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    Wednesday
    Aug102016

    Who Has Shaped Your Life?

    While traveling I have the pleasure of reading Wendell Berry's novel Hannah Coulter. It is one of Berry's Port William tales, narrated by Hannah.

    Early in the novel Hannah offers her remembrances of Arvinia Steadman, or "Grandmam." Hannah says this:

    And Grandmam, as I have seen in looking back, was the decider of my fate. She shaped my life, without of course knowing what my life would be. She taught me many things that I was going to need to know, without either of us knowing I would need to know them. She made the connections that made my life, as you will see. If it hadn't been for her, what would my life have been? I don't know. I know it surely would have been different. And it is only by looking back, as an old woman myself, like her a widow and a grandmother, that I can see how much she loved me and can pay her out of my heart the love I owe her.

    It is invariably true that those who shape us most do so without knowing. And it is often true that we, likewise, exert tremendous influence over those closest to us, leaving legacies that we cannot foresee and shaping character in ways that we cannot fully anticipate. But if we have found ourselves the recipients of such care, such investment, our right response is gratitude. Our right response is also good stewardship of the gifts we have been given.

    If the inheritance you possess is found to be something other than love, than well-being, than that which we can declare good, a new legacy can begin with you.

    Who has shaped your life?

    Without them, what would your life have been? Perhaps, like Hannah, you do not know.

    In turn, whose life are you shaping?

    What seeds are you now sowing and will they, in time, yield a harvest that is good?

    Tuesday
    Aug092016

    Where Can I Find This Rooster?

    In Charles Portis’s masterful novel True Grit we meet Mattie Ross, a fourteen-year-old girl from Yell County near Dardanelle, Arkansas. The story takes place following the Civil War. Her father has been murdered by a man named Tom Chaney. Chaney came into the employment of the Ross family as a tenant farm hand, and had begged to travel with Frank Ross to Fort Smith to assist with an acquisition of ponies. While in Fort Smith Chaney got drunk and lost money gambling. In anger, he then gunned down Frank Ross, an innocent. Chaney is now a fugitive.

    Mattie is after revenge.

    Mattie travels to Fort Smith to “see about” her father’s body and his business. She also investigates the local law enforcement efforts toward the apprehension of Chaney. She discovers that little is being done. Chaney is rumored to have entered the Indian Territory, later known as Oklahoma, which rests outside the jurisdiction of the local sheriff. Chaney is now the concern of the U. S. Marshals.

    Knowing this, Mattie conceives a plan. She will hire a U. S. Marshal to conduct a manhunt for Chaney. She will also accompany the Marshal while on the hunt.

    Mattie is seeking the appropriate man for the job. Concerning the cadre of lawmen, Mattie asks the sheriff, “Who is the best marshal they have?”

    The sheriff thought on it for a minute. He said, ‘I would have to weigh that proposition. There is near about two hundred of them. I reckon William Waters is the best tracker. He is a half-breed Comanche and it is something to see, watching him cut for a sign. The meanest one is Rooster Cogburn. He is a pitiless man, double-tough, and fear don’t enter into his thinking. He loves to pull a cork. Now L. T. Quinn, he brings his prisoners in alive. He may let one get by now and then but he believes even the worst of men is entitled to a fair shake. Also the court does not pay any fees for dead men. Quinn is a good peace officer and a lay preacher to boot. He will not plant evidence or abuse a prisoner. He is straight as a string. Yes, I will say Quinn is about the best they have.'

    Mattie replies, “Where can I find this Rooster?”

    True Grit is one of my favorite novels. It is a novel concerning itself with justice and judgment. Mattie, conveying the tale to her reader while in her later years, sits in the place of certainty. She is a Cumberland Presbyterian, like her father, and confident in the righteousness of her cause. Chaney represents wickedness. Cogburn is blend of virtue and vice, the most human of characters in the story, and thus the most sympathetic. LaBoeuf, a Texas Ranger also on the hunt for Chaney, is a foil for Cogburn and a source of comic relief for the reader. The story is enhanced by his presence.

    “Where can I find this Rooster?” Mattie says “they” tell her Cogburn is a man of “true grit.” She has reached the conclusion based on the testimony of one man. Rooster is Mattie’s chosen instrument. Cogburn will avenge her father. She will be there to see it through, one way or the other.

    All too often we are like Mattie. We are seeking a Rooster Cogburn. Even when a righteous alternative like L. T. Quinn is presented to us, we ask, “Where can I find this Rooster?” We are confident in our judgments, like Mattie Ross. We believe in the strong man, regardless of how crooked or twisted he may be, and will justify our choice, despite our inkling that another avenue would be best.

    Awareness of this impulse (or compulsion) toward revenge is the first step in seeking a greater justice, and a more abiding peace. True Grit is a great novel because it is a revenge tale. But it is an instructive novel because it unearths the same tendencies in us, and allows us to face them. For Christians, vengeance belongs to another, and justice is sure. Johnny Cash brings it strong.

    And if you haven’t read True Grit, what are you waiting for?

    Monday
    Aug082016

    DC4C on the Organ

    Everyone loves a good jam.

    It isn't every gameday that the organist brings it so strong. Check it out.

    Fenway Park. Death Cab for Cutie. "Soul Meets Body."

    Friday
    Aug052016

    Review: How I Changed My Mind About Evolution

    I believe it is misleading to say that science and religion are in conflict. But it is fair to say that there is tension, and because of this there is a need for an ongoing conversation between Christianity and the sciences, particularly within evangelicalism. This conversation has an apologetic dimension, and if it is conducted faithfully, humbly, and with love, it can bolster the confidence of believing Christians and remove stumbling blocks for skeptics. It shouldn’t be avoided, but embraced.

    How I Changed My Mind About Evolution: Evangelicals Reflect on Faith and Science (edited by Kathryn Applegate and J.B. Stump; IVP Academic) is a contribution to the faith and science dialogue, representing one perspective within the conversation. The book is comprised of twenty five essays from Christian theologians, pastors, academics, and scientists who give their testimony regarding their understanding of faith and science. Contributors include James K. A. Smith, Scot McKnight, Francis Collins, John Ortberg, N. T. Wright, and Richard Mouw.

    The essays are brief, and cover a diverse range of approaches to the question at hand: Can a person of evangelical faith profess confidence in the Bible as God’s Word and conclude evolutionary theory is the best explanation of the scientific evidence pertaining to human origins and the history of the natural world?

    The contributors believe this is possible, and they tell how they reached this conclusion.

    A few contributors were nurtured in settings that were highly critical of evolutionary theory. Others experienced little conflict in reaching their conclusions. Trempor Longman III, an Old Testament scholar, tells how his investigations of the Old Testament and of science eventually led to his dismissal from Reformed Theological Seminary. Kathryn Applegate tells of the challenges faced by a biologist subscribing to evolutionary theory within a “Bible-believing” church.

    Many of the contributors tell of their attempts to rightly piece together the “two books” by which God has revealed himself: through the Bible and through the natural world. Several authors appeal to the scholarship of John Walton as helping them to reframe their understandings of the first few books of Genesis. The essays convey humility, respect for interlocutors, an earnest searching for truth, and love of God and neighbor.

    But, as one could expect, some will disagree with their conclusions, even if they respect their stories.

    In Fall 2015 I attended the National Youth Workers Convention in Louisville, Kentucky. A major point of discussion was faith and science, explored in a plenary session as well as in seminars. I attended both with interest.

    In a plenary presentation, Dan Kimball outlined the problem as one of credibility, in that the perceived conflict between faith and science presented a stumbling block for many students. Some students felt hard-pressed to choose between the Bible and Darwin’s Origin of the Species. Kimball urged youth workers to create an environment where questions could be asked. For youth-earth proponents, he asked that they acknowledge, at the very least, that other perspectives were held in good faith by other brothers and sisters in Christ.

    Andrew Root offered a reflection on thinking theologically about possible models that can make space for scientific and biblical truth. Root equipped us with a question: “How can we speak of God in a scientific age?”

    Deb Haarsma outlined the work of BioLogos, an organization that makes a case for congruity between an evolutionary understanding of origins within a theological understanding of creation.

    I was attending a conference, and in plenary sessions people come and go. But the crowd appeared particularly mobile during the plenary session, and I couldn't help but wonder how many youth workers vacated their seats angry, offended, or outraged. Hearing different perspectives can be deeply challenging, especially when we feel personally threatened.

    But what Christians are after, when we are at our best, is the truth. For those reconciling evolutionary theory and the claim God is Creator, other theological problems come into play, and quickly. The historicity of the fall, Jesus’ citation of the Genesis narrative, and Romans 5 are foremost. Those questions are of great importance.

    Thankfully, salvation is by grace, and the historic confessions of the Christian faith call on us to acknowledge God as Creator. They do not require that we subscribe to one particular theory about creation. There is room for Christians to debate these things, even now. In the meantime, we should continue to commit ourselves to the challenging task of biblical hermeneutics and to rigorous scientific investigation. While taking up this twin task we should act mercifully and love our neighbor. We should also humble our hearts. Whatever we think, we might be wrong.

    Debates of human origins and the proper interpretation of the Bible are not new. Augustine, writing in the 5th century, wrote these words:

    Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking non-sense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although “they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.”  (1 Timothy 1:7)

    In conducting these debates, let us acknowledge the limits of our knowledge, and do nothing to hinder our witness to Christ, the kingdom, the resurrection, and eternal life. But let us do so with boldness. After all, we are seeking the truth.

    If you are interested in a copy, send me a message. I have one to give away.

    Thursday
    Aug042016

    Taking Stock of a Culture

    In Daring Greatly, Brene' Brown offers ten questions useful for assessing a company culture:

    1. What behaviors are rewarded? Punished?
    2. Where and how are people actually spending their resources (time, money, attention)?
    3. What rules and expectations are followed, enforced, and ignored?
    4. Do people feel safe and supported talking about how they feel and asking for what they need?
    5. What are the sacred cows? Who is most likely to trip them? Who stands the cows back up?
    6. What stories are legend and what values do they convey?
    7. What happens when someone fails, disappoints, or makes a mistake?
    8. How is vulnerability (uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure) perceived?
    9. How prevalent are shame and blame and how are they showing up?
    10. What’s the collective tolerance for discomfort? Is the discomfort of learning, trying new things, and giving and receiving feedback normalized, or is there a high premium put on comfort (and how does that look)?

    I came across this list while reading Mandy Smith's The Vulnerable Pastor. I share them because I have friends in church leadership, though they can be applied more broadly. If you are part of a workplace, a family, or a fan base, you are part of a culture. Cultures can be healthy and yield flourishing. They can also be unhealthy, and harmful.

    When cultures are healthy, it is helpful to ask why. What principles, practices, and patterns contribute to the overall well-being of those who are part of the family, workplace, or congregation of which you are a part? What can you chronicle, capsule, communicate, and continue going forward?

    When cultures are unhealthy, people are often afraid to ask why. Facing reality would require facing the truth about oneself and the collective, which is always difficult. When an unhealthy situation is acknowledged, responsibility is assumed. When a problem is identified, resolution should follow. Confession and repentance are for more than private devotions: they are communal practices that can lead to reconciliation, renewal and revival.

    Take a look at these questions. If there is a culture that you want to be good, assess it. Gather with others who likewise would like others to flourish through participation in your shared life.

    Then get to work.