Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Rob Bell's "Love Wins"

Rob Bell and the book jacket for Love Wins

First, let me share what I liked about the book:

1. I am glad he wrote this book. It is the single most important topic of consideration for every single human being living in this world. The title is excellent and intriguing. The book is rightfully generating a furor of controversy and that's a good thing. Another boring, dusty theology book couldn't have created the fertile ground for discussion that this provocative book and title have generated. CNN, Fox, ABC, NBC, CBS, the morning shows, youtube...fantastic debate has made it to the airwaves, and I have been wonderfully surprised that so many are engaged. I've never heard these topics make prime time in all my decades, so I would say that's a breakthrough of epic proportions. Bravo to Rob Bell for that.

2. I love his wide view of grace and God's mercy. That is, after all, what we are talking about when we say it's the gospel-- "Good News". I found his words on this topic to be his most eloquent and inspiring in the entire book. He debunks myths and bad thinking, and cracks the egg of grace wide open. He allows it to be a mystery instead of a formula. What he says here is quite beautiful. Grace has been bought by the blood of Christ and He can spend it anyway He likes...and He seems to do just that, as Rob points out through a variety of New Testament stories. A quick overview of New Testament passages confirms that there are, indeed, lots of ways to come to Christ. God is dynamic and personal. And Jesus tells us that we will be surprised at who will and will not be in Heaven. Ultimately, it is clear that Love Wins out in the end. Much more than any of us deserve.

3. Rob's questions, many that he himself answers imprecisely, inadequately, and naively are, nonetheless, fantastic, insightful questions. He is providing such rich fodder for the best thinkers, writers, teachers, preachers among us. I hope they will tackle them and give us better, more biblical, more rigorous answers than Rob has given to this point. Nonetheless, I salute him for asking them. That is the first and most important stepping stone in the process of knowledge, and he has kicked the ball into play. It feels portentous, like some very good things will come as a result of what he has done.

4. I love Rob's emphasis on the word ALL. He repeats a number of scriptures that say God seeks all people and will restore all things. He makes us really think about what that actually means. Does God get His way? I honestly admit I don't know how it works, I don't know the Greek and Hebrew, but I do love that it can't simply be ignored. God's great heart reaches out to save everybody and everything and how wonderful to be reminded of that again.

Those are some of the strengths of the book. The weaknesses? These are my personal objections to some of what he's written, from a layman's perspective without the benefit of a theology degree.

1. His view of the afterlife is such a mish-mash hodge-podge of verses on the new heaven and earth, paradise, the temporary heaven, hades, the temporary hell, the millenial age, the ongoing earth, that you wonder if he has ever taken a course in systematic theology. He makes bad sense out of something that Randy Alcorn in the book Heaven has already made much more clear. When you have an essential beloved person in heaven, you spend a considerable amount of time sorting what you can about the afterlife from scripture. On the basis of Rob's sloppy research, he has obviously never had a pressing need to do just that.

2. His argument that God wouldn't save a few and send billions to hell for not saying the "right" prayer is overwrought hyperbole. It makes the church look stupid, which isn't kind of him. I've never actually heard a preacher say a thing like that...at least no one that anyone is listening to. Jesus Himself said the road to life is narrow and few find it, while the way to destruction is broad and many go there-in. The terms, "few" and "many" are general terms that have no mathematical component to them, and to attach "billions" to it is a disservice. It causes people to stop paying attention to what Jesus said, (which was meant to inspire us to ask ourselves if we have entered by the narrow or broad gate --a question to which each of us intuitively know the answer), and to begin ridiculing the concept.

3. Rob's insinuation that Christians don't take care of social justice issues because we don't see the earth as ongoing, is a huge error. Christians are the largest, most generous supporters of human needs causes on the planet, whether they believe the earth will "continue on" or not. That generosity is motivated out of love and compassion, not simply trying to fix this place. I think it's pretty clear that this place will not arrive at "fixed". Revelation tells us it will eventually be consumed by fire and there will be a new heaven and a new earth. The demise of the earth is a bad chapter in a book that has a shining, happy ending, but loving the people on this earth has eternal value.

4. The most personally offensive to me? Rob's discussion of life and death as the cycle through which all good things come. His reasoning is that life and death are a cycle since creation, and therefore part of God's great plan. He uses the example that the plant has to die to give us life; the firefighter has to die to save someone else's life. I had a hard time with his shallow thinking on this topic. Having lived through the death of someone essential to my life, I don't see death in general as the mechanism that God uses to restore the earth. He used One Death, Christ's death, to make sure that death died and He tells us that death is the last enemy that will die. Death is an enemy, not a friend. An aberration, not the original plan. It is a result of fallenness, a consequence with which we are forced to live, not a blessing to the planet. How did he miss this great fundamental truth in seminary?

5. My last objection to the book is an assessment about Rob's character. I sense that Rob has never really suffered. He grew up loved and sheltered in an intact, Christian family. He is white, educated, and wealthy. He is a fantastically gifted communicator, he has a large and successful church, he appears to be happily married, he has healthy children, he is still young. How close has evil ever come to him? How much has he lost in life? It is not his fault he hasn't suffered. Who would wish that on anybody? But I have to say that he lacks experience and credibility with those who have suffered, and there is a blitheness in tone when people haven't suffered that can be instantly picked up on the radar screen by those who have. While he is compassionate toward the hurting, there is no indication that he has ever suffered enough personal pain to be left longing for relief and comfort and heaven. If he had, I daresay he would view this tired earth, and the glorious heaven to come, through somewhat different eyes.

Just a thought. My small two cents. What do you think of Love Wins?

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. —Philippians 3:20-21

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Dinner Conversation

When I host our weekly Family Dinner, I want it to be more than simply eating food. I want it to be a meaningful event for our whole family. Memorable. Substantial. Soul nourishing. I invest those hours cooking and cleaning up so that I can create togetherness and teachable moments for my whole family. I see this wonderful table time as an opportunity to talk about real things with our children and grandchildren and to really connect with their hearts and minds. Since we have some very funny people sitting around our table, the challenge is to integrate the serious stuff long enough to get them all thinking a little more deeply.

In the past year, there has been a bit of trial and error trying to find a formula that works with the wide range of ages, temperaments and attention levels that surround our table. This is where I am settled for now.

First of all, the cornerstone of the evening comes from scripture. One of the grandchildren or I will read a Bible verse from this little book, and start the discussion by asking what the verse means. We go around the table and listen to the various opinions on the meaning and applications of the verse. The discussion is generally short but engaging.

Next, following the same procedure, one of us asks a question from this book. This one is usually a personal response to the question, a reflection of the speaker's personality or uniqueness.

This requires listening, and honoring the varied responses. Not an easy task with a bunch of talkative and opinionated teens and pre-teens, but they are getting better and better at honestly expressing themselves and respecting one another's uniqueness.

Finally, after dinner is over, we play an interactive game. This one was given to us by Rachel for Christmas. The grandchildren LOVE this game. It provides many opportunities for hilarious answers and endless potty talk. Sometimes we have to outlaw all answers with the word "poop" in them, just to keep it from deteriorating into total silliness. Other times we play "Spoons", "Assassin", or put together a tray of random objects that are passed around the table and from which a group story is spun with each person keying off of their chosen object. That one is usually very funny too. We try to be spontaneous and creative with the games. As homework loads increase, the game time decreases. Still, even a half hour of games is fun for all of us.

When the weather improves and the sun goes down later, we will likely play softball or tag or something physical outside. I find that it is essential to have something totally fun and carefree to counterbalance the serious talk. As they say, a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down.

My hope is that years of these meals, with interesting conversations and fun times will, in time, accumulate into something beautiful and sacred:
the creation of wise, loving, compassionate, fun-loving, faith-filled young adults who know who they are, where they have come from and where they are going... children that grow up to be adults who bring love and goodness into the world.

Anyway, that's my plan.

Psalm 71:17
Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Devastation in Japan

A miracle: 65 year old tsunami victim, floating on the roof of his house,
rescued from 10 miles out at sea.

Miracles: like you, I am praying for more of these. These are the stories of grace within the larger story of suffering and devastation. And where there is God, there is grace. Where there is suffering, there is God. He hears the prayer of the brokenhearted.

There was a time in history when this kind of catastrophe would be viewed as anger and punishment from the gods. In modern times, people simply say that this devastation proves there is no God. But Jesus prepared us when He said, "In this world you will have trouble; but take heart, I have overcome the world". This world is broken, deteriorating, and sentenced to decay and death. This tsunami is part of that process. But God's love is steadfast, even in the midst of this terrible tragedy. We are all His beloved children and we know that His love never fails. Even in suffering, He is present and at work.

Two of my friends wrote about Japan today. Robin's post, "Imagine", invites us to ponder what the Japanese are waking up to this morning. Rather than looking away, or saying, "I don't want to think about it", this post encourages us to take some time to think about our friends on the other side of the world who are suffering so intensely right now. Karen posted two prayers today that hit the heart of the matter, and you can offer them up to God on behalf of Japan by reading HERE.

Psalm 46:1-3
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surge.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Saturday Mornings

What's Aidan doing?

He is doing what we are all doing now on Saturday mornings...

Watching girls in blue with netted sticks chase balls up and down the field in the cold.

While fathers coach from the sidelines and dogs wait impatiently for love.

Our lacrosse girls.
These BFF's have their fingers crossed for a winning season!
Next week I'm bringing blankets and thermoses of hot cider, hot chocolate, and hot coffee.
Let the games begin.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

When Your Child Dies

When your child dies, you fall into a hole of grief.
You look up from the bottom and feel suspended far away.
The world you held in your hand and gazed at in wonder floats away.
Your dreams grow cold along with your child,
Never the same again.
Betrayed by optimism
Hope freezes deep inside of you.

Separation anxiety covers your skin.
It compresses your chest so you cannot breathe.
It holds you down till you say surrender.
It grabs your spine and hooks your neck
and throbs inside your brain.
Your jaws ache from clenching it back.

After a time, you slowly begin to thaw.
You wonder how you are still alive
How did that happen?
How did you plow into that iceberg and watch the ship sink and go down with it into those icy waters and still have
a beating heart?
That is a miracle.
Not the one you wanted, but the one you got.

Now you are different.
You are quiet where you once talked.
You are uncertain where you once had answers.
You are relentlessly lonely and gather all your children to you
Except the one you will not see again
for what seems a too long time.
Too long for comfort.

Where is the comfort?
Where is God?
Does He come near this forlorn place?
Does He check in, assess the situation, shake His head in dismay?
Does He send angels?
Or does He sit next to me and lean in and watch my heart break over and over again and weep for the sorrow of Paradise Lost?

He says He is present.
He says He never leaves.
Never forsakes.
In the darkest darkness
In the coldest cold
He is there.
In the frozen wasteland of my heart that dares not feel a thing
When my soul crumples and curls in cold pain
He is there.

I wish I could see Him.
I wish I could hear Him.
I wish I could ask Him.
I wish I could feel Him.
I wish none of this was my life.
But it is.

And He is present.
Invisible, silent, brooding, present.
Maker of mothers and children
Of that sacred bond
Who had a mother too who held Him.
Father of all
And me His child.
Hold me.
Who knows so much sorrow
And loss.
And dares to risk more
To have my whole-hearted heart.
Be present with me.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Family Dinner: Mac Nut Fish

Drew and Sean are relaxing before dinner.
Though it's nice to end the work day and gather together, it's still a big challenge getting everyone to our house at 6 pm. I put out appetizers to encourage early arrivals. If you are late, there is nothing but crumbs left.

Papa is a multi-tasker. He drinks a beer, pets the dog, AND chats with his girls, all at the same time. He's quite a man.

Jaime always makes us laugh. She's a comedienne. JoAnne loves dogs, and that includes Cody, our new/old very well-behaved German Shepherd.

Dinner is sitting on the counter, chilling while we wait for the grandchildren to put down the ipad and join us. Harummph! I hate it when hot food gets cold because people are preoccupied. It's a real cook crazy-maker! But enough of that.
I'll tell you what you are seeing on that counter in the shots below.

This is dessert. Turtle brownies which will be the foundation for brownie sundaes after dinner.

An army load of white and wild rice.

Irresistible baby asparagus, baked in the oven. I know, I make this a lot. We all love it.

And a healthy and colorful mixed salad. This one has avocado chunks and parmesan shavings on top...with rich blue cheese dressing. I usually try to make two vegetable dishes. Lots of nutrients.

I am stepping back in time here to show you how I made the fish. It's my favorite way to eat fish, and I got the recipe from my dear friend, Pastor Craig, who lives on Maui. It requires eggs, panko flakes for breading the fish, and macadamia nuts for the "encrusted" part.

I spread the panko flakes in one pan, and the mac nuts (after chopping them into small bits) into another. The egg batter is out of the picture, but it's the first thing into which you dip each piece of fish.
I used flounder, but it was too thin and delicate. This recipe does better with more substantial fish, such as Ahi (tuna). Just so you know. The crust was still delicious but the delicate fish cooks more quickly than the crunchy crust. After dipping the fish in the egg mixture, dip it in the panko flakes, then press the mac nuts onto both sides of the fish. Bake it in a pan with a light layer of olive oil, in a 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes.

This is how it comes out. Golden and crunchy. Couldn't be easier! I made a mango beurre blanc sauce to drizzle over it. It was deliciously delectible and completes the recipe. That's a simple sauce of butter, cream and mango juice, cooked till slightly thickened.

So that's it. Family Dinner this week. At least the food part of it!
I will write about our "Evening Program" next, for those of you who have been wondering.
Inquiring minds want to know...

Thursday, March 03, 2011

The Sharp Knife of a Short Life

The Band Perry
This family trio, all of them in their early 20's, are country music's brightest new act for 2010. Their platinum song is haunting, melancholy and memorable, and I'm feeling sad today. Sometimes you just need something that releases the pent up tears that are weighing down your heart. This is my cathartic poetry for today. I dedicate it here to my dear friends, Karen, Sharon, Becky and Chris who mourn the loss of their beautiful daughters. You can hear it on youtube.

The Sharp Knife of a Short Life
Music and Lyrics by The Band Perry

If I die young, bury me in satin
Lay me down on a bed of roses
Sink me in the river, at dawn
Send me away with the words of a love song

Uh oh, uh oh

Lord make me a rainbow, I’ll shine down on my mother
She'll know I’m safe with you when she stands under my colors, oh and
Life ain't always what you think it ought to be, no
Ain't even grey, but she buries her baby

The sharp knife of a short life, well
I’ve had, just enough time

If I die young, bury me in satin
Lay me down on a, bed of roses
Sink me in the river, at dawn
Send me away with the words of a love song

The sharp knife of a short life, well
I’ve had, just enough time

And I’ll be wearing white, when I come into your kingdom
I’m as green as the ring on my little, cold finger, I’ve
Never known the lovin' of a man
But it sure felt nice when he was holding my hand, there’s a
Boy here in town says he’ll, love me forever
Who would have thought forever could be severed by
The sharp knife of a short life, well
I’ve had, just enough time

So put on your best boys and I’ll wear my pearls
What I never did is done

A penny for my thoughts, oh no, I’ll sell them for a dollar
They're worth so much more after I’m a goner
And maybe then you’ll hear the words I been singin’
Funny when your dead how people start listenin’

If I die young, bury me in satin
Lay me down on a, bed of roses
Sink me in the river, at dawn
Send me away with the words of a love song

Uh oh (uh, oh)
The ballad of a dove (uh, oh)
Go with peace and love
Gather up your tears, keep ‘em in your pocket
Save them for a time when your really gonna need them, oh

The sharp knife of a short life, well
I’ve had, just enough time

So put on your best, boys, and I’ll wear my pearls