'60s, and did a set of the old standards: "She Loves You," "A Hard Day's Night," "Eight Days a Week," etc. They used all the same instruments as the Beatles, and had mastered their idiosyncrasies, vocals, guitar-playing styles - everything. Michael & I were impressed that "Paul" was even left handed.

Then after a short break, the band came out dressed in the uniforms from the Sgt. Pepper album. They played a set of songs from that era. Then another break, and out they came dressed as the Beatles appeared after their break-up when they were doing solo albums, to perform another set of songs from the Let It Be and White Album days.

I liked watching "George" best. Not only was he an excellent guitar player, but his imitation of George was spot on. "John" sounded most like . . . John. (Unfortunately, he performed Lennon's song "Imagine" late in the concert, which is one of the saddest songs ever written because of its vision of a world without God and thus without the hope it tries to promote. But, "John" performed the song very well.)

Best songs of the evening: "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "A Day in the Life." How those four guys, without any pre-recorded effects or other musicians, did such faithful renditions of those two songs, I'll never know.

This was a symbolic road trip for me. Michael heads off to FSU next weekend. So I wanted to have one "last" good time with him before he's officially a college student. Of course, our relationship is not ending. But I saw this as a fun way to close one chapter of our relationship and begin another.

The Fab Four tours a lot, so if you like the Beatles you will definitely like them. I'll go again!