Monday, June 30, 2008

my birthday!!!

and I don't look a day over fifty :)

big thanks to mom and dad who probably had a lot more fun making me than raising me.

Big thanks to my Raquel, Adriahna and Cheyenne for putting up with me for so many years and loving me even though I am an old, cranky curmudgeon.

And thanks to Jesus, who keeps telling me how much he loves us all, even though I struggle to believe and trust.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

About vows and spiritual disciplines

A friend of mine was asking about the vow I took, and shared some struggles with some spiritual disciplines in the past. I emailed him this response, which though short, and not very deep, explains things in my way of thinking:

But I wanted to talk to you about your fasting, and the spiritual disciplines in general. When we do these things, it is important for us not to look like we are somehow bargaining with God. Like, I did this so you have to then do this. This makes God into another product that we buy, not with money but with acts of devotion. It is so easy to fall into this ideology. Remember Jesus talks about the disciples fasting when he is taken from them. The best idea to remember is we do these things not to earn anything, but rather that the exercise would allow us to set our hearts aside towards a realization of Jesus, and his love, and his presence.

It is for us to abandon ourselves to God's love, this is our call. I like to think of a wife and husband relationship. Imagine if I told me wife I was not going to eat for three weeks as a way of drawing closer to her, but then used meal times to watch baseball on television, was angry and short tempered, and often reminded her of my sacrifice and accusing her of not appreciating it, or returning the favor. Not very good work there is it?

So how can we use these as ways to grow closer? If I used the time I spent at meals to really talk and pay attention to her, if I spent the time we would spend shopping on reading our old love letters to each other, if I spent the money we saved from me not eating on a new dress for her (remember we give gifts to God by giving to the poor), and if every hunger pain was a reminder that I love my wife, and like food I cannot live without her. A bit different isn't it?

I hope that helps a bit.


The fight part two

On the way home from picking up my daughters from work, I noticed that three of the guys involved in the brawl I wrote about yesterday were in the alley. So I sent the girls upstairs and told them I was going to talk to them. "what are you going to say?" they asked, and I told them I was just going to say sorry. My youngest was scared that it might not go so well, and to be honest, I was a bit worried myself.

I approached the three and said, "Hey, I just wanted to say sorry for the other night. I just really wanted you to stop fighting, but I shouldn't have threatened you guys"

One of them said, "no problem"

Another said, "it was a family thing, it was stupid, we should be apologizing to you. You don't want that shit near your home"

Then the tall skinny one said, "My name is Joshua, I live here, I am your neighbor"

And I introduced myself. I made a few friends I think, and God in his grace didn't make me suffer much for my stupidity.


Monday, June 23, 2008

George Mac Donald

When I was but a young Christian, someone gave me a book by a Scottish author named George Mac Donald. I learned that this man was at his time a very popular author, but formerly was the minister at a local parish. He was eventually cast out of the church for his controversial views, the chief accusation being he was a universalist (someone who believes that God's love will win all of humanity to Him in the end, and that through suffering, pain, or the struggles of hell and purgatory, that God will in the end cause all of us to accept His love, and eternity with it) Some would say this was an unfair accusation, but as I read his works, I can understand why it was put forth.

C S Lewis considered George Mac Donald to be his mentor, calling him his master in print. He also said, "I have never written a book that I did not within quote George Mac Donald" and in his story The Great Divorce, Lewis' beloved Scott serves as a guide. Indeed it was George's works for children that first awoke in Lewis the belief and desire for God.

In my youth these novels, which are basically Victorian romances, had a very profound effect on me. The themes that captured my attention, and helped build my foundation were these:

Doubt is not to be feared, but embraced as a call for us to grow deeper in our love for God

We do not grow closer to God by trying to understand, and believe, but by beginning first to do. It is in the actions of following Christ that true faith grows, not in our intellectual assent.

God's love is complete, and perfect, and will not stop from calling all of humanity. Whether sinner or saint, God's love continues to be pourerd out, and that God will stop at nothing, to draw others to be safe in His kingdom.

After 20 years of ministry, and 24 years of faith, his books still cause me to want to be more like Jesus, to be more committed to the kingdom, and to set my heart to be abandoned to God's love all the more. As I have almost finished rereading all of the novels I read as a twenty year old, I have realized that after all of my learning, and studying, all of my theology and practice, it comes back to a very simple proposition. Jesus, the personification of God's love, calls us to follow Him, and through that following we find the Father of all creation.

If you have not read George Mac Donald I highly recommend doing so, you may find his work a bit cheesy, and a bit preachy, but it is well worth getting through it. If you would like a place to start my favorite was The Curates Awakening. They are easily gotten for next to nothing used on amazon.


A fight in the alley

As many of you know we have not moved to the best of neighborhoods, but certainly not the worst of neighborhoods either. We have, for a number of reasons, believed that it would be best to locate ourselves in the midst of neighborhood that would give us a chance to be friends with those that might be called sinners, or poor, but also one that would not be outright dangerous.

A week ago, as is fairly common, we began to hear some raised voices out the back. Being that we live looking over a dubious alley, this did not really cause much concern at first, but things began to escalate very quickly. Soon there were very stern challenges and many insulting words being shouted. Immediately I began to hear the sound of flesh hitting flesh.

I walked out onto our front balcony and looked at what was happening. About seven young men were fighting. They appeared to be in fairly even teams, and it was very violent as you could expect. I did not know what to do, but as God said blessed are the peacemakers, I felt I could not just "stay out of it". So I shouted from the balcony for them to stop fighting.

They did not listen.

I then shouted that if they didn't stop fighting I would call the police!

They still did not listen, but one of the girls that was watching told me to, "mind your own business".

Eventually I had Raquel call the cops, but the fighting stopped and the people dispersed before they arrived, if they did arrive.

And then came time for reflection, one that was a bit painful to me. I had acted very poorly. Through the process of reflecting upon my actions, with God's gospel, and Jesus' life in my heart, I realized a number of things that I had done, that should have been differently:

Standing above them (particularly as a white male) and shouting orders down to them, was not the best way. If I was to be involved I should have done it at street level, not from a place of both safety and superiority.

I should not have told them what to do. I had no authority over them. I was not even a friend to them. Questions almost always are better than commands.

I should not have threatened to call the cops. For two reasons, one, this was a threat of violence. Violence does not cast out violence. There was no way the police would be involved without the violence of force used, and I used this as a threat. The second reason is if I believed the police were necessary, I should have just called and allowed them to handle it.

I also learned some important things about how I could have handled this, and been prepared for it:

I found that I knew my duty to my fellow man, but in the immediacy of the situation I did not for a moment ask for, or look for God's guidance. If God is, as I do believe, with us at all times, I should have asked for wisdom, and insight, even if for just a moment. I did not look to God, but rather looked to my own resources, which were lacking.

I realized that I had not thought about this scenario, nor was prepared for it. Though we cannot be prepared for everything, if we can imagine some of what might be coming our way we can allow God to prepare us ahead of time for what will come. For instance I have already thought out the various ways I would handle a situation if it was seven guys, attacking one guy. But a fair fight, I had not prepared my mind for.

And lastly, I wished that I had prepared some more imaginative ways of dealing with things. I thought that if I could blow fire like Gene Simmons, I could have run into the alley and blown a few fire balls, and when they were astonished, I could have asked them to stop fighting. Or maybe since they were Hispanic, I might have appealed to some of their Catholic heritage by shouting out the Lords Prayer. I think God wants us to be creative.

The fact is I cannot just stay out of it, or mind my own business. The kingdom comes as we make our neighborhoods places where God's rule applies, at least into and through us. We cannot shirk into selfish safety, nor depend on a system of government that is often unjust, and violent, and at its best is over taxed and not relational. But I must look for God's wisdom, God's leading in the affair. If I am to truly minister in this place, I must learn to look to the heavens frequently, for it is there my help comes from.

Please pray for us,


The bearded one!!!

Well this is my new face. This picture was taken about a week ago, it is a bit bushier now. I have till the first of August before I shave, so it will be quite unmanageable by then.

I have learned during this time that I don't like having a beard. It doesn't itch anymore, but I feel like I am not myself. Or atleast the impression people have of me is not a true one. I am not bushy beard guy.

I have learned that I could happily be a vegetarian, I find myself not missing meat so much as I thought I would. I do miss having a glass of wine, or a beer with the guys though.

I have been going to the gym regularly, doing some jiu jitsu, and playing cricket. The exercise has been good for me, but I feel pretty sore frequently.

I have not been as able to write as I would have liked, I have not had the raw determination to just sit down and make it happen. What complicates it all is I am not sure if this is just a need for discipline, or if this is maybe God's will for me to wait on writing the book. I have been reading a lot, both theological books and novels by George MacDonald which I believe are probably better for me than the theological ones.

I feel a bit unsure of things, but I have faith that I will know what I am to be about, when its time to be about them. I pray my pride not get the best of me, nor my desire to control my own fate.

The girls have both gotten jobs, and are happily working. One at a drug store, the other at Trader Joe's which is I guess an alternative grocery store. Raquel is looking for work as well.

I am feeling like writing a bit today, so I will put up this and an article or two, I hope you find them in some way helpful, or interesting.