Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Short is the Life Span of Human Beings

I'm sitting in the airport in Amsterdam on my way to Hyderabad, India. And I think I'm supposed to be tired since it's 4:00 in the morning in Tennessee, but it's 10:00 here. I'm somewhat tired, but more than that sad.

In my last posting I promised to share some thoughts on story and some of the biblical narratives. Well, I'll put that off for now because I just got the news that a friend of mine's house burned down yesterday and his son-in-law was killed in the blaze. My mouth dropped when I read the news, his family is asking for prayers so if you could, please do pray for Cec.

It reminded me, as this kind of thing always does, that life is blisteringly painful and short and tragic and harsh and stinging. And yet, it can be glorious and wonderful and joyful as well. It's a conundrum I can't unriddle. I was actually thinking about this on the flight over here, reading a book called “Living with the Devil” by a Buddhist author. He quotes Buddha: “Short is the life span of human beings. One should live as if one's head is on fire.”

Jesus also reminded us about the brevity of life, and throughout the Bible our lifespan is compared to grass and a mist that passes through your fingers. Today let's do this simple thing, you and I, let's listen to these two great teachers and acknowledge the brevity of life. Do something you would only do if you knew you were not going to live forever. Are you holding a grudge? Life is too short to waste it on unforgiveness. So forgive. Are you bitter, angry, impatient? You are only stealing joy from yourself.

Let's be thankful for the brief moment we have, called today, and let's pray for those who have been recently devastated by the dark side of the gift.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Growing Your Own Tale

I arrived in Portland, Oregon late last night and felt right at home. The weather here in the Pacific Northwest is nearly identical to eastern Tennessee at this time of year and I was glad to see they had drizzle awaiting me so that I would feel even more welcomed.

The culture here is a bit different though, than East Tennessee culture. Instead of barbecue joints lining the streets, you find vegan restaurants. Instead of pick-up trucks, everyone is driving a mountain bike. And instead of finding a church on every corner, you find a microbrewery. To be honest, as much as I love Tennessee, I think I fit right in up here.

It's been a great day speaking at Warner-Pacific College, sharing at chapel, having lunch with some of the students, and teaching a seminar on writing and story craft. As a result of all this I've been thinking a lot about story today – both the shape of a good tale and the movement of a character through the struggle to a discovery and a transformed life.

Here are a few of the points that have been churning around in my brain:
  1. Stories are not lists of events, they are transformative experiences. Every good story pivots on a struggle and a discovery that we, the audience, can identify with.
  2. When God chose to reveal himself to us, he didn't do it by giving us a set of facts but a pack of stories. And even his story, the story of redemption, pivots on the human struggle to find meaning and hope in our splintered world, and the discovery that grace is available from above.
  3. When we study the stories in the Bible it isn't to find the main point, but to enter the story God is telling our world. By identifying with the struggles of the characters in the Bible we can learn with them what it means to be drawn closer to God.
I was able to rethink a few stories from scripture and draw out truths I'd never noticed before. I'll try to share them in the coming week. The excitement and passion of the students here is inspiring. They make me want to dive deeper into the stories I'm writing and the one I'm living. Thanks WP! It's been a great trip.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Moral Meltdowns

Over the last couple of months in the wake of Ted Haggard's widely publicized fall from grace, I've been thinking a lot about pulpits both private and public. If a pastor is caught in a certain type of sin in North America (typically anything sexual) they're asked to leave their ministries immediately. I wonder how often, however, a letter like this shows up at a church council meeting:

Dear Congregation Members,

I'm writing to announce my resignation, as I am no longer fit to be your pastor. I need to make a confession and I can only hope you'll forgive me. I hate to bring such personal matters up in such a public forum, but you have a right to know why I'm leaving the ministry.

For years I've struggled with materialism. I’ve bought things that I don’t need and, I'm ashamed to say, filled my garage with stuff I’ll never use. I have more books than I can ever read, clothes than I can ever wear, and food that I impulse-bought is rotting in my fridge.

In addition, besides being a materialist, I've been an idolater for years. Yes, I know that St. Paul equates greed with idolatry, and yet I've continued to desire more than I need. Rather than sacrificially give to the poor, I've cared more about my own comfort level than theirs. And rather than offering my time and resources to helping the hurting, I've spent huge segments of my life trying to improve my own standard of living. I've been addicted to comfort for years and finally, when I was caught in the act of coveting last night, I've had to admit to myself, and now the world, the extent of my sin.

I know I am getting specific in admitting these sins, and I hope you won't be disgusted by them, but I need to make a clean break and get them off my chest. I want you, the kind people of my congregation, to know that I'm seeking professional counseling to deal with my problems. I know that God will forgive me for being a materialist. I can only hope that, in time, you will too.

Your Former Pastor

Your comments are invited.