Saturday, November 20, 2010

Who Knows When the Magic Will Work?

I almost done reading Terry Brooks' writing memoir Sometimes the Magic Works. It's hard not to compare it to Stephen King's magnus opus. Brooks' book is shorter and less detailed about how his life led into writing. Even so, it gives good advice and gives a realistic look at the world of writing and publishing. I enjoyed learning about the good and bad experiences he has had with the different series he has written. He gives a lot of credit to hard work and being in the right place, at the right time, with the right people. My takeaway is
  • Work hard polishing your craft
  • Stay around people who are already where you want to be
  • Don't stray far from your heart in writing or life
Favorite Book
  • Elfstones of Shannara (a photo finish with Magic Kingdom for Sale -- Sold, Sword of Shannara, and Armageddon's Children)
Least favorite
  • The Black Unicorn (Kingdom of Landover Series)
Hardest Read
  • Druid of Shannara (Heritage of Shannara Series)
Favorite characters
  • Flick Ohmsford, Walker Bo, Allanon, John Ross, Ben Holiday, Abernathy, the Reaper
Least Favorite Character
  • Willow
Terry, if you ever read this -- thank you for the wonderful adventures and memorable characters!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Change is Good

Once again I am trusting my left shoulder into the hands of a capable and compassionate therapist. Accumulated tension combined with a hard fall I took this summer while chasing a batted softball combined to mess something up in there. Today was my first full session. Our goal is a total return to normal functioning. This will require exercise 2-3 times a day for me and two sessions with her each week.

Though gentle, she is pushing my joint beyond where it has wanted to go. "We have a saying," she said as she twisted my arm back. "'The place of comfort is the place deformity.'"

Isn't that the case in most things? Whether in relationships or spirituality or physical routine, we naturally seek the place of least pain. We get hurt and we protect ourselves. We get lazy and we accept an unhealthy routine. While this feels managable ond even pleasurable, it results in "deformity" of soul, body, and mind. Left to ourselves we often seek the path of least resistance while thinking we are making the most progress. Becuase of this we need to "prompt each other to love and good deeds" (Hebrews 10:24).

We also need to be gentle with each other because we are dealing with sometimes long-standing issues. My therapist says, "This will make you sore for a while because we're working to break loose things that have gotten stuck." I appreciate her use of "we." She knows by experience what I need and is committed to my best. I can't think of a better definition of a friend.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Page-Turner of a Life

Every writer knows that if there is no suspense there is no story. Readers want to feel something is at risk for the characters they are getting to know. When an outcome starts feeling predictable it's a killer. If a story does not end in a satisfying manner (whether the protaganist dies or not), it may well end the relationship between the reader and that author.

Is it the same when it comes to the story God is writing and in which each of us plays a part? I believe it is important to consider this because the answer we give determines the way we live. Living with certainty does not mean that I know every detail of the plot line of my life or history. It does mean that I am confident the story will end well. Certainty does not mean that I know exactly the best thing to do at every moment. It does mean that I am confident that my choices matter.

God is not just the writer of this story -- he is intimately involved, even to the point of experiencing our human weakness and dying. God is great, but more importantly to my getting engaged in the story, God is good. God has also shown us how to join in: "do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly" (Micah 6:8).

But what about the suspense level that keeps me turning the pages (i.e. getting up in the morning with enthusiasm and hope)? If God has it all scripted and he wins in the end, what is there for me to do? I believe that while God makes the sun come up every morning, he also waits to see what I will do with the opportunity for good. Will I surrender to the plot devices that conspire to turn me into a bit player, an expendable walk-on, or a puppet? I don't believe that has to happen.

I know that God wins in the end, but will I be there? History is full of people who started out in the Way (which is narrow), the Truth (that is personal), and the Life (that can get scary), only to lay down, fall out, or wander off. You and I provide the suspense element in the Story. God takes a chance every time he lets one of us be conceived. That is also why there is applause in heaven whenever a sinner repents and a saint arrives home at the end.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Heart of the Universe

Part of my assignments for the class I'm taking involve reading consecutive chapters from the Bible and looking for the missio Dei (Mission of God). In other words, instead of looking for what God wants us to do (commands, moral or otherwise), I've read the text looking for what God has committed to do or seek. The Bible is after all an account of God's experience of us.

In reading the New Testament's first letter of Peter it struck me that God's mission all the way through has been to "get a people for himself." God could have been about getting order out of chaos or getting us to obey and straighten up. If so, that job would have been finished a long time ago without as much mess and mishap.

God -- being the relational being that he is (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) -- is on a mission to share that relationalness with us in an eternal way. In every generation he seeks a people for his own. That people is a broad as those who will trust him. In these last days, God has shown himself to us in Jesus and said "Come unto me." Even though our perspective on who's in and who's out gets skewed, God knows those that are his.

If you read the rest of Peter's letter, you'll see that we're not talking about Neverland. There's a lot of suffering in the world and God's people are not exempt. In fact, God's people are known as those that have something strong enough going on between them and God that not even seemingly senseless suffering can break it down. This is because long before we suffered, he did. He wanted a people so badly that he was willing to experience the full helplessness of being human.

The relationship God establishes with us is the kind that can stand up to hardship and death.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Night with Little to Say

I made a commitment to write something every day on this blog. Right now I'm tired after a busy day at work and an evening church meeting. I surf our selection of broadcast TV channels, while my wife cuts out faces to make paper bag puppets for the kids she works with after school. Then her sister calls and I decide to write this.

Stuff like that makes up most of our lives. It's the mundane details that get passed over in the well-plotted scenes of novels. If it was allowed to make airtime it would be worse than dead space. Fiction may have a great impact upon real life but it certainly is not real life.

I remember a scene from a first season Deep Space 9 episode called "Captive Pursuit." Quark runs a holodeck -- a place where fantasies can come true for a price. He encounters a person named "Tosk" who has been bred to serve as the prey for a race of hunters. He takes temporary refuge on the space station and, feeling sorry for the harassed alien, offers him a free evening to live out any fantasy he desires. The alien refuses. "I have no use for fantasy adventure. I live the greatest adventure one could ever desire." All Quark can say is "Then I envy you. Mr. Tosk."

In my clearer moments I realize this to as least a small degree. By grace, I have a meaningful role to play in a great production called "The Kingdom of God." I am not the lead, but what I do is crucial to the satisfaction of the playwright. Sometimes I need help remembering this. I think that this is the main work of pastors and mentors -- they keep us humble and they keep us engaged.

"Engage!" -- that's what Capt. Picard used to say just before the Enterprise got into trouble.

P.S. A few years ago, I got to meet the actor who played "Tosk": Scott McDonald.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Authentic Dialogue

Leslie Newbigin writes in his book The Open Secret, "The church faces the world . . . as a sign, firstfruit, token, witness of that salvation which God purposes for the whole. . . .The church is in the world as the place where Jesus, in whom all the fullness of the godhead dwells, is present, but it is not itself that fullness. It is the place where the filling is taking place (Eph. 1:23). It must therefore live always in dialogue with the world, bearing witness to Christ but always in such as way that it is open to receive the riches of God that belong properly to Christ but have to be brought to him" (p. 180).

The further I read this required text for my class, the more I am disturbed and enthused. It is equipping and challenging me to actually engage in the dialogue I claim to value as a Christian witness and professional chaplain. As a witness I enter into an encounter with another, hopeful that both of us will prosper. If I do not believe that dialogue will get both of us somewhere good, I will be tempted to think that mutual monologue is the best we can hope for. History shows that monologue leads only to isolation and best and war at worst.

Part of my problem is lack of trust which is a next-door neighbor to fear. Too often I am afraid of the stranger and his/her story. It may confuse me or "lead me astray." And so it is an act of faith in the Maker of us both that I dare to authentically listen. I have to trust that the Holy Spirit is arranging encounters and that he will work in all things for my good and his glory.

We claim that this is what we need in national and international politics. We want an end to partisan relationships. Let's begin closer to home. God only knows what would happen if we average citizens really believed that things of true value lay across the aisles that separate the generations, genders, ethnics, and religions.

When Peter and Cornelius had their conversation (Acts 10), both were changed for the better. The centurion found the name of the God he had sought and Peter's version of Christianity took a "decisive step . . . on the long road from the incarnation of the Word of God as a Jew of first-century Palestine to the summing up of all things in him" (p. 182).

Lord, please keeping working on and through me!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Stay Close and Show Love

I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Jim Harries this morning at Anderson (IN) School of Theology. He is an "embedded" missionary among the Luo people of Kenya, Africa. He wouldn't call himself that. It's my way of describing a man who has chosen to live as a Luo in order to reach them with the Gospel of Jesus. He's been doing this since 1993. He also seems to be an student and practitioner of Pragmatics, Discourse Analysis and Relevance Theory. I admit that his talk took me way outside my box and made me think (that is what seminary is for). One question he asked was "Does the Gospel have something to say without it being about resources?" One of his concerns is that western missionaries go into the African context with all their resources and this negates a real delivering of the Gospel. The hearers will say what the missionary wants to hear in hopes of cashing in on what the missionary represents to them. So much gets lost in the translation from English (and English speaking societies with their values and perspectives) to the other. There's a lot more to it but I'm still processing it. I'd advise going to his website for more.

One response I have is that this staying close and showing love is the work of all of us. It is the right path in business -- Steven Covey (no great theologian) says that we are to seek first to understand, then to be understood. It is the right path in the family as generations expect each other to understand. It is the right path in Christian ministry and church life. In my work as a chaplain, I walk into a foreign culture every day as I meet patients. We are strangers to each other. I enter their world of suffering and they understand that I am one of those who is connected to the power that could make them well (modern medicine). I am called to be present and seek to serve their need. We speak English, but where else do we connect? How can I be vulnerable for God's sake in those short minutes? That is my daily work as two personal cultures cross paths.

Dr. Haries has been at this for 17 years in Africa. I have been after something at least a little similar for 7 years in Central Indiana. May God be served by and bless us both.